23 Things I Wish People Knew about Teen Grief
When my dad died, I knew hardly anything about grief. I had heard a few people mention something called the “five stages” and seen people cry at funerals, but besides that, I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.
A lot of people are like I was, and don’t know a lot about grief - especially teen grief. Unlike me, though you may be unable to go through teenage grief to understand what it's like.
For National Grief Awareness Day, I’ve shared 23 things I wish people knew about teen grief. Whether you know a grieving teen, are one, or just randomly showed up to this website, I urge you to read this and learn a bit. Like I mentioned in #11, grief is lonely, but it gets a little less lonely when the people around us try to understand what we’re going through.
1. Teens grieve too!!
This one may seem obvious, but I’ve always been surprised by how many people thought adults were the only ones who grieved. We go through grief as well, though!
2. Grief isn’t “easier” because of age or gender.
Many people think that grief is difficult for adults, but not so much for teens. That’s actually far from the truth. We’re old enough that we understand what’s going on and that someone in our life has died, so we also experience the grief the adults in our lives do.
Also, gender doesn’t determine how much you grieve. Girls don’t typically grieve “more” than guys, or vise versa.
3. Shielding us from everything doesn’t help.
When a little kid loses someone, the first instinct of the people around them may be to shield them: keep information about the death away from them, everyone’s grief, and many other things. While not telling little kids everything can be the right answer, it generally isn’t for teens.
Putting on a brave face around us doesn’t make us feel better - it makes us feel like there’s something wrong with us for not feeling as happy as you do.
Trying to keep us from facts about the death will just leave us with more confusion and questions. I had so many questions that I wanted to ask about my dad’s death, but I didn’t know how to mention them so I didn’t for a while. When I finally found out, while some parts were tough to hear, it did make me feel a lot better.
4. Teenage grief isn’t exactly like what’s shown on TV.
Grief lasts forever (though it does get easier over time, as we learn to cope) and greatly affects our life and changes us.
If you want to learn about teenage grief, TV shows generally aren’t the way to do so. Try reading some grief websites, such as this one, that have teens talking about grief.
(I should note, though, while most TV shows generally do not portray grief very accurately, multiple shows do. Typically, shows that are about grief and not just briefly mentioning grief for an episode tend to be more accurate, but still, the best way to learn about teen grief is through websites like this.)
5. We don’t all grieve the same way.
Have you heard of the five stages of grief? Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Upon hearing about those, you may have thought, “Wow, everyone who is grieving goes through those emotions in that order, and then they’re done!”
That’s not true.
While we may experience those emotions, we don’t all go through the five stages. There is no “normal” way to grieve, so don’t expect all teens to grieve the same way.
6. We may not know how to cope with grief.
Unlike adults, who may have had previous experience with grief, or have a better idea of where to look online for support, many teens have no clue what grief is or how to cope with it.
I had no idea what to do when my dad died. While there were some things I did automatically to cope without realizing it, such as telling jokes, I had to look online before I found some that really help.
While it may seem like we know exactly what we’re going through, we don’t. We’re figuring it out as you are. If you’ve been through grief and have advice about coping, please tell us. Even if you haven’t, maybe suggest any articles you find online about coping, as that might help as well.
7. The same things don’t help everyone.
While some things help most people through grief, not everything helps everyone. For example, after losing someone, one of my friends coped with grief by cleaning and organizing things, while I coped by ripping my room apart.
If you have tips for coping with grief, do share them with a grieving teen. But if they don’t do those things, don’t take it personally - it just may not work for them.
8. We can be happy & grieving at the same time.
During school the week after my dad died, I was laughing with my friends and acting like a more energetic version of myself. I was content when I was at school, but I was also grieving and upset at the same time.
Think of it like when you have a cold: You can be happy with a cold, right? And you can be sad with a cold. You can feel any emotion when you have a cold, but no matter how you feel you’ll always be slightly reminded of the sickness, because of a runny nose or a cough. That’s what grief is like (except, you don’t get over it in just a week or so).
9. Grief can be difficult to talk about. If we don’t want to talk to you about it, it’s not personal.
While I do talk about grief a lot now, it’s not something I was comfortable talking about for a long time. Right after my dad’s death, there were times when friends would reach out and ask how I was doing and I just gave them a short response, like “terrible,” and didn’t talk more about it.
It wasn’t that I didn’t trust them - I just didn’t feel comfortable talking about my grief with anyone.
If you try to talk to someone about grief and they don’t want to, don’t take it personally. It most likely has nothing to do with you, and it’s not something they’re ready to talk about.
10. It can be hard to admit that we’re not okay.
Like how grief can be difficult to talk about, it’s also hard to admit that we’re not okay.
People often don’t talk about grief, and because of that we often feel like we have to be fine right after the death, and not grieve. Most of us aren’t fine right after a death, though, and we may end up struggling without telling anyone.
It took me a long time to admit that I wasn’t okay (which I wrote about here), and even though I had been talking about grief online for a while when I wrote that, it was still really difficult to do so.
If you know a grieving teen, check in on them and talk to them, even if they seem fine. Chances are, they might not be.
11. Teenage grief is lonely.
Grief, in general, can be lonely, but teenage grief is a lot worse. Unlike adults, hardly anyone our age has been through grief, so the majority of our peers have no idea what we need or that we’re even still upset about our loss. Being surrounded by people who don’t understand what we’re going through makes teenage grief quite lonely.
12. Please reach out, even if you don’t know what to say.
I feel like many people think they shouldn’t say something unless it’s the “perfect” thing. Honestly, though, that’s far from true.
I only remember what about 4 people said after my dad died, but I remember all of the people who said something. I didn’t care if they said the perfect thing - what I cared about was that they reached out and bothered to say anything at all. Just knowing that you’re there and thinking of us helps a lot.
If you don’t know what to say, try something like: “I’m here for you,” “I’m sorry for your loss,” or “Is there anything I can do?”
13. Saying “be strong” does not help. Instead, say, “It’s okay that you’re not okay” and “I’m here for you.”
While telling us to “be strong” might seem like something nice to say, it’s actually quite unhelpful. At my dad’s funeral, almost every person told me to be “brave” and “strong,” which made me feel horrible instead of better. I felt like I couldn’t admit that I wasn’t okay and that I’d disappoint people by telling them that I wasn’t, so I hid my pain and tried to ignore my grief, which made things a lot harder for me later on.
Instead of saying those things, say something like, “It’s okay that you’re not okay,” “I’m here for you,” and “You don’t need to be okay yet.” Sometimes letting us know that we don’t have to be alright yet and that we can feel our pain is all we need to hear.
14. People ignoring our grief makes us feel worse.
A lot of people thought that just pretending I was fine even though I so obviously was not, would help me feel better. It just made me feel worse, and like I should be fine even though I wasn’t ready to be.
You don’t have to talk about grief 24/7 or treat us completely differently. Just acknowledge our grief. Ask us how we’re doing, give us opportunities to talk about what we’re going through (again, though, if we don’t want to, don’t take it personally), and be there for us.
Don’t pretend like this huge, life-changing event didn’t just happen - it did. If you’re thinking about it, chances are we might be too.
15. Mentioning our loved one helps.
After my dad died, my friends attempted to avoid mentioning anything dad related - whether it was my dad or theirs.
While they thought they were being helpful, it just made me feel a lot worse. My dad was all that I could think about, and no one else talking about him made me feel alone and like I was the only one who remembered him.
If you knew their loved one, mention them. Say something you remember about that person. Don’t avoid talking about them.
If you didn’t know their loved one, ask their loved ones if they want to talk about them. Ask questions. Give them a chance to talk about that person - they’ll appreciate it.
16. Grief doesn’t end after a certain amount of time.
When my dad died, I thought grief was something I would experience and then get over after a few months. The truth is, I’ll always be grieving, though it will get easier over time.
Many people seem to think that we’re fine after a certain amount of time, and that’s just not true. Yes, right now I am doing much better than I was a week after my dad’s death, but I still am grieving. There are still times when I feel terrible, but there are also more times now when I don’t.
Don’t forget about our grief. Check-in on us, even if it’s been months or even years. We may feel better, but we’ll never “get over” grief.
17. Figuring out who we are while grieving is HARD.
High school is supposed to be the time where we’re figuring out who we are. Meeting new friends, finding a career path, and finding out who we want to be.
Now, add grief into that mix.
Instead of spending all of my time focused on finding myself, I’ve spent my time trying to cope with grief. Grief also changed me a lot as a person, making it even more difficult to find out who I am.
18. Judging us for our grief does not help.
A lot of people think that it’s not okay to be grieving after a certain amount of time, that we shouldn’t talk about grief, or that if we aren’t looking a “certain way” (i.e. crying daily) we aren’t actually grieving.
Telling us that won’t help.
Think of it this way - if someone had a broken leg and you told them to just walk it off, would they just be able to get up and suddenly magically walk because you said that? They probably wouldn’t. Grief is exactly like that. It’s a wound, though not a physical one, just like a broken leg. No matter how much you may tell us that we have to be over grief or that something is wrong with us for still grieving, we’ll still be grieving.
Instead, if you truly think that, keep it to yourself. Read online about grief a little bit and learn more about it so you can better understand what we’re going through.
19. Just because we may be “resilient” doesn’t mean that grief isn’t difficult for us.
I’ve often heard “teens are resilient, they’ll be fine” after a teen faces a death. While that may be true, that doesn’t mean that grief isn’t difficult for us, or that we’ll have an easier time moving forward than adults.
Also, hearing that we’re “resilient” and will be “fine” really doesn’t help. It makes us feel like we have to hide our pain and be brave for our families.
20. We can’t “replace” the people we've lost.
Many people seem to think that you can just “replace” the person you lost. While there will be other people that you meet and love in your life, they will not (and don’t need to) replace the person you lost. (I wrote more about this here.)
21. We will have many difficult moments.
Grief isn’t linear - you don’t constantly have uphill progress and do better and better each day. There are times when grief is easier to deal with, and times where grief is all we can think about.
If one day we seem amazing and then the next we can’t stop thinking about our loved one, there’s nothing wrong with us. That’s normal. Grief has many ups and downs, and we just have to get through them.
22. Grief changes us, for good and bad.
Right after my dad’s death, when I was first learning about grief, I was dreading going through it. Grief seemed horrible, and I thought it would ruin my life.
While grief is hard to deal with, and there are some very horrible aspects to it, there are also some unexpected good benefits to it.
For example, grief helped me figure out that I want to grow up and spend my life helping others who struggle with mental health. It helped me meet some of my closest friends and create a connection with people who have gone through similar things. And, it’s helped me learn to talk about my struggles and not hide them from others.
23. The best thing you can do is just be there for us.
If all you get from this article is one thing, then I hope it’s this: Just be there for us. Whether you text us to check-in, find ways to cheer us up in dark times, or are just present in our lives somehow, it matters and helps so much.
This National Grief Awareness Day, reach out to someone who’s grieving. Let them know that you’re thinking of them. Or if you’re grieving, send this article to someone in your life so they can learn a bit more about what you’re going through.
If you want to share your story with grief, please visit our “Share Your Grief” page, which you can view here.
Natalie Adams is the founder of Teenage Grief Sucks.