- Written by Victor Parachin Victor Parachin
Sooner or later, everyone experiences the death of someone they love. That experience also includes teenagers, many of whom lose friends as a result of drug overdoses, auto accidents, and terminal illness.
Additionally, more grandparents are assuming parenting responsibilities for grandchildren. In fact, this is a growing trend, with an estimated 2-5 percent of U.S. children being raised by a grandparent with no parent in the household, a situation referred to as “grandfamilies.”
Here are five tips grandparents can consider when guiding a teen grandchild grieving the death of a friend.
1. Advise the teen to join in rituals. Memorial services, funerals, and other traditions help people get through the first few days and honor the person who died.
Participating gives a safe space for a teen’s emotions to be expressed and released. Also, the teen will be with many of his or her peers, thus benefiting from important social support.
2. Give “permission” to cry. Teens are embarrassed about tears. Reassure them that crying is a healthy response to a painful loss.
Remind him or her not to worry if tears spontaneously appear when something triggers a memory of the person who died. It’s natural for this to happen. After a while, it becomes less painful.
Keep reassuring a teen that he or she will feel better over time and that the intensity of the grief will ease.
3. Promote healthy self-expression. Like adults, some teens find it helpful to tell the story of their loss or talk about their feelings, while others are not comfortable talking about a loss. Understand and work with your teen’s emotional style. No one should feel pressured to talk.
However, for a teen who may be more private with his or her feelings, there are other ways to promote healthy self-expression, which include journaling, writing poetry, or creating music.
4. Encourage sharing with a confidant. In her book When a Teen Dies: A Book for Teens about Healing and Grieving, Marilyn E. Gootman, Ed.D., explains why a teen should talk about his or her loss with a confidant:
“Even though you may feel sad when you talk about your friend, talking will help your pain get smaller. Not talking won’t make your pain go away. In fact, it may make it stronger. As you force your pain to stay inside, it pushes against you, trying to get out.
“That’s why it’s so important to find someone — a friend or an adult — to talk to. Sharing your feelings with others is a healthy way to release some of your pain.”
5. Recommend joining a support group. A grief-support group exclusively for teens is an ideal way for a young person to experience support. Participation will provide the teen with information and inspiration for better dealing with the loss. To find a teen grief support group, do a web search for one in your community or consult with a school counselor.
Finally, grandparents should gently and regularly remind a grieving teen to be patient. Their wound of grief will heal, as Gootman notes:
“At first, when a friend dies, it’s hard to imagine how life can go on … but it does. It’s hard to imagine that things will ever go back to normal, or almost normal … but they will.”
Victor M. Parachin, M.Div., is a grief counselor, bereavement educator, and author of several books, including Healing Grief.