Tag Archives: teen help

Too Dark Too Long

“The tunnel feels too dark and goes on forever” If the sadness is deep for a long time, meaning several months, please encourage them to speak to a trained counselor. Depression locks teens into believing their emotional pain is a permanent state with no way out. They need help escaping this trap. Chronic depression can lead to suicidal thoughts, which need to be addressed immediately. Trained counselors can help themlight-end-tunnel-18817673[1] refocus and lift them from this darkness.

Suicide warning signs:

  • mood swings or sudden personality changes, such as going from outgoing to withdrawn or well-behaved to rebellious.
  • lose interest in day-to-day activities,
  • neglect his or her appearance
  • show big changes in eating or sleeping habits

If you notice any of these signs take it seriously. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Seek our help for them. Find the suicide hotline number for your area, contact Second Wind Fund for counseling assistance. http://www.thesecondwindfund.org

“I was emotionless and blank. I would just go back to my barracks room and sit in the dark and just listen to music or play video games ‘cause I could let out some of the suppressed emotions. It took a long time to talk to anybody about it. The only person I can remember talking to was my fiancé. Having someone to talk to about it helped.” Brian, age 16

Death leaves a hole, a huge gaping hole, in the teen’s life. They are reminded of that hole at every turn: the empty chair at the table, the undisturbed bed, the unoccupied desk or locker with memorials all around them. Our culture tells us to replace the loss, remove the chair, and fill the hole. God says to weep with those who weep, “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15b).

You, their helpers, give them the courage to embrace the loss and walk through the grief, not run away from or bury it. As helpers you walk with them through the dark places and help them to identify if those places get too dark or last too long and professional help is needed.


Another key to understanding the uniqueness of grief in youth are the many physical changes they are going through just being teens. Their bodies are changing radically. For some it is hard for their wardrobes to keep up. When their bodies ache from the physical changes and the heart aches from loss, life can be overwhelming. They may already be moody and grief intensifies that.

They need adults who are willing:coffee 1

  • to come alongside them,
  • spend time with them,
  • listen to them, and listen some more
  • assure them that they are feeling is normal
  •  It is important for them to know they have support and what they are experiencing is normal. For them these feelings may seem to last forever, but being reminded that it is temporary is important.  Just like growing pains, the grief will subside. They will heal. This is temporary, long and drawn our but temporary none the less.

        “Even though I wrote quite a bit in my journal I wish I had written more. I’m having hard days      helps to read my words and see how far I’ve come since that day” Katie age 15

Making journals is a good hands on expression of their grief, honoring the loved one they lost. Use an inexpensive composition book and cover it with a collage with their own drawings or pictures, phrases, and words cut from magazines that remind them of their loved ones.

This journal becomes a safe place to write their thoughts, poems, stories, and draw pictures of what they are feeling at a given time during their grief journeys. Then they can go back to these journals and see their progress over time. The outside of the journal represents not only how unique their loved ones were but also their own uniqueness.

Excerpt from Tattooed By Grief by Cari Zorno


Unwanted Roller Coaster Ride


How will they know they are healing? Grief is an emotional roller coaster. One minute, the grieving teen feels really sad, possibly even crying for no reason they can pin down. The next minute a friend tells a joke and they laugh.It can pass as quickly as it came.

“The more I opened up about the loss, the lighter the weight became. As I look back, the sadness, obviously, did not go away or fade; it just became more endurable. It became something I could live with instead of    preventing me from living.” Chelsea, age 16

This roller coaster ride can continue for quite a while, but eventually the ups stay longer and the downs become shorter. They will know there is healing when the sun seems to shine brighter, when they can feel happy longer.

Documenting today will help them tomorrow. It is recorded in black and white that they are healing.

  • Journaling and diaries                                    pen-journal-open-blank-empty-page-7398267[1]
  • Drawing, collages, sketches, doodles
  • Craft projects

They will know there is healing when they can look back at things they had written or drawn and see how they have changed. They can reflect back on conversations they had in the beginning and realize that their moods are improving.

For this reason it is important for youth to document how they feel physically and emotionally each week. Watch for small improvements you can point out to them. Tracking improvement can be very encouraging. They need someone that is on the outside looking in to help them gain perspective.



Break it up!

shooting hoops

shooting hoops


“Don’t ignore your feelings, run from them, or hide from them, because they will get you no matter where you are. For me it was best to feel them in the moment; I’d allow myself 30 minutes to grieve, and then move on with my day.” Jocelyn, age13


Grieving is hard work that can only be done in short bursts of intense pain. The pain needs to be broken up with activity as a friend you may:

  • Suggest going for a walk,
  • Shoot hoops with them
  • Go swimming together
  • Watch a funny or action movie

All these can be good releases for the tension of grief. The pain needs to be broken into manageable pieces. It is unhealthy to be expected to be sad all the time. Emotions will be a rollercoaster ride. So, be patient. This is why it is so important for youth to know they do not need to walk this journey alone. Going through it with support, with community, makes it easier.. When a teen seems constantly sad, it may be time to seek professional help they may be suffering from depression.

Grief is temporary, although we do not know how long it will last since each loss is unique. Assure your friend:

  • What they are feeling right now is temporary. No matter how long it feels like it takes, it is temporary. These feelings will not last forever. Honestly, depending on the relationship, it could be either a few months or a few years before they move forward in their lives.
  • Everyone’s grief is unique. They shouldn’t compare their grief with someone elses.

* A recent study by Lebel and Beaulieu reinforces findings that the human brain doesn’t stop developing at adolescence but continues well into our twenties. This contributes to a teen’s inability to grasp cause and effect and to understand that what they are feeling is temporary. The concept of the temporariness of grief needs to be repeated frequently.

Copyright Cari Zorno Tattooed by Grief 2014


grieving teen   Personality types respond differently under the stress of grief. Extroverts who are stressed tend to pull inward and become uncharacteristically quiet. A person who is sullen and detached might be an extrovert under stress. Introverts who are stressed tend to “lash out” or “freak out.” A person who is animated and speaking out may be an introvert experiencing stress. (Schneider and Prudhomme, 2014).

When teens experience the death of a close friend, this death may be felt as deeply as and sometimes even more deeply than the death of a family member. Youth often spend more time with their peers, making those relationships extremely close. Each relationship is unique, so we cannot expect grief to be the same for all. Grief doesn’t make sense; sometimes a grieving teen may feel disconnected, like a third party watching from a distance or the mind may go into hyper-drive yet be unable to connect the thoughts.

While everyone will walk through sorrow in different ways and at varying speeds and depths of feeling, the important focus is to go through it, not around it by avoiding or numbing the feelings through self-medication of drugs or alcohol.

Feelings need to get expressed somehow. Expression of those feelings may take the form of written, drawn, or spoken words, but for some the feelings need to be put into action. This can be done with dance, hiking, running, just to name a few. Grief that is not expressed cannot heal. Bottled up or buried grief may manifest in anger or bitterness, which can be harmful to the hurting teen and to others. Teens need to be encouraged to be bold enough to share their feelings in a way most comfortable for them.

“No one understands!”

?????????????????????????????????????          We who have spent any time with teens have heard the words “No one understands!” Most of us have even said it, but in the instance of grief, those words have a reverberating ring of truth. No one does understand. Grieving the death of a grandparent or a pet is done at a different level than grieving the death of an immediate family member or close friend.

            “Friends my age didn’t know what to say. Some related the experience to losing a family pet, which made me mad. Other people would tell me I needed to move on because it happened a long time ago. Of course, my family and people who knew my brother John, like his girlfriend, would pray for me and could understand my feelings.” Ashley, age 11

One item we all need to grasp is NO ONE fully understands, not friends, not parents, not counselors, and not even those who have also experienced the death of that same loved one. No one understands because each teen is unique, and the relationship with the deceased was unique; therefore, the grief is unique.

BUT those who have experienced loss “get it.” They get that the sadness is deep and dark, and it casts a dense cloud over life. They also “get” that grief needs a relief valve of times of activity, fresh air, and laughter. They get that it will last longer than anyone wants, and it can wait in hiding and ambush the teen when he or she least expects it and finds “goodbyes” need to be said all over again. Just because the grieving teen laughs does not mean he or she is “over it” or “ready to move on.” No one understands, but the grieving need to know there are others around who “get it.”

Excerpt from Tattooed by Grief  by Cari Zorno



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.


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.