Teen Coping with the Death of a Parent

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Originally published on Self Healing Expressions by Marty Tousley, Bereavement Counselor.

Dear Marty ~ Teen Coping with the Death of a Parent
Q & A by Bereavement Counselor Marty Tousley

Question: I am a 16-year old boy. I found out two nights ago that my father (45 years old) passed away. I just don’t know how to tell people how close we were and it’s getting to me really bad. I just don’t know if I can get through this.

Answer: I am so very sorry and I cannot imagine how devastated you must feel, having lost the physical presence of this most important person in your life. Your statement that you don’t know if you can get through this by yourself struck me. I’d like to share with you some information that, as a bereavement counselor, I would want any grieving teen to know.

First, grief is best dealt with when you are able to show your emotional pain, talk with others openly and express your feelings fully about a loved one’s death. And accept support from family and friends. I don’t know what your relationship is like with your mom, but at your age (as a 16-year-old learning to separate from authority figures and find your own identity), it would be very normal for you to feel somewhat alienated from adults anyway.

That’s why most teens normally turn to their peers for support.

At the same time, they don’t like to stand out and to feel different from their friends – they want to belong. The trouble is that, unless one or more of your friends has experienced the death of a loved one too, it’s unlikely that they can fully understand what you’re feeling and experiencing as you mourn the death of your dad. That’s why grieving teens do best when they’re helped to find peers who’ve also experienced a death. They’re often very relieved to discover they’re not the only ones who’ve had someone close to them die. So I want to encourage you to find someone you trust (a teacher, school counselor, neighbor, friend, relative, clergy person, etc.) and with whom you feel comfortable talking.

It is very important that you talk about who your dad was and what was special about him.
It is very helpful to tell about your experience with the death itself: where you were when the death occurred, what happened right afterward and what you’re experiencing right now. It’s also helpful to share any dreams you may be having about your dad. I don’t know how long ago your dad died or if you’ll be attending a funeral or memorial service for him, but if you feel a need to do so, you can always write a letter (or letters) to your dad and say whatever you need to say to him.

You can save these letters or go to a special place of remembrance and bury them or burn them. Be creative. Whatever way you find to connect to your dad’s spirit is totally up to you. Gather pictures, words and phrases from magazines and make a collage or a memory album that tells a story about what you remember about him.

Find Support
Look in your telephone book and call your local hospice and ask if there are any support groups or programs in your community aimed at teens who’ve lost a parent. Maybe you’ve already gone on the Internet and found some of the other sites that offer information, comfort and support to teens who are grieving.

If you haven’t found some of these already, see especially the sites listed under the Child/Adolescent Grief category on my grief-healing site. Learn what normal grief looks like and feels like, so you’ll know that what you’re experiencing is normal and that you’re not alone. Consider joining our Teens Talking to Teens Forum in our online Grief Healing Discussion Group (you can read what other grieving teens have to say about their grief here).

Think about what you need from others right now and let them know about it. People (including your mother and other relatives) won’t know what you need from them unless you tell them. They may be very concerned about you, but they may not have a clue as to what’s going on with you.

It could be that, in an effort to protect your mother from her sorrow about this loss, you’ve been reluctant to discuss with her your own feelings of grief at the death of your dad. At the same time, your mother may think that discussing this death will only upset you. That happens in families. It’s like the proverbial elephant in the room – everyone can see it standing there, they know it’s filling up the room, but nobody acknowledges that it’s there and no one wants to talk about it. So everybody winds up feeling alone and isolated in their grief.

But talking is a good thing!
Talking about your dad is what gets your feelings out in the open so you can acknowledge and deal with them, and it’s also what keeps his memory alive in your mind and in your heart. Maybe your mom is just aching to find somebody to talk to about him, too! One thing you might try is to print out this message I’ve written to you and ask your mother to read it. That may be all you need to get the conversation going.

Grief Changes Through the Years
You also need to know that grief changes through the years. It will change you as well, influencing who you are in the present and affecting who you’ll become in the future. This death of this very special person must be worked through, adapted to, and integrated into your life, as different situations will require you to accommodate this loss again and again. You will re-visit your father’s death continually as you grapple with its meaning- emotionally, socially, economically and spiritually- and as you struggle to find a place for him in your present and future life.

Know that death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship. The bond you have with your dad will stay with you just as long as you keep his memory alive in your mind and in your heart. He will always be your father and you will always be his son. Take comfort in knowing that, in a very real sense, your dad is very much here with you now, wherever you are. His spirit and his memory live on in you because you are so very much a part of him. When you really think about it, in many ways you are more inseparable now than you were before, because you are not limited by space and time and distance.

I hope this information proves useful to you. Please accept my deepest and heartfelt sympathy over the loss of your father, and know that I am thinking of you.

Wishing you peace and healing,
Marty Tousley, Bereavement Counselor

Marty Tousley is the creator and instructor of the Self-Healing Expressions course The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey. – See more at http://www.selfhealingexpressions.com/coping-with-a-fathers-death

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