Sherry Williams White, writer, nurse and grief specialist, met with a group of teenagers to discuss grief and loss. In this article, she shares the answers to questions they had about grief and what they thought would help them cope. She shares ideas they had for creating memorials and coping with the death of a friend or loved one.
by Sherry Williams White
When a friend or loved one dies, the intensity of your feelings may be frightening. At times, you may feel like you are all alone. You are hurting and you may even feel like your life has been shattered. You may feel like the future has been put on hold and the world is moving in slow motion. You may feel angry and confused, afraid and lonely. These feelings may be so intense that you can't comprehend that anyone could possibly understand what you feel. The feelings you are having are nature's response to change and loss. You are grieving and grief is the natural, normal and necessary reaction to loss. Grief is emotional, physical, social, psychological and spiritual. It is a complex process that affects every aspect of your life.
You may not feel like sleeping or eating very much or maybe that's all you want to do. You may find it difficult to concentrate or remember things. You may feel numb or frozen inside. You may be exhausted and feel empty or depressed. Grief comes in waves and can be paralyzing. Grief hurts.
Anger and guilt are common emotions. You may feel angry with God and ask why this had to happen. You may be angry with other family members, yourself or the person who died. It doesn't have to make sense to feel real and confusing.
It is normal to experience muscle aches and headaches. You might even have stomach problems or feel heaviness in your heart. You may feel like crying all the time or perhaps the tears feel like they are stuck inside you. Grief is different for everyone. Don't expect to feel like other members of your family or like other friends who might be grieving too.
Grief can be isolating because no one knows what to say to you or how to act. You may not know what to do either. At a time when you really need support, it is difficult to ask for it and you may just decide it is easier to be alone. As scary and as painful as all of these feelings may be, they are normal. Acknowledge those feelings and seek information about grief. Gathering information about what has happened and understanding your feelings can give you a sense of control. Believe in yourself and trust your feelings. Reach out to others. You do not have to do this alone.
How Long Will I Feel This Way?
There are no time frames for grief. It lasts far longer than anyone expects. Grief is very individual and everyone will grieve in his own way and in his own time. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is only your way. Do not compare your grief with others or judge yourself by what others are feeling or doing.
It is important to understand that you won't get over the death. You will learn to live through it. You will incorporate what has happened into who you are and who you are becoming. There will always be moments when grief surprises you such as the birthday of your friend or loved one, the death anniversary, the holidays, your prom or graduation, hearing a special song, getting a job or going to college. Don't let these feelings scare you. They are normal. Remember, you do not stop loving someone just because they have died.
What Can I Do Now?
Acknowledge your loss and the changes that have occurred. Do not try to mask your feelings with drugs or alcohol. Anything that makes you escape your feelings will only work for so long. There is no way around grief. You must work through it. Share your thoughts and feelings with a friend or keep a journal. Seek out a friend or an adult who you can engage in conversation. It is normal to want to talk about the death as you try to gain a sense of what is happening to you. On the other hand, remember that grief is different for everyone and it is okay if you find you don't want to think about it at all. Let people know what you need.
Many people question their spiritual beliefs and you may want to find someone who can listen to your doubts, feelings and questions. It is normal to wonder where your friend or loved one is now and what was God's will. There is nothing wrong in questioning your faith. It is through questioning your belief systems that you become stronger. Seek out a knowledgeable adult to help you address these feelings. Use this as a time to discover new things about yourself.
Take care of yourself physically. Eat healthy foods. Avoid excess caffeine, sugar and junk foods. Remember food will not fill the empty space in your heart. Try to exercise and maintain your usual schedule as much as possible. If you are feeling angry or anxious, you might try jogging, bowling, hitting tennis balls or shooting hoops to relieve your stress.
Everything around you may seem like it is changing so take things a moment at a time. It may be helpful to work with other friends or family members to find ways to create a memorial to honor the life of your loved one. Do things to help you remember the life, not just the death. You might consider a few of the following ideas or come up with some of your own:
Create a memory video or scrapbook
Do a photo collage
Create a scholarship fund
Do a special memorial page in the yearbook
Hold a moment of silence or candle lighting before a special event such as a ball game, prom or graduation, etc.
Write a song or poem in memory of your special person
Plant a tree or create a memorial garden
Work to keep the lines of communication open in your family. Adults may not always know what to say to help you. Tell family members what you need and try to be understanding of their needs as well. No one can read your mind. Grief is hard work and it takes a lot of patience and cooperation.
Do not allow grief to become an excuse for poor performance or bad habits. There are still things that have to be done such as homework, chores and work. People still expect you to do all the things you did before the death occurred. Listen to the words of Theodore Roosevelt who said, "Do what you can, with what you have, with where you are." Allow yourself to laugh again and to rediscover the joys in living. The person you loved has given you many gifts. Weave those qualities into your life as you begin to find your new identity.
Someone you love has died, but the love you shared can never be destroyed. Grief can be a teacher. It has many lessons and some of them may surprise you. As you take this journey, make a choice to trust your feelings and to survive and grow. Even though death has come, love never goes away.