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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. 

Photo credit: shutterstock

3 Helpful Tips for Supporting Grieving People

We care so deeply about the loved ones in our lives that when we witness them grieving a heart-wrenching loss, we want to help. A research study conducted by Keltner at the University of California, Berkley explains there is growing evidence that humans have a “compassionate instinct”. To further explain, compassion is a natural and automatic response we use for survival. Human beings are compelled to help others who are hurting. It is a false assumption or belief that we cannot help others during a time of loss. Sadly, it is a lack of information and helpful tools that limits us in our aspirations to help others who are grieving.

There are many statements that are vocalized such as, “I just don’t know what to say,” or “I freeze up and do not know what to do to help.” After a death, divorce or any kind of loss, many of us struggle with how to support the grieving person. This is not because we do not want to help or that we cannot help, we just lack the information on how to help.

Here are 3 helpful tips on how to support a grieving person in your life:

Tip #1: Do not tell people what to do or how to feel. When we grieve a loss in our lives we are heart-broken, devastated, and in deep emotional pain. If someone tells us what to do, how to grieve, or what to expect or feel, it does not help us. We each have unique relationships to the loss we are grieving and we all grieve in our own unique way. Everyone has different reactions and emotions after a loss in their lives, so it is most helpful to validate the grieving person’s feelings as both normal and natural, no matter what they are. Do not create guidelines for their grief.

Tip #2: Listen without responding. Grieving people want and need to feel heard. When you listen to grieving people’s stories, feelings, and memories, listen like a “heart with ears”. If we listen with the intention to respond with advice or intellect, we are not truly present. This will limit us from showing compassion and empathizing with the grieving person. When we are concerned about saying “the right thing” and are preoccupied with our own thoughts and ideas, we may miss out on the messages from the grieving person. If you are present with the griever, your ability to support them will be more natural and in the moment. Sometimes all a grieving person needs is to feel heard and offered a hug.

Tip #3: Respond emotionally, not intellectually. We can study, read self-help books, and gain a lot of intellectual knowledge about grief. There is a lot of helpful, correct information available, as well as a lot of misinformation. When a person is in a vulnerable state and sharing their feelings surrounding a loss, support is less effective if we are continuously providing intellectual comments. When we transition from our heads to our hearts, we become a safe and trusting support system for the grieving person. Statements such as, “I can’t imagine how that must feel for you,” or “I hear that this is making you really upset,” or simply, “I don’t know what to say,” are helpful, as we are speaking from the heart and are acknowledging the griever’s experience. When we are grieving we are sad, hurt, and vulnerable. We want our feelings to be acknowledged, not minimized, analyzed, or judged with intellectual comments.

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

Article Reference:  http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/the-compassionate-mind#.WHVl-FMrKUk May/June 2013 Observer

Photo credit: http://crocehomeimprovement.com/helpful-tips/

How The Grief Recovery Method® Changed My Life

I first learned about Grief and Loss during a senior level psychology class at Concordia University taught by Registered Psychologist and Owner of The Grief & Trauma Healing Center, Ashley Mielke. I was astonished by the powerful information she taught us about grief and recovering from loss. I quickly learned that everything I thought grief was, was not. I intuitively knew that I would pursue Grief Recovery® for my future career.

After completing the psychology course, I truly believed that because I had learned all of the intellectual information about grief and recovering from loss, that I could apply that new knowledge to my life and my losses would be healed. Well, I was wrong. After completing my Certification Training in The Grief Recovery Method® Program this month, I realized I was still emotionally incomplete with the loss I thought I had healed from. It wasn’t until I had taken the actions of the program myself, that I became complete with my loss. Through the training, I personally witnessed and experienced the transformational power of The Grief Recovery Method Program®.

Grief is not intellectual.

Everything that I have been taught while completing my psychology degree has had a focus on intellectual knowledge and application. I have learned several theories, read numerous textbooks, and written countless exams. What has not been emphasized in my education, is the power and significance of human emotion, vulnerability, matters of the heart, and emotional application.

Through my personal experience of being a griever, I quickly became aware of how emotionally useless the intellectual information I learned was. It did not help me when others would respond to my grief with advice or intellectual comments.  I did not like being told what to do or what worked for them. When I was grieving, and was the most vulnerable and emotional I had ever felt, all I wanted was to feel heard and to have a safe place to express my emotions.

Grief is emotional, not intellectual. I appreciate that sharing your losses and grief with others can be very scary. Having had the privilege of exploring and sharing my losses with perfect strangers in a safe environment during my training, gave me insight into the emotional challenges (and courage) that my clients may face while completing The Grief Recovery Method® Program with myself. Without having gone through the program myself, I know I would have a difficult time helping my clients connect their minds to their hearts, to truly heal from their losses. I appreciate how important it is for me to be a “heart with ears” for my clients as they courageously take the actions of The Grief Recovery Method® Program. Ashley Mielke, Canadian Certification Trainer for The Grief Recovery Method® taught me, I can only take my clients as far in their healing and recovery, as I have gone with my own.

Discovery is not recovery.

You can have all of the intellectual information available, read every book, and have a deep understanding of your losses, but that is not enough. Action must be taken to heal your heart. I learned this through personal experience. I have known the intellectual information about Grief Recovery® for a few years, and even taught others about what I have learned. I thought that knowing the information was enough to complete my losses. Discovery masqueraded my recovery. After completing The Grief Recovery Method® Program, I learned the significance of taking new action, in order to attain completion with my losses. You can read The Grief Recovery Handbook, but recovery is achieved by taking the actions of the program. It is like reading a recipe; you have the information and steps to bake a cake, but the cake will not bake itself until you choose to take action.

A group environment allowed me to feel safe and heard.

I had the amazing privilege of working with 16 incredible people in my Certification Training. With the exception of knowing our facilitator, Ashley Mielke, I walked into the training on Friday morning knowing none of the other participants, and walked out on the following Monday afternoon with lifelong friendships. Participating in a group environment and sharing my story with others was a profound emotional experience. Although we were all very unique and different, every one of us shared two common goals; to learn how to help ourselves heal and recover from loss, and to learn how to help others heal and recover from loss.

When I was sharing my losses with the group, I felt heard, without judgment and intellectual analysis. At times in our daily lives, there are distractions like cell phones, cooking dinner, watching TV, or other activities that are going on when we are attempting to communicate our feelings with important others in our lives. These distractions can leave us feeling unheard, emotionally unsafe, and that we are not important enough to be listened to. In a room full of people I had just met, I felt safe to share my losses and that my feelings were worth being heard. Everyone was listening to me like a “heart with ears” and were empathetic and compassionate to my experiences.

I look forward to taking what I have learned both personally and professionally, and applying it in my facilitation of the 8-Week Grief Recovery Method® Grief Support Group to provide that same opportunity for others to feel heard, without judgement, criticism, and analysis, in a safe and structured group environment.

The Grief Recovery Method® Program has changed my perspective on life, relationships, and effective recovery from loss. My experience working within a group environment was life changing. I was passionate about pursuing Grief Recovery® before my training and even more so now after having completed the program myself. I am astounded with how powerful the program actually is. I feel more passionate and inspired than ever before to work with grieving people and to participate in their life-altering journey to recovery.

Click here for information about our free information sessions and upcoming groups.

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