The past few weeks have been rough for the Wellspring family. One of our staff lost her 36 year old son and at Carteret High School, and more specifically our Pathways program at the school, lost one of their students.
This got me thinking about the power of loss to transform us and those around us. Everyone experiences it differently, and though there is no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve, some ways of coping are more productive than others. The thing is, I don’t ever remember learning about how to handle loss until I lost my son 40 years ago.
Which made me think about those we care for and educate every day. Our youth.
When I look at these most important residents, I sometimes see a lot of pain, and I don’t think they know what to do with it. I worry they don’t have the time to even try to figure it out. Is there time to talk to the school counselor, or is the test prep too important? When they come home from school, who is home? Do they get to talk it out after dinner with their parents, or do they need to scarf down a microwave pizza and head to practice? Do they get a breather when they get home, or is it right upstairs to do their mountains of homework?
As busy adults, I know the temptation is to downplay the “little” losses our kids feel. “It will be alright...Don’t worry about it...Man up...You’re too young to know what real love is.” This is not particularly helpful. If you looked around the internet you will notice that there is not much out there about adolescent grief unless it involved the death of a loved one. I think this is a mistake. Whether it is the loss of being rejected from the college of their choice or breaking up with a boyfriend or not making the team, pain is there. It is real. It hurts. If they don’t know how to handle it, they often end up making very poor choices.
In the programs we run in schools or presentations we make in the community, we see students who are angry and get into fights, others who withdraw and cut themselves, still others who look for comfort in sex or alcohol.
I wish with all my heart that we could have gotten to them sooner - not so we could shelter them from their pain, but to show them how to share it. Studies of toddlers have demonstrated that before they can talk they can be empathetic. Not only that, toddlers can respond to empathy, as well. To care for others is natural. It is our society that values independence and the ability to overcome all challenges on our own that may be stifling that innate response.
It’s up to us to model healthy grieving. How do we hurt? You know we do. Why not let our youth see how we deal with it and share it with them? We might be surprised, and they may be too. A burden shared really is a burden lightened.