I always check my phone first thing in the morning. I live multiple time zones away from my hometown, so there are usually a handful of texts and emails from friends and family waiting for me, as well as notifications from my social media accounts. Scrolling through the messages, posts, and memes usually brings a smile to my face, but yesterday morning was different.
My mind went numb, and I couldn’t comprehend a post I was reading. A teenager, my daughter’s age, from her former school, lost their life. I was heartbroken. My heart was heavy for their parents, their friends, and the community. As my head began to clear, I started connecting the dots. I realized the teenager was likely a close friend of my daughter. My heart sank, and I immediately ran to her bedroom. Tears filled her eyes as she confirmed my fears. Her dear friend, who had been at our house multiple times right before we moved and with whom she still regularly communicated, was gone.
I don’t know how long we sat on her bed holding each other, crying. All I know is that sorrow surrounded us like a thick blanket as we sat there in silence. There were no words that could bring comfort at that moment.
Yesterday was the first time in my parenting journey where I was at a complete loss. Nothing had prepared me to walk my daughter through something so devastating. I had never read a book or parenting guide on picking up the pieces of my daughter’s shattered heart, nor had I watched a how-to video on explaining suicide and death to a young teenager. I think when we’re young, we know in the back of our heads that older generations will inevitably pass on and, though difficult, come to accept it as part of life. But not this. This was a wonderful young teenager. Again, I was at a complete loss.
Not knowing what to do, I let the moment and my mama instincts take over. After we let go of our embrace, I decided to let go of our day’s expectations and schedule. I contacted her school counselor, teachers, and mentors. I made her favorite comfort foods. I sat with her when she wanted me to and gave her space when she needed me to. We spent the day grieving, and I wasn’t sure how to move us forward.
I may not have known how to inch forward, but I know I am not the only one that feels this way. The devastating news rocked our home community. Friends and loved ones have been shaken to their core, and each one of us is dealing with this differently. I wanted to make sure I was doing the best thing for my grieving daughter, so I spent the majority of the day researching how to help a teenager grieve properly. I want to share two helpful resources. For the sake of our children’s mental health, I highly recommend reading both.
The first one is by Madelynn Vickers called Teen Grief 101: Helping Teens Deal with Loss. My favorite quote from the article reminds me of how important comforting your teen is. It says,
“You should find out what comforts the teen. If it’s watching the deceased person’s favorite movie over and over again, that movie better be on repeat. There are so many ways to help teenagers cope with a loss; you just have to figure out which one works best.”
The second resource was sent to me by my daughters’ counselor. It’s called Talking to Children about a Suicide Loss. The article talks about the importance of speaking truthfully to your child. It says, “It might be harder to truthfully talk about the death of a loved one following suicide without leaving some information out. But not being honest can mean they may fill in the gaps with their imagination or half-truths they hear from others, which can lead to bigger issues, like anxiety. Clear and honest communication reassures children that someone will take care of them physically and emotionally. It also creates a renewed sense of safety, security and trust.”
I expect my daughter to carry the heaviness of her friend’s death with her for a while, as is the norm when facing loss. In fact, I imagine all of us in this community will be under a blanket of sorrow for a while. I hope these resources help you as they helped me.
Please know I am not an expert; I am an imperfect mom at best. But I am also an advocate for children’s mental health. While we may not know what to do in heartbreaking situations like this, these situations are the opportune time to educate ourselves and connect with our children. In fact, it’s the perfect opportunity to check in on their mental health. Parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, youth leaders, tutors, and coaches…please check in with the children in your life! They carry more than we realize. They deal with loneliness, academic demands, social pressure, media influence, relationship stress, and much more.
Collectively and individually, these stressors can cause anxiety as well as depression, which can become too heavy of a burden to bear. Our children need us to reassuringly take their hands and allow them to catch their breath. They need us to walk with them through this life and let them know they are not alone. They need to be assured that while life is messy, we can all get through it together.