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How Teens Can Grow After Loss
Thursday, May 01, 2014 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
The following is taken from a talk given at Brother Rice High School in the spring of 2013.

When you look at your life, that of an adolescent, you know that the person you are becoming has been influenced a thousand times by your parents, your siblings, your friends.  We take powerful messages, appraisals and views of life and the world into ourselves from those we most closely relate to.  We also take in reflections about how these influential friends and family members see us.  And we take note when one of these individuals recognizes our undiscovered talents or gifts.  When someone says, “I want you to be looked at by a soccer scout,” or, “I know you can make it to the regionals,” this is no small affirmation.  You will probably never forget receiving a reflection that shows this much positive regard for who you are. There are  reflections we take in that are less grand scale, but meaningful, the way your younger sister counts on you for help with her math, the way your dad loves watching football with you, or wants you to help him repair the deck.   On the other hand, we assert our differences with friend s and family members all the time, sometimes in anger, sometimes silently.  We can see the mistakes and blind spots of those we are close to, and sometimes we learn from them.  We put together ideas about how we want to live differently, be different in our habits, our relationships.  This is called “identity differentiation.”  It is a powerful process that expands your notion of “self,” and moves you toward your goals.  Differentiation is a hallmark of adolescent development, and continues to operate with less intensity after you are adults.

So this powerful time of life, adolescence, is shaped by your relationships.  At times you fit, at times you push against.

When one of these relationships ends in death, the loss reverberates to touch your life in every way.  When you grieve the loss of your friend or family member, your sense of self and the way you understood yourself in that relationship take on epic proportions.  You find yourself intensely reviewing the smallest remembered details of the person’s way of being and relating to you.  If the person died by suicide you will need to make sense of the death.  You would try to reconcile the despair leading to the death with the larger than life person who had been engaged with life just as you are. Grief becomes a story of life and relationship.  It will include the reflections and the points of differentiation that allowed you to know yourself in that relationship and to know the person who died.

 As an adolescent, your grief will look different from the grief of adults and children.  It can be intermittent.  You will find yourself picking it up and putting it down to attend to your own life and activities.  You may keep it to yourself, but there will be moments when a memory or a comment will fit with your situation, and it will feel good to say it.  You will come to see that making some kind of grief response through art, writing, speaking, or an act of compassion for another, universalizes your experience, joins you to others, and contributes to healing.

Grief is a human experience that can be a powerful catalyst for personal development.  From it, we can become intimate with the range of human emotions and the power and influence of attachment.  Grief is the beginning of healing after a significant loss.  Adolescent grief is not an experience one would ask for, but when you, as a youth and emerging adult, use your mental and spiritual capacity to take in an important loss, the process by which this takes place allows for growth, resilience and compassion for ourselves and others.


Archives:

How Teens Can Grow After Loss
Thursday, May 01, 2014 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
The following is taken from a talk given at Brother Rice High School in the spring of 2013.

When you look at your life, that of an adolescent, you know that the person you are becoming has been influenced a thousand times by your parents, your siblings, your friends.  We take powerful messages, appraisals and views of life and the world into ourselves from those we most closely relate to.  We also take in reflections about how these influential friends and family members see us.  And we take note when one of these individuals recognizes our undiscovered talents or gifts.  When someone says, “I want you to be looked at by a soccer scout,” or, “I know you can make it to the regionals,” this is no small affirmation.  You will probably never forget receiving a reflection that shows this much positive regard for who you are. There are  reflections we take in that are less grand scale, but meaningful, the way your younger sister counts on you for help with her math, the way your dad loves watching football with you, or wants you to help him repair the deck.   On the other hand, we assert our differences with friend s and family members all the time, sometimes in anger, sometimes silently.  We can see the mistakes and blind spots of those we are close to, and sometimes we learn from them.  We put together ideas about how we want to live differently, be different in our habits, our relationships.  This is called “identity differentiation.”  It is a powerful process that expands your notion of “self,” and moves you toward your goals.  Differentiation is a hallmark of adolescent development, and continues to operate with less intensity after you are adults.

So this powerful time of life, adolescence, is shaped by your relationships.  At times you fit, at times you push against.

When one of these relationships ends in death, the loss reverberates to touch your life in every way.  When you grieve the loss of your friend or family member, your sense of self and the way you understood yourself in that relationship take on epic proportions.  You find yourself intensely reviewing the smallest remembered details of the person’s way of being and relating to you.  If the person died by suicide you will need to make sense of the death.  You would try to reconcile the despair leading to the death with the larger than life person who had been engaged with life just as you are. Grief becomes a story of life and relationship.  It will include the reflections and the points of differentiation that allowed you to know yourself in that relationship and to know the person who died.

 As an adolescent, your grief will look different from the grief of adults and children.  It can be intermittent.  You will find yourself picking it up and putting it down to attend to your own life and activities.  You may keep it to yourself, but there will be moments when a memory or a comment will fit with your situation, and it will feel good to say it.  You will come to see that making some kind of grief response through art, writing, speaking, or an act of compassion for another, universalizes your experience, joins you to others, and contributes to healing.

Grief is a human experience that can be a powerful catalyst for personal development.  From it, we can become intimate with the range of human emotions and the power and influence of attachment.  Grief is the beginning of healing after a significant loss.  Adolescent grief is not an experience one would ask for, but when you, as a youth and emerging adult, use your mental and spiritual capacity to take in an important loss, the process by which this takes place allows for growth, resilience and compassion for ourselves and others.