Originally published March 2011.
Special thanks to Renee Zando, a Comfort Zone Camp Healing Circle Leader and High School Counselor, for sharing this article with us.
Most teenagers think they are invincible. Nothing will happen to me or to my friends; that stuff only happens to other teens and I will only see it TV. But what happens if you get that shocking phone call or read on Facebook, that a friend or a classmate passed away?
Teenagers aren’t supposed to die; they haven’t even had a chance to live.
Often when a classmate dies, it is a complete shock and you find it hard to believe that it really happened. The news usually spreads very quickly through social media and text messaging as your friends share the news with one another.
Some teenagers immediately break down and cry. Others might act like nothing even happened, because they still can’t believe it is true. The loss of a classmate may also trigger another loss that you have had in the past.
You might feel many different emotions after the death of a classmate whether you knew them or not.
You might be angry that the doctors who you feel should have known that they had a health problem, or at the person who caused or survived an accident. Maybe you are angry because your friend made a choice that resulted in theirs, or someone else’s death.
You may be afraid that someone else might die or that it could have just as easily been you. You may worry about your friends, how they are holding up, and how they are ever going to get through this.
You might feel guilty that you could have done something, anything differently and this might not have happened. Sadness, anger, fear, worry and guilt are all common feelings.
When you return to school, it often seems very surreal.
You might walk in, go through your normal routine, and expect to see them walking in the halls, but they aren’t there.
You might feel like you are walking in a fog, going through the motions, wondering how some other students could be laughing and having fun as if nothing ever happened. You might wonder how you are ever going to get through this day.
You may find yourself reaching out to find students who feel the same way you do or reaching out to those students who seem to have forgotten in hopes that maybe you can get it out of your head.
Usually the school will make an announcement first thing in the morning and have a moment of silence. They will probably announce that if you need someone to talk to or somewhere to go, there are extra counselors on site that day that you can go and talk to at any time. They might set up a central location in the library or school counseling office for students to come into throughout the day.
Maybe you think that you don’t need to talk about it. You might feel that it is easier if you don’t because it hurts too much when you think about it, let alone talk about it. Then going through the day, you realize you can’t concentrate, and all you can think about it your classmate. Talking about it with a professional counselor might actually make you feel better. Just having someone listen to you, or being in a room with someone who is sympathetic could help you get through the day.
Every time you talk about your loss or express your fears, you heal a little bit more. This makes it easier to get through the choked-up feelings and move forward throughout your day. The counselors might even give you some tips for what you can do to get through the really hard times.
Closure is important part of grieving. A lot of teenage funerals and memorials are very large because people need closure. If you were friends with your classmate, you may want to do something in addition to find closure. Some ideas are: finishing something that you knew was important to them, spending time with their family, writing down your favorite memories, or going to your hang out spot.
People might eventually tell you that you need to move on or get over it, which is impossible to do. However, you do need to move towards healing, and with the support of your friends, family, and counselors you can get through this difficult time. You may never get over the loss, but healing gets easier.