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Adolescent Grief Issues: Help For The Caring Adult


Adolescent Grief Issues: Help For The Caring Adult David A. Opalewski Author/Presenter (989) 249 4362 – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Adolescent Grief Issues: Help For The Caring Adult

Adolescent Grief Issues Help For The Caring Adult
  • David A. Opalewski
  • Author/Presenter
  • (989) 249 4362

When death impacts a family, everyone has a high
need to feel understood, yet a natural incapacity
to be understanding !
The Gardner and the Seedling A Parable
  • One spring morning a gardener noticed an
    unfamiliar seedling poking through the ground
    near the rocky, untended edge of his garden. He
    knelt to examine its first fragile leaves.
    Though he had cared for many others during his
    long life, the gardener was unsure what this new
    seedling was to become. Still, it looked forlorn
    and in need of his encouragement, so the gardener
    removed the largest stones near the seedlings
    tender stalk and bathed it in rainwater from his
    worn tin watering can

Parable Cont.
  • In the coming days, the gardner watched the
    seedling struggle to live and grow in its new,
    sometimes hostile home. When weeds threatened to
    choke the seedling, he dug them out, careful not
    to disturb the seedlings delicate roots. He
    spooned dark, rich compost around its base. One
    cold April night, he even fashioned a special
    cover for the seedling from an old canning jar so
    that it would not freeze.

Parable Cont.
  • But the gardener also believed in the seedlings
    natural capacity to adapt and survive. He did
    not water it too frequently. He did not
    stimulate its growth with chemicals. Nor did he
    succumb to the urge to lift the seedling from
    its unfriendly setting and transplant it in the
    rich, sheltered center of the garden. Instead,
    the gardener watched and waited.

Parable Cont.
  • Day by day, the seedling grew taller, stronger.
    Its slender yet sturdy stalk reached for the
    heavens and its blue- green leaves stretched to
    either side as if to welcome the gardener as he
    arrived each morning.

Parable Cont.
  • Soon a bud appeared atop the young plants stem.
    Then one warm June afternoon, the tightly
    wrapped, purple-blue petals unfurled, revealing a
    creamy white ring of petals inside and a tiny
    bouquet of yellow stamens at its center.
  • A Columbine the gentle wildflower whose name
    means dove-like A single, perfect columbine.

Parable Cont.
  • The gardener smiled. He knew then that the
    columbine would continue to grow and flourish,
    still needing his presence, but no longer
    requiring the daily companionship it had during
    its tenuous early days.
  • The gardener crouched next to the lovely blossom
    and cupped its head in his rough palm.
    Congratulations he whispered to the columbine.
    You have not only survived, you have grown
    beautiful and strong.

Parable Cont.
  • The gardener stood and turned to walk back to his
    gardening shed. Suddenly a gust of wind lifted
    his straw hat and as he bent to retrieve it, a
    small voice whispered back, Without your help, I
    could not have. Thank you.
  • The gardener looked up, but no one was there.
    Just the blue columbine nodding happily in the

How The Gardener Helped
  • He didnt transplant it into the garden. Thus he
    didnt try to fix the problem
  • He only protected when the frost came which was
    an immediate threat to the seedlings life
  • He didnt protect from day to day hassles
  • He allowed natural consequences to teach
  • He enriched or fertilized the soil
  • He watched and waited instead of being more
    actively involved
  • He believed in the seedling

(No Transcript)
Teen Grief
  • They are not children, yet neither are they
  • Teen grief is an area in need of much more
  • Grieving teens need the love and support of
    adults if they are to grow to become emotionally
    healthy themselves

Teen Grief Facts
  • Most deaths teens experience are sudden or
    untimely (Sudden Death Syndrome)
  • Most teens at first will often feel disbelief and
    numbness. His survival mechanisms tell him that
    he must push away if he is to survive
  • The teens heightened emotions often take the
    form(s) of rage/anger. This is his way to say I
    protest this death and vent his feelings of

Teen Grief Facts Cont.
  • Rage fantasies are also common it is a normal
    grief response and most teens know not to act
    upon these feelings
  • The death of a parent is especially difficult for
  • Teens are extremely close to boyfriends,
    girlfriends, and best friends. Many times, their
    grief is overlooked because society tends to
    focus on the primary mourners . . . The dead
    persons immediate family

Anticipated Death
  • Professionals helping families grieve anticipated
    deaths rarely consider their potentially
    traumatic impact.
  • These deaths are considered to be good deaths
    providing opportunity to come to terms with the
  • This view ignores the many logistical, financial,
    and emotional strains of terminal illness.

Stress with a Dying Parent
  • Deterioration of dying patient physical, mental
    and emotional
  • Fear of unknown
  • Inability to help
  • Loss of sense of world as a safe place
  • Teens fear of intensity of own emotional

Stress with a Dying Parent
  • Guilt over inability to tolerate exposure to
    dying parent
  • Surviving parent emotionally depleted
  • Surviving parent seeking support from teen

Adolescent Quote
  • I didnt want to spend time with mom. I was
    scared of the fact she was dying. Its different
    than youre used to. Youre kind of speechless
    and you dont know what to say.

Grieving Teens In School
  • Should not be asked to continue with school work
    as if nothing happened
  • The work of mourning must take precedence if a
    teen is to heal. Teachers should understand this
    temporary shift in priorities
  • Important events like prom or graduation usually
    are difficult times not only after a short time,
    but also years later

Adolescent Mourning Needs
  • Acknowledge the reality of the death
  • Move toward the pain of the loss
  • Remember the person who died
  • Develop a new self-identity
  • Search for meaning
  • Continue to receive support from adults

What NOT To Do
  • Be judgmental, criticize, blame
  • Do most of the talking
  • Lie or tell half-truths
  • Use euphemisms like gone away, resting,
    sleep etc.
  • Be afraid to admit to a student that you DONT
    know all the answers
  • Avoid the student(s)
  • Minimize the loss

What NOT To Do
  • Change the subject
  • Use clichés such as we all have to die sometime
  • Say I know how you feel
  • Believe that a teen thinks the same way as an
  • Attempt to become a substitute for the deceased

What NOT To Do
  • Think that a students busy activity means he/she
    is being disrespectful or disinterested
  • Pressure the student to talk
  • Tell them how they should feel

What SHOULD We Do ?
  • Allow the new loss to take precedence with
  • Trust your instincts
  • Initiate the discussion of the loss issue if
    students do not bring it up
  • Encourage students to attend visitation, funeral,
    memorial service
  • Consider the creation of a memorial(plaque, books
    for the library, etc.)

What SHOULD We Do ?
  • Marshall positive forces in the students life
  • Realize that not talking about the loss doesnt
    make it go away
  • Encourage classmates to be a support system for
    the grieving student and his/her family
  • Communicate the knowledge that all feelings are
    okay and need to be expressed
  • Recognize that laughter and play dont mean that
    the student did not love or care about the person
    who died

What SHOULD We Do ?
  • Remember the four Ts in sympathy Talk
    Touch Tears Time
  • Dispel guilt feelings

What Students Can Do
  • Make a Display Board for Funeral Home Visitation
  • Have family liaison clear with family first
  • Students bring in pictures of activities with
    deceased, put names on back of pictures
  • Put at a place where students can see it before
    they enter the chapel to view deceased

Benefits of Display Board
  • Helps loosen the students up
  • Helps students feel part of the process
  • Stops crazy emotions
  • Makes the deceased a part of their lives

What Students Can Do
  • Make a Treasure Box Memorial
  • Bring stuffed animals
  • Pictures
  • Hats
  • Poems/Songs/Writings
  • Art Work
  • Letter to deceased
  • Anything that will cultivate a pleasant memory or
    be a fitting tribute
  • Present to parents during or after the funeral

Sample Classroom Discussion Guide
  • Announce the tragedy no PA announcement
  • Allow a minute or two for the news to sink in
  • Express how you are impacted by the tragedy
  • Ask students to share positive memories of the
  • Share some positive memories you have of the
  • Talk about feelings of grief
  • Encourage students to express their feelings

Class Discussion Cont.
  • Encourage students to attend visitation,
    memorial, funeral, make a card, plan memorial,
  • Move into classroom work with their option to
    stop anytime they feel a need to discuss the
    tragedy more or are feeling overwhelmed with grief

Red Flag Behaviors
  • Eating disorders
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Alcohol or other drug abuse
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors
  • Dramatic change of behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions
  • Fighting and legal troubles
  • Academic failure or over-achievement

Advice From My Teen Support Group
  • Mention the person who died by name personalize
    our loss
  • Dont be afraid to talk to us about the person
    who died. Dont pretend that he/she didnt exist
  • Use words died death etc.
  • Be patient. If we cry, please understand, and if
    we make you feel uncomfortable, we dont mean to.

Advice From My Teen Support Group
  • Call and visit. Please dont wait for us to call
    you. We are so overwhelmed by our loss we forget
    to call or dont have the energy to call
  • Invite to church with you. If you see one of us
    sitting alone at church, or at school lunch,
    please sit with us
  • Invite us to a movie with you. If we say no
    please call back another time
  • Please remember the normal grief cycle is 24
    months. In case of suicide it may last even

Advice From My Teen Support Group
  • Thinking of You cards or notes on anniversaries
    (death, wedding) or the dead persons birthday
    are greatly appreciated. It is comforting to
    know that remember and care
  • If we vent our anger toward you please forgive us
  • Please dont tell us I know how you feel
  • Please dont tell us you have to take care of
    mom or dad
  • Please be happy with us when positive things
    happen to us

Differences Between Trauma And Grief
  • Grief
  • Generalized reaction SADNESS
  • Grief reactions stand alone
  • Grief reactions are usually known to public and
  • Most can talk about what happened
  • Trauma
  • Generalized reaction TERROR
  • Trauma reactions usually include grief reactions
  • Reactions largely unknown to public and often
  • Most do not want to talk about what happened

Differences Between Grief And Trauma
  • Grief
  • Pain is the acknowledgement of the loss
  • Anger is usually non-destructive/assaultive
  • Usually does not attack or disfigure self-image
  • Guilt says I wish I would/would not have
  • Dreams tend to be of deceased
  • Trauma
  • Anger often becomes assaultive verbally or
  • Generally attacks, disfigures self image
  • Guilt says it was my fault I could have
    prevented it
  • Dreams about self as potential victim

Suicide Helping Those Left Behind
  • Rejection Loneliness
  • Shame Guilt
  • Blame Anger
  • Make sure you dont make the deceased bigger in
    death then they were in life !
  • Beware of copy-cat behaviors
  • Non-judgmentally, stress suicide is NEVER the

Reasons Why Memorial Services Are Not Advised
  • A memorial service runs the real risk of
    glamorizing or romanticizing the suicide
  • Students who feel unimportant may come to believe
    that suicide is a way to become important
    (Elder, 1995 Grollman, 1990 Wilson institute for
    Adolescent Studies 1988)
  • Memorials can serve to increase the
    attractiveness of suicide as a solution to
    problems (Catone et al, 1991)

Why Cant I Feel Anything ?
Some of My Friends Have Changed. I Feel Like I
Have Lost Them Too
I Better Enjoy Myself As Much As I Can Now, Who
Knows What Tomorrow May Bring
Is It Wrong To Go To Parties And Have Fun ?
What If I Hardly Knew The Person ?
How Should I Be Acting ?
If I Get Close To Other People, Wont I Betray
My friend Who Died ?
Im Afraid To Get Close To Someone Else, What if
That Person Dies Too ?
How Can I Stand The Pain ?
What Is Normal ?
How Long Will This Last?
What If I Feel Like I Am Going Crazy ?
What Do I Do If My Parents Are Smothering Me ?
Smothering Parents
  • Some things you may want to tell your parents
  • I need to deal with this. Please dont try to
    protect me
  • Please dont tell me how to feel
  • When I talk to you about my feelings, Id
    appreciate it if you just listened
  • Sometimes I may want to talk to another adult a
    teacher, counselor, or minister. This doesnt
    mean that I am rejecting you just that I want
    to talk to someone who isnt so close to me

What If I Cant Handle My Grief On My Own ?
Important Points To Remember When Working With
Grieving Children/Adolescents
  • I am a caregiver not a curegiver
  • I will be a more effective helper if I remember
    to enter into their feelings without having a
    need to change those feelings
  • Each bereaved child I meet is a unique human
  • While I believe children are able to experience
    feelings similar to adults, their thought
    processes are quite different

Important Points Cont.
  • Empathy, warmth, and acceptance are essential
    qualities for the person working with the
    grieving child/adolescent
  • To work effectively with grieving children, I
    must keep my own inner child alive and well
  • Grieving children use behaviors to teach me about
    underlying needs. I have a responsibility to
    learn what those unmet needs are and help the
    child get those needs met

Important Points Cont.
  • I need to remember that it is in embracing
    memories of the person who died that the child
    discovers hope for a new tomorrow
  • I must work to create a social context that
    allows grieving children/adolescents to mourn
    openly and honestly
  • I must remind myself to be responsible to
    grieving children/adolescents, not totally
    responsible for them

Joy Shared is Joy IncreasedGrief Shared is