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Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens: 100 Practical Ideas

Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens: 100 Practical Ideas

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by Alan D. Wolfelt

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With sensitivity and insight, this series offers suggestions for healing activities that can help survivors learn to express their grief and mourn naturally. Acknowledging that death is a painful, ongoing part of life, they explain how people need to slow down, turn inward, embrace their feelings of loss, and seek and accept support when a loved one dies. Each book,


With sensitivity and insight, this series offers suggestions for healing activities that can help survivors learn to express their grief and mourn naturally. Acknowledging that death is a painful, ongoing part of life, they explain how people need to slow down, turn inward, embrace their feelings of loss, and seek and accept support when a loved one dies. Each book, geared for mourning adults, teens, or children, provides ideas and action-oriented tips that teach the basic principles of grief and healing. These ideas and activities are aimed at reducing the confusion, anxiety, and huge personal void so that the living can begin their lives again. Included in the books for teens and kids are age-appropriate activities that teach younger people that their thoughts are not only normal but necessary.

Editorial Reviews

What kind of comfort can one offer a grieving teen? At this time in their lives, when independence is so fiercely held, how can one nurture them through the pain of irreversible loss? Wolfelt offers a hundred simple ways in each of these two books, one for teens and one for the adults in their lives. Both have an identical format; each page contains one suggestion, with some brief thoughts of illumination, such as "If you have a pet, let her comfort you." Wolfelt goes on to explain the strength of a pet's uncritical love, how one can talk and cry in front of a pet without restraint. Each book begins with an introduction explaining the difference between grief and mourning. Wolfelt then gives his Six Needs of Mourning. These are delivered as imperatives, with Wolfelt anticipating teen resistance and respectfully insisting that the mourning process be observed. Wolfelt has written other books for children and adults on mourning. The wonderful, healing suggestions he offers readily can help persons of any age, but each book focuses on the specific needs of the targeted age group. On a personal note, when these books were given to a friend whose thirteen year old son died in a car accident last summer, leaving behind a twin brother, she expressed that at last there was a book to help her son in practical ways. In these books, the teen's need to grow separately from adults and the conflicting need to take increased shelter from caring adults during a mourning period is well recognized. Wolfelt encourages adults to realize that teens are "still kids," and that they will sometimes need to behave more like brokenhearted children than aloof teenagers. It is important to accept this dichotomywhile continuing to honor the dignity of a teen's fragile maturity. The author gently reshapes misconceptions about what it means to be strong and "get on with your life." Although each journey through grief is unique, these books can ease more than a little pain and will give caring people effective tools for reaching out. Further Reading. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Companion Press/Center for Loss and Life Transition, 128p, $11.95. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Diane Masla SOURCE: VOYA, August 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 3)
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-A book that is written in clear, user-friendly prose. Each page presents a different idea designed to help teens recognize mourning as a natural process connected with loss, reassuring them that they should not be afraid of deep, sometimes uncontrollable emotions, and showing them how to release grief in healthy, positive ways. Several suggestions appear under each heading; many of them encourage readers to express their feelings in a journal. The book has a comfortable tone to it, without taking away from the very definite need to deal with grief. It seems to work with, rather than talk at teens as they tackle the problem/solution process. A good first step toward admitting the need for and getting help.-Kim Harris, Newman Riga Library, Churchville, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Companion Press
Publication date:
Healing Your Grieving Heart Series
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
367 KB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens

100 Practical Ideas

By Alan D. Wolfelt

Center for Loss and Life Transition

Copyright © 2001 Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-879651-23-4


Understand the difference between grief and mourning.

• Grief is what you think and feel on the inside when someone you love dies. It's numbness, sadness, anger, guilt, and sometimes relief, all rolled up into one. It's a pain in your gut and a hole in your chest.

• Mourning is expressing your grief, letting it out somehow. You mourn when you cry, talk about the death, write about it, punch a pillow.

• Everybody grieves inside when someone they love dies. But only people who mourn really heal and move on to live and love fully again.

• This book does two things: It teaches you about grief and gives you mourning ideas. Mourning is awesome. Really. It's powerful and it's the only thing that works.

Express yourself:

What feelings are you having right now about the death? Express them right this minute by writing them down or by telling someone. How do you feel now that you've done a bit of mourning?


Understand the concept of "reconciliation."

• Sometimes you'll hear people talk about "recovering" from grief. I don't like this term because it implies that grief is an illness that must be cured. Grief is not an illness but a natural and necessary process.

• Besides, you don't "recover" from or "get over" grief. Instead, you become "reconciled" to it. In other words, you learn to live with it and are forever changed by it.

• This does not mean a life of misery, however. We often not only heal but grow through grief. Our lives can potentially be deeper and more meaningful after the death of someone loved.

• Reconciliation takes time. You may not become truly reconciled to your loss for several years and even then you may have "griefbursts" forever.

Express yourself:

Talk to someone who's experienced the death of someone she loved. Ask her how she survived and if she's "recovered" from the deaths. Her story may help you understand that though grief is forever, it softens over time and that life can be joyful once more.


Attend the funeral or memorial service.

• Rituals allow us to honor and memorialize someone who's died. It may seem difficult to face going to a funeral or memorial service. But participating in such an event will help you acknowledge the loss and begin to reconcile yourself to it.

• There's comfort in knowing that others share your loss, and the support of others can help you through your grief.

• Being part of a memorial ritual helps dose you with the reality of the death and melt feelings of denial or disbelief you may have experienced when you first learned of the death.

• You can participate in the funeral by doing a reading, playing music, creating a personalized program on your computer, lighting a candle or placing something special inside the casket.

Express yourself:

Say goodbye to the person who died. Let him know that you will miss him and keep memories of him alive.



Need 1. Accept the reality of the death.

• Someone you love has died and can never come back. That's a really hard thing to accept, but it's true.

• It may take you weeks, even months, to really accept the fact that this person is gone. It's normal for it to take that long.

• First you'll come to accept the death intellectually, with your head. Only over time will you come to fully accept it with your heart.

• Now and then, especially at first, you may push away or deny the reality to yourself. That's also normal. You'll accept the reality, bit by bit, as you're ready.

Express yourself:

Tell someone about the death today. Talking about it will help you work on this important first step to reconciling your loss.



Need 2. Let yourself feel the pain of the loss.

• You need to let yourself feel the pain of your loss. You need to feel it before you can heal it.

• Of course, it's easier to avoid, repress, deny or push away the pain of grief than it is to confront it. The problem is, confronting it is what tames it. If you don't confront it, it will lurk forever in your heart and soul.

• You will probably need to "dose" yourself with your painful thoughts and feelings. In other words, you'll need to let just a little in at a time. If you were to try to allow in all the pain at once, you couldn't survive.

Express yourself:

Writing about your pain is a good way to let yourself feel it. Try keeping a journal during the next few months. Write in it every day after school or before bed. If you don't want to write a lot, that's OK. A few sentences a day is fine.



Need 3. Remember the person who died.

• When someone you love dies, that person lives on in you through memory.

• To reconcile your loss, you need to actively remember the person who died and commemorate the life that was lived. Talk about the person who died. Use his name. Look at pictures of him.

• Never let anyone try to take away your memories in a misguided attempt to save you from pain. You need to remember, not to forget.

• Remembering the past makes hoping for the future possible.

Express yourself:

Brainstorm a list of characteristics or memories of the person who died. Write as fast as you can for 10 minutes (or more), then put away your list and look at it again another day.



Need 4. Develop a new self-identity.

• The person who died was part of who you are. Part of your identity came from this person.

• Let's say your best friend was Chris and she died. You probably thought of yourself not only as a son or daughter, a sibling, and a student but also as "Chris' best friend." Others thought of you in this way, too.

• The way you defined yourself and the way society defines you has changed.

• Now you need to re-adjust your self-identity, to re-anchor yourself. This is really hard, especially if the person who died played a big part in your life.

Express yourself:

What role did the person who died play in your life? How has your life changed because of the death? Write the answers to these questions in your journal.



Need 5. Search for meaning.

• When someone we love dies, we naturally question the meaning and purpose of life and death. Why do people die? Why did this person have to die? What happens to people after they die? Why am I still alive? What's life for?

• This may be the first time in your life that you've really thought about these questions. And questions just don't get any harder than these.

• Nobody really knows all the answers to these kinds of questions, not even grown-ups. But it's OK to ask adults you care about and trust what they think.

• Some adults have lived enough, loved enough, experienced enough and pondered enough to have some pretty good ideas. Hearing their philosophies might help you right now. Telling them what you think might help, too.

Express yourself:

Ask a parent or another adult you trust the "meaning of life and death" questions that are most on your mind right now. Listen to what they have to say without thinking you need to agree. You don't.



Need 6. Let others help you, now and always.

• When you're a teenager, it's natural to want adults to keep out of your face. You're getting old enough now that you don't need or want their help with every little thing, right?

• I agree with you. Growing up means finding your own way and doing things on your own.

• BUT, grief isn't an "on your own" kind of deal. It's probably the hardest work anyone ever has to do. And you just can't do it all on your own.

• Talk to adults who care about you. If you don't want to talk to them, at least let them talk to you. Or hang out with them without talking. Talk to your friends, instead. Join a support group. E-mail your thoughts and feelings to someone you don't have to look at every day.

Express yourself:

Who is the one person you could talk to about this death and your grief if you really tried? Even if talking about your feelings doesn't come easy to you, I beg you to give it a try, one time, to this one person.


Tell the story, over and over again if you need to.

• Acknowledging a death is a painful, ongoing need that we accomplish in doses, over time. For many mourners, "telling the story" of the death helps them learn to accept it.

• How and why did this person die? You might feel the need to talk this over with your friends or a trusted adult many, many times. This is normal.

• Or maybe you keep rerunning the story of the death in your mind instead of out loud. Thinking about it is also normal but talking about it will help you reconcile yourself to it.

Express yourself:

Tell the story of the death today to someone who cares about you. Express any lingering questions or fears. If you just can't bring yourself to talk about it, write about it instead.


Use the name of the person who died.

• When you're talking about the death or about your life in general, don't avoid using the name of the person who died. It's good to say the name out loud. It may feel weird at first but you'll get used to it.

• Using the name lets others know they can use it, too.

• Your friends and family may avoid saying the name of the person who died because they're afraid it will cause you pain. Let them know you like it when they talk about the person who died.

Express yourself:

Write the name of the person who died vertically in your journal, one letter per line. Then write a paragraph or poem about the person using these letters as the first letter in each line. Don't worry about finding the perfect words; just let your thoughts flow.


Keep a journal.

• A journal is a wonderful way to record the events in your life and to deal with overwhelming or conflicting feelings. Writing about them in a journal no one else will see lets you sort through and express your feelings.

• Remember — your inner thoughts and feelings of grief need to be expressed outwardly (which includes writing) for you to reconcile your loss.

• Spend a few minutes each morning writing in your journal to clear your mind for the day. Write in it again before you go to bed.

Express yourself:

Find a journal and a new pen that are pleasing to you in size, shape, feel, and color. Start by writing the date and then the first thoughts that come to mind. Keep your hand moving. The words and thoughts will come.


Keep a memento of the person who died.

• While the person who died is no longer with you physically, you can still keep a part of her with you as a reminder of the special relationship you had. A key, a piece of jewelry, an article of clothing or a lock of hair inside a locket, a trinket, or a special letter or card are all small enough to fit in your pocket or purse, so you can always carry a memory of that person with you. I wear my dad's watch everywhere I go.

• I sometimes call these items "linking objects" because they continue to link you to the person who died. If anyone tells you that finding comfort in such objects is morbid or "weak," don't listen. It's actually healthy and helpful. My dad's watch brings me great comfort. I hope you have something that gives you comfort, too.

Express yourself:

Choose a small object that is a comforting reminder of the person who died. Attach it to a set of keys or a necklace chain, or place it in a special container that you can keep with you all the time.


Keep promises to yourself.

• Trust yourself in your grief journey. You are the only one who knows what it feels like for you.

• So, it's up to you to think of ways to help yourself. This book gives you a bunch of ideas, but you'll learn how to cope with your grief in ways that work for you.

• Be honest with yourself. If you need help, get it.

• Make some grief ground rules for yourself. Promise yourself you'll talk to your parents about your grief, for example, and then keep that promise.

Express yourself:

Promise yourself you'll mourn (not just grieve) this death whenever thoughts and feelings arise. Keep your promise.


Let yourself feel numb.

• If the death was recent, you're probably feeling shocked and numb. You may feel nothing at all for a while.

• Most people feel this way after a death. It's nature's way (and maybe God's way) of protecting us, at first, from the full reality of the death.

• You might think, "I will wake up and this will not have happened." Early grief can feel like a dream.

• Your emotions need time to catch up with what your mind has been told. Let them come little by little.

Express yourself:

If you're feeling shock, numbness or disbelief, tell someone you trust. Expressing these feelings will help you see how normal and necessary they are.


Live life in slow-mo.

• Sometimes it seems as though the world stops when someone we love dies. Part of that comes from our shock and disbelief. Part of it is the finality of death: This person is physically gone forever.

• In the days right after a person dies, you may find that life slows down. Moments may become extended, sounds muffled or amplified, sights blurred or crystallized. The world and your relation to it assumes a dreamlike, or spiritual, quality.

• Shock and numbness are nature's way of protecting us from terrible realities. Little by little your life will speed up again as you are able to dose yourself with the full reality of the death.

Express yourself:

Let yourself live in slow motion. Be attuned to the moments and sensations you feel. Share these experiences with a friend or family member.


Let go of destructive myths about grief and mourning.

• Without knowing it, you may have bought into some of society's harmful myths about grief and mourning:

* You need to be strong and carry on.

* Tears are a sign of weakness.

* You need to get over your grief.

* You're the man/woman of the house now (if a parent has died).

* Death is something we don't talk about.

• Not only are these statements not true, they're harmful.


Excerpted from Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens by Alan D. Wolfelt. Copyright © 2001 Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Center for Loss and Life Transition.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD, is an internationally known teacher, a grief counselor, and the author of The Journey Through Grief and The Understanding Your Grief Journal. He is director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and faculty member at the University of Colorado Medical School’s department of family medicine. He is the “Children and Grief” columnist for Bereavement magazine and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, and NBC’s Today. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens: 100 Practical Ideas 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The ideas in this book normalize the feelings and reactions of loss and grief for teens. Teens experiencing loss or death often feel different and alone--this book outlines some tools that many adults have not yet mastered. For adolescents, the language contained in this book is age-appropriate, and does not sound like 'therapy talk', which often causes kids to shut down and quit reading. I'm truly impressed. --a High School social services worker
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My uncle killed himself last year so my parents bought me this book and I was skeptical about it actually getting better but it never does. If you are greiving the loss of someone close please dont just try and push others away, if you dont want to do it for yourself or your parents or whoever it is who it is thats greiving, do it for the people who you have lost. I kniw that everyone says that it will get better but truthfully it does'nt so let the therapists and the school councilers or your parents help, talk to them they miss hem too
Anonymous More than 1 year ago