Teens and grief
Ask an Expert Question My father died last summer. He seemed fine but when the doctor said he had cancer in his pancreas he died in three weeks. I couldn’t believe it. No one at school understands because their parents are all alive, so now I hate being there. If I had a brother or sister it might be better, but it’s only me. My mother cries a lot on her own, so I don’t want to bother her. Is there help for kids? Answer I am so sorry for your loss. Losing a parent when you are young and in school is not “how it’s supposed to be.” Yet it happens. While exact statistics are not known, the National Institutes of Health estimates that 5 percent of children in the United States lose one or both parents by age 15. Another fact is that the Social Security benefit program for children who have lost parents includes at least 1.9 million children in the US. But even though a lot of kids are affected, it’s still a very lonely thing to go through. We assume parents will be around until their kids are grown and independent, so it goes against normal expectations. A grieving teenager told me once, “It’s like I became a member of a club I didn’t want to join.” You sound like a lot of grieving young people who also feel isolated in grief. It is unusual that you have not heard about anyone in your school who also lost a parent. It may be that your school is small or you just haven’t found out yet who else is going through it. Please talk to your teachers or a guidance counselor who may know of adolescent bereavement support groups near where you live. The hospice that took care of your dad will also offer or know about programs for kids and teens. Communicating with others in a grief group is genuinely helpful when you are living with loss. Even though your mom is hurting, too, talk to her and let her know you need some help. As a student, you’re already in learning mode so look into books in the library or online that relate to teens and grief. Information, new perspectives, and connection to other teens are important tools in actively coping with grief. A powerful example is Genevieve Liu, who was only 13 years old when her father drowned trying to save two young boys in Lake Michigan. In 2013 she started an online community (www.slapd.com) as a place for kids and teens to support one another, gain hope, and find professional help in the grieving process. Out of her own sadness and loneliness she reached out as best she could to ensure that no teen has to experience grief alone. It is huge to lose a dad or a mom when you are young. Your teen years are a time of great change and development which can be a challenge even without the pain of grief. But there are many young people who, like Genevieve, have survived and can realistically say they are stronger and wiser from the ordeal. Please push forward and find other teens and professionals who can help you achieve the same. by The Rev. Paul A. Metzler, DMin, an Episcopal priest and psychotherapist, is semi-retired following over 40 years of service as a clergy member, therapist and hospice-based grief counselor. Journeys with Grief: A Newsletter to Help in Bereavement, copyright Hospice Foundation of America, 2018.