When Tragedy Strikes: How Can We Cope?
The news is tragic. A 16 year old Granger Township high school student and her 13 year old brother are killed in a two-car accident. As a parent, I understand the overwhelming grief this heartbreaking event has brought to the family and to the entire community.
Teen death: how to cope with your child’s death
It is generally believed that the loss of a child is the most intense grief known to mankind. Although there are no general rules or conventions as to how to grieve the death of a teen, since every parent’s experience is unique, the following observations may be helpful. The grieving process also depends on the parents’ age, sex, value system, religious beliefs and cultural background
• Realize grieving a teen’s death is a lifelong process.
• It is important to express anger outwardly. Anger turned inward can be destructive.
• It is natural to experience the ‘roller coaster’ of emotions.
• It is important to talk about pain and the event sometimes over and over.
• Fathers typically grieve differently than mothers do, due to the age-old male stereotype. Fathers should be encouraged to ‘feel free’ to grieve.
• Make sure to mobilize all of your emotional resources such as relatives, friends, co-workers, clergy, etc.
• Parents should pay close attention/support to each other and other members of the family especially other children.
• Allow yourself to cry or complain.
• Realize it is okay to keep and treasure certain belongings of the teen.
• Realize time is the biggest healer. Everybody has his/her own timeline of grieving. Allow yourself to heal. You would know when you catch yourself laughing at a joke or playing jovial music while driving, etc.
• It is natural to want to not let go of grief as a means to hang on to your deceased teen.
• Time to see a mental health specialist if your grief is causing you serious functional impairment or serious symptoms such as severe weight-loss, suicidal or homicidal thoughts, etc.
Teen death: how to cope with a child’s death
If you are a friend, neighbor or classmate of the deceased, you are experiencing your own grief while wondering how to reach out to the bereaved family. You may feel helpless and unsure of what to do next. Following are some general guidelines to help you through the next few months.
• Most of us have experienced death in our own families. Think back to those losses in your life and use that experience to understand the emotional roller coaster the family is now on.
• Understand that every person grieves differently. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve.
• There is no set time period for mourning. Every person has his/her own timeline, which you must respect.
• Listening is probably the most important thing you can do. Be supportive. Let the bereaved express their feelings freely, whether it’s anger, sorrow or bewilderment. Listen without prejudice. Understand they may not want your opinion or point of view right now. They may just need a shoulder to cry on. Listen with gentleness, acceptance and understanding.
• Pay attention to the bereaved’s basic needs. Make sure they are able to get some sleep, have meals, and take care of their personal hygiene.
• Avoid saying things like “If there’s anything I can do, just let me know.” The bereaved are having a hard time focusing their thoughts and they won’t be able to think of “what you can do.” Instead, give the family a list of duties you are willing to take on during their time of mourning. Tell them you will cut the grass, pull the weeds, wash the dishes, walk the dog, sort bills, or stop at the drugstore. They will need to perform certain painful functions such as getting certified copies of the death certificate or taking the deceased’s name off accounts. Give them a list of what you can do and let them tell you what they need most.
• You may want to give them a gift. Their home will be filled with guests for several weeks, so an offering of food is always welcome. Organize a schedule with the neighbors so that the family always has food in their home and enough space to store it. They will need to write notes; a gift of cards and stamps is helpful. Warm pajamas or a comforting shawl or blanket can be a most welcome gift. A journal to record their feelings or a book about coping with grief may also be appropriate even if they don’t use those items right away. Remember that during this time, life needs to remain as simple and serene as possible for the bereaved. Taking care of a new plant or reheating a complicated casserole may be more than they want to handle.
• If your child was a classmate of the deceased and is experiencing profound grief, talk to him or her about the cycle of life. Death, no matter when it comes, is a part of life. If your child appears to be overwhelmed, unable to sleep or to participate in school events, seek professional help.
• You may be experiencing some post-traumatic stress. If you find yourself paralyzed with fear when your child gets behind the wheel and unable to shake morbid feelings, seek professional help.
• As time goes on, the community will begin to heal in a number of ways. Some people may want to establish a charitable event in honor of the deceased. Some may want to honor the fact that the two deceased teenagers were organ donors by spreading the word about organ donations. Others may find planting a tree or creating a lasting memorial for the deceased can aid in the healing process. The community may want to step into the role of averting similar tragedies through frequent safety programs. It can be an empowering experience to seek ways in which to find something good and positive from a tragedy. The resiliency of the human spirit will help the community to bond together during this time.
• And finally, don’t underestimate the power of prayer. Whether you are religious or not, a spiritual connection to the universe can bring you inner peace while giving you the strength to work through your grief.
Next Week: Parenting An Unruly Child