Monday, July 27, 2020

Teen Grief: When A Friend Moves Away

[Reviewed and updated July 3, 2021]

Truly great friends are hard to find, harder to leave, and impossible to forget.
  ~ G. Randolf

A reader writes: I am 14 years old. Can you tell me what the 7 stages of grief are and which one I am going through? I am hurt right now because my friend moved away to Texas. She moved away 2 months ago and I'm still sad. Help me.

My response: You've asked about the so-called "stages of grief." You may be thinking of the stages of dying first described by the famous Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. Please know that, wonderful as her work in death and dying was, her "stages" model was never meant to be applied to those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
Her studies were focused on patients who were dying. That is a very common mistake you will see often in books and articles still today. But there has been a lot of research done in the fifty years since Dr. Kübler-Ross's pioneering work that deals specifically with bereavement, loss and grief.

We now understand grief as the normal response to losing someone or something we love, and it doesn't happen in "stages" as such. Most of us who specialize in grief counseling prefer to think of grief as a dynamic process (not a single event) that can affect us in every part of our lives: physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. We believe that healthy mourning involves successfully moving back and forth ("oscillating") between confronting a loss (coping with it) and avoiding it (seeking respite from it). Everyone's grief journey is unique, and there is no specific time-frame for it.

I don't know how old you are or what support you have around you, but I can tell you that when someone you care about moves away, it's only natural to feel sad ~ but sad isn't bad. For example, you might feel as if you're too old or too big to cry, but you're not. It's okay to cry when you're sad. You might even notice yourself crying about things that never used to bother you. When you are sad like this, it really helps to find someone who cares about you ~ someone you can talk to about what you're feeling and why. Your mom or dad may seem too busy to talk to you sometimes, but maybe you could find another caring person you can talk to, such as a trusted relative, neighbor, or teacher.

You might be feeling sad, mad, or lonely ~ and if you try to hold these feelings inside, they can make you feel even worse. You could have stomach aches or headaches and just feel sad all over, in your mind as well as in your body. You may think more about how upset you are when you're alone, and you might have trouble going to sleep at night. You might feel angry, too, that your friend moved away and left you behind. You may find it hard to keep your mind on your work when you are in school. If any of this happens to you, I hope you will tell somebody about it. The best way to get the sadness out is to share your feelings and memories with someone you trust and someone who will listen to you. Is there anyone in your family or at school who understands how close you were to your friend and will listen to how sad you feel right now? Your other friends might not know what to say or how to act around you. Help them to know you are still the same person, just very sad right now. Tell them how they can help you.

It's hard to accept that you won't see your friend every day, and it will take time to get over missing her so much. Maybe you could ask for something that belonged to your friend or find something that reminds you of her that you can look at or hold onto as a way of helping you feel closer to her. Put a picture in your room to remind you of your friend, make a scrapbook or draw a picture of a special time you shared together. Are you able to talk on the phone, write letters or send texts or emails to this person who moved away? Even though you can no longer see or talk to this person every day, you can still go on being friends. Can you think of some other ways that you can stay in touch with your friend?

Although this good friend has moved away and you really miss her, you can still have happy times with the people around you who love you. You might feel bad that you can still be happy sometimes and have fun being with your other friends. But I'll bet being happy is exactly what your good friend would want you to be.

It takes time to feel better after someone you love has moved away. Give your heart time to heal. Someday ~ maybe sooner than you think ~ you will feel better. It won't hurt so much. You will never forget your friend, who will always have a special place in your heart. But when you think of your friend, you will think of the good things and the happy times you had together.

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