First Hand: Supporting a Grieving Teen Friend
At age 15, Jake experienced the death of his mother and very close maternal grandmother in a six week period; now 24, he shares these ideas about how to help a grieving teen friend.
1. Acknowledge Loss: There is almost nothing worse than having a proverbial "elephant in the living room" when no one will acknowledge that it exists. Simply "moving on" and/or "picking up where things left off" in your friendship may not be possible and may quickly alienate your friend. Send a card, talk about the one who died, and/or just tell your friend that you remember that he or she is hurting.
2. Avoid Asking Empty Questions: Such as, "how are you doing" (unless you are prepared for an honest answer) or "is there anything I can do for you?" It may be more helpful to show them you care by sending a card, baking cookies, buying a pizza, giving a hug, being open, listening intently, respecting their feelings, and not prying for information.
3. Strive for Empathy: It is okay if you have not experienced a loss of your own, but try hard to envision what your friend's loss is really like. Understand that he or she may not always be up for fun -- but don't give up on your friend because he or she will be okay again.
4. Focus on Your Friend: Never use your friend's grief as an opportunity for you to talk about yourself! Avoid saying things such as "I know how you feel" or "I remember when ___ died". Because each person's experience is unique, it is actually very unlikely that you know how they feel, and bringing the focus of the conversation onto yourself may come across as selfish and insensitive.
5. Unique Timetable: Again, because everyone is different, and each person's grief is unique, do not expect or impose timetables on bereavement. Your friend will be grieving for a long time -- just accept that -- but it will get better!
6. Never Minimize Loss: Never say or do anything to diminish your friend's loss. Some common faux pas include "Don't worry, you'll see them again in heaven" or "It was only your ___, were you even that close?" Your friend gets to decide how big the loss is, and how much it hurts -- your job is to be there for your friend.