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The Grieving Teen: A Guide for Teenagers and Their Friends

The Grieving Teen: A Guide for Teenagers and Their Friends

by Helen Fitzgerald

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In this unique and compassionate guide, renowned grief counselor Helen Fitzgerald turns her attention to the special needs of adolescents struggling with loss and gives teens the tools they need to work through their pain and grief.

Although the circumstances surrounding a death are difficult to handle at any age, adolescence brings with it challenges and


In this unique and compassionate guide, renowned grief counselor Helen Fitzgerald turns her attention to the special needs of adolescents struggling with loss and gives teens the tools they need to work through their pain and grief.

Although the circumstances surrounding a death are difficult to handle at any age, adolescence brings with it challenges and struggles that until now have been largely overlooked.

Writing not only about but also for teenagers, Fitzgerald adeptly covers the entire range of situations in which teens may find themselves grieving a death, whether the cause was old age, terminal illness, school violence, or suicide. She helps teens address the gamut of strong and difficult emotions they will experience and the new situations they will face, including family changes, issues with friends, problems at school, and the courage needed to move forward with one's own life.

Using the clear and accessible format that has made The Mourning Handbook and The Grieving Child enduring and helpful classics, Fitzgerald guides teens through everything from the sickbed to the funeral, from the first day back at school to the first anniversary of the death. Above all, she lets teens know that even in their darkest hour, they are not alone.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Guiding Your Child Through Grief is written by a husband-and-wife team and based on their experiences as founders of The Cove (a program for grieving children) and the New England Center for Loss & Transition as well as their own personal experiences with grief. This well-researched book covers all ages, including the teenage years. The appendixes provide an excellent suggested reading section divided into categories by age group and another section on tips for school personnel. Both books offer useful advice in small, digestible chunks, including many bulleted lists, and would be a useful addition to any public library. The scholarly quality of Guiding Your Child Through Grief also makes it appropriate for academic collections.--Annette Haines, Central Michigan Univ. Libs. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\

Product Details

Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.43(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


In an earlier book, I wrote about a fifteen-year-old named Laura, whose unhappy situation as a young person whose needs were ignored continues to haunt me, for stories like hers remain largely unaddressed in the many books that have been written about death and dying. What Laura's story represents is the young person set somehow adrift by the illness or death of a loved one -- not intentionally, of course, but set adrift nonetheless. As Laura cried out in that story, "I'm hurting, too."

Today, it seems that there are more than a few Lauras out there, shattered and set adrift by the violence that has become almost commonplace in our country. I think of the friends and classmates, sisters and brothers whose lives were changed forever by crazed gunmen at places like Columbine High School in Colorado, Heath High School in Georgia, or Thurston High School in Oregon -- places once distant but now strangely united in tragedy. And I think of all those who have lost relatives and friends through accidents, illness, and self-inflicted wounds. It is for you, the Lauras or Bills or Elizabeths -- teenagers whose lives have been caught up in personal tragedy, who have been alienated even from grieving loved ones -- that I have written this book. Teenagers -- I almost recoil at using the word because it seems to lump everyone between thirteen and nineteen into a single group -- often find themselves in the same role as Laura. Somehow, at a time when these emerging adults are just learning who they are, the adults around them might be equally uncertain as to how to deal with them. The result can come across as indifference, and it can be very painful and isolating.

Also, sad to state, genuine conflicts arise in families, pitting siblings against one another, or parents against children. Not every feeling of alienation is based on misunderstanding: sometimes parents really are unfair; sometimes siblings really intend to make your life miserable.

Is this the way you're feeling? If it is, let me see if I can refine it a bit. Someone you love has died or is dying. It may be your father or mother, brother or sister, grandparent, close friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend. It is someone whose life was a part of your life, whose dreams and aspirations were, to some extent, your dreams and aspirations. And that person's death or expected death is having a devastating effect on you and your own pursuit of a meaningful life.

Let's go further. You are finding that your family seems to have no time for you, that your suffering is being ignored, that everything about your life seems bent out of shape, that you have had to abandon things that were important to you, that your very sense of identity has been shaken, and yet nobody -- even your best friends -- seems to care. Does any of that hit the mark?

Are you feeling ashamed because of your changed circumstance? Stigmatized? Excluded from things that you were once part of? Made to assume a new role or roles that you are not comfortable with?

Growing up is pretty much a full-time job. You start out as a child dependent on parents for everything. You end up as an adult, fully independent, capable of becoming a parent yourself. It's a big change, and it doesn't happen overnight. Legally, you may still be classified as a child, but as each day passes, you are that much more of a complete adult. Your thoughts and opinions are important, and so are your feelings. They won't suddenly become important the day you turn twenty or twenty-one; they're important now. If someone you love has died, or is dying, your thoughts and feelings are just as legitimate and just as important as those of any of the adults around you.

So what are you thinking at this moment? And how are you feeling?

Much as we would like to believe that the right upbringing, good behavior, diligence, careful planning, and hard work earn a person happiness, it doesn't work that way. Life can bring rude surprises, shocking and painful losses for which there is no adequate preparation. If this describes what has happened to you, I can only say that it's OK to be bitter, it's OK to be angry, and it's OK to wonder what the heck life is all about. I have been there.

When my first husband died, I had two teenage daughters and two younger children. Looking back, I realize that they felt far more deeply about their father's illness and death, and about the attention or lack of attention that they were getting, than I perceived in that trying time. I know that my teenage daughters had new roles -- especially meal preparation and housecleaning -- thrust on them when I entered the workplace for the first time to replace some of my dying husband's lost income. Even so, I was like a lot of parents today who somehow assume that their children -- even the older ones -- are incapable of handling bad news, limiting them to shorthand summaries yet expecting them to adjust to painful changes in their lives. And I was like all those parents who are so caught up in their own impossible webs of mounting concerns that they fail to feel or fully understand the terrible pain and confusion being experienced by their children. I wish now that I had had a better understanding of what was happening to my own and that, in addition, they would have had a book like this to turn to. That's why I have written this book. I would like to help you express your great sadness and loss and in time to find new meaning and direction for your life.

As a mother and grandmother, I don't pretend to know all there is to know about the life of a teenager today. I certainly don't know about your specific life. But I have helped many young people in the course of my work in a community grief program, and I vividly remember what it was like to be a teenager. It was a great time in my life, but it was also a time when I was filled with much uncertainty about the future, because my parents saw no need for me to go to college. If my future husband hadn't shown up at our farm to buy a dog, I might have married and remained in that town for the rest of my life. That would have been all right, but by venturing out into the world, I have had opportunities that I would not have had there, such as the work that I have been doing for the last twenty-two years: helping people like you. Fortunately, no one close to me died while I was growing up. My children were not so lucky. And you may not be so lucky either.

I have learned a lot about teenagers from teenagers. Sharing with me the confusion they are experiencing, the bitterness and resentment they sometimes feel toward their parents, the longing for a return to the way things were before illness or death struck, they have made me aware that losses inflicted on a person at this time of life can be particularly devastating. In spite of this, most of these same young people have been able to rebuild their lives over time, and their stories might help you do the same.

Like my other books, this one is organized to help you find the help you need when you need it. The table of contents, index, and cross-reference system will steer you to help on whatever is hurting the most. Later, you can return to the beginning and read it as you would any other book. I have found that this kind of organization has been very helpful to my readers, and I hope that this will be true for you as well.

Copyright © 2000 by Helen Fitzgerald

Meet the Author

Helen Fitzgerald is the author of The Mourning Handbook and The Grieving Child. She is the coordinator of the first grief program in the nation established in a community mental health center (The Mt. Vernon Center for Community Mental Health in Springfield, Virginia). A certified death educator, Fitzgerald lectures across the country on grief and loss. She lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

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