I Am Living

The young person’s reactions

In the same way as adults, young people experience loss in a unique and individual way.

There are times when young people give mixed messages to adults. It is not uncommon for them to conceal their real feelings and thoughts or to act as if everything is okay.

In order to understand adolescent grief, you have to consider the young person’s age and maturity level as well as the nature of the loss they have experienced.  Unlike children, young people are more likely to understand that death is a final and permanent event. The young, however, tend to believe they are immortal.

The young grieving person experiences many emotions, including shock, guilt, anger, and extreme sadness. There may be changes in behavior, such as reverting back to younger behavior, shedding tears, anxiety, withdrawal, thoughts of suicide, an increase or decrease in sexual activity, and possibly the use of drugs and/or alcohol to help block feelings.

Talking about the loss

When speaking with a young person about their loss and grief, please consider:

  • providing clear and truthful information which can prevent misconceptions, assumptions, and fantasising about the unknown;
  • information may need to be repeated several times since it may be difficult to absorb everything at once;
  • the young person will likely need to talk frequently and to express their feelings freely, so adults should be prepared to listen without judgement;
  • encourage questions and answer honestly;
  • storytelling and sharing of memories about the loss needs to be encouraged;
  • give the young person the freedom, as far as possible, to make their own choices. Making decisions for a young person and dictating to them may not be the best approach.

“One’s suffering disappears when one lets oneself go, when one yields, even to sadness”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery Southern Mail, 1929

Translated from French by Curtis Cate

Source: ‘Healing After Loss’. Calvary Bereavement Counselling Service (2020)

Supporting the Young Person

When supporting a young person through loss and grief, please consider:

  • attempting to understand the young person’s behavior, views, and how the loss may affect them;
  • talking freely about the loss without offering advice;
  • encouraging adolescents to share their experiences and not avoiding the subject, remembering that the young person may feel alone and isolated;
  • looking over photos and mementos can help share memories and special moments;
  • talking about dreams may provide valuable insights into unconscious beliefs and thoughts;
  • journaling or letter writing can be helpful because they allow safe self-expression. It might also be a way to work through unresolved issues, as well as saying goodbye;
  • engaging in creative activities, such as poems or collages, to express emotions is a positive way to deal with loss;
  • attending the funeral, lighting candles in memory of the deceased, visiting significant places, and fulfilling other meaningful rituals may be of benefit to the young person. Attempt to understand the young person’s behaviour, view of the world, and the impact that the loss may have on them;
  • showing that families, schools and health professionals are accessible to the adolescent to accompany them in their grief;
  • supporting discussions about their the adolescent’s loss in a safe environment;
  • providing young people with access to positive support networks, where they can talk when they want, particularly within the family. It may be difficult for parents who are struggling with their own grief to deal with this. People who are young can feel alienated and isolated because friends may not understand them;
  • supporting the young person communicating well with your family and being able to share their death experience with others are beneficial. Also, relying on your family for emotional support is beneficial; and
  • engaging in family discussions and activities may become difficult to participate in, and reluctance to speak about the death may lead to difficulties. Remain aware of what is happening to the young person.

Adapted with permission from the National Association for Loss and Grief (Aust) Inc.