Archives > January 2018

Supporting Teens Through Loss

One of life’s inevitable experiences is loss. What happens when a teen experiences the death of a parent, grand-parent, sibling, or friend? Or their parents divorce? Or their dog dies? Or they fail a class or get cut from the volleyball team?

It is incredibly important for teens to know where to reach out for help and what the correct information on grief is.

Whether you are a teen yourself, a parent, a teacher, or anybody works with teens, here are some valuable questions for teens to consider when they are grieving a loss.

1. Who is your support system? When we grieve it is natural to reach out to others who are supportive and caring. We want to feel heard and to know that we are not alone. Consider one or two people in your life, whom you trust and would feel comfortable sharing your feelings with.

2. What does “being strong” really mean? In today’s society, social media, movies, and advertising communicates to us that we need to “toughen up” through difficult times and that sad feelings are not acceptable. When we act “strong”, we avoid and push the pain away. Being strong really means feeling our feelings and telling the truth about how we feel. It is normal to feel sadness and conflicting feelings after a loss and we shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about that.

3. What are some ways you can practice self-compassion? It is so important to be gentle with yourself and let go of any expectations about how you think you should be feeling. Self-compassion extends to self-care behaviours like going for a massage, attending a yoga class, exercising, going for a walk, and watching your favourite show. Find something that nourishes your spirit.

4. Are there really “stages of grief”? You can read about Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ 5 Stages of Death and Dying online and in current textbooks. These stages were intended for people who were diagnosed with a terminal illness, not for the grieving. Sadly, over the years, these stages were applied to the emotions experienced after loss. Every relationship is unique; thus, every grieving person is unique. There are no clear guidelines or set of stages that a grieving person will go through. Whatever you feel after a loss is completely normal and natural.

5. Is there a right way to grieve? How we feel at the time of a loss is normal and natural. There is no right way or wrong to grieve. Every person grieves in their unique way. If anybody tells you how you should be feeling, simply ignore them. Trust the process and feel any feelings you have at any given time.

6. Are some losses worse than others? Absolutely not! There are no typical losses or typical reactions to loss. Since every relationship is unique, every grieving person is unique. Whether you experienced the death of your dog and your friend experienced the death of their grand-parent, no loss is greater or worse than the other. You may actually have similar emotions, even though the loss was very different. Just as you could experience parallel losses but have very different emotions. We simply cannot compare losses or our reactions to loss.

7. Is avoidance healthy for healing? STERBS is an abbreviation for short-term energy relieving behaviours. These are avoidance behaviours that we use in an attempt to heal our pain. STERBS only give us a temporary sense of relief and don’t offer long-term relief from the pain caused by our loss. These include, food, alcohol, social media, shopping, isolation, and many more. If misused (or abused), we can develop some very unhealthy habits in our lives. It is so important to be aware of the behaviours you are using as an escape from your feelings. Consider more self-care behaviours and sharing your feelings with someone you trust.

There are several forms of loss that teens may experience. It is important to understand the correct information and tools surrounding grief in order to take healthy action, move forward, and find healing in life. Healing from grief is much like baking a cake. If you bake a cake with the wrong ingredients, the end result will be messy, unfinished, and may leave you feeling frustrated and discouraged. The same may result if we don’t address our grief with the correct tools. With the right “ingredients” for healing, you can recover from the pain and regain your sense of well-being and happiness.

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Psychology Intern and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and edited by Ashley Mielke, Owner and Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

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