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Five Ways to Support a Grieving Teen

By Michelle Cove

Anyone who’s survived the teen years knows how lonely that period can be. You want to be unique but – even more importantly – fit in. So when a teen experiences the death of someone close to them, it’s hard enough to deal with grief without added social isolation. Peers and teachers tend to say awful things by accident or even on purpose; friends sometimes stop sending invitations to social events, and so on. 

That’s why this fall, Experience Camps—an award-winning national nonprofit that supports grieving children through free, week-long camps and other innovative programming—launched GRIEF SUCKS, a digital content platform for grieving teens. 

Here are five ways, based on their discussions with teens, we can all support grieving teens.

Say the name of the person who died. When people are with someone grieving, they tend to get nervous about bringing up the person who died. The thinking is, “If I bring up the person who died, I’ll make the griever suddenly remember the death and be sad.” They are already feeling sad. Their person died. Most grievers will tell you that hearing the person’s name is comforting because it means others haven’t long forgotten the deceased.

Make space for all the feelings. When you ask grieving people how they feel, they may tell you they feel sad or heartbroken, as expected. However, grief can bring up many feelings, including anger, relief, and hope. Perhaps it was getting to be too much to watch their person suffer before death, or it could be that they had a stressful relationship with the person who died. Accept that grieving people have many feelings, sometimes conflicting, and we can help make space for all of them.

Ask for stories. Our young people often tell us that one of the most painful parts of experiencing the death of their person is that there will be no new stories about them. So, it often feels good for them to share stories they do have. Sharing tales of the person who died can also be a wonderful gift. Start by asking if they’d like to hear a story first so that they can choose.  

Reach out regularly. Too often, we hear that friends, families, peers, and colleagues stop checking in with grieving people within the first three months of the death. Sometimes, it’s even just days after the funeral. Grief changes, but it does not go away. So Keep checking in with the person grieving months after the initial mourning (stick a reminder in your calendar) and during milestones and holidays.

Talk less. People sometimes stop reaching out because they don’t know what to say or how to make the griever less sad. You can’t make the person not be sad. And you can’t solve anything; there’s nothing to fix. The best way to be there for the person grieving is to ask them how they are doing and listen. That’s it.

This piece was written and submitted by Michelle Cove, Director of Communications at Experience Camps, an award-winning national nonprofit that transforms the lives of grieving children through summer camp programs and innovative, year-round initiatives like GRIEF SUCKS.

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