by John Carleton, BYS Counseling Intern
A few weeks ago, our community experienced a big tragedy. Words fail when we try to describe the communal and individual loss that occurred the night we lost three young teenagers, and, yet, words are one of the ways we have to communicate our feelings, so we try. You might worry about saying the “wrong” thing but it’s important to acknowledge the grief your child might be experiencing. Speak from the heart and focus on them.
While there are common phases of grief, it is ultimately an individual experience with its own timeline. This can make it difficult for parents to know how to support their children as they process the trauma and loss. The school emailed some information, and BYS has an extensive list of grief and loss resources. In particular, adults might benefit from Helping Teens Deal with Loss, and adolescents from the Grief Handbook for Teens.
One thing that is unique to this time, is that we’ve spent a year in isolation due to a pandemic. We’ve had to deal with numerous losses of all kinds and, because it is still an ongoing traumatic experience, many of us have not yet been able to truly grieve these losses. That means youth were already carrying around a substantial amount of grief that they have yet to process. As such, this added loss may be even more impactful than it would have been in a “normal” year.
The impact of grief doesn’t just show up in emotions, but in our bodies as well. Youth may feel more tired or exhausted, have trouble sleeping, may feel tense, restless or have trouble concentrating, even if they don’t feel sad. There may be feelings of guilt – guilt over missed opportunities to spend time with or tell the deceased how much they meant to them. They might be angry and may need help in finding ways to express it in a healthy manner. They may feel like they’re on an emotional roller coaster.
As much as possible, be supportive and allow teens to feel whatever they are feeling; let them lead the grieving process. Keep usual family routines but be flexible and open to changing their roles and responsibilities. Intervene immediately when safety is a concern, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re worried about your child. Don’t try to cheer them up or exhort them to be strong. Don’t over-identify with them or tell them you know how they’re feeling. Above all else, simply be available to them. After you’ve communicated that you’re available to talk, be okay with silence. It might feel uncomfortable, but sometimes the best thing you can do is just sit quietly with them.
If you feel that you could use some guidance in supporting your teen in their grief, consider BYS. We offer free parent coaching, as supporting parents is ultimately supporting youth.