The holidays are often the time of year when we experience the loss of a loved one or feel a loss most heavily. Holidays can present us with so many duties that we don’t have time to reflect on what the loss of a special person means. After all the planning, organizing, and carrying out we enter a period of post holiday letdown. In the silence that ensues, we can become reflective, even melancholy, sometimes depressed, reflecting on the loss of someone special in our life. This is as true of teens as it is of older adults.
Recognizing the Loss
Losing a loved one is going to impact each of us in different ways. A teen who loses a friend or a relative can act at the time as if the loss means very little. Or the loss might make a teen more reflective and inward focused. Having a close friend or relative die can make a teen maudlin or angry. There are as many responses as there are types of teens but as a father, we need to be aware of the delayed reaction, particularly at this time of year.
Overcoming grief can take a while. But there are some important things we can do as a dad to help our teens cope.
Be patient. Give your teen space to feel the loss.
Ask questions to get a sense of how your child is feeling. Listen carefully to what is said. Don’t try to distract your son or daughter from his or her feelings. It only serves to discount them. Clues may come infrequently but they will appear.
Don’t judge. You might think the reaction is out of balance with the loss – either too intense or too inconsequential. Keep these thoughts to yourself. The best you can do is listen and be present.
Share personal experience but do so sparingly. This is a double-edged sword. Your teen will see what she is going through as different from your experience. Sharing too much of your own perspective can result in alienating teens and making them feel “Dad really doesn’t understand.”
Reassure your teen that what is being felt is understandable and normal. Sometimes a book will help. Check out your local library for a book to help deal with this event in your teen’s life.
Remember the loved one. Light a candle together at church, plant something, or make a donation in his or her name.
Reach out. Encourage your son or daughter to contact friends. Take your teen with you on errands, events, or to a movie. Don’t let your teen brood too long or spend too many days alone.
Most important, be sensitive to how your teen is feeling and the heaviness of the loss. Grief is a process and it is neither easy nor quick. But handled well, it will help your teen recover balance and regain a normal life.