Monthly Archives: August 2014

Connect

Relationship is first about sharing the mundane before it graduates to sharing deep inner thoughts and feelings. Give the relationship time, day after day, week after week. Grief is a very long process; there will be lots of opportunities for sharing if you make the time.

tea time photo

“It’s not easy to lose someone you were close to, and it’s not easy to open up. I wish someone would have pushed me harder to talk about it. I’m still finding it hard to deal with, and I can’t seem to find the words to describe how I felt.  I felt alone and abandoned, not because I was alone but because I wouldn’t let anyone in and help.  I wouldn’t ask for help, I wouldn’t ask for guidance, but I wanted it….. I needed it. Trying to figure it out on your own…. it doesn’t help. I spent most of my time by myself in the corner or playing basketball by myself at youth group.  Nathan and Shelby were the ones that I would open up to because they came in and saw me and would take time out of their day and make it a point to say hi and talk if I wanted or just shoot some hoops.” Brian, age 16 

Grief is the realization that an important piece is missing in the puzzle of life. Like a puzzle, each piece plays an important part in telling the story. When a piece that once was there is now missing, it is difficult to get beyond that hole. Teens will search for replacement and meaning to the “missing piece.” Teens try to connect what once was with what is now, and it does not connect; there is a hole. This is where you come in to guide them through the unwelcome new reality and the importance of grieving in a healthy way.

Photo by The Art of York Berlin

The Hole

Being 13 when my friend Jack died, I was unprepared; I had no tools or coping skills on my side. So, I went to Cari. She gave me ideas like singing, writing letters, to express what I felt and then move on with my day. Overall, those feelings were so intense and overpowering that the best way to deal with them was to feel them. Not to ignore them, run from them, hide from them, because they would get me no matter where I was. It was just best to feel them in the moment; I would allow myself time to grieve and then move on with my day.” Jocelyn, age 13 at time of death      

hole photo

Death leaves a hole, a huge gaping hole, in the teen’s life. This hole may be evidenced by the empty chair; at the dinner table, the lunch table or in the classroom. Our culture tells us to replace the loss, remove or fill the empty chair, and “move on.” God says to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). What the grieving teen needs is for someone to encourage them to embrace the loss and walk through the grief, not run away from or around it. Jesus wept with Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ tomb. As comforters you are to weep with the teen, listen to them, walk with him or her through the dark places, and help identify if those places are too dark or too long and professional help is needed.

The death of a close loved one is similar to an amputation. A part of them is gone, never to return. The pain is stabbing and sometimes incapacitating. Slowly healing takes place, and the wound is fitted with a prosthetic in order to move forward with life. At first the prosthetic rubs and chaffs, but it conforms and becomes usable. Over time and with work, the wounded teen adapts to the way life is now and moves forward. But one thing is for certain: the amputee never forgets he or she once had two hands and two feet. Eventually the grieving too learns how to adapt and is able to move forward.

The first step in walking with grieving teens is developing a relationship, getting close, and showing them that we care. Taking time away from our busy lives to just sit over a cup of coffee or shoot hoops makes great strides in this direction. Getting to know them, really know them, is a lost art. We know many people but don’t really know them. When comforting grieving teens, ask gentle probing questions, which may look like idle talk but have direction. Find out their favorite color, snack food, movie genre, and sport. This is the first step in knowing what to do for them on those tough days, which we will discuss later. No one cares how much we know until they know how much we care.

Unprepared

It doesn’t matter if the death is a grandparent, aunt, uncle, parent, child, sibling, or a friend, society does not usually prepare us for loss. If you are prepared, you are grave stone photoamong the few. In decades past, when a loved one neared death, he or she was taken into the family home until the time came. There was time to seek and give forgiveness, say final goodbyes, and extend love. This is rarely done anymore.

I feel that death in present day America has been white washed. When grandparents age to the point of needing constant care, they are frequently placed in assisted living, then into nursing homes. We seldom face death as a family and even more rarely experience grieving as a family. Less and less we have the older generation teaching the younger generations how to grieve by example.

This has left us in a desolate place without mentors, unaware of what constitutes healthy grieving, and unsure where to find the answers.

For most teens the deaths they experience are sudden. They hang out with friends after chemistry class on Friday only to be faced with an empty stool in lab on Monday. No closure, lots of regrets, and few answers. Where do they turn for help? Most often they turn to adult and peer friends. We need to be ready and equipped to handle the complexity of their grief needs.

When the death is sudden, the lack of experience in adolescence is amplified. When I was thrown into grief, the only prior grief I had walked through was the death of pets. Suddenly I not only needed to learn how to grieve for myself, but I also felt a burden to teach by example how to grieve to my surviving children, their friends, as well as my deceased children’s friends. I began to devour books on grief written by those who have been there.

Photo by Talusss

Photo by Talusss

“NO! It can’t be true!” The Shock of Death

pain photo Grief is a common experience. It is not only an emotional experience of tears, sadness, and emptiness but a physical one as well manifesting in forgetfulness, restlessness, and exhaustion. Teens don’t have the coping skills that adults have acquired, and the brain is not fully formed until they are 24-26 years old. Keep that in mind when I use the term “teen.”  In Tattooed by Grief  I am specifically addressing the grief of an 11-24 year old after the death of a loved one or close friend.

Experiencing the death of a loved one struck me straight between the eyes and laid me flat. Nowhere in my education was I offered Grief 101. I was unprepared, without a clue as to how to grieve, how long it would take before I could move forward, which feelings were okay and which were not. I thought I was going crazy. I didn’t know where to turn for answers either. I found myself alone on a desolate island; the silence was deafening, the loneliness paralyzing, even though I was surrounded by the busyness of life.

The vast majority of people will experience the death of a loved one before they die. I don’t know about you, but I do not remember a single death of a classmate from K-12. Currently there are teens in my two local high schools that have tattooed dates on their arms of friends–yes, that is plural friends–who have died. Mind you, I live in a rural area, not a crowded city. There is a need to bring God’s healing and hope into their lives. It is time for parents, youth leaders, and friends to come alongside teens to bring the hope and healing of Christ into their lives. It is time we learn what is “normal” in grief.  This is why I have written this book.