Today’s teens are under intense stress that I am sure matches or exceeds anxiety levels at any time in history. Crime, divorce, addiction, peer pressure, a dramatic increase in human knowledge, and mind-blowing technological advances have teenagers navigating an emotional minefield as they make their way to adulthood.
And if that isn’t enough – trying to dodge obstacles that no society has yet to find a way to eliminate – many teens will suffer through the loss of a loved one during this same time period. While it may not be a close family member who died, I cannot think of many teens that haven’t had a relative die sometime during their maturing years.
According to Dr. Allen Wolfelt, author and grief counselor, children are often the “forgotten mourners.” I could not concur with him more, especially where teens are concerned. See, teenagers are experts at appearing unfazed on the outside, while deep below the surface a battle for understanding rages. And when a loved one leaves this world for the next, even the most poised and seasoned adult can be rocked to the core. Imagine what such an event can do to a teenage already caught up in a world that seems to become more complicated as each new day dawns.
Adults see teens as resilient, strong willed, and full of energy, so we tell them to “be strong” and to “carry on.” I’m fairly sure that those quotes are found in a few motion pictures when a cast member dies and leaves behind a child. But human loss affects each of us differently, and we cannot assume that anyone is at an age where youth makes one grief-proof. Hollywood and real life can be miles apart on issues like this.
If you are a teen and you have lost someone close to you, please realize that your sorrow is not a sign of weakness. Talk to someone – a parent, a minister, a youth pastor, a friend. Seek professional counseling if necessary. Do not keep your feelings bottled up inside for fear someone else may find your hurt hard to understand.
Grief is a human emotion we can’t turn on and off like a water faucet. Indeed, I have been to funerals where not a tear fell from my eye, only to later be hit with such emotion that I found it difficult to breath between the sobbing.
If you are an adult who knows a teenager who has suffered the loss of a loved one, do not take for granted that youthful energy and poise will take the place of a good conversation about human loss and the trauma that goes with it. And if you believe that you don’t have enough experience dealing with grief to intervene where you feel you should, approach a qualified professional who I am sure will be more than willing to offer his or her services.
Losing a loved one is one of the most traumatic events people suffer through during their lifetime. When Mary and Martha of Bethany lost their brother, Lazarus, they were grieving over his death as Jesus arrived in their village (see John 11:33-44 NIV). Jesus did not rebuke them for their grief, He did not ridicule them for their sadness, and He didn’t ignore their suffering. Yes, He seemed a bit upset at Martha’s lack of faith in His ability to heal Lazarus after four days in the tomb, but He made no comment or criticism of their grief. I believe Jesus feels the same grief when someone rejects the eternal gift He came to give. Maybe that’s why Jesus spoke no words concerning the grief the women displayed – He was there to relieve their grief, and perform another miracle that might inspire others to embrace a faith that, upon death, entombs grief for all eternity.