Dictionaries define grief as an intense sadness or sorrow, or cause of such sorrow, especially as a result of death. (This article is parallel to our overview on Death, which you should check out). Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary goes further: Grief is “intense emotional suffering caused by loss, misfortune, injury, or evils of any kind; sorrow; regret; as, when we lose a friend.”
Death and loss (loss of various kinds: loss of a pet, prized possession, opportunity; loss of a relationship, or one’s reputation or respect) are principle occasions of grief in young people.
Few adults can fathom the intensity of teenage grief. The breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend can be world-shattering-and thoughts of suicide may come swiftly. “Life will never be the same; will never seem worthwhile; I can’t go on.” When a fellow student is killed, life seems to come to an end.
Memorials are quickly erected around the site of a deadly crash. As friends gather, they experience a kind of religious relief-though the sorrow remains.
The world knows it’s a big deal when a marriage breaks up; condolences and support are usually offered. But teen breakups are often trivialized, if not ignored, by callous adults-even though the suffering may seem unbearable.
Even friends may not consider certain kinds of losses significant. A student in a Bible study I once led, was “bummed out” by the death of his beloved dog. The rest of the group just wanted to get on with the study, and threw a few Bible verses at the young man. I couldn’t go on with the study/discussion at that point. Listening further to this person’s grief revealed he’d also lost a very close grandmother a month before. Some in the group were disappointed that we spent the time talking about how to recognize and support those who are experiencing grief.
A professional friend of mine has written a book on grief (Tom Morris, Growing Through Grief). He grew up in a home that tried to protect him from the reality of death; they never discussed it, and even shielded him from funerals. But he experienced profound grief, losing all his friends when he was moved from coast to coast in the middle of his sophomore year. Then he confronted the death of someone close. Some years later a friend, who had just lost both parents, asked him to take over a discussion on death among teenagers. Pondering how he could do this, he rented a casket and had it placed in front of the class. At the end of that discussion, many said they had been helped-and that they had never discussed death at home or elsewhere. He’s gone on to create a ministry, website and a book to help those who grieve-and those who know them.
Talking helps us deal with grief. It’s no instant antidote, but it’s necessary if we are to get through it.
Other articles here will discuss more about this important topic. Although every individual experiences grief in a unique way, we usually pass through some typical stages of grief on our way to recovery and growth.
Some experience no great grief at all when a loved one dies. If there has been a long and painful illness, the time for grieving may already have passed and all one may feel is relief. Many young people wonder why they do not cry when a parent or someone else dies. Their grief may come later on when the nature of the loss is put in perspective. Grief may come in waves and catch us by surprise.
Many of us experience numbness and shock upon news of an unexpected death or loss. We may even begin to deny and imagine the loved one showing up. Or we may bargain with God, “Just bring him/her back, and I will….” Then anger at life, at God, may set in. “How could you have let this happen!?” Finally grief is dealt with and slowly released-through discussions, with support, and perhaps through prayer.
A good friend once objected to my statement that suffering and grief seem to be a necessary ingredient for real growth in life. Years later she told me she’d found that to be true. Do you think that to become really, deeply human, we need to have passed through some crisis and pain?
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. When have you experienced the deepest grief of your life, and how did you deal with it?
2. Are you feeling deep grief right now and don’t know what to do about it? Whom do you have with whom you can talk? If there is no one, do you know there are telephone numbers you can call and talk-like Good Samaritans and other crisis hot lines-at any time?
3. Have you had anyone close to you overcome by grief? How did you respond? How do you think you will respond in the future?
4. What would you change or add to this article about grief?
5. What do you think is the place of the following in situations of great grief: friends, presence, silence, listening with care and patience, touch, small deeds of kindness, a poem, time, prayer and faith?
1. Few young people pass through adolescence without experiencing some grief-some experiences deeper than others.
2. Grief experienced by young people is one of the most neglected issues in their lives.
3. Youth leaders should have some training, or at least do some study about responding to such suffering.
4. The resources listed here, and under the topic of death, are a good beginning of such study-and can be taken into leaders’ meetings for discussion.