Monday, October 26, 2015

Teen Grief: Mourning The Death of A Friend

Photo credit: Abby Martin
Because children and teens grieve differently than adults, their needs, especially support through the grieving process, are often overlooked. Consequently, children and teens are frequently forgotten, even invalidated, as mourners.  ~ Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS

A reader writes: When I was 12 years old, my best friend in the whole world died, one month before her 12th birthday. She was in the swimming pool playing that game—you know, who can hold their breath the longest—she was under but when she came up she inhaled a lot of water. She stood up and went over to the ladder and she was wheezing. She got up to the ladder and fell backwards, but her cousin caught her.
They pulled her out of the pool and laid her down and ran for help. Her older sister was sitting with her saying come on, are you ok, breathe please. Her father and grandfather did CPR right away but from the second her sister laid her down and all the way to the hospital, she hadn’t breathed once. Normally they can revive people when that happens, but something went wrong in her body. 
          I know when people die, everyone says how great they are, but I had never ever met a nicer person than her. She was never mean, always, always smiling and happy. If you were down she would cheer you up. She was the best person I had ever met. 
          It has been 1 year and 2 months and I am still grieving like crazy, people say it gets easier but it hasn’t. I miss her like crazy. To me, it feels as if it were yesterday that I was looking at her smiling face. I have so many emotions still and there is no one to blame, no one except for god. Who would take a sweet 11-year-old girl from so many people who loved her? 
          I still miss her a lot and I guess it might get a little easier, but when I am doing all the things that she loved it makes me sad to know that she is not ever going to be here to do those things with me ever again. Even when I see certain things or her name I sometimes break out crying. I can’t seem to move on and recently I got into an argument with someone who told me that I have no clue about death and that I should get over it.

My response: I’m so very sorry to learn of the death of your best friend, and I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you. It hurts my heart to think that someone actually told you that you “have no clue about death” and that you should “get over it.”

A very wise man who knows a lot about grief, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, has said that if you are old enough to love, you are old enough to mourn. Clearly you loved this person as much as anyone could love a best friend, you are old enough to miss her, and you have every right to mourn your loss of her. As a matter of fact, if you were not grieving this death, my dear, something would be very, very wrong! When you lose someone you love so much, it is normal to experience a profound sense of loss. Grief is exactly the right response, and all that pain you are feeling is simply your heart telling you how much it hurts.

You say you have no one to blame for your friend’s death, “no one except for God.” Did you know that anger is a common reaction to loss , and when someone we love is taken from us, it usually makes us mad, as well as sad? When a death happens, we feel mad because we don’t like what’s happened, we think it’s completely unfair, we’re frustrated because we know it’s beyond our control and there is nothing we can do to change it. We are outraged because it is an outrageous thing that has happened to us! We might feel angry at ourselves for something we did or did not do when our loved one was alive, or we may be mad at our loved ones for dying and leaving us here without them.

We might also be angry at God. (I'm thinking of a boy who once told me that after his brother died, he was so angry at God he just wanted to slug Him!) Even though such feelings are perfectly healthy and normal, they can leave us feeling very guilty, especially if we were taught to believe that anger is bad or that feeling angry is wrong. We may think that if we become angry at God, then in turn God will become angry with us. Another very wise man who works with grieving children, Rabbi Earl Grollman, assures us that “It’s okay to scream at God. He can take it.” After all, if anyone can understand the full range of human emotions and our normal reactions to loss, surely it is God! Mad isn’t bad, my dear, and neither is sad. When you care deeply about someone who dies, it’s normal to feel all sorts of painful emotions. Tell yourself it’s okay to feel your feelings, because you have a very good reason!

Since you have access to the Internet, I want to point you to some wonderful places for kids who are grieving. Here a just a few of them:

Your local library is a great resource too. Ask someone at the information desk to point you to the section that has books about grief and loss, written especially for kids. Here are just a few of my favorites (and if your library doesn’t carry them, you can ask the librarian to order them for you):

I’m so pleased that you wrote to me, but I also hope that you have someone you trust to talk to about all these feelings – that could be a parent, a relative, a neighbor, a teacher, or a pastor. If your mom or dad seems too busy to listen, I hope you will find another caring adult you can talk to. When you lose someone you love, you might feel lonely or scared as well as sad and mad. If you try to hold all these feelings inside, you can end up feeling even worse than you do now. That’s why it’s so important to find someone who knows you and cares about you, so you can talk face-to-face and “in person” to another about what you are feeling right now. In the meantime, I hope it helps to know that I am thinking of you and wishing you well. 

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