Unfortunately, many young people will experience bereavement, through the death of a parent or grandparent, sibling, friend or any significant person in their life. Adolescence is a period of change for young people when their emotions can be confusing and their relationships challenging. Bereavement can make life for a young person extremely confusing.
The Impact of Bereavement on a Young Person
14-year-old Sam may seem as though he doesn’t care but developmentally, he is also dealing with all sorts of tasks connected with growing up. Trying to ’separate’ from his parents and be himself is one task he needs to complete. A bereavement may throw Sam back into dependency on the adults in his life – something that Sam may resent.
Teenagers may struggle with their identity and want to establish their independence. They may find it difficult to talk about their feelings or ask for help. They may seek and find support through social media which may or may not be helpful. Their behaviour may change, and they could become withdrawn or feel angry and get involved in anti-social behaviour.
As with younger children, adults are often anxious or reluctant to talk about death and dying with them. However, young people understand that death is permanent, and even though they may be unable to share their feelings, they will suffer similar feelings of loss and grief to an adult. The best approach is always to include them in the conversation, give them information and the choice to be involved in the preparations for the funeral when someone close has died.
To help a young person decide whether or not to attend a funeral, or prepare for one, you will find the following film very helpful to share with him or her. It was produced by experienced funeral directors, Rosedales, specifically for young people.
5 Top Tips for supporting a bereaved young person in your ‘community’
1. Be available when they need you
It might not be the most convenient time of day but if a young person wants to talk ensure that you are free to do so or tell them when you will be free and stick to it. You might get the “well I need to talk now” response but they will be okay.
2. Don’t assume that there is anything ‘wrong’ just because they don’t want to talk
Everyone deals with loss in different ways. Keep an eye out but don’t push them to talk. Gently point them towards good resources like the Tough Stuff Journal- Someone Has Died (see resources below) or similar. Leave it lying around for them to pick up!
3. Talk about the person who died often
Elephants in the room are hard to get around and everyone knows they are there. So be the one to address it. The funeral service will be part of their life story about the person who has died so always help the young person to attend the funeral by answering questions if they have them. Always endorse their decision to change their mind if they want to. Encourage them to be involved in whatever way they feel they can and offer to help them e.g Perhaps they can write their own memory or tribute to the person who has died and read it or get someone else to read it at the funeral service.
4. Use the correct words!
Grandpa didn’t fall asleep or pass – grandpa died. This is particularly important when you are talking to small children but equally important when communicating with teens because it makes it real however hard that is. Attending the funeral can be an important part of their understanding this.
5. Be honest with them but not too honest
That doesn’t make much sense does it? If you are a family member tell them you are struggling too but don’t use a son or daughter as your emotional support. Find a group or a trusted friend or access a course such as The Bereavement Journey course. If you are a youth worker or church, be ready to help with questions about why ‘God allowed this to happen’. The Faith Questions in Bereavement booklet by Yvonne Tulloch may be helpful in addressing this. (Can be purchased HERE).
Here are some resources to share with a young person or that you might find helpful if you are responsible for supporting bereaved young people.
Tough Stuff Lesson Plan – a lesson plan exploring issues of loss and life changing events.
The Tough Stuff Journal – Someone has Died, Pete English. This is an easy to access journal suitable for children and young people. Dip in at any page and work together with a grieving child or young person to help them understand their feelings. To purchase, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Death, Grief & Hope for Young People’ from the Church Army. A free downloadable booklet aimed at the 12 – 16 year age range dealing with feelings, practical ways to remember and some prayers and bible readings.
Downloadable booklet ‘Living with Loss’ for adults but would be useful for young people too.
The Loss Tapes Guvna B podcast Guvna B talks about his own loss and speaks to those who have experienced loss in different situations.
A book of simple tips for understanding and expressing your grief for teens. Alan D Wolfelt, Healing your Grieving Heart – For teens.
Childline on 0800 11 11 for 24-hour confidential support to children and young people up to the 19th birthday.
Young Minds on 85258 for 24/7 crisis support. Text YM to 85258.