Stephen Ministry: Review of a New Book – "The Grieving Teen"

"The Grieving Teen" by Helen FitzgeraldStephen Ministry at First Church presents a must-read for teenagers and their friends dealing with all types of death:

Renowned grief counselor Helen Fitzgerald addresses the special needs of adolescents struggling with loss and gives them the tools they need through everything from the sickbed to the funeral, from the first day back at school to the first anniversary of the death. Uses a clear and accessible format. The table of contents, index, and cross-reference system will steer you to help on whatever is hurting the most.

About the author
“Helen Fitzgerald pioneered the nation’s first grief program in a community mental-health center. That program continues today as part of the Mental Health Services of Fairfax County, Virginia. As coordinator, Ms. Fitzgerald has counseled hundreds, perhaps thousands, of teenagers, both individually and in groups and has helped their families, friends and siblings support them in their grief.

If you are a teen looking for help with your own grief, feeling resentful, angry, or guilty, wondering if you have a future, this book can help you come to understand your feelings, discharge your anger, and start a new life from the ashes of sorrow and loss.”

Earl A. Grollman,
Belmont, Massachusetts

PREVIEW: The following are a few recommendations from the author (excerpt from Chapter 8 “Tightening The Screws”)

  • Don’t take the responsibility for someone else’s life. She did it to herself. You didn’t hold the gun to her head or force the pills down her throat. She did it.
  • While you may be obsessed by the ‘why’ question, this eventually will become less important as you begin to deal with the loss of your loved one. If your grief turns to anger at the person who died, find ways of dealing with it. (See topic 54, ‘Anger: Life Stinks; It’s Not Fair.’)
  • If you have any say in the matter, avoid a ‘quickie’ funeral, which is all too common after suicides. When a loved one dies for any reason, you want to remember that person’s life, not how he died. Keep in mind that this is the one and only time you will be able to show your respect for this person and the life you had together. Do it in a way that you will not regret later.
  • Look for creative ways to make the most of the funeral. I know of a family that was able to obtain some white doves to be released after the funeral, symbolizing the freeing of the spirit. (See topic 30, ‘Why Do We Have Funerals?’; topic 31, ‘But What If It Hurts Too Much?’; topic 32, ‘Helping Yourself by Getting Involved’; topic 33, ‘The Viewing, Visitation, or Wake’; ‘Sitting Shiva’; topic 35, ‘Memorial Services’; and topic 36, ‘The Burial Service.’
  • It is very important to look for ways to say good-bye and to ask the questions that need to be asked. Writing a letter to be placed in the casket or cremated with the body will be helpful. Having a ‘conversation’ with that person at his grave may enable you to say some things that you feel need saying. (See topic 26, ‘No Time to Say Good-bye.’)
  • Go to the library, take home several books on surviving the suicide death of a loved one, and read the one that you feel speaks most to you.
  • If you want details on what happened, ask for them. If you don’t, let people know that you don’t.
  • If you and others in your family feel that you don’t know how to deal with the burden of the suicide, find a therapist who specializes in grief to help you.
  • Support groups are another good source of help. See if there is a suicide-survivor support group in your area. Because suicide is such an isolating death to deal with, it can help to meet with other families who have gone through the same isolating experience. In the adult group I conduct, teens sometimes come with their parents, but I also offer a suicide-survivor group for teenagers whenever there is the need.
  • You and your family may be worried that someone else will do ‘it.’ Talk about this among yourselves and offer reassurances to each other. Keep your lines of communication open. If you know someone who feels so stricken by this loss that life seems to have lost all of it appeal, listen carefully to what he or she is saying. If you suspect that this person is working on an actual plan for suicide, waste no time in getting that person to therapy. It would be especially hard to forgive yourself for ignoring those signs were they to lead to yet another suicide.”

Web Sites On Grief (A partial listing of resources in the book)

  • In this site dedicated to the search for meaning in life, “The Grieving Teen” page appears in alternate months. Teens are encouraged to e-mail questions on issues of concern to them.
  • The Dougy Center of Portland, Oregon, has helpful information on bereavement for people of all ages.

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