Losing someone or something that you care about is difficult and painful. As a result of death or loss, you can experience grief. It is important to know that although grief is a natural reaction, it can be overwhelming (and even scary) to experience these feelings and thoughts.
Some basic information
Not all losses are about the death of a person
The death of a person is often the cause of grief. However, feelings of loss are very personal and you can experience feelings of grief over a loss that is not the death of a person. Some examples might be: the death of a pet, a serious illness (of your own or somebody you love), a relationship break up, moving to a new area or away from home, or loss of a physical ability.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve
There are models that give information on what the grieving process can be like, and you may have even heard about stages of grief. These theories are just general guidelines- there is no “correct” way or exact set of steps to follow when you grieve. Everyone has a unique experience. The thoughts and feelings you have during this time, the length of time you grieve, and the things you do, may all be different from others who are experiencing grief. That’s okay, you aren’t doing it wrong.
You probably don’t want to feel this way
Most people don’t want to experience grief. The feelings associated with grieving can be overwhelming and frightening. Some people try to push these feelings away in an effort to help themselves. They may ignore how they are feeling, try to hide it or pretend they are okay. Sometimes they try to mask their feelings by using alcohol, drugs or engaging in other dangerous behaviors. Although it is difficult and painful, accepting the reality of your feelings is important. Accepting what you are experiencing will allow you to work through these feelings and heal. It’s a difficult but necessary part of helping yourself feel better.
Every experience is different
You may have experienced a death or loss in the past. It’s important to remember that every loss is different. Just because you handled a loss one way in the past, does not mean that it will be the same for the next. Your experience will depend on many factors, including your relationship with the person or how you experienced the loss, support system and your experience of previous losses.
Grief is ongoing
Your feelings about your loss will change over time. Time and support will usually help things to get better, but there may be occasions, like important dates, birthdays or holidays, that can remind you of your loss and trigger feelings. It can help to have a list of these occasions and plan for support to get through them.
Safety is important
Your experiences during your grief are going to be unique, and nothing that you are feeling is wrong. However, it is never okay to hurt yourself or someone else- even while you are grieving. If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, or if you feel suicidal tell someone right away by contacting 911, your local authorities or by accessing the list of support hotlines on the TeenCentral Help page. You deserve support.
Although everyone’s grief process is unique, these are some common responses that you might experience if you are going through a loss…
- Feeling emotionally out of control
- Sadness or depression
- Irritability or anger
- Feeling frustrated or that others do not understand you
- Desire to withdraw from your family, your friends and your activities
- Trouble concentrating/focusing on school and activities or intense focus on school or activities
- Difficulty sleeping or wanting to sleep all the time
- Lack of energy
- Changes in appetite- overeating or not eating
- Unpredictable and intense reactions of anger, sadness, guilt or anxiety
- Discomfort discussing your loss
- Worry about the safety of others that you care about or your own safety
- Guilt or remorse
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- Sensitivity to sounds, movement or light (this can occur if the loss was accompanied by a traumatic event, like a car accident or violence)
Ways to Help Yourself
Tell people what you need
Be honest about how you are feeling and what you need. The people who are close to you are trying to help, but they may not understand exactly how you are feeling. Be open about it- whether it is space, support or just not being asked questions. Letting them know the specifics will help you and them.
Do not judge yourself
This is your process. Don’t think that you have to be strong, or that you are a “mess” for having an emotional reaction, that you’re crying too much or not enough. Everyone is different. Remember that hurting yourself or someone else in the process of your grief is not okay- if you are having these thoughts it’s time to get more support to handle things in a safer way.
Comfort yourself in healthy ways
Make a list of the things that can comfort you and use them when you need them. This might be taking a walk, doing some yoga or spending time with your pet or your friends.
Stick with your routine (if you feel up to it)
When you encounter a loss, things in your world can change and you may feel a little out of control. Try sticking with the normal things that you do, whether its school, activities, bed time or meals. Routine can help you to get back some consistency and control.
Talking to someone can help. This could be a trusted adult- like a parent, family friend, school guidance counselor, coach, or faith-based leader. It could also be a therapist or you could even join a grief support group in your area to share your experience with others who are experiencing similar things.
How to manage at school
It can be hard to get through the normal (sometimes stressful) parts of your life when you are struggling with a loss. School is one of those things. In many situations, you can talk with your parents or caregivers to arrange take some time off. However, you may still be experiencing feelings of grief when you return. It helps to have a plan that will allow you to get some extra help if you need it. You can make a similar plan for other places where you spend your time.
Some considerations for your plan might include:
- Talking to some people at school before you return for class, (such as the guidance counselor, a favorite teacher or coach, or even the principal) to let them know what’s going on. That way they will be ready to help you out if you need it.
- Plan out how you will handle questions you may get from others. It can be difficult to be reminded of your loss, but people (who often want to be helpful) may ask you questions- think about how much you want to say (if anything) and what you might say. Putting thought into a response will make sure you aren’t caught off-guard.
- Create a strategy for difficult situations trouble concentrating or focusing in class, or become emotional. Talk with some of the school staff (teachers, guidance counselor) about a plan for what to do if/when this happens. Ideas might include having a quiet space you can go to if you need it, or designating a safe and trusted person you can ask to talk to throughout the day.
- Let people know how you are feeling as you go, if you having a particularly bad day tell someone before something happens or things get worse.
Remembrance of someone who has died
Remembering someone who has died can be helpful. It can be a way to express your emotions and help yourself to heal. Below are some ideas you can try…
- Advocate for a cause that they were close to, for example you can participate in a walk or volunteer for a cause that they loved (like an animal shelter).
- Write a letter to them expressing how you feel.
- Get together with other people who are feeling the loss and talk about your memories.
- Do something in their honor- create a piece of art, run a race, collects donations for a homeless shelter.
- Make a memory box- start with some things that remind you of them. When you have memories, write them down and add them to your box.
Getting through a funeral
When someone you care about dies, you are often asked to attend a funeral. Funerals can be challenging and emotional. Here are some tips to get you through…
If you can’t go, that’s okay
Funerals offer the opportunity to process your grief and say good bye to a loved one. However, sometimes the thought of going is unbearable. If so, that’s okay. Talk to some trusted adults who can help you make a decision by weighing the pros and cons.
Accept that it will be hard
No matter what, funerals are difficult and emotionally charged events. You might have a variety of feelings when you go. Accepting that will help you to be better prepared.
Bring something to occupy you
If things are getting intense, it can help to distract yourself in the moment. Bring something small that you can stick in your pocket and hold in your hands, like a stress ball to squeeze. Be sure that it isn’t something that will be disruptive to others (like something that makes noise).
Surround yourself with support
If you have friends attending the same funeral, make plans to go with them and sit together, or ask someone safe and trusted to come along with you for company.
Have an escape route (just in case)
If you feel that you might need to leave, plan something out ahead of time. When you walk in, look for the exits- sit close to one, or in the back, where you can quickly leave if you need to.
How to deal with special days
Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and special events (like graduation or prom), can bring back painful feelings of missing someone who is not present. Here are some things that you can do that might make these days a little easier.
- Create a special ritual that you can do on that day to remember that person (like wearing a favorite piece of jewelry, or having something of theirs with you).
- Do something in remembrance of the person you are missing. If it’s your event, you might have a picture of them on display or set a place for them at the table.
- Create a special decoration in remembrance of them that you can put out for holidays.
- Write a card or letter to them to explain the events of the day.
Supporting a grieving friend
You might find yourself in a situation where you aren’t the one who has lost something. If so, there are some things that you can do to support someone you care about who might be struggling.
- Listen to them and ask about their feelings.
- Sit quietly with them.
- Let them be sad and heal in their own time, don’t tell them to cheer up or tell them how to feel.
- Be available to hang out with them when they need someone.
- Understand that they might have some odd behavior- they might seem irritable or want to withdraw and that’s okay, try to understand that they are hurting.
- Tell someone if they are in danger of hurting themselves or someone else- while grief can cause many different reactions, it’s not okay for someone to hurt themselves or someone else. They need additional support.