Recently, a close friend died very unexpectedly. Linda was in good health, a very vivacious woman: full of life. In one fell-swoop she went to the hospital with chest pains and within a week she was dead. She was found to have an aneurysm in her aorta and though they operated hoping to save her, it ruptured and she was gone. Her death affected my family in a profound way.
Besides their great-grandmother, who had been ill for years, no one this close to my kids had ever died. And I haven’t had much experience with dealing with death of a loved one either. So how could I help my teens deal with their grief? I decided the best way was to try and understand grief itself.
Grief is a universal experience and will affect all people at some point in their life. It is a normal response to loss and can show itself physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
Grief does not come with an instruction manual and it is not something you can prepare for. It is a very lonely place and no matter how many people gather around you to console you, grieving is something that you ultimately have to do alone.
While there are many theories on the different stages of grief that a person will go through, grieving is an individual process and everyone experiences grief differently. Generally, however, each person will experience certain aspects of the grieving process. While most experts will agree that one cannot truly understand grief until it has been experienced, most people will at one time or another experience a full range of emotions such as disbelief, denial, anger, depression, fear, guilt, forgiveness, the ability to cope, and the peace of resolution (Kinnamman, My Companion Through Grief, p. 34).
Though not necessarily orderly or predictable, there are at least four basic stages of grief that the bereft will go through: Shock, Acute Pain, Dull Pain, and Healing.
At the outset, the first stage of the grieving process is often a period shock. It seems that many are temporarily anesthetized when overwhelmed with sorrow, keeping them from facing the reality of the tragedy all at once. God has made us this way so that we can bear the overwhelming pain and sorrow of the death of a loved one. This stage may last from a few minutes to a few days. If it goes on for some weeks, it is unhealthy and help should be sought.
The next stage of grief is one of acute pain that lasts about two months. The bereft will experience intense grief, shock, emotional distress, anxiety, and fear. Not much can be done at this stage to help the grieving person, just be available to let them express their feelings when they are ready.
The third stage of grief consists of a dull pain that can last from a few months up to many years. This stage is characterized by lack of motivation, indifference, passivity, and introversion. It can be a very lonely time and in many cases loved ones will try to rush the grieving person into the next stage of grief, not realizing that the grieving person will have to work through this stage themselves and at their own pace. This is a time to be patient and help you’re loved one work through their grief.
The final stage of grief is that of healing. It is a time of renewal and emotional healing. Motivation, creativity, and meaningful relationships gradually return and life becomes more normal again. Though life will never be the same, the events causing the loss can now be discussed with emotional detachment. While some scars will never heal and some memories will never be forgotten, the searing pain and debilitating emotions are gone (Kinnamman, My Companion Through Grief, p. 33).
In order to help my teens deal with their loss, I need to understand what they will be going through the next few months. I also need to help them understand the grief process so that they, in turn, can help their friends during this painful time. I need to help my teenagers see that while this time of grief may be as dark as night, morning will eventually come.
Patti Chadwick is a freelance writer and creator of Parents & Teens an online magazine geared to help parents connect with their teens. To sign up for her FREE newsletter visit www.parentsandteens.com She is also the author of “History’s Women – The Unsung Heroines”, to find out more about this book visit: www.historyswomen.com