Coping with grief

Thoughts for supporting friends and family in times of grief.

Daily, the 24-hour news features national and local accidents, gun and other types of violence, suicide, natural disasters and crimes as headlines. What happens when these events happen in your community, school, family or 4-H club? What emotions are brought about when that favorite 4-H club leader and parent dies of cancer? Or a young person is killed in a car accident? All of a sudden, it becomes incredibly personal.

As parents, volunteers and community members, we instinctively want to reach out. The National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement provides resources and support for schools, youth organizations, faith-based groups and others when children and families face times of crisis and loss. Their publication, “After a loved one dies,” provides thought-provoking tips and suggestions, such as:

  • Crying can be helpful. It’s OK to cry and be sad. Have tissues around and available, reinforce that everyone cries and it is normal. When crying, feeling sad is where their emotional space is, so they feel better. The old “stiff upper lip” advice isn’t helpful for anyone and can be detrimental.
  • Remembering. It’s tough to talk at times. Young people might be afraid of hurting or upsetting the adults or others around them. Encourage space for conversation whether it is in a car or on a walk. Middle school youth and teens might be more comfortable talking with friends. Keep the door open for conversation, but show respect when they don’t want to go too deep at once. Time, comfort and invitation for conversation keep the caring and vibes for listening space open.
  • Grow and keep creative spaces. Art, poetry, journaling, photography, haiku, music – whatever the venue, the arts can be a clue to what is happening inside the young person. Therapists remind you not to jump to conclusions, that grief is a journey. So creative expression might be a therapeutic way to express grief.
  • Be present and share your feelings too. Let young people in your world.
  • Provide emotional and physical space for your children. Teens need hugs and support as they cope.

Seek out and connect with community bereavement support groups and organizations, such as Mid-Michigan’s Ele's Place, which as a part of the Michigan Network for Grieving Children, another comprehensive Michigan resource. Traumas and tragedies are a part of our lives, whether they have a direct impact on us or someone we know. We see them in our neighborhoods, in our communities and through social and media coverage. It’s important for family members, mentors and community members to have the knowledge of local resources to help the families and youth we work with, and offer guidance and support through these events. Michigan State University Extension has a collection of news articles that can provide you with additional thoughts as you initiate tough topic conversations.

When death and grief seem overwhelming, seek to support children, teens and each other. Suicides, car accidents and community violence impact everyone. Remember that by tapping into the resources of friendship, support systems, on-going clubs and faith groups, it can ease and support our communities. 

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