Grief and Loss Information

Grief Process:

This is a description of the typical grieving process, which was originally developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. It is not “predictive” but is "indicative" of what you may feel or see. Although considered classic for adults, children's grieving is more random, and is not as readily described using the same adult stages. Do not be surprised if children appear to have inappropriate responses to critical events.

Stage:Behaviour:

Shock and Denial

  • Appears inactive, expressionless, numb
  • Exhibits denial, disbelief
  • Feels disorganized
  • Loses appetite
  • Feels terror
  • Panics in absence of parents
  • Feels helpless
  • Fears something will happen to loved one or self
  • Develops physical symptoms, sleep disturbances

Guilt

  • Blames self for loss
  • Has lowered self-esteem
  • May seek to punish self

Depression

  • Feels empty
  • Appears unhappy and cries excessively
  • Yearns or searches for lost object or person
  • Withdraws, is silent

Anger

  • Resents others and self
  • Exhibits uncooperative and rude behaviour
  • May become angry at those trying to help

Acceptance

  • Has experienced separation or loss and is able to cope
  • Feels hopeful
  • Reorganizes life and focuses on the present

 

Ways to help teens deal with grief:

 

Teenagers may be disadvantaged in dealing with a death because they may be at school when hearing about their first significant loss. You will have young people with the capacity to feel and think like adults, but have no previous history or modeling about how to manage the feelings of grief. Encourage teens to talk to each other, counsellors, their parents and other adults.

Teenagers will often group in hallways and classrooms where "group hysteria" appears to be building as they spend time talking and crying together. Group hysteria is an infectious emotional state that is best managed by bringing the groups into a controlled environment. It is an effective strategy to have each person speak, one at a time, about their loss (with permission to pass), while others listen. This organizes the exchange of emotion between students.

Help teenagers to be patient with their own emotions. They may not understand the sadness or the deep sense of aloneness and/or anger that can be associated with grief. They should be taught that the feelings of loss may come in waves and will diminish in strength and length over time. Further, emotions about death can come flashing back, triggered by people, places and special calendar dates.

Early in the planning, schools should identify a “welcome room” or space where students can assemble to grieve and chat. Staff should be present at all times to provide support and assistance. Any students that wish to attend the room and miss class should not be discouraged. There may be a few that appear to abuse the freedom, but it is better to assume they are coping in their own way.

Providing juice and snacks in the room is a signal of the schools support for the students' well-being.

As time goes on, some creative ways to help teens heal and work through the anger and sadness from a death include:

  • Jot down favorite memories of the good times and favorite sayings of the person(s) who died. Keep a record of the ups and downs, strong emotions, present and past memories and hopes for the future. This can be a therapeutic way to get feelings out and work through them;
  • Write a letter to the person who dies. This is a way to release emotions such as: love, anger, confusion, guilt, longing, regret, or fear relating to the death. Whether the letter is torn up or kept in a private place is not important;
  • Do something special to help remember the special person. Making a scrapbook of pictures and memorabilia can be a project that will help with the grieving process. Looking at the pictures will bring back memories. Putting it into a book can make a permanent remembrance;
  • Plant a tree or a plant in a special place in honor of the loved one.
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