Date of Original Version
Loss in the Lives of Teens was presented at the Annual LGBTIQQ Symposium in 2005. It covers how students in their teens grieve and best practices in supporting them with their loss as faculty and staff.
Loss in the Lives of Teens; Joseph A Santiago; Joe Santiago; Annual LGBTIQQ Symposium 2005; •“Grief is a fact of life. We may push it away, but if we are engaged in life, it is with us.” •The course of grief, while intensely individual, is in some ways predictable. For this reason, grief counselors have learned a great deal which can help the bereaved. In this presentation we will focus on the grief process of teenagers. •Although grief is one of life's most painful experiences, it is also one we can get through, learn from, and eventually integrate into a richer more fulfilling life. •Grief is not an illness to be treated, but an experience to be lived. Most who have done so describe the journey as work; it is an active, not passive, process. •Individuals supported in their grieving are more likely to more quickly emerge from the darkness of loss into a fuller life, enriched by the lessons they have learned.; What is Grief?; Why do teens react differently to death and loss then other age groups?; Piaget and Erikson developmental theories •Adolescence is the time of transition between being a child and being an adult. •When you're a teen, a loss can be especially difficult because it occurs at a point in your life that is already filled of life altering changes. These changes include… –Changing bodies –Changing sexuality –Changing values –Changing intellectual processes –Changing family relationships •Teens react differently to loss then children or adults do because the loss complicates these changes and the developmental process of adolescence “Being a teen is hard enough; being a grieving teen can feel completely overwhelming; How are these already occurring changes effected by loss?; Changing bodies – A significant loss could result in a heightened or diminished interest in physical appearance or an extreme change in body weight. •Changing sexuality – Some teens use sexual activity as a diversion from the pain of grief associated with a loss. •Changing values – Teens often try to runaway from their emotions and they may by using drugs or alcohol. •Changing intellectual processes – After a loss, teens tend to become profoundly aware of the consequences of the death. •Changing family relationships – When the teen experiences a loss parents often become overly protective which can result in the teen becoming more rebellious.; Six Basic Principals of Teen Grief; Grieving is the teen’s natural reaction to death and other losses. •Each teen’s grieving experience is unique. •There are no “right” and “wrong” ways to grieve. •Every death is unique and is experienced differently. •Grief is ongoing. •The grieving process is influenced by many issues.; Emotions Teens Experience after Loss; Teens experience a wide range of emotions after the loss of someone significant in their lives. •Teens often find it difficult to express these emotions outwardly. •Males tend to find it difficult to express their sadness and females find it difficult to express their anger.; A Closer Look At Emotions: Anger; Anger is normal for grievers of all ages. •The cause of anger in teens is often because they feel it seems unfair they should have to suffer the death of someone in their lives, especially at such an early age. •Teens may also be angry at specific people –The deceased –Themselves –The police –Parents –Medical professionals –God –Fate –The entire world; A Closer Look At Emotions: Frustration; People feel frustrated when they are not able to meet goals, intentions or expectations. •Teens often experience frustration when effected by loss because their world is drastically and/or unexpectedly changed which effects goals they previously had in the area of relationships, academic pursuits and financial stability. •Frustration can arise when… –There was no chance to say good-bye –There is unfinished business with the deceased –Financial problems come up –Parents become overprotective –Grades decline because of difficulty focusing –Denied the truth surrounding death –Peers tease teen –Questions of death go unanswered –A perpetrator is not apprehended –A body cannot be located; Helping a Teen Deal with Anger and Frustration; Try to help the teen express their anger/frustration in a constructive way. –i.e. athletics, boxing a punching bag, writing, art, yelling, screaming, playing with play dough •If the teen is experiencing these emotions because they are failing to meet their goals, break down tasks into manageable steps. –Talk to teachers to help get them organized –Ask them to maybe do homework with a friend •Responding to destructive behavior by telling the teen they should not feel a certain way while demanding they stop the behavior. •Not validating their emotions toward the situation. A teen needs to know they can feel everything they are feeling and their emotions are normal and okay. Things that can Help Things that can Hurt; Closer Look At Emotions: Anxiety and Guilt; •Due to the drastic changes in relationships and circumstances that result from death it is normal to feel anxious or worried. •Some teens can even develop panic attacks. •Signs of a panic attack include: –A palpitating heartbeat –Difficulty breathing –Throbbing in head or neck –Dizziness, or a sense of being paralyzed •It is completely normal for any age group to feel a sense of guilt when someone passes away. •There will always be “But what if I …?” –What if I stopped him from driving drunk? –What if I was better and didn’t cause him so much stress before his heart attack? •Many teens feel as though they could have or should have done something to prevent the death. •It is also normal for them to feel guilty that they did not do more before the death.; Helping a Teen Deal with Anxiety and Guilt; •Mild signs of anxiety are normal. •You could suggest relaxing activities like… –Deep breathing –Yoga –Reading –Listening to soothing music •If symptoms do not pass, anxiety attacks persist or there is a dramatic change in mood the teen should be checked by a medical professional. •Arguing the teen was not to blame does not assist the griever and can pressure him to bury his feeling of guilt which does not allow him to get through it. •Some things that are suggested … –Listen and restate what you heard in your own words so he feels heard and understood. –Ask questions to help him work through his grief. (What do you whish you had done?) –Avoid “Why” questions. –Explain the facts that caused the death. –Allow him to express his feelings.; Guilt … What to do if the teen is partially responsible for the death; Try to help the young person face the responsibility and discover options for acknowledging the guilt. •Some actions that may speed healing and result in significant maturing for the teen include… –Seeking forgiveness –Making restitutions where possible –Accepting legal punishment when ordered •It will not help the teen to tell them that he/she should not feel guilty or to try to minimize the responsibility when he/she is partially responsible. They need to feel and work through their guilt and regrets.; A Closer Look At Emotions: Isolation and Relief; teens feel isolated from their peers after a death. •They often will say, “No one understands what I am going through.” •Unlike children, teens are aware that other people, all over the world, have experienced similar situations (deaths) but they do not feel connected to these people. •The lack of connection is what causes them to feel alone. •Teens may even hide their grief to help fit in with their peers. •Relief is commonly felt under a variety of circumstances. •Some situations include… –when the person who passed away was suffering from a painful or terminal illness –When the person who passed away was put in a vegetable state by an accident and has no chance of recovery –when the person who died was emotionally or physically abusive to another person; Helping a Teen Deal with Isolation and Relief; Providing a supportive network of friends, family, and most importantly other teens that have experienced a death will help the teen to know that he or she is not alone. •Teens can learn about peer experiences through… –Support groups –Books –Movies –Counseling sessions •It is very important to validate the feeling of relief. •Dismissing the feeling may cause the teen to feel guilty or misunderstood. •It is also important to let them understand relief under many situations is a natural reaction. Isolation Relief; A Closer Look At Emotions: Revenge, Rage, and Sadness; •A death that seems vicious and unjustifiable often provokes emotions of revenge and rage against anyone who contributed to the death. •These reactions may be directed to the perpetrator, the deceased or others. •Circumstances that may evoke such strong emotions include … –Suicide –Murder –When the deceased somehow contributed to the death (not taking medications, driving drunk etc..) •This is a natural response to someone that was loved being gone and to the changes brought about by the loss. •Teens often tend to feel as though they are being disloyal if they are anything but sad. –Society has taught (directly or indirectly) that love and loyalty to the deceased are expressed through sadness which can make a teen feel guilty when laughing or being happy reminiscing. •Teens also may fear letting go of sadness means they are forgetting the person who died.; Helping a Teen Deal with Revenge, Rage, and Sadness; It is helpful to discuss these strong emotions with the teen while encouraging them toward healthy behaviors to release anger and relax. •Counseling and support groups may also be helpful with dealing with such a powerful emotion •Teens need to be reassured that love for the deceased can be expressed through other emotions. •Sadness and prolonged, chronic depression are two different things. •When a teen is showing withdrawal, lack of energy, and motivation he or she should be evaluated by a mental health professional.; Common Reactions to Loss; Academic Problems •Crying •Physical Reactions –Weight loss or gain –Headaches –Anxiety or panic attacks –Insomnia –Fatigue or sleeping more then usual –Muscle aches –Digestive problems –Dizziness –Visual Impairment –Dehydration –Weakened immune system •Eating Problems or Disorders •Nightmares or Dreams •Playing •Regressive Behaviors •Struggling with Core Belief System •Suicidal talk or behavior •Lack of concentration •Loss of interest in usual activities •Wanting to be alone all the time •Drug and/or alcohol use •Risk-taking behaviors •Promiscuity; Basic Needs for the Grieving Teen; Assurance: they need to know their caregivers are healthy and in control Boundaries: reasonable, consistent boundaries provide safety Choices: choices empower the teen and give them a sense of balance Food: necessary to refuel the body Listeners: teens need to be heard so they can get out their emotions and work through their grief Models: to learn how or not how to mourn Privacy: in order to reflect, contemplate, evaluate, express emotions, and memorialize Recreation: in order to have fun and take a break from grieving Routines: bedtimes, mealtimes and chores provide a safe predictable environment Sleep: to recover from the fatigue caused by grieving Truth: helps to heal and promotes a healthy healing process Water: necessary to rehydrate the body; 14 Ways We can Assist a Grieving Teen; Listen, care for and accept them as they are 2.Tell the truth and answer their questions honestly 3.Encourage them to make healthy and creative choices in dealing with their pain and healing process 4.Encourage them to view the body, participate in the memorial and burial, or see the cremated remains 5.Suggest they create memory rituals, talk about the person and recall memories 6.Discuss their perceptions, experiences and beliefs 7.Acknowledge their loss of focus and interest 8.Be steady and stable through this turbulent period 9.Seek help for your own grief process 10.Affirm and appreciate your children during this difficult time 11.Assure your adolescent of your love and respect 12.Use words and expressions of comfort and affection 13.Express that you appreciate and value the uniqueness and differences between siblings 14.Accept each teens unique grief process; Things not to say to a grieving teen; •“Be Strong” or “Carry On” •“I know just how you feel.” •“You had wonderful years together. You’re fortunate.” •“Now you have to be the man/woman of the house.” •“In time you’ll forget all about this.”; The Importance of Funeral Ceremonies and Memorialization; CHOICES – teens will appreciate being invited to be involved in the ceremony. •Attendance of the wake and funeral should be an option. They should not be denied rights to go or forced to go against their will. •Being able to say good bye in a significant way is more important then attending the funeral and very important to grieving teens. –Write a good-bye letter –Make a scrapbook –Create rituals –Make a collage –Write music or poetry; 2 Major Factors that Effect the Teen’s Grieving Process; The nature/cause of the death –Death from a Chronic Illness –Accidental Death –A Death by Suicide –A Violent Death –Being a Witness to a Death •What the relationship with the person who died was –Parent –Friend –Sibling; Death from a Chronic Illness; Some studies have shown people have a more difficult time dealing with deaths that result from a lengthy illness. •A lot of energy is used prior to the death, there is not much left to use to grieve after the death. •Just because you knew a death is coming doesn’t mean you will be prepared for the death. •While the person is dying it may be difficult to remember the good times. –It is helpful to reminisce •It is completely normal and natural to experience emotions of relief when the death does occur. •Teens may develop a fears of their own health. •Teens need honesty about the circumstances so they can prepare themselves.; Accidental Death; Unexpected deaths tend to be more traumatic for teens. •There is no opportunity for good-byes or apologies. •When someone dies in an accident we often feel it was before their time. •Feeling of regret and guilt often arise if there was unfinished business or even if you felt you could have stopped it someway. •Accidental deaths leave the ones left behind full of if-onlys. •Expressing regrets, guilts and if-onlys helps the griever.; A Death by Suicide; The person made his/her own choice - No one drives anyone else to complete suicide. •No one is to blame for someone else's decision to commit suicide. •Guilt , shame and anger are commonly experienced by the loved ones left behind. –Shame – the social stigma of suicide –Anger – at the person for giving up or abandoning them –Guilt – for not making the persons life easier or not stopping them … even though it was in no way their fault. •The suicide Gene? •Community response from bullying and suicide.; A Violent Death; Murder and Drunk Driving Crashes (MADD) •Social Stigma of violent deaths •Media and legal system do not always provide justice. •True justice is impossible – deceased life cannot be restored •Those left behind may have additional stresses. –Prolonged period of uncertainty –Lack of closure –Fear of perpetrator getting them •Feelings of anger and revenge are commonly experienced •Feelings of Revenge and Rage take time from healing; Death of a Parent; Teen feels loss of control and stability. •Often have unresolved issues with parents because adolescence is the period of breaking away from parental authority. –Feelings of guilt and regret •Financial and daily living circumstances change •Realization the will not have a father or mother to celebrate rites of passage –Graduation, marriage, childbirth •Strong grief reactions will be triggered by daily events. •Need to protect surviving parent for fear of losing them too. • Need to break away from surviving parent because of over protectiveness or unrealistic role expectations; Death of a Sibling; Siblings are peers that experience a unique attachment as children of the same parents. •They share countless memories both good and bad. •They generally will have unresolved conflicts and rivalries. •The surviving sibling(s) may have intense regret or guilt about actions or things said. •Parents become overprotective yet often don’t provide enough attention to the surviving children because they are dealing with their own pain. •The surviving sibling will try to protect there parents by not telling them how bad they are hurting. –It is important they find someone to talk to, if they do not want to talk to their parents; Death of a Friend; Peer relationships are often more important to teens then family relationships. •When someone the teens age dies they may feel psychologically threatened. –Even if the two peers were not close, the fact someone their own age has died strongly effects them. •Feelings of omnipotence are altered – realize they are no longer immune to death and death does not only happen to old people •Feel Competitive Grief •May feel abandoned by the friend •Loss may pull large group of friends together or it may tear them apart; Other losses teens often experience; Parents get divorced •Abandonment by a parent •Choosing to have an abortion as a result to getting pregnant •Breakups with a boy/girlfriend •Changing friendships •Parents lose their job; How have you supported teens who are your students to deal with grief?