Category

Grief/Loss

What is Compounded Grief?

By Grief/Loss

There are times when the normal feelings of grief become even more difficult to cope with. This may be because of previous life experiences, the nature of the relationship and family dynamics, current mental state, or the way the loved one died or is dying. Whatever the reason, grief can sometimes take a turn for the worse and may require the help of a professional therapist. The four most common variations of the grief experience are disenfranchised grief, complicated grief, compounded (or cumulative) grief, and anticipatory grief. Let’s look at compounded grief so that you have a better understanding of why this type of grief may be more difficult for the mourner.

First, Let’s Define Normal Grief

Before we dive into compounded grief, it’s important that you understand what normal grief looks like. Put simply, grief is your natural human response to the loss of someone or something you love. The emotions of grief vary greatly – sadness, anger, guilt, relief, shock – but these are all normal responses to loss. As much as you may prefer not to feel or deal with these types of emotions, they are actually a healthy part of the grieving process. When these emotions of grief become overwhelming, trigger deep depression, substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts, or are extreme or prolonged to the point that the mourner cannot care for themselves, we all understand that something more than normal grief is at work.

Grief is often accompanied by age-old rituals that bring people together to mourn. We hold hands, offer words of support and love, send cards and flowers, make donations, and deliver hot meals to the grieving family. We stand together to support those who are grieving and give them emotional and physical support as they come to terms with the loss. But what happens if one loss after another keeps piling up without giving you time to process what you think or feel?

Enter Compounded Grief

As we move forward, we’re going to review several key aspects of compounded grief. We’ll start off with a definition before moving into who’s susceptible, the complications compounded grief can bring, and a few tips for processing through compounded grief.

A Quick Definition

In short, compounded grief, also known as cumulative grief, is a pile-on effect of grief or “grief overload.” It may mean losing several loved ones in a short period of time. It may mean losing a loved one, then a relationship, then a job, then a pet, then a natural disaster hits and damages your home, etc. The losses can come from various sectors, but put together, it’s a big pile of grief and loss to deal with.

Additionally, losses you have not been able to process or face yet (even if they are from years ago) can add to the compounded nature of your grief. This is one reason why it’s so important to deal with your thoughts and emotions surrounding every type of loss, so they don’t create a tangled web of emotion that’s difficult to unravel.

Who’s Susceptible?

It’s possible for anyone to encounter compounded grief, but there are certain groups that have an increased likelihood: the elderly, healthcare professionals, and trauma survivors. Let’s break this down a little.

With the elderly, advanced age makes it more likely that they will have more friends and family die in a shorter period of time. For healthcare professionals, especially those in hospice care, the ER, or ICU, death may be a regular occurrence. As they see patients die, the losses and the emotions can pile up. And finally, trauma survivors who may be dealing with years of pent-up grief over past pain may feel unequipped to deal with new losses.

Now, remember, anyone can encounter compounded grief. These three groups are just at increased risk. No matter your age, you can experience a cascade of losses – loved one, friendship, job, pet, relationship, etc. – and you can begin to feel an overload of grief.

Complications that Arise from Compounded Grief

As with disenfranchised grief and complicated grief, there are certain complications that are unique to compounded grief. Let’s review them.

1. A tendency toward avoidance

When experiencing multiple losses in a relatively short period of time, your natural inclination may be to shut down emotionally and  avoid thinking about or dealing with the pain. You may feel extreme fatigue for a prolonged time. Yet another loss piled on to existing losses may trigger depression or suicidal thoughts. You may not know what to do or how to get out of the rut, so you avoid your feelings altogether. However, this is the last thing you need to do. Avoidance prolongs your grief, and as more losses occur down the line (and they will), your grief is only compounded more.

2. Watch out for numbing activities

Because avoidance is common with compounded grief, be on the lookout for numbing activities. In other words, things you do to avoid dealing with the grief directly. Common numbing activities include excessive alcohol consumption, binge-watching TV, online gaming (even the ones on your smartphone), and substance abuse. Additionally, outbursts of misplaced anger, blame, and overreactions to others’ comments or actions can become more common. While these coping mechanisms may seem to ease the pain in the moment, they can be harmful to yourself and others. It is important to ask yourself if your coping mechanism is helping you or hurting you even more in the long run.

3. A strain on your faith

For some, experiencing loss after loss can lead to questioning faith in God. You may feel like you are being punished or find yourself asking how God could allow this much struggle and pain. If you feel shaken in your faith, it’s okay. God is not surprised by your feelings, and He’s not offended by them. Be honest about how you feel–don’t sugar coat it. Read through the Psalms to find prayers that express how you feel. Stay connected through the stress and grief and feelings of betrayal. Lean on Him in the days to come as you start to work through your grief.

Tips for Processing through Compounded Grief

As with every type of grief, you can process through what you feel and begin to find healing and reconciliation on the other side. But it will take hard work and perseverance on your side. Here are a few tips to help you get started as you work through your compounded grief and begin to feel the burden of grief overload lighten.

Take Your Time & Grieve Each Loss Individually

While it’s important not to avoid your grief, that doesn’t mean you should rush through the grieving process and lump all of your losses together into one big grief session. Instead, take time to honor each loss individually. While this process will take you longer, it will be much more effective in actually helping you mourn the losses. Each loss is distinct and unique, deserving of specific attention. Perhaps you start with the smallest grief and work your way through it. Then, choose another one, and work through it. By breaking your grief into bite-size pieces, you will feel less overwhelmed and be able to give each loss the focus it needs.

If you are grieving multiple people, consider writing down their names, your memories, their strengths, what you would say to them today, or what you miss about them. As you move into your memories and bring them to the surface, you will begin to release the emotions that have been pent up inside.

Find Ways to Express Your Grief

We all process grief a little differently than each other, so what works for your friend may not work for you. You can make some educated guesses on what will work for you but remain open to options that may make you feel uncomfortable. It may be exactly what you need. A few examples of ways to express your grief include talking with a friend, journaling, participating in a creative endeavor like painting, woodworking, or sculpting, joining a support group, or engaging in physical exercise like runs or walks.

Or, if your feelings are more intense, you may feel the need to expend yourself. You could use a punching bag, go on vigorous runs, go to a batting cage, shout at the sky, or whatever else will bring you release. As long as you aren’t hurting yourself or others (or breaking the law), find something that will help you release your emotions.

If you decide to talk with others about your grief, you might choose an understanding friend or family member who won’t try to minimize your grief. You might also consider whether attending a grief support group would be helpful, especially if other people in the group have experienced a similar loss. Finally, don’t be afraid to seek out a professional. With so many losses to sort through, a professional therapist can help you come up with a plan, establish a routine, and start addressing your grief in a healthy way.

Don’t Be Afraid of Your Emotions

As you find ways to express your grief, you may find some unsettling emotions below the surface. That’s okay. Grief brings out a wide range of emotions, like sadness, anger, shock, despair, fear, relief, or even guilt. No matter what you’re feeling, don’t be afraid of it. It’s normal, and you just need to take that extra time to process through and nurture yourself as you do the work of grief.

Practice Self-Care

Compounded grief takes a mental, emotional, and physical toll on the body. That’s why you should take extra steps to take care of yourself. You need adequate rest and nutrition to give your body the fuel it needs to get through the grieving process.

Here are a few suggestions for self-care:

  • Spend time with friends and family
  • Get a massage to release any tension or stress you may feel
  • Create art – painting, drawing, writing, making crafts, woodworking, etc.
  • Sing or listen to music
  • Get outside for walks and hikes
  • Journal about your feelings
  • Read
  • Meditate or pray

Honor Your Losses

Lastly, search out meaningful ways to honor each specific loss in your life. Take time to think about the loss that hurts the most and try to put words to the pain or start a healing ritual. For instance, with the death of a person, you might write a tribute poem, watch their favorite movie every year, or bake their favorite dessert on their birthday. With the loss of a pet, you could put a memorial stone in your yard or walk your pet’s favorite path. Or, for the loss of a relationship, you could place a keepsake in a memory box, or you could box up all your keepsakes and either donate or throw them away. What you do isn’t as important as honoring your feelings and your needs. As you honor your losses, you can begin to release your emotions and find a way to move forward.

We can’t necessarily plan and prepare for compounded grief because we don’t know when it will happen. However, we can cultivate good grief habits and actively engage with our feelings. If you are currently dealing with compounded grief, don’t give up. Take one day at a time, one loss at a time. As you work through each event that has caused you pain, you will move forward and find renewed meaning and purpose in life. Your grief doesn’t have to control you; you can take back your life.

7 Tips for Teaching Your Child How to Process Grief

By Grief/Loss

From the moment we enter this life, the journey is full of ups and downs. Moments of happiness, excitement, and meaning intermixed with moments of pain, anger, regret, and grief. None of us were born knowing how to deal with the complex emotions we feel; we have to be taught. As children, we needed the adults in our lives to teach us how to respond to the difficult situations that life threw our way, like how to process grief. So, as you face the ups and downs of life, how are you helping your children create healthy grieving habits they can use as they grow up and face all types of loss?

A Parent’s First Impulse

Before we move into a few helpful tips, it’s important to acknowledge that your first impulse as a parent or caregiver may be to protect your child from the pain of loss. While this desire comes from a good place, try not to give into it. Your child doesn’t need you to make the battles of life go away. Instead, they need you to give them the tools to fight the battle for themselves, to process what they feel, to talk it out, to steadily discover the way to healing. In other words, none of us can run away from the tough things in life.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor, author, and educator who has companioned hundreds of families and individuals through the grief journey, puts it this way:

You might fall into the common thinking of our society that denying these feelings will make them go away. You might have the urge to “keep your chin up” and stay busy and wait to “get over” your grief. Yet, ironically, the only way to help these hard feelings pass is to wade in the muck of them. To get in and get dirty. Grief isn’t clean, tidy, or convenient. Yet feeling it and expressing it is the only way to feel whole, once again. Unresolved grief can leave you feeling “stuck” or empty. Your ability to engage in life could be inhibited and you might feel like you’ve shut down.

Instead, choose grief. And as you walk with your grief, actively mourn. By taking action, you will eventually integrate the death of your loved one into your life. In exchange, you will find the hope, courage, and desire to once again live a full and rewarding life.

In short, we must all learn how to deal with grief in healthy ways so that we can live full lives, and your child needs your help learning the skills to emotionally succeed. But how do you get started?

7 Tips for Teaching Your Child How to Process Grief

Much of what children learn, they learn through imitation. Meaning, they learn by seeing and mimicking that behavior. Have you ever had one of those moments when you hear or see your child express one of your own habits? It’s often a wake-up call for parents. They think, “Oh! I didn’t realize he picked up on that.” Just as your kids can pick up your not-so-great habits, they pick up your good habits, too. So, what can you do to help them pick up good grieving habits?

1. Teach them their feelings are normal

First of all, lay the groundwork that their grief emotions are natural, normal, and not to be feared. So many people suppress what they feel and don’t express what’s on the inside in healthy ways. Often, they leave their feelings unaddressed for so long that when they finally do come out, it’s an explosion of negative emotions.

Rather than letting it get to the point of combustion, teach your child healthy ways to express their emotions, especially those associated with loss. Whether it’s sadness, anger, regret, guilt, whatever – help your child understand that what they feel is normal and nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. They just need to find the right way to process and release those emotions.

2. Show them how to express their feelings in a healthy way

When you consider ways to process and release emotions in a healthy manner, it’s important to remember that every person is different. No two grief journeys are the same. What works for you may not work for your child. So, take their personality into account and explore different options until you both find one that fits.

A few ideas to start:

  • Have your child draw a picture depicting what makes them sad and have them explain it to you
  • Ask your child to write down what they feel or a favorite memory
  • Create a memorial item together – a scrapbook, photo book, quilt, a stuffed animal using a loved one’s clothing, etc. Go to Creating Memorial Keepsakes from a Loved One’s Clothing, Creating Memorial Keepsakes from Funeral Flowers, or if you’ve lost a pet, go to 10 Family-Focused Pet Remembrance Ideas for more memorial ideas.
  • Introduce specific arts & crafts that will help them identify the emotions they feel
  • Read aloud age-appropriate books that discuss grief and loss
  • Show children how to practice simple yoga moves or mindful breathing exercises to help them learn how to self-calm
  • If their feelings are more explosive, look for safe physical ways to reduce stress, like running, playing chase, going to a batting cage or a golfing range, kicking a ball, etc.

Be an active participant in these activities with your child and help them learn how to express what they feel rather than pushing it away. With this habit in place, as they grow, they will understand the need to accept what they feel and look for ways to express it.

3. Take time to share stories and memories

An important part of the grief process is remembrance. Most often, this means telling stories, sharing memories, keeping special belongings, looking at photos, or watching videos. You may have noticed that when a person grieves, they share memories and tell favorite stories – maybe even the same ones again and again. This is all part of remembrance and transitioning the relationship from one of physical presence to one of memory. Encourage your child to share their memories and favorite stories. Listen with a compassionate and patient ear when they need you to simply hear what they have to say.

4. Demonstrate how to accept help

This one may be tough for some. You’ve likely had independence and self-reliance ingrained in you since your own childhood. In many ways, it’s great to be self-reliant, but it’s not always what you need. Accepting help from others doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of doing it on your own. It simply means that you understand that things can be easier if you don’t have to do it alone, and there’s nothing wrong with making things easier for yourself and your family.

So, as you face tough situations in life, accept help from those around you. That may mean accepting an offer to watch the kids, mow the lawn, run a few errands, or make a meal. Then, when your friends need help, give back. As you actively give and accept help, your child will notice what you’re doing. Invite them to be a part of it to cultivate the habit of giving and receiving help.

5. Tell them that grief takes time

Grief ebbs and flows, and in some ways, it never fully goes away. No matter how much time passes, some part of you will always miss the person who has died, and that’s natural. But in time, if you do the work of grief and express your pain in healthy ways, you will find a path to move forward.

It will look different from person to person. For some, grief lasts months, while for others, it lasts years. There are many factors at play, including the closeness of the relationship, the circumstances of the death, and the mourner’s personality. When grief and loss come into your family life – whether that’s a person, a pet, a friendship – use that moment to talk to your child and give them realistic expectations of the grief journey.

6. Answer their questions honestly

Have you ever met a kid who didn’t have a few questions? Asking questions comes naturally to them, so don’t be surprised if they have a lot to ask you about death, dying, grief, and more. Some questions you might be able to anticipate, while others may take you by surprise. No matter what, answer their questions honestly and simply.

It almost goes without saying, but don’t blanket over the truth about what happened with “white lies.” Children are naturally trusting, but if they find out later that you lied to them about something very important to them, you could damage their trust in you. In the same way, avoid euphemisms, as they just confuse children about what really happened. Instead, thoughtfully and sensitively answer them. They don’t have to know all of the details. You can decide what’s appropriate for their age and maturity, but always be completely honest. Children are much more resilient and understanding than we give them credit for.

7. Assure them that everything will be all right

Right now, in this moment, things may not be all right, but in time, they will be. Assure your child that the tough moments of today don’t create a dark future for tomorrow. Give them hugs and kisses. Provide the one-on-one time they need to feel secure and loved. Help them find ways to express what they feel.

Take one day at a time, one moment at a time. Life won’t go back to the way it used to be – that’s impossible – but it can still be good. That’s what the grief journey is all about: finding a way to reconcile yourself to the loss you’ve suffered, grieving the person you love, and discovering what life looks like now and how you can find new meaning and purpose.

These tips are intended to be building blocks for the years ahead. Just as it takes time for you to teach your child how to use silverware, interact in social situations, and make smart decisions, it will take time to impart these nuggets of truth about the grief journey. But in the end, your child will learn how to process what they feel in a healthy way and see hope for the future despite today’s difficulties.

5 Tips for Helping Your Child Process the Death of a Pet

By Grief/Loss, Pets

If you’ve ever owned a pet, you understand just how much you can come to love that animal. Whether it’s a dog, cat, guinea pig, ferret, fish, turtle, or rabbit, pets have a way of making their way into our hearts. As an adult, you have experienced loss in your life before, but for children, the first death they may go through is the loss of a pet. So, how can you help your children process their emotions and move toward healing?

Honor your child’s feelings

One of the best things you can do for your child is treat their emotions with respect and validity. Assure them that it’s okay to feel sad, hurt, or angry. It’s normal to feel this way after loss. Stay away from telling a child how they should feel or that they need to “be strong.” This exhortation may be why so many adults have learned to brush away their emotions, to stifle them, but that’s not the way to healing. It’s a form of avoidance, and undealt with emotions can lead to long-term consequences. By letting your child know that their emotions are real and valid, you give them the freedom to feel what they feel and not be afraid of it.

Share what you feel

Your first inclination may be to push aside your own emotions so you can “be strong” for your child. But your child needs to know that you cared about the family pet, too. If you don’t show your own sadness, your child may think that their own sadness is wrong, that they should be more like mommy or daddy, unphased. Now, it’s up to you how much emotion you want to show in front of your child. Don’t scare or frighten your child with your emotions, but do let them know that you’re sad, too.

Be honest

Some children are more inquisitive than others, but no doubt, your child is going to have some questions. Answer as honestly as you can (taking their age and maturity into account). Don’t use euphemisms or half-truths. Instead, sensitively explain what happened and answer their questions. Children can handle the truth (often much better than adults can). According to the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, children between ages 7 to 9 will have the most questions, so be prepared.

A few questions you may hear:

  • Why did [pet name] die?
  • Is it my fault?
  • What happened to [pet name]’s body?
  • Will I see him/her again?
  • Where did he/she go?
  • Will he/she come back?

Give them time and encourage discussion

Grief is an interesting thing. It doesn’t go away in a day, and sometimes, it sticks around for a while. That said, let your child know it’s okay if they need to talk about your pet again. In fact, sharing stories and talking about our grief is both healthy and necessary. While you may have personally moved on, give your child the time and space they need to grieve. And if they need to talk, create the space for it.

Find tangible ways to help them grieve

Children are hands-on learners, which is why touching and play time are important to their early development. Because of the hands-on nature of children, you might consider using activities to help them process the pain they feel.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Draw a picture of your pet
  • Write a story
  • Create a collage of favorite photos and place it in a prominent place
  • Hold a short memorial ceremony where each member of the family has a chance to share
  • Sit down as a family to share favorite pet stories
  • Make a scrapbook or memory book together
  • Buy a stuffed animal to represent the lost pet
  • Choose a memorial marker – a plaque or a stone – and place it in a special place

By helping your child deal with the death of a pet, you are giving them valuable life skills that will aid them as they grow into adulthood. After all, the loss of a pet, while difficult, is not the only hard situation they will face in life. By giving them the building blocks now, you can help them learn how to grieve in a healthy way, no matter what kind of loss they may encounter in the years ahead.

5 Tips for Announcing a Death on Social Media

By Grief/Loss, Technology and Grief

Announcing the death of a loved one is an incredibly difficult task. It forces you to acknowledge that someone you love has died, and in many ways, there’s just no way to put what you feel into words. But announcing the death on social media, through an obituary, or in a newspaper is a necessary step.

Social media allows us to communicate rapidly and widely. You may not know every person your loved one had a relationship with, so making an announcement online is an efficient way to reach people. Additionally, posting online creates a place for people to mourn, share memories, and express condolences while also keeping things simple for you. More than likely, you are already dealing with a wide range of emotions, and it’s much less draining to post once than to attempt to talk to each person individually.

Even so, death is a sensitive topic and should handled with care and tact. Let’s review a few tips for announcing a loved one’s death online.

1. Notify close loved ones first

Make sure you notify close family and friends in a more personal way first, such as in-person, with a phone call, or via private message (depending on the circumstances). You certainly don’t want people close to the deceased person to find out about their death online – that would make a difficult situation even harder.

2. Wait before you post

The first 24 hours after the loss of a loved one is often a period of shock and activity with planning for any funeral or memorial services. Additionally, you will be contacting any close family and friends with the news. That said, it’s best to wait a day or two before you put anything online. The wait will give you time to set the service details, contact people in person or over the phone, and personally process some of your own initial feelings of grief.

3. Use sensitive wording

With social media, people can read posts anytime throughout the day. So, it’s always good to add a bit of an introduction to your post so that people know you have sad news to share. That way, they have a bit of a heads up.

Here’s an example: “Family and friends, it is with great sadness that our family announces the passing of a very special person. I’m so sorry that you will hear the news this way, but our family wants to make sure everyone hears before the funeral.”

4. Remember that social platforms are a public space

As with any online posts or comments, don’t write anything you don’t want everyone to read. Consider all of the people who may read your post and be prepared to receive responses from them. When you post, you may want to include an obituary or memorial page to allow people to offer condolences and share memories freely.

5. What to include in a social media death announcement post

Finding the right words may feel a little overwhelming, and that’s okay. You can keep things simple. Just remember that you can make the post formal or casual, personal and sentimental or to the point. The format depends on your personality, but there are a few key pieces of information to include.

What to definitely include

  • Name of the deceased and relationship to you (the person posting)
  • Date of death
  • Time and location of any services: memorial, funeral, graveside, visitation/viewing, and/or reception/gathering (make sure to specify whether these events are public or private)
  • Any information about memorial donations
  • A favorite photo of your loved one (an individual photo, not a group)

As you consider what information to include, be mindful of your word choice. Also, try not to share too many details about the death (unless you want to). Focus on sharing positive memories and giving others an opportunity to share theirs. You might also consider linking to the obituary if it’s available.

Examples to help you get started

  • Many of you know that my father was struggling with cancer. While I’m sad to say that he is gone, I’m glad to say he is no longer suffering. He was a man of integrity who laughed often and loved hard. My mom, my brother, and I invite you to join us for a funeral service on (date) as we celebrate his life and what it meant to all of us.
  • It is with deep sorrow that we inform you of the death of a beloved husband and father, (insert name). We will have a private family memorial service followed by a public reception on (date). We would be pleased if you could join us at the reception to share memories and celebrate (name)’s life. Click here for more details (link to obituary).
  • Our family is deeply saddened to inform you that our beloved grandmother, (name), passed away in her sleep (day of week) night. She was a gem of a woman who has been a pillar of strength, love, and unity for our family her entire life. Her funeral service will be held on (day of week) at the (location name) in (location) at (time).

These examples are simply to get you started. Feel free to look up other examples online and customize the text with your own details and embellishments.

With these 5 tips, you can now decide what’s best for you and your family. If it makes sense, an announcement on social media allows you to:

  • honor your loved one’s life
  • inform their extended network about their passing
  • create an opportunity for a shared mourning experience

No matter what you decide, lean on each other and find the support you need for the days ahead.

10 Challenges Grieving Grandparents Face

By Grief/Loss

When a child dies, our thoughts immediately turn to the parents and the deep grief they must be feeling. And while this reaction is good, right, and warranted, we often forget that there are also deeply grieving grandparents who need our support and sympathy, too. Because they are often overlooked, grandparents face several unique challenges on the way to healing.

Often called “neglected mourners,” grandparents take a back seat to the primary mourners – the parents and siblings of the child who has died. But Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, tells us not to forget grandparents. He says: “When a grandchild dies, grandparents grieve twice. They mourn the loss of the child and they feel the pain of their own child’s suffering. Sometimes we forget about the grandparents when a child dies. You can help by not forgetting, by offering the grandparents your love, support and presence in the weeks and months to come.”

Because they are often overlooked, grandparents face some extra challenges. Let’s review those challenges so you can better understand what a grieving grandparent may be feeling and can determine how best to love and support them through this terrible loss.

10 Challenges Grieving Grandparents Face

 1. Their grief is often unacknowledged

As mentioned above, grandparent grief is often overlooked or unacknowledged. This tendency is not intentional or malicious, but it does make the grief journey harder for grandparents. Grief that is unacknowledged or overlooked by society or groups of people is called disenfranchised grief. Often those whose grief is disenfranchised have a hard time sharing their thoughts and emotions because they feel that their grief is out of place or doesn’t help the situation. While grandparents often feel helpless, angry, and heartbroken over the loss of a grandchild, they may feel less able to openly express their feelings because they are not the primary mourners.

2. They may not receive the support they need

Because grandparents are not the primary mourners, they don’t often receive the support they need during a time of loss. Friends may rally around the child’s immediate family and bring casseroles and condolences, but is anyone offering the same type of support to the grandparents? Unfortunately, the answer is commonly no. And while there are generalized grief support groups, it’s hard to find a support group that specifically addresses grandparent grief.

3. They may feel unable to share their feelings

As a matriarch or patriarch of the family, it’s natural to want to show a strong, loving face to family, especially to a grieving adult child and their spouse and children. Because a grandparent may feel the need to offer support to their grieving child and doesn’t want to add any additional burden, they may push aside their own feelings of grief in favor of offering support and assistance. While offering practical help to their grieving child is good, it can sometimes be at the expense of their own grief journey. There’s a delicate balance to find between helping and healing.

4. They may deal with family splintering

The death of a child can put a lot of stress and strain on a marriage. While it doesn’t happen often, there are cases when a marriage is unable to survive the death of a child and a whole new set of challenges are introduced. Not only is the immediate family adjusting to separated life, the grandparents must also learn how to adjust to this new lifestyle. They may not be able to see their living grandchildren as often as they did before, which may complicate the grief they feel over the grandchild who has died. Instead of being able to enjoy their living grandchildren, they are pushed even further to the outskirts, their grief and needs overlooked and unacknowledged.

5. They may have to take on a parenting role

Depending on proximity and the closeness of relationship, grandparents may be asked to step in to help with siblings while the parents deal with the effects of losing a child. In some ways, this is a blessing. Grandparents can spend time with their living grandchildren and further cement those precious relationships. On the other hand, with less energy reserves, grandparents may have difficulty finding the time and mental/emotional energy to process through their own emotions of grief. Every bit of energy goes toward keeping the family afloat.

It’s important to note that parents will also feel this strain as they grieve the loss of their child. They will be torn between responsibilities to living children, jobs, friends, family, extracurricular activities, and more. A hybrid option is likely best – parents and grandparents (with other friends and family) helping each other along the way and alternating babysitting to give each person the breaks they need.

6. They may feel helpless in the face of their child’s pain

First and foremost, a grandparent is a parent themselves. Their own child is in deep pain, and there’s nothing they can do about it. They want to help, to fix, to prevent pain, but in this case, there’s often a sense of helplessness. Some grandparents may feel depressed at their lack of ability to help and may experience additional stress because they are concerned about the mental and emotional well-being of their child.

7. Their health may suffer

For particularly elderly grandparents, health and wellness are a concern during times of grief. Because young people are often physically healthy, they don’t think too much about the physical difficulties of grief. However, for elderly grandparents, deep grief can lead to not eating, sleeping poorly, socializing less, and not functioning as well. It’s best to keep a loving eye on grandparents whose health is not the best and keep a lookout for potential declines.

8. They don’t have as much energy

As mentioned earlier, grandparents may not have as much energy as they used to. Their pace of life is already slowing down a little and energy levels are decreasing. Grief is hard mentally, physically, and emotionally, so it may take grandparents a little more time and effort to grieve. While they do have more life experience and have likely lost loved ones before, the loss of a child is especially difficult at any age.

9. They deal with a loss of legacy

Both parents and grandparents expect a child to outlive them, so when that doesn’t happen, there’s a sense that a legacy has been lost. This feeling can be especially potent if the grandparents only have one grandchild. Whether the grandchild is two, ten, or 25, they must deal with the loss of what could have been – what should have been.

10. They may deal with feelings of guilt

Some grandparents may feel guilty after the loss of a grandchild. Having lived a long life themselves, they may struggle to make sense of what has happened. Questions like, “Why couldn’t it have been me?” may pass through their minds. While this feeling is natural and normal following a loss, guilt is often misplaced and can lead to grieving complications.

Now that you understand several of the challenges that grieving grandparents face, let’s talk about a few things you (and they) can do to grieve well after the loss of a grandchild.

Tips for Grieving Well

As the grandparent:

  • Find ways to express your feelings
  • Talk to friends or relatives about your loss
  • Don’t compare your grief to that of your child or son or daughter-in-law; everyone’s grief is unique and different
  • Take care of yourself physically so you have the mental and emotional energy you need
  • Honor your grandchild’s life and memory in meaningful ways

As the supportive friend or family member:

  • Offer a listening ear
  • Help with household chores and must-do activities to give grandparents more time and energy to work through their grief
  • Express your condolences and acknowledge their loss
  • Look for ways to include them in healing rituals and meaningful moments

The loss of a grandchild is a severe blow – to both the parents and grandparents. None of them will ever truly “get over” the loss, and really, that’s not the goal. The goal of healthy grieving is to find a way to reconcile yourself to the loss and begin to move forward with meaning and purpose. The child that has died will always be missed – that’s a fact. Though life has changed irreversibly, it can be good again as you do the work of grief and meaningfully and personally grieve.

10 Tips for Processing Addiction or Suicide Loss

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

Losing a loved one is hard and emotionally draining – every time. However, when you lose a loved one to suicide or addiction, the loss is not only hard, it becomes stigmatized and disenfranchised. In other words, it’s hard to talk about, hard to get people to understand, and in many ways, you may feel ashamed or unable to talk about what happened because you don’t even fully understand it yourself.

As you begin to work through the emotions you feel surrounding your loved one’s death, it’s valuable to understand that what you’re feeling is normal. Are you angry? Confused? Feeling guilty? Sad? That’s okay. Do you even feel a small sense of relief that the up and down struggle with your loved one’s emotional state is over? That’s okay, too. And completely normal, by the way. Your emotions are nothing to be ashamed of, but they are something you must actively process through so that you can reach healing and find a way to reconcile yourself to your loved one’s death and the circumstances around it.

Let’s review 10 suggestions that will help you on your grief journey as you work through your feelings of loss and find a way to move forward.

1. Remember, you’re not alone

While there is often a societal stigma associated with suicide or addiction deaths, don’t allow yourself to become isolated. You are one of many thousands of people, even tens of thousands, affected by the loss of a loved one to suicide or addiction. Seek these people out. You will find those who are willing to talk about their experience and help you walk through yours.

2. Confront the circumstances

It’s easy to deny the role that drugs or mental health issues played in your loved one’s death, but it’s better to find a way to acknowledge the circumstances of the loss. In many ways, your loved one did not choose to die. They were under the influence of highly addictive drugs or of powerfully persuasive and destructive internal thoughts. In both instances, they were unwell and not themselves. If you can find a way to accept the reality of the situation – tragic as it is – then you have taken an important step toward grieving in a healthy way.

3. Express your feelings

As with any type of loss, you need to move the emotions inside out. In other words, what you’re feeling on the inside needs to be released rather than pent-up. You can do this in a variety of ways. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, grief support group, or professional therapist. Take time to journal, create art, compose music, or capture photographs – all focused on capturing what you feel. If you prefer physical exertion to help you express your more intense emotions, go for a run, do woodworking, restore a car, or do something else that fits your particular interests. The main thing is to find options that help you offload whatever you’re carrying inside.

4. Understand what leads to addiction or suicide

While it may seem a difficult task, the more you understand what led to your loved one’s death, the more capable you will be to process through any feelings of guilt or self-blame. You may think that you could have somehow prevented the death or could have done more. As you learn more about the factors that lead to addiction and suicide, the more you will realize your own role in the narrative and that your loved one was the only one capable of overcoming their own battles. You could not have fought the battle for them. Don’t take on more blame than is actually yours to bear.

5. Stand up for yourself

Because addiction and suicide deaths are often stigmatized by society, you may come across people who are insensitive or unkind. Don’t be afraid to kindly tell someone that their comments are hurtful and not helpful. You will be able to tell if the person is being intentionally unkind or simply doesn’t realize their words hurt you. For those who are unintentional, explain why their comments aren’t supportive, and they will likely apologize. For those who are unkind on purpose, dismiss their words as unimportant. Then, if it’s best, avoid seeing them in the future. You are dealing with a deep, complex loss and the last thing you need is a human hurdle on your way to healing.

6. Learn about available resources

Often, there are grief resources available right there in your community. Whether it’s a professional counselor or a grief support group, you should be able to find help near you. Some support groups that are nationwide (though not in every city) are:

  • GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing)
  • Al-anon (not specifically for grief but offer family support groups for those with a loved one dealing with alcoholism)
  • Nar-anon (not specifically for grief but offer family support groups for those with a loved one dealing with substance abuse)
  • GriefShare (grief support groups)

If none of these meet your specific needs or aren’t available in your area, do a Google search or call local hospices or funeral homes to see if they may have a list of grief resources available in the area.

7. Care for yourself

Grief takes a physical, mental, and emotional toll on your body. Get plenty of sleep, stay active, and eat nutritious meals to give your body the energy it needs to sustain you through the grief journey. Take time to pamper yourself. Get a massage or a pedicure. Go out to the golf course for a few holes. Go for walks or runs with friends or alone. Buy yourself a treat (within reason). In other words, make sure that you aren’t running yourself ragged, but instead, are caring for yourself.

8. Meet your spiritual needs

As you take care of yourself physically, make sure to take time to meet your spiritual needs as well. Meet with a spiritual leader. Pray. Meditate. Sing. Write. Cry. As human beings, we are complex and have so many facets. We are the entire package – mind, body, and soul – and all three aspects need care and attention during times of grief. Right now, you may feel like hiding from or ignoring God, and that’s okay. He’s not going anywhere, so when you’re ready, reach out and He’ll be there for you.

9. Honor your loved one’s life

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, often says “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” In other words, take time to honor your loved one’s life in formal and informal ways. Plan a personalized funeral or memorial service. Invite friends over for a gathering to talk through your mutual loss. Attend the visitation to pay your respects. Give and/or receive condolences and sympathy. Make a collage of photos as a remembrance. Plant a memorial tree. Create a photo or scrapbook that will remind you of the good times and look at it when you miss your loved one. Some of these may resonate with you and others may not. Simply choose what works best for your life and personality.

You may be tempted to forego many of the normal funeral traditions because of the sensitive nature of your loved one’s death. While you can certainly make appropriate changes, take the necessary time to remember your loved one’s life and mourn what could have been.

10. Give yourself time

Healing from loss doesn’t happen in a day. Instead, it’s one day, even one moment, at a time. Don’t expect yourself to heal quickly. Give yourself the time and the grace you need to grieve well rather than in a hurry. There’s no timeline for grief. As long as you are doing the work of grief and working through your emotions, you can take all the time you need. There will be good days and bad days. Your grief will surprise you some days and will be absent on others. It’s all part of the process as you move toward healing and reconciliation.

Hopefully these insights will give you a place to start as you walk through your grief journey. While you may never know why your loved one chose this path, understanding their reasons isn’t the ultimate goal. What matters is that you take care of yourself through your pain, that you confront the emotions you feel, and that you allow yourself to heal and find renewed meaning and purpose in life. You can do this.

What is Complicated Grief?

By Grief/Loss

You are likely familiar with feelings of grief, but did you know that there are different variations of grief? Of course, the experience of grief is different from person to person, but sometimes “normal grief” can take a turn and become something a little different. The four most common variations are disenfranchised grief, complicated grief, compounded grief, and anticipatory grief. Today, let’s unpack complicated grief so that you have a better understanding of this potentially serious detour in the grieving process.

First, Let’s Define Normal Grief

Before we dive into complicated grief (also known as prolonged grief), it’s important that you understand what normal grief looks like. Put simply, grief is your natural human response to the loss of someone or something you love. The emotions of grief vary greatly – sadness, anger, guilt, relief, shock – but these are all normal responses to loss. As much as you may prefer not to feel or deal with these types of emotions, they are actually a healthy part of the grieving process.

Grief is often accompanied by age-old rituals that bring people together to grieve. We hold hands, offer words of support and love, send cards and flowers, make donations, and deliver hot meals to the grieving family. We stand together to support those who are grieving and give them emotional and physical support as they mourn. But what happens if nothing helps and you feel stuck in a downward spiral of grief and despair?

Enter Complicated Grief

As we move forward, we’re going to review several key aspects of complicated grief. We’ll start off with a definition before moving into the symptoms, who is susceptible, and how to get help.

A Quick Definition

When you lose someone or something you love, you’re going to experience grief. The initial period of time just after a loss, when your emotions are unpredictable and you can’t concentrate on anything but the loss, is called acute grief. It’s the hard beginning of loss. However, in most cases, after a period of time, you are able to move into integrated grief. This means that you have learned to accept the reality of the death, have found ways to cope and adapt to your new way of life, and have begun to hope again, finding renewed meaning and purpose in life. Moving from acute grief (initial feelings of loss) to integrated grief (a reconciliation to the loss) is a natural progression through the grief journey.

This movement or reconciliation takes time, but it’s characterized by a lessening of your grief feelings. You may bounce back and forth between sadness, shock, and anger for a little while, but then, your grief feelings gradually lessen until they become an ache that occasionally comes back to visit you (normally around special days and events).

However, sometimes acute grief doesn’t progress as it should. Instead of lessening over time, your feelings of grief intensify until all you can think about is the loss you’ve gone through. This is complicated grief. In most cases, complicated grief occurs following the loss of a person, but it’s not necessarily confined to that.

With complicated grief, the death becomes center stage in your life. Many of those suffering from complicated grief are unable to resume normal life and are stuck in a state of intense mourning.

Symptoms of Complicated Grief

As we’ve talked about, complicated grief is an extended time of intense grief when you are unable to move through the grieving process. The grief begins to take over your life and the future seems bleak and lonely.

At first, many of the symptoms of complicated grief look like normal grief. However, if grief indicators worsen as time passes, then it could be a case of complicated grief. Here are a few symptoms to look out for months and even years following the loss:

  • Intense sorrow, pain, or pining over the loss, focusing on little else
  • Problems accepting the reality of the death
  • Strong attachment to mementos/reminders or a strong avoidance of them
  • Numbness, detachment, bitterness, and/or easily irritated
  • Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
  • Trouble carrying out normal routines, including personal hygiene
  • Increasingly isolated and withdrawn
  • Denial and defensiveness when asked about the grief
  • Guilt over feeling that they did something wrong, could have prevented the death, or should have died along with the loved one

If six months or more have passed since the loss and grief feelings have only gotten worse, then it’s time to consider getting help. Six months is not a hard and fast rule as some losses will take years to recover from, but it is enough time to ascertain whether grief symptoms are lessening or worsening.

Who’s Susceptible?

While doctors and mental health professionals are still learning about complicated grief, it’s believed that as much as 20% of those who lose a loved one will experience complicated grief. Unfortunately, it’s not yet known exactly what causes complicated grief, though it’s considered another type of mental health disorder.

As with many mental health disorders, the cause may be related to your environment, personality, genetics, or chemical makeup. Complicated grief occurs more often in women and particularly those of an older age. Outside these factors, other circumstances may increase a person’s risk of experiencing complicated grief, including:

  • The death was shocking, unexpected, violent, or premature
  • There was more than one death in a short period of time
  • You witnessed the death or suffering with the deceased (as with a long illness)
  • You had a close or dependent relationship to the deceased person
  • Social isolation or loss of a support system or friendships
  • Past history of depression, separation anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Traumatic childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect
  • Other major life stressors, such as major financial hardships

Seeking Help

Just as with any other mental health concern, it’s best to seek professional support and care when dealing with complicated grief. If you find that you or a loved one have been unable to make distinct progress toward integrated grief and that your grief feelings are intensifying (no matter how long it’s been), consider whether now is the time to seek help so that you can come to terms with your loss and reclaim a sense of acceptance and peace.

At first, you may think you can handle things, but over time, complicated grief can affect you physically, mentally, and socially. Without the proper treatment, complications could arise, including:

  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Anxiety, including PTSD
  • Significant sleep disturbances
  • Increased risk of physical illness, such as heart disease, cancer, or high blood pressure
  • Long-term difficulty with daily living, relationships, or work activities
  • Alcohol, nicotine use, or substance abuse

At this point in time, it’s not clear how to prevent complicated grief. However, counseling and grief therapy soon after the loss (especially for those in an at-risk group) is thought to help curb the severity of complicated grief and put you on the path to healing.

What Can Family and Friends Do to Help?

Because those suffering from complicated grief are susceptible to additional complications like depression, anxiety, or sleep issues, the best option is to speak with a professional, who can act as a guide through the entire journey toward recovery.

However, as family and friends, you can do something to help!

Offer your full and loving support to the person dealing with complicated grief. Be there to talk. Be encouraging. Bring small gifts or tokens of your love. Actively listen and don’t interrupt. Plan positive activities, like taking a walk or doing something they’ve always enjoyed.

They don’t need you to try to fix them; they need you to accept them where they are right now. Be there for them. Realize that complicated grief is difficult on both of you and the road to recovery may be long and difficult. But it is achievable! When we do the work of grief, we can find a way to reconcile ourselves to loss and find new hope and meaning for the future.

How to Talk to Children About Euthanizing a Pet

By Grief/Loss, Pets

Pets are a lovable, adorable, and often irreplaceable part of our families. Because of our attachment to them, the decision to euthanize a pet is incredibly difficult, especially when you have kids. For many children, the loss of a pet is often the first death they experience. However, you can turn the decision to euthanize into an opportunity to teach your child about healthy grieving. Let’s talk through a few helpful tips for talking to your child about euthanizing a pet.

1. Be open and honest.

Your first instinct may be to sugarcoat the situation or rely on euphemisms. Instead, stick to the truth. Taking your child’s age and maturity level into account, gauge just how much information they need to hear. It’s preferable to use words like “death” and “dying” – it will help your child realize the permanence of your pet’s absence.

A few don’ts:

  • Stay away from euphemisms like your pet went “to sleep” or was “put to sleep.” Children are very literal, and by using these terms, you may inadvertently give your child sleep anxiety because they begin to associate sleep with dying or never coming back.
  • Avoid glossing over the truth with a white lie like “Sunny ran away” or “Fido went on a trip.” These may give your child a sense of hope that the pet will return, which prevents them from grieving and moving on.
  • Stay away from saying that the pet was so special that God wanted him in heaven. This could cause a child to grow angry at God or fear that they themselves might be next.
  • Don’t blame the veterinarian. Instead, consider asking your vet for advice on how to talk about euthanasia with your children. They may even be open to personally talking to your children about why euthanasia may be the best option for your pet.

Ultimately, the best policy is to tell them the truth in simple terms and then be ready to answer questions.

2. Help your child understand why euthanasia is necessary.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be explaining to your children why euthanasia may be the best option. First, explain why you think euthanasia is necessary. This could be old age, terminal illness, or an accident. A few examples of what you could say:

  • Sunny is sick and the veterinarian has done everything he/she can to help. Sunny is hurting, and this will take away her pain.
  • The doctor has done everything he/she can, but Fido’s not going to get better. By doing this, we can help Fido die peacefully. He won’t hurt or be scared.
  • When an animal gets very old, their body stops working. When that happens, we can help by taking away their pain.

If your children ask what euthanasia is, you could say, “When a pet is really old or hurting, the veterinarian will give them a special shot that stops the heart and takes away the pain.” Maneuver through the questions as best you can, taking your child’s maturity level into account.

3. Discuss what’s happening as a family.

It’s best not to euthanize your pet without talking to your children first. In fact, if it’s possible, include them in the discussion. Talk about how old your pet is and how much pain they feel. Discuss your pet’s health diagnosis and the cost of treatment. Together, as a family unit, make the decision about what’s best. It may be a difficult conversation, but your older children will appreciate being allowed to participate in the decision. Also, it will be a growth opportunity as you model positive decision-making.

4. Give the kids the opportunity to say goodbye.

Once you’ve decided that euthanasia is necessary, give your child an opportunity to say their goodbyes. When we don’t have a chance to say goodbye – whether it’s to a pet or a person – there’s something in us that just doesn’t heal properly. So, rather than taking your pet to the vet while your kids are away, tell them what’s going to happen. Give them the chance to say goodbye and to hug or kiss your pet. They need this moment of closure just as much as you do.

5. Let your child decide if they want to be present for your pet’s euthanasia.

If your child is older (around 6+), let them decide if they want to be present for your pet’s euthanasia. For some children, seeing the peaceful reality is easier to deal with than whatever fantasy they may conjure on their own. If they don’t want to go, that’s fine, too. Just having the option to choose is often enough. If your child does want to attend, let the veterinarian know and do what you can to prepare your child for what they will see.

Children are often more resilient than we give them credit for and allowing them the choice can help create positive coping abilities for the future. Additionally, giving your child a voice in the process makes them feel part of the decision, giving them a semblance of control in what can feel like a helpless and overwhelming situation.

6. Help your children grieve.

Finally, after euthanasia has taken place, help your child through the grieving process. For many children, a pet can almost feel like a sibling – the bond is so close and deep. That’s why it’s important to help them grieve the loss of their dear, furry friend. You might plan a small memorial for your pet and let your child take part. Or, you could put together a scrapbook of photos and memories or create a DVD. You could place a photo of the pet in your child’s room or purchase a stuffed animal that looks similar to your pet to help bring them comfort.

Above all, encourage them to talk about what they’re feeling and look for ways to help them express those emotions. And don’t be shy about sharing your own feelings – they need to see them! What your children learn now will help them process grief as adults. Teach them now how to process grief in a healthy way, and they will carry it into their adulthood and use what they learned to cope with future grief.

Best Books on Grief for a Teenager

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

Do you remember being a teenager and going through acne, mood swings, friendship drama, and all the rest? Imagine if you were going through all that plus grieving the loss of a loved one. You may want to shelter your teenager from death and the hard things of life, but it’s simply not possible. Instead, help them learn how to deal with their emotions and implement healthy habits for grieving.

Giving your teenager a book that will help them understand what they’re feeling and why will help them better understand grief and will give you an opportunity – as parent or caregiver – to have open and honest conversations about loss and how to grieve well.

Below, you will find a series of books appropriate for teenagers that focus on grief, loss, and dealing with death. While they are certainly not the only books available, they will give you a place to start.

Let’s begin!

When a Friend Dies: A Book for Teens about Grieving & Healing by Marilyn E. Gootman Ed.D.

When a Friend Dies helps to answer common questions teens may ask themselves after the loss of a friend, including “How should I be acting?” and “Is it wrong to still have fun?” and “What if I can’t handle this on my own?” Sensitive, gentle, and compassionate, this book includes advice from the author based on her own experience helping teens through grief as well as quotes from real-life teenagers who have experienced grief. This is a realistic, straightforward, and easy to understand resource that will help your teen through the loss of a friend.

Click here to view the book.

Weird is Normal: When Teenagers Grieve by Jenny Lee Wheeler

Written by a teenager after the loss of her father to cancer, Jenny Lee Wheeler recounts her own struggle to deal with grief and loss when she was just 14 years old. With a fresh perspective for her peers, Wheeler helps teens understand some important fundamentals of grief, including that grief is natural, it takes time, and there’s no easy or right way to grieve. For a slightly different take on what it means to grieve as a teen, take a look at Wheeler’s story.

Click here to view the book.

Help for the Hard Times: Getting Through Loss by Earl Hipp

Thoughtfully written and engaging, Earl Hipp draws on his background and experience as a clinical psychotherapist to discuss the losses young people experience. In this book, he gives teens the tools they need to grieve, to explore and articulate difficult feelings, and to find a way to move toward healing and reconciliation. With several books in print and more than a quarter million copies sold, Hipp is a respected voice in the grief care world.

Click here to view the book.

Grieving for the Sibling You Lost: A Teen’s Guide to Coping with Grief & Finding Meaning after Loss by Erica Goldblatt Hyatt

Losing a sibling at any age can be devastating but can be doubly so for teens who are still developing grieving techniques. In this compassionate guide, Hyatt helps teens identify their coping style, deal with overwhelming emotions, and find constructive ways to process the loss they feel. Whether your teen is dealing with loneliness, depression, anxiety, or some other deep emotion, this book will help them work through negative thoughts and find their way toward healing and new purpose.

Click here to view the book.

Grief Recovery for Teens: Letting Go of Painful Emotions with Body-Based Practices by Coral Popowitz

As the Executive Director of Children’s Grief Connection, a grief camp focused on helping children, teens, and their families process loss, Coral Popowitz brings years of experience with trauma and grief to the table in her helpful guide for dealing with the physical aspects of grief and loss. Grief brings feelings of sadness, loneliness, and even fear, but did you know that these emotions can also greatly affect your body? With sensitivity and care, Popowitz will help your teen understand the connection between the mind and the body and how body-based practices can help relieve the physical symptoms of grief.

Click here to view the book.

Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens: 100 Practical Ideas by Dr. Alan Wolfelt

As a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt often says, “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” In this insightful read, Wolfelt breaks down some of the basics of grief and offers teens a series of healing activities that will help them express their grief in a healthy way and mourn naturally. The thoughtful ideas are targeted at helping young people process through difficult emotions and learn how to release their grief in a way that is healthy and positive so they can find healing and continued meaning in life.

Click here to view the book. To see an accompanying journal (not required), click here.

Straight Talk about Death for Teenagers: How to Cope with Losing Someone You Love by Dr. Earl Grollman

This classic book on grief for teenagers is still read and much lauded to this day. From award-winning author Dr. Earl Grollman, this book helps teens understand what is normal when you grieve, explains what teens can expect as they move through the grief journey, and offers helpful tips for coping with the emotions that accompany losing a loved one. A quick read, the book is divided into sections focusing on the early days of grief, facing the immediate future, learning to cope, and rebuilding your life. Down to earth and easy to read, this book is sure to help your teen work through the complexities of grief and find a firm foundation for moving forward.

Click here to view the book.

You are Not Alone: Teens Talk About Life After the Loss of a Parent by Lynne Hughes

Losing a parent is one of the most isolating and frightening experiences that a young person can face. Written specifically for teens grieving the loss of a parent, Lynne Hughes draws on her experience as the director of a bereavement camp to share words of reassurance and coping strategies. Using testimonials from teens she has worked with, Hughes brings the grief struggle to life, offering teens a look into the struggles of their peers as they discover what works and what doesn’t on the journey toward healing. If you know a teen who is struggling with the loss of a parent, look into this helpful resource and see if you think it might help.

Click here to view the book.

Living When a Young Friend Commits Suicide: Or Even Starts Talking About It by Dr. Earl Grollman

Another grief classic by Dr. Earl Grollman, this book focuses specifically on suicide loss. In the last few decades, the suicide rate amongst young people has increased, so the likelihood that your teen may lose someone they love to suicide is higher than ever before. In this sensitive read, Dr. Grollman offers solace and tender guidance to teens who are confronted with traumatic suicide loss at such an early age.

Click here to view the book.

The final book on the list is actually a resource for parents and caregivers as you work to help your teen identify and express their feelings in a way that is healthy and productive.

Teen Grief: Caring for the Grieving Teenage Heart by Gary Roe

A winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award, this book was called “an invaluable resource for parents, teachers, coaches, ministers, and anyone who has a teenager they love and want to help.” No matter what type of grief your teen is facing – divorce, rejection, violence, abuse, illness, disability, death of a loved one – this book will help you:

  • Understand how your teen is viewing the loss and how deep the pain goes
  • Support your teen as they work through anxiety, depression, guilt, fear, and other emotions
  • Learn how to walk with your teen and be a safe person
  • And more!

With this resource at your fingertips, you will have a comprehensive guide as you help your teen navigate through the losses of life and find healing.

Click here to view the book.

While these books do not guarantee success or that your teenager will be able to process their grief quickly, they will serve as helpful resources on the journey toward healing. Grief takes time. Give your teen the time and loving support they need to process the difficult emotions they feel. As they do the work of grief and express what they feel, they will find a way to move forward into a healthy future.

Self-Care After Suicide Loss

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

Grief, in all its forms, is exhausting mentally, physically, and psychologically. In addition to all the emotions it stirs up, loss forces us into a life change – learning how to move forward without a loved one. For those who have lost a loved one to suicide, there are added complications, like wanting to understand why, feeling isolated, and dealing with stigma and the negative attitudes of others. Because of these added factors, it’s even more important to practice self-care as you move through the process of grieving, coming to terms with what happened, and figuring out how to move forward, even if you don’t have all the answers.

10 Self-Care Tips After Suicide Loss

1. Explore your feelings

With suicide loss, so many questions and negative emotions may be fighting for space in your mind. Why did they do this? What could I have done differently? Anger, shame, guilt, confusion, and possibly relief, may battle with the sadness you feel. These complex emotions are completely normal. You have been confronted with a devastating, unexpected loss, and now, you have to wade through the questions and emotions that come with it. Don’t be afraid to name your emotions, whatever they may be. The sooner you recognize them, the sooner you can learn to deal with them.

2. Find ways to express those feelings

For many people, expressing our feelings means talking to someone we trust – whether that’s a friend, family member, or counselor. With suicide loss, people are generally more reluctant to talk about the loss because they feel ashamed of what their loved one did, or they can’t bear to process the emotions raging within them. They’d rather bottle it up and pretend everything is okay.

It’s not healthy to keep things inside. The only way to begin to process your feelings is to express them. However, you can carefully choose your method of expression. Maybe it is talking to someone. It could also be writing down what you feel, painting, drawing, walking in nature, or any number of things. The point is – find what works for you and begin the work of processing any negative emotions you may feel.

3. Take your time

Grief isn’t linear. It doesn’t follow a timeline or schedule. We can’t input a formula, and in exactly 10 months and five days, everything will be over and dealt with. Ultimately, the time it takes depends on you. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief expert and founder of the Center for Loss & Life Transition, says, “I have learned that we cannot go around the pain of our grief. Instead, we must learn to embrace and express it. This is hard but absolutely necessary work.” Take your time – all the time you need – but do the work. Process your feelings. Learn to let go of the unanswered questions. Find new hope. Live your life and remember your loved one.

4. Treat yourself kindly

When something happens that you feel you could have prevented, you may blame yourself for not making different choices. You may be taking on part of the responsibility for your loved one’s death, but ultimately, it was their decision. Maybe you could have been kinder or more encouraging or noticed something sooner, but either way, the decision was out of your hands. While feelings of guilt may rise, treat yourself with kindness. You may need to accept that you could have done more, but in the same turn, also accept that your loved one made a choice that was beyond your control. Give yourself grace. Treat yourself and others with kindness. Love those still around you wholeheartedly.

5. Reach out to those you love

While your grief journey is something you must walk yourself, you don’t have to walk alone. Reach out to the people in your life who have been steadfast. Draw on your support groups – family, friends, church, volunteer groups, etc. There are people who love you, and they will stand by you as you process your loved one’s death. They may not always know what to say – you may not know what to say – but you can invite a few hand-selected people to walk with you as you learn how to move forward.

6. Eat well and get enough sleep

Grief can take a lot out of you. You may forget to eat or feel excessively tired. When dealing with suicide loss, sleep may feel elusive because questions plague your thoughts. No matter what, be intentional about taking care of your physical body. Make sure that you are eating, even if you don’t necessarily feel like it. Nap when you’re tired unless you’re having trouble sleeping at night. If you are having trouble sleeping at night, avoid naps, try journaling your thoughts before bed, and create a bedtime routine you can sustain. By journaling at night, you can get those niggling thoughts out before your head hits the pillow – it may just help you sleep through the night.

7. Allow yourself to have fun

It’s okay to have fun. You may still be dealing with the loss of your loved one, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the life you have. Take a long soak in a hot bath. Go out to the movies with your friends. Bake your favorite dessert. Go shopping for that new pair of shoes. Even though you’re grieving, you must hang onto the joy of life. There is so much possibility ahead of you, and while there will be dark days when grief shows its face, there are also days of joy and happiness to come. After all, laughter is the best medicine.

8. Establish a routine

When something unexpected happens in life, everything feels out of control. Your routine is upset. You are suddenly dealing with events and people you didn’t expect. This is what happens when we lose a loved one suddenly – our lives lose their normalcy and are thrown into disarray. By establishing a routine, you can begin to gain back some normalcy and control. When you feel comfortable in your routine, you can begin to process what’s happened and learn how to deal with and manage your grief.

9. Recognize when you need a little extra help

With every suicide death, an estimated six or more people become “suicide survivors” – people who have lost a loved one and are struggling to understand why. Research shows us that suicide survivors often need the help of a mental health professional or a grief support group as they process through the loss. Because of the complex emotions and the unanswered questions, it’s always important to consider whether you should talk to a professional who can help you move forward.

A skilled mental health professional or grief counselor can:

  • Help you make sense of what happened and process your reactions to the loss
  • Work with you to explore any unresolved issues in your relationship with your lost loved one
  • Offer specialized support and understanding as you walk through your grief journey

10. Enjoy the good things in your life

When dealing with loss, especially a traumatic loss, it’s important to keep perspective, to focus on the good things in life. Otherwise, we can get transfixed on what’s difficult and beyond our control. So, take time every day to hug your children. Embrace your parents. Spend time with the people you love. Do the things that bring you joy. The good things in life sustain us through the bad. They give us hope for the future, and even though it may seem like the world is ending, there are good things coming, if you take the time to look.

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