A Guide to Bereavement for Parents, Carers and Educators
Recent Armistice events have seen us all exposed to the immense bravery of the Men, Women and animals who gave their lives to save ours. There has also, been much talk of loss.
When talking to young adults about bereavement, we, as the adults who want to make it better for them; are bombarded by books, articles not mention advice from well meaning friends and family.
As someone who has been privileged to work with young adults following or during a bereavement, I’ve learned that far too often, power is taken away from young adults, leaving them confused and angry.
I am by no means an expert on bereavement (except, perhaps through my own life experience) but I do consider myself to be somewhat of an expert in counselling young adults. I’d therefore like to share my experience with you which you may find useful. Please feel free to comment below or contact me for further information.
The top complaint I get from young adults about their parents or carers is that they don’t talk to them. I get it! We want to protect them from the horror and despair that we are feeling. But know this…it won’t stop them feeling the same way, it won’t protect them from the truth but it WILL make them feel isolated and that they cannot ask questions. Talking may be the last thing you want to do but believe me it is the best gift you can give your young adult.
Yes! Someone we love has died! We’re allowed to cry! They get their cue from you. If you are afraid to show how you really feel, they will be too. The only difference is, they won’t be able to hold it in like you can, and it may show itself in other ways such as poor behaviour, which may result in punishment, leading to further feeling of isolation. Even if you’re not a crier, make sure they know it’s ok for them to cry in front of you and they won’t be laughed at or told to “man up”. Crying is the bravest and most effective thing we can do in times of stress or sadness.
Another big issue young adults have is that they missed a funeral, especially if they were younger when their loved one died.
“Mum and Dad thought I was too young, so I didn’t go”.
I’d like to remind you why we, as humans of whatever faith have a ceremony when someone dies. Here, I would like to quote someone who IS an expert.
Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counsellor with over 30 years of experience working with bereaved families. He has written many best-selling books on grief and loss, including Healing Your Grieving Heart and The Journey Through Grief. Dr. Wolfelt serves as the Director of the Centre for Loss and Life Transition.
He lists the top 6 reasons why humans have ceremonies when people die…
Gathering together helps us to acknowledge a new reality: a loved one has died. Our first instinct when we lose someone we love is to reach out to others to process our grief and to begin to understand our new reality.
Sharing memories and recalling the things we love most about the one who has died helps us to honour the person in a special way. It is important to go backward before you go forward.
Inviting other members of the community to a visitation or ceremony helps to activate support for the bereaved family. If no public service is held, friends may keep their distance, thinking that the family wishes to grieve privately. However, a public service invites the warm, loving, and caring support of friends, neighbours, and community members that is so needed at a time of loss.
A funeral gives outward expression to our inner grief, helping us to mourn a loss and create forward movement in our grief. Mourning is different from grief. Mourning is “the outward expression of grief, grief gone public, or a shared social response to loss.” A meaningful ceremony can help us take our internal grief and make it public through mourning.
Searching for meaning after loss is one of the basic needs of a mourner. The funeral ceremony helps to bring together meaningful elements such as music, readings, stories, actions, symbols, and the loving support of others to create the sweet spot of a meaningful funeral experience.
The funeral experience is like a rite of passage. We emerge transformed, with a new identity, a new relationship with our lost loved one, and a new relationship with our community as a whole.
So…why should your young adult be denied that?
As bizarre as they may be, as morbid or graphic as they may be, it’s important to help young adults understand the process of death. A loved one will be here one minute and gone the next as far as young people are concerned. They do not tend to have the same conception of lengthy illness as they are far more accepting than adults.
“Grandad had been ill for a while but then, he was gone”
It might help here for you to understand the workings of the teenage brain. During adolescence, our brains are still growing and learning. Basically, there’s a lot going on in there, even if it seems like your child is a grunting, sleeping blob. This means that young adults tend to see the World from their own perspective, much like children. So, a death could feel like it “happened” to them. They may not have the capacity to worry about your feelings. After all, you’re the adult so you should be looking after them. But they may want to know “what” happened. This could involve questions about how their loved one died so that they can make sense of it all.
Linked to my comments above, you need to accept that when the space is made in the brain for grief, it will come and then it will be replaced by something else and will go. To us, it may look like they are fine one minute and blubbering the next. This can often be seen as over dramatic behaviour by adults.
Who has the right?
Young adults sometimes feel that they don’t have as much right to grieve as their parents or other family members. I was once told by a young adult…
“Well it’s Dad’s Dad, so he is the most important. Then there are my Aunties and Uncles and of course Nan as she was his wife. Then there’s Mum because she’s supporting Dad so I’m right at the end of the line really.”
Do we really want our young adults to feel this way? Remind them that grief is a private process and each person’s grief is different but has no more or less importance.
No matter the age of the young adult, I encourage the creation of a memory box. Memories for detail fade but memories of love never do. Grab an old shoe box and fill it with photos, mementos, silly little things that were shared. Anything that is relevant. Along with this, get a memory journal. Write as many memories in there as you can as many will fade with time but will be cherished when remembered. Also, in this digital age, something tangible is all the more special.
Finally…I’d like to share with you my own thoughts on death. When I was a little girl, I believed that everyone emitted glitter. The glitter was invisible so no one could see it but it was there. Everywhere a person had been and everyone they had been in contact with had a residue of the glitter which they then absorbed. When they, in turn touched anything or anyone, their glitter contained not only themselves but that of others who had deposited their glitter onto them. The glitter, like love, could never be destroyed but could be shared with others for ever.
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