At the National Alliance for Grieving Children, Dr. Heidi Horsley talks with Thom McLeod, a hospice chaplain in Ft. Lauderdale. He also facilitates a teen bereavement group in Davey, Florida. Working closely with teens puts McLeod in a unique position. He says teens can find hope after loss in many ways. The bereavement process is a normal process (if you’re lucky and live long enough to experience it). You need to find a new normal, and teens are going through so many changes already. They’re readjusting to loss while also moving from being a child to a young adult.
He recommends being normal and being yourself to a teen. If this is a family loss, don’t be afraid to grieve with your teen. Don’t be the strong person for them, because they’ll see how fake it is. Teens can easily see through facades. Normal teenage behaviors will still crop up, like rebellion and experimentation. They separate from their family to identify their own person.
Watch out for self damaging behaviors, drug abuse, and any behavior where teens threaten others. Those are major red flags. If they’re referencing the loss frequently, they probably need to work more on the grief/bereavement aspects of it. If they’re talking, they need to get help suggests McLeod. Teen support groups are a great option, because surrounding teens with those who empathize with them works well.
This doesn’t have to be immediately after the loss. It can happen and be necessary years later. What teens see here is that they’re not alone and that others are also grieving. Grief is a normal process, and letting teens work with others to find their new normal is critical. Moving on while acknowledging the loss is the goal.