Grieving the Death of a Best Friend as a Teen

A best friend knows you in a way no one else does, and when you’re a teen, this connection can be particularly unique and intense. Between school, texting, and social media, teens are in constant touch with their closest friends. In a time when teens are in the midst of figuring out who they are and aren’t, friends are who they talk to about their their hopes, fears, dreams, and insecurities. When a friend who knows you on such a deep level dies, it can be devastating. For many teens, it might be their first experience with grieving someone who is part of their day to day life. Because they aren’t officially family, teens can feel left out of the rituals and routines surrounding the death. They often don’t receive the same support and care from others who tend to focus on the immediate family.

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New Year’s Intentions & Grief

As 2016 comes to a close, articles and advertisements about ringing in the New Year are sure to include suggestions for making and sticking with resolutions. Resolutions can be concrete - exercise three times a week - or abstract - be more compassionate and patient. Unfortunately, many resolutions become just another reason to judge ourselves as not good enough. Sound familiar?
Grief lends itself to a similar set-up. Kids of all ages, along with adults, often worry they aren’t grieving the right way. They fear crying too much or not enough. They give themselves a hard time for thinking about the person all the time, but then feel guilty if they think about anything else. It can become a perpetual self-blame scenario, leaving those in grief convinced they don’t measure up. With that tendency in mind, we offer the idea of shifting away from resolutions to setting intentions related to grief, with lots of permission to change your mind and rework those intentions as the year unfolds.

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What to say instead…

No matter how long we work with grieving children and families, it never gets easier to know what to say when a death occurs. It’s human nature to fall back on the cliches and platitudes we’ve grown up hearing. If you’ve ever found yourself relying on automatic responses, you’re not alone. Most of the time, these sentiments come from good intentions and a desire to comfort. That said, here are some common ones that often miss the mark with grieving children and families, along with suggestions for what to say instead.

“You must be…”
Assuming how someone is feeling can be affirming (if you assume correctly), but more often it sets an expectation for their reactions that may or may not be true. If someone doesn’t feel the way you think they do, they might experience guilt or shame for not grieving the right way.

Better options:
How is your grief today?
How is it affecting you lately?

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Back to School With Grief

It’s August which means many families are preparing for the start of school. When families are also grieving,  this transition can bring a mixture relief, dread, excitement, and trepidation.

Much like work for adults, children and teens spend a majority of their time at school and they take their grief with them. For some children and teens, returning to school is comforting. They find support in the structure, familiarity, connections with friends, and the opportunity to focus on something other than grief. For others though, it can be a challenging venture that brings additional stress, uncertainty, and worry. What to think through and how to help depends on a number of factors. How old is your child and what grade are they in? Who died in their life and what was their relationship? How did the person die? When did the loss occur? There’s no formula for how the answers to these questions affect someone’s grief, but they are important to consider as you sort through how to best support your child or teen in returning to school.

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