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Adolescent Grief Issues: Help For The Caring Adult. David A. Opalewski Author/Presenter (989) 249 – 4362 When death impacts a family, everyone has a high need to feel understood, yet a natural incapacity to be understanding !.

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adolescent grief issues help for the caring adult

Adolescent Grief Issues: Help For The Caring Adult

David A. Opalewski


(989) 249 – 4362

When death impacts a family, everyone has a high need to feel understood, yet a natural incapacity to be understanding !
the gardner and the seedling a parable
The Gardner and the Seedling: A Parable
  • One spring morning a gardener noticed an unfamiliar seedling poking through the ground near the rocky, untended edge of his garden. He knelt to examine it’s first fragile leaves. Though he had cared for many others during his long life, the gardener was unsure what this new seedling was to become. Still, it looked forlorn and in need of his encouragement, so the gardener removed the largest stones near the seedling’s tender stalk and bathed it in rainwater from his worn tin watering can
parable cont
Parable Cont.
  • In the coming days, the gardner watched the seedling struggle to live and grow in it’s new, sometimes hostile home. When weeds threatened to choke the seedling, he dug them out, careful not to disturb the seedling’s delicate roots. He spooned dark, rich compost around it’s base. One cold April night, he even fashioned a special cover for the seedling from an old canning jar so that it would not freeze.
parable cont5
Parable Cont.
  • But the gardener also believed in the seedling’s natural capacity to adapt and survive. He did not water it too frequently. He did not stimulate it’s growth with chemicals. Nor did he succumb to the urge to lift the seedling from it’s unfriendly setting and transplant it in the rich, sheltered center of the garden. Instead, the gardener watched and waited.
parable cont6
Parable Cont.
  • Day by day, the seedling grew taller, stronger. It’s slender yet sturdy stalk reached for the heavens and it’s blue- green leaves stretched to either side as if to welcome the gardener as he arrived each morning.
parable cont7
Parable Cont.
  • Soon a bud appeared atop the young plant’s stem. Then one warm June afternoon, the tightly wrapped, purple-blue petals unfurled, revealing a creamy white ring of petals inside and a tiny bouquet of yellow stamens at it’s center.
  • A Columbine – the gentle wildflower whose name means “dove-like” A single, perfect columbine.
parable cont8
Parable Cont.
  • The gardener smiled. He knew then that the columbine would continue to grow and flourish, still needing his presence, but no longer requiring the daily companionship it had during it’s tenuous early days.
  • The gardener crouched next to the lovely blossom and cupped it’s head in his rough palm. “Congratulations” he whispered to the columbine. “You have not only survived, you have grown beautiful and strong.”
parable cont9
Parable Cont.
  • The gardener stood and turned to walk back to his gardening shed. Suddenly a gust of wind lifted his straw hat and as he bent to retrieve it, a small voice whispered back, “Without your help, I could not have. Thank you.”
  • The gardener looked up, but no one was there. Just the blue columbine nodding happily in the breeze.
how the gardener helped
How The Gardener Helped
  • He didn’t transplant it into the garden. Thus he didn’t try to “fix” the problem
  • He only protected when the frost came which was an immediate threat to the seedling’s life
  • He didn’t protect from day to day hassles
  • He allowed natural consequences to teach
  • He enriched or fertilized the soil
  • He watched and waited instead of being more actively involved
  • He believed in the seedling
teen grief
Teen Grief
  • They are not children, yet neither are they adults
  • Teen grief is an area in need of much more research
  • Grieving teens need the love and support of adults if they are to grow to become emotionally healthy themselves
teen grief facts
Teen Grief Facts
  • Most deaths teens experience are sudden or untimely (Sudden Death Syndrome)
  • Most teens at first will often feel disbelief and numbness. His survival mechanisms tell him that he must push away if he is to survive
  • The teen’s heightened emotions often take the form(s) of rage/anger. This is his way to say “I protest this death” and vent his feelings of helplessness
teen grief facts cont
Teen Grief Facts Cont.
  • Rage fantasies are also common – it is a normal grief response and most teens know not to act upon these feelings
  • The death of a parent is especially difficult for teens
  • Teens are extremely close to boyfriends, girlfriends, and best friends. Many times, their grief is overlooked because society tends to focus on the ‘primary” mourners . . . The dead person’s immediate family
anticipated death
Anticipated Death

Professionals helping families grieve anticipated deaths rarely consider their potentially traumatic impact.

These deaths are considered to be “good deaths” providing opportunity to come to terms with the situation.

This view ignores the many logistical, financial, and emotional strains of terminal illness.

stress with a dying parent
Stress with a Dying Parent

Deterioration of dying patient – physical, mental and emotional

Fear of unknown

Inability to help

Loss of sense of world as a safe place

Teen’s fear of intensity of own emotional reactions

stress with a dying parent17
Stress with a Dying Parent

Guilt over inability to tolerate exposure to dying parent

Surviving parent emotionally depleted

Surviving parent seeking support from teen

adolescent quote
Adolescent Quote

“I didn’t want to spend time with mom. I was scared of the fact she was dying. It’s different than you’re used to. You’re kind of speechless and you don’t know what to say.”

grieving teens in school
Grieving Teens In School
  • Should not be asked to continue with school work as if nothing happened
  • The work of mourning must take precedence if a teen is to heal. Teachers should understand this temporary shift in priorities
  • Important events like prom or graduation usually are difficult times not only after a short time, but also years later
adolescent mourning needs
Adolescent Mourning Needs
  • Acknowledge the reality of the death
  • Move toward the pain of the loss
  • Remember the person who died
  • Develop a new self-identity
  • Search for meaning
  • Continue to receive support from adults
what not to do
What NOT To Do
  • Be judgmental, criticize, blame
  • Do most of the talking
  • Lie or tell half-truths
  • Use euphemisms like “gone away,’ “resting,” “sleep” etc.
  • Be afraid to admit to a student that you DON’T know all the answers
  • Avoid the student(s)
  • Minimize the loss
what not to do22
What NOT To Do
  • Change the subject
  • Use clichés such as “we all have to die sometime”
  • Say “I know how you feel”
  • Believe that a teen thinks the same way as an adult
  • Attempt to become a substitute for the deceased
what not to do23
What NOT To Do
  • Think that a student’s busy activity means he/she is being disrespectful or disinterested
  • Pressure the student to talk
  • Tell them how they should feel
what should we do
What SHOULD We Do ?
  • Allow the new loss to take precedence with classmates
  • Trust your instincts
  • Initiate the discussion of the loss issue if students do not bring it up
  • Encourage students to attend visitation, funeral, memorial service
  • Consider the creation of a memorial(plaque, books for the library, etc.)
what should we do25
What SHOULD We Do ?
  • Marshall positive forces in the student’s life
  • Realize that not talking about the loss doesn’t make it go away
  • Encourage classmates to be a support system for the grieving student and his/her family
  • Communicate the knowledge that all feelings are okay and need to be expressed
  • Recognize that laughter and play don’t mean that the student did not love or care about the person who died
what should we do26
What SHOULD We Do ?
  • Remember the four T’s in sympathy: “Talk” “Touch” “Tears” “Time”
  • Dispel guilt feelings
what students can do
What Students Can Do
  • Make a Display Board for Funeral Home Visitation:
    • Have family liaison clear with family first
    • Students bring in pictures of activities with deceased, put names on back of pictures
    • Put at a place where students can see it before they enter the chapel to view deceased
benefits of display board
Benefits of Display Board
  • Helps “loosen” the students up
  • Helps students feel part of the process
  • Stops crazy emotions
  • Makes the deceased a part of their lives
what students can do29
What Students Can Do
  • Make a Treasure Box Memorial:
    • Bring stuffed animals
    • Pictures
    • Hats
    • Poems/Songs/Writings
    • Art Work
    • Letter to deceased
    • Anything that will cultivate a pleasant memory or be a fitting tribute
    • Present to parents during or after the funeral
sample classroom discussion guide
Sample Classroom Discussion Guide
  • Announce the tragedy – no PA announcement
  • Allow a minute or two for the news to sink in
  • Express how you are impacted by the tragedy
  • Ask students to share positive memories of the deceased
  • Share some positive memories you have of the deceased
  • Talk about feelings of grief
  • Encourage students to express their feelings
class discussion cont
Class Discussion Cont.
  • Encourage students to attend visitation, memorial, funeral, make a card, plan memorial, etc.
  • Move into classroom work with their option to stop anytime they feel a need to discuss the tragedy more or are feeling overwhelmed with grief
red flag behaviors
Red Flag Behaviors
  • Eating disorders
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Alcohol or other drug abuse
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors
  • Dramatic change of behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions
  • Fighting and legal troubles
  • Academic failure or over-achievement
advice from my teen support group
Advice From My Teen Support Group
  • Mention the person who died by name; personalize our loss
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to us about the person who died. Don’t pretend that he/she didn’t exist
  • Use words “died” “death” etc.
  • Be patient. If we cry, please understand, and if we make you feel uncomfortable, we don’t mean to.
advice from my teen support group34
Advice From My Teen Support Group
  • Call and visit. Please don’t wait for us to call you. We are so overwhelmed by our loss we forget to call or don’t have the energy to call
  • Invite to church with you. If you see one of us sitting alone at church, or at school lunch, please sit with us
  • Invite us to a movie with you. If we say “no” please call back another time
  • Please remember the normal grief cycle is 24 months. In case of suicide it may last even longer
advice from my teen support group35
Advice From My Teen Support Group
  • “Thinking of You” cards or notes on anniversaries (death, wedding) or the dead person’s birthday are greatly appreciated. It is comforting to know that remember and care
  • If we vent our anger toward you please forgive us
  • Please don’t tell us “I know how you feel”
  • Please don’t tell us ‘you have to take care of mom or dad”
  • Please be happy with us when positive things happen to us
differences between trauma and grief

Generalized reaction SADNESS

Grief reactions stand alone

Grief reactions are usually known to public and professional

Most can talk about what happened


Generalized reaction TERROR

Trauma reactions usually include grief reactions

Reactions largely unknown to public and often professionals

Most do not want to talk about what happened

Differences Between Trauma And Grief
differences between grief and trauma

Pain is the acknowledgement of the loss

Anger is usually non-destructive/assaultive

Usually does not attack or disfigure self-image

Guilt says “I wish I would/would not have”

Dreams tend to be of deceased


Anger often becomes assaultive verbally or physically

Generally attacks, disfigures self image

Guilt says “it was my fault; I could have prevented it”

Dreams about self as potential victim

Differences Between Grief And Trauma
suicide helping those left behind
Suicide: Helping Those Left Behind
  • Rejection Loneliness
  • Shame Guilt
  • Blame Anger
  • Make sure you don’t make the deceased bigger in death then they were in life !
  • Beware of copy-cat behaviors
  • Non-judgmentally, stress suicide is NEVER the answer
reasons why memorial services are not advised
Reasons Why Memorial Services Are Not Advised
  • A memorial service runs the real risk of glamorizing or romanticizing the suicide
  • Students who feel unimportant may come to believe that suicide is a way to become important (Elder, 1995 Grollman, 1990 Wilson institute for Adolescent Studies 1988)
  • Memorials can serve to increase the attractiveness of suicide as a solution to problems (Catone et al, 1991)
smothering parents
Smothering Parents
  • Some things you may want to tell your parents:
    • I need to deal with this. Please don’t try to protect me
    • Please don’t tell me how to feel
    • When I talk to you about my feelings, I’d appreciate it if you just listened
    • Sometimes I may want to talk to another adult – a teacher, counselor, or minister. This doesn’t mean that I am rejecting you – just that I want to talk to someone whoisn’t so close to me
important points to remember when working with grieving children adolescents
Important Points To Remember When Working With GrievingChildren/Adolescents
  • I am a caregiver not a curegiver
  • I will be a more effective helper if I remember to enter into their feelings without having a need to change those feelings
  • Each bereaved child I meet is a unique human being
  • While I believe children are able to experience feelings similar to adults, their thought processes are quite different
important points cont
Important Points Cont.
  • Empathy, warmth, and acceptance are essential qualities for the person working with the grieving child/adolescent
  • To work effectively with grieving children, I must keep my own inner child alive and well
  • Grieving children use behaviors to teach me about underlying needs. I have a responsibility to learn what those unmet needs are and help the child get those needs met
important points cont57
Important Points Cont.
  • I need to remember that it is in embracing memories of the person who died that the child discovers hope for a new tomorrow
  • I must work to create a social context that allows grieving children/adolescents to mourn openly and honestly
  • I must remind myself to be responsible to grieving children/adolescents, not totally responsible for them