Dealing With Grief

One of the most difficult situations for most of us is dealing with the death of a loved one. And I think most of us are unsure and uncomfortable when we are trying to comfort someone who has just experienced a loss. As mentors, we are sometimes in the position of trying to comfort one of our students who is dealing with the loss of a family member. What can you say to help him or her through this ordeal? Is there anything you can do that would be helpful?

Anne Heller, a mentor for Take Stock Manatee, faced this situation when her scholar experienced a death in the family shortly after they met.  She shared some of the ways she is responding to this traumatic event.

I’m still new to this student so I really just let her talk and look at pictures with her mom. I try to encourage her to be gentle on herself and we talk about grief and sadness. I encourage her to stay with counseling and I gave her a journal to help her write out how she is feeling. I always let her know I’m here for her. We text and I try to reach out. My student is very raw so I’m taking it slow.”

Anne offered the following advice to other mentors:

“To other mentors, just listen! Don’t tell them you know how they feel. That is very upsetting to the person grieving. My student and I spoke about this and I said I have not walked in your shoes nor you in mine. All we can do is support and encourage the healing with time.

Also, the school district will provide counseling help for these students. Superintendent Dr. Diana Green let me know that. They just have to be made aware of the situation.”

When I explored the internet for information on this subject, I found the following advice which mirrors much of what Anne shared.   

Supporting Grieving Children and Adolescents

It’s difficult to sum up how to support a child or teenager without being overly general because, just like adults, they are complicated individuals who think, feel, act, and react to life in their own unique ways.

An adolescent’s grief can be impacted by any number of things - the relationship they had with the individual, how the individual died, their support system, and past experiences with death. Another factor includes their own unique strengths and weaknesses when it comes to dealing with stress, adversity, and high emotion.  Grownups seeking to support an adolescent should try to remember that a wide range of responses are considered ‘normal’ and there’s no one formula for providing support.

Fortunately, conventional wisdom says the best way to support a grieving adolescent is to ‘companion’ them, which is just a fancy way of saying be there for them which you (hopefully) already know how to do.  You can ‘companion’ a teen by supporting them, talking openly and honestly, listening, allowing them to grieve how they want, and allowing them to decide how they will cope (with the exception of self-destructive behaviors).

We advise with children of any age you do the following:

  • Acknowledge their presence, their importance, their opinions, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Be patient and open-minded. Allow them to grieve in their own way.
  • Be available – Sit with the child, listen to them, and answer their questions.
  • Let them know that a range of different emotions is normal.
  • Validate their feelings and do not minimize them.
  • Check in with other adults involved in their life – teachers, school counselors, coaches.
  • Find age appropriate resources.

Mentors (both past and present) - If your student has suffered a loss, please let us know how you handled this traumatic situation or if you would like to share any other comments!

 -Jean Steiger, TSICM Blog Editor