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Kids are not supposed to die. It is against all the rules of nature. It isn't fair. It should not happen. Unfortunately, it does happen and when it does, it can be scary. Peer relationships often seem more important to teens than family relationships. So the death of a friend may significantly affect young people in ways that parents, teachers and other adults may not understand. The death of a friend whom the parent never or seldom met may have very little effect on the parent, but it may have a huge impact on the teen. When adults dismiss the impact of their teenager's grief it only makes it more complicated and often leaves the teen alone in his or her grief.
Here are some comments from other teens after the death of a friend from my all time favorite book for teens: When a Friend Dies: A Book for Teens about Grieving and Healing by Marilyn Gootman, Ed.D (foreword by Michael Stipe, singer/songwriter, R.E.M.)
"My parents act like the death of my boyfriend shouldn't matter. They don't understand what he meant to me. We really loved each other. We could talk about anything and everything. Maybe if my parents had taken the time to get to know him, it would be different. They didn't want us together. I guess they'll never understand."
"They treated me like a stupid kid. I could tell they weren't telling me everything. They said it was an accident. I knew it was bigger. Why couldn't they say, 'it was suicide,' and tell me the truth?"
When my friend died, the rest of the world kept going and no one knew what I was going through. No one could understand the pain I was feeling. I wanted the world to stop and I wanted to just scream out,'Doesn't anyone realize that I am hurt?' I kept looking at people and thinking, 'You don't have a care, and look at me, one of my friends just died."
"Things will never be the same."
Will I ever feel okay again?
" I cried hysterically, and then I went numb-kind of like I was watching myself from the outside"
"I can't feel anything. It doesn't feel real."
"I just can't believe this happened to one of us."
"I can't believe she is gone. I just saw her in math class yesterday."
"It feels like any minute he is going to walk right into this room. It doesn't seem like he is really gone."
After a peer dies, teens are confronted with the realities of death, the possibilities of their own mortalitiy, and feelings of being abandoned by close friends. Young people often think that they are immune to death. They think that death only happens to old people. When a friend died, their entire world and beliefs are shaken to the core.
Since teens' relationships are often up and down, on and off, grief of a friend can be even more complicated. Grief can pull people together or apart. Some teens following the death of a friend, come together and share their grief while other teens grieve alone or have difficulty sharing their emotions around their loss. Most teen friendship revolve around fun times and shared activities. Grief is not fun and is hard work. Sometimes the grief after the death of a friend is even harder as old friends sometimes start to break apart as well and on top of the death, is the loss of other friends and good times.
Trust is important to teen relationships. It is important that teens learn the truth about the death of their friend, how, when and where a peer died. Secrets, lies and half truths, although meant to protect, only create anger and confusion. Teens deserve to know the truth. Teens want their questions answered with the complete truth. If adults don't have the facts yet, then "I don't know" is the truth.
When young friends die, sometimes it may be an anticipated death, due to a long term illness, but more often the death is sudden and violent. Sometimes the death is a suicide. A friend's death through suicide, may be a teens' first introduction to death. These deaths are very difficult to accept and leave teens wondering 'why' for a long, long time. If this happens a teen has every right to be shaken up and you will want to find healthy ways to express your grief. Just because the friend is not an immediate family member doesn't mean that it isn't taken as a great personal loss.
Crying: Many people are able to cry when they are very sad and may even sob. Others say that they have trouble crying. It is okay. You do not have to cry to grieve. Many who miss a loved one very much don't cry on the outside but rather cry on the inside. They think about their friend a lot or write poetry or in a journal. They write letters to the person or to their friend's parents.
If your friend just died and there is a wake, service, Shiva or funeral to attend decide first if you want to attend. Many teens find that it helps them to attend as they will receive support from others who are grieving, they will be able to say goodbye to their friend and it helps them to know it is "real" and that their friend is really dead. It may help to see the family and friends and share stories. Please under no circumstances ever attend a funeral or service of any kind under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is not only completely disrespectful to the family but chances are that you won't remember it and trust me, you will want to remember what was said and who was there. For more information on attending a funeral visit the page : Funerals.
What helps after the death of a teen friend?
Keep a journal. Write to the friend who died. Write to the family. Write anything and everything. You can keep it in your journal or rip it up, shred it, burn it, tie a note to a bio-degradable helium balloon and send it up into the air. Read the letter to a trusted adult or counselor.
This also helps:
1. Accept the reality of the death
2. Let yourself feel the pain of the loss (it is so much more tempting to avoid, repress, deny or push away the pain of the grief, than it is to confront it. Dose your pain. Let a little bit out at a time. Writing helps a lot.
3. Remember the person who died (find ways to remember the person)
4. Develop a new self-identity ( the way you and society defines you has changed perhaps)
5. Search for meaning ( it is normal to question the meaning of life and death. Talking to adults about this may help too).
6. Let others help you, now and always ( as a teen it is normal to want to keep adults at a distance. Grief is not an "on your own" kind of task to deal with. It is the hardest work that anyone ever has to deal with. Talk to adults who care about you, or let them talk to you. Join a support group, mail your thoughts to a caring adult helps too. Talk to your friends about it too.)
Use the name of the person who died. (Don't avoid their name. It is good to say it outloud).
Keep a journal
Keep a memento of the person who died
Get plenty of rest, water and exercise
Let go of the myths of grief: Myths include: get over it, be strong, don't talk about it, tears are weakness, grieve alone)
These myths are not true. They are harmful thoughts that some adults even believe. Grief is normal and natural. Allow it to come as it comes. No two people grieve in the exact same way. Talk about it if that helps.
Laugh and have fun
Allow yourself to grieve even if it was expected as in a lengthy illness. We are never really prepared for the death of a loved one.
Raise money to find a cure for the disease that took your friend's life.
Find constructive ways to release your anger
Make a Scream Box (see page on making a scream box on home page of Grief Speaks.com)
Let your pet comfort you or visit a friend who has a pet.
Do something the person who died liked to do.
Listen to music
Pour yourself into life, "Carpe diem" Seize the day
Read books that help
Be prepared for 'grief bursts' : when it hits you suddenly all over again, but not for as long, like if you hear his/her favorite song, see someone that resembles your friend, smell their favorite cologne or perfume, etc.
More Things to Do to Help Yourself After the Death of a Friend:
Keep a journal of your feelings. Read it over every couple of weeks or months to see how things have changed.
Let yourself blow off steam. Exercise, get physical. Hit a pillow, Make a scream box (see page), play loud music and jump or dance, write a note to the person who died and crunch it up and stomp on it.
Rip up old newspapers or magazines. Hit a punching bag. Speak to a school counselor or nurse or teachers.
Inside balloons put slips of paper, each with a feeling on it that you want to get rid of. Blow up balloons to the size of the intensity of the feeling.
Take 3 paper bags and write a list of your thoughts and feelings you are having on paper. Write on the 3 bags: Hold onto these for awhile, hold on to these forever and crumple these up or trash. Cut each list apart and place word into each bag with the correct title. Every few days add to each bad or change the items from bag to bag.
Get out in nature.
Share your thoughts with a good listener. Call a hot-line if you don't have someone to listen. 2nd Floor is for kids 10-24 to call about anything: 1-888-222-2228. It is free and 24/7 and confidential.
Read a good book or one about grief like When A Friend Dies by Marilyn Gootman
Get some extra help with school work or hire a tutor. It is normal to fall behind a bit with school when grieving.
Call a friend or relative on the phone.
Draw 3 pictures: 1. What my life was like before my friend died. 2. What my life is like now. 3. What I want my life to be like someday.
Ask 3 people who have gone through hard times and whom you admire. Ask them to tell you what helped them during hard times. Listen and compare their answers to things that may work for you.
Rent some funny movies. Make a favorite play list for your I-pod.
Plan to be with friends on a special date or anniversary dates or do something special that day to comfort yourself or to help you remember.
Make a collage with a friend or alone. Get a bunch of magazines, glue sticks and scissors and cut out pictures and words that remind you of your friend. Glue the words and pictures to a poster board.
Make a photo montage of you and your friend.
Visit the family if you want to.
If your friend has a Facebook page write on it. Write to the parents of your friend telling them what your friend meant. Many parents go on each day to read all the posts.
If your loss was sudden, violent or traumatic, recognize the following stress reactions and find someone to talk to if any of these things are happening to you: startling at any noise or disturbance, repeated nightmares, excessive activity or a high degree of agitation that continues over time, flashbacks, seeing the incident over and over, an inability to remember the event that happened, or a prolonged or intense difficulty in concentration and in decision making.
Schedule time outs from grief. "Life doesn't cease to be funny when people die, any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh." George Bernard Shaw
Be kind to yourself. Look for inspirational role models, quotes, people.
Play with an animal.
Remember that this grief journey is your journey and not like anyone else's journey. Take it slowly and be patient with yourself.
Adapted from Facing Change: Falling apart and coming together again in the teen years by Donna O'Toole
A Grieving Teen Has the Right to...
Know the truth about the death, the deceased and the circumstances
Have questions answered honestly
Be heard with dignity and respect
Be silent and not tell you his or her grief emotions or thoughts
Not agree with your perceptions and conclusions
See the person who died and the place of the death
Grieve any way she or he wants to without hurting self or others
Feel all the feelings and to think all the thoughts of his or her own unique grief
Not to have to follow the "stages of grief" as outlined in a high school health book
Grieve in one's own unique, individual way without censorship
Be angry at death, at the person who died, at God, at self and at others
Ignore people who are insensitive and spout cliches
Have his or her own theological and philosophical beliefs about life and death
Be involved in the decisions about the rituals related to the death
Not be taken advantage of in this vulnerable mourning condition and circumstances
Have irrational guilt about how he or she could have intervened to stop the death
(A Grieving Teen has the right to... by the Dougy Center)
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Create a support network:
Name three people that you can call when you need to talk: ( think of 3 people at school and 3 people not at school)
( if you don't have anyone, call 2nd Floor 24 hour helpline at: 888-222-2228 or look at their web site: www.2ndfloor.org
2. List things that help you when you are feeling angry, sad, lonely,
3. List three things you can do when life feels meaningless or hopeless: (volunteering helps so much, working for a cause, finding someone else who also needs help and helping them, spending time with children or animals help, reading about others who have gone through tough times and made it: Means Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl )
Find helpful web sites: www.Griefspeaks.com
Helpful Books for Grieving Teens:
When a Friend Dies: A book for teens about griving and healing by Marilyn Gootman
The Grieving Teen by Helen Fitzgerald
Teen Grief Relief : Parenting with Understanding, Support and Guidance by Dr. Heidi Horsely and Dr. Gloria Horsely
Straight Talk About Death For Teenagers: how to cope with losing someone you love by Earl Grollman
Healing a Teen's Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas for Families, Friends and Caregivers by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D
When a Young Friend Dies by Suicide: by Earl Grollman
www.afsp.org (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
www.sptsnj.org (Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide)
Helping Teenagers Cope with Grief: www.hospicenet.org (Hospice Foundation)
The Grieving Teen: www.americanhospice.org (American Hospice Foundation)
Funerals, Ceremonies and Memorializations:
Saying goodbye in a significant way is important for grieving teens. Some teens feel cheated because there was no opportunity to have a significant "farewell" before the person died. Face to face contact is no longer possible, you may invite the teen to think about creating a "farewell" ritual. Even after public ceremonies, teens can brainstorm about "farewell" rituals that might be meaningful for them. For example you may invite teens to:
www.GriefSpeaks.com (973) 912-0177 Lisa@griefspeaks.com Follow GS on Facebook and Twitter