DEAR KELLY: My grandma died three years ago and then my grandpa died last year. We were really close, as we are Italian, and Italian families do everything together. Even though it was awful and so sad for my family we did OK because we got to say goodbye to both. My grandpa said he was happy because he was going to see my grandma.
Five months ago my aunt, same side of the family, was diagnosed with cancer and died three weeks later. My aunt was my favorite person in the world. She was younger than my mom and she came and lived with us when my mom had me as a baby to help with my older brother and sister. We used to talk or text almost every day. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved her.
Kelly, why is everyone in my family dying? I don’t understand it. I’m so afraid my mom or my uncle are going to die, too, and it’s giving me nightmares. I can’t think at school and I always feel close to crying. All I want to do is sleep during the day because I can’t sleep at night. Everyone keeps asking what’s wrong, but I can’t talk about it without crying, so I don’t want to talk about it with anyone.
At home, my mom is a wreck and cries all the time. I keep finding her watching her wedding DVD because my aunt is in it and so are her parents. She said she loves remembering them on that day. I don’t know what to do. There’s nothing anyone can do to make me happy. No matter what my friends say, I still feel so sad all the time. My friends tried to have a girls night to make me happy and I ended up calling my mom and coming home early because I felt like I was being fake happy.
Please don’t tell me to remember the good times or be happy they are in a better place or not in pain anymore because I’m so tired of people saying that. I’m tired of everyone giving me advice about being strong. I want to tell them all to go away and leave me alone. When will I stop being so sad and why does it hurt so bad? And what do I say to everyone who keeps asking, “What’s wrong?”
DEAR GIA: First, let me start by saying how sorry I am for all three of your losses. I can’t even imagine how difficult this must be for your family. I’m so glad you reached out and are trying to understand the confusing feelings called grief.
Grief is normal yet highly personal response to loss. It’s a natural process that can change your life completely. The worst kind of grief is the grief you are experiencing right now – meaning that you can’t compare your feelings to those of others. Each person’s response to loss feels like the most painful experience. There is no way to sugarcoat grief or to avoid it.
Everyone expresses grief differently. There is no right or wrong way and no time frame on when you should “get over your loss” or move on. People might say things like that to you, but don’t let it affect you.
Grief can make you feel misunderstood, misplaced and lost. It’s important you find a safe person with whom you talk about your feelings. Whether it’s a counselor, teacher, coach, friend’s mom or just someone that “gets you,” you need to reach out and find that person. Don’t isolate yourself, even if that feels easier right now.
A great book on grief for teenagers is called “Weird Is Normal … When teenagers grieve” by Jenny Wheeler. Jenny shares her own journey of losing her father and gives a voice to what it’s like to be a teenager who is sad.
If you live in the Sacramento or Roseville area, there is a wonderful program called the Children’s Bereavement Art Group. It is sponsored by Sutter Hospital and has a long tradition of helping kids ages 4 to 16 work through their feelings around a loss. It is free. Call (916) 454-6555 to find out when the next group in your age level will be starting.
Your family has been rocked. Please know that you are allowed to feel what you do, you are allowed to cry when you need to, and you are not alone in this process. Reach out, find someone to talk with, consider joining a support group with other teens and know what your grief, as painful or confusing as it is, is normal.
Write to Kelly Richardson at Teen Talk, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15880, Sacramento, CA 95852, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.