My family is drowning in grief this week. Three funerals to attend within the span of eight days.
One was a blessing. We celebrated the life of my dear Aunt Lois who passed at the age of 79. Having been in the hospital 32 times over the past three years, it was easy to let her go. She had lived her life to the fullest and had touched all of our lives. She needs to be at peace and my uncle, her caregiver who was by her side through everything, deserves time to rest. It has been a long journey.
And then there are the other two deaths–two high school students from the same school. Each committed suicide.
And I wonder how many times these parents have said ‘everything is great with the kids’.
From outward appearance, everything did seem to be on a positive trajectory. Both kids were good students, top athletes, had lots of friends, and a host of other good things that would make a parent say ‘everything is great’.
But it wasn’t.
Don’t get me wrong. Kids make terrible choices at times and the chemistry of the brain that results in someone making such a choice will most likely never be fully understood. Add the pressure to succeed and the possibility of fickle relationships especially during the teen years and it is more easy to accept that these terrible things do happen.
I have no idea what dragon either of these kids might have been facing. All I see is the tragedy of life ended so early. Friends and classmates who will forever remember the aftermath of their death. And the families who will try to put together the pieces for years to come.
And the parents will probably be asking themselves, “What could I have done differently?”
Everything with the kids obviously wasn’t great.
So what can we learn from these two deaths? What could I possibly write that would make a difference?
For these two families, I could only say this: “I’m so very sorry for your loss. Don’t blame yourself for the choice your child made. Grieve. And take your pain to a Heavenly Father who loves you and your child. Forgive your son. Forgiveness brings healing to you. Then use your pain to help others who are going through a similar loss. You know what it feels like and you might be the only person who truly understands. Even though you may never find closure this side of eternity, God sees your broken heart and He can use it for His glory if you let Him.”
To the rest of us parents, I’d say:
- Don’t assume that everything is great with the kids. Appearance and reality can be totally different things. Many of us hide our emotions when we get overwhelmed.
- Check in often to see how your kids are doing. Ask meaningful questions–not superficial ones that can be answered with ‘yes’, ‘no’, or a grunt.
- Resolve conflict. Unresolved conflict whether it ends in anger or is avoided all together leaves residual feelings of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. Conflict resolved well creates connection.
- Listen without judgment. Empathize with you child’s situations and feelings. Let them know that it is normal to feel what they are feeling.
- Make physical touch part of your relationship. A ruffling of the hair, a hug, a pat on the back all show affection to a teen that says, “I like you and who you are becoming. We’re on the same team.”
- Acknowledge the little things even if it is something they are supposed to do. “I so appreciate you being consistent with taking out the trash. I know I can always count on you.”
- Have lots of one-on-one time to talk. Ice cream, after school snack, long distance car time all can create an atmosphere of sharing our dreams and fears if we are willing to take the time.
- Talk about suicide, what is going on with friends, their struggles at school, and especially how they ‘feel’ in the difficult periods of life.
- Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ if you feel something is inappropriate for your teen. Having to deal with disappointment in the little things helps them learn to deal with the bigger struggles in life.
- Teach them to look at life situations with hope. Let them know that the pain in the moment won’t last forever. It is something to work through, grieve, and become a survivor.
- Walk with them through the difficulties. When things are tough be available. Coach them on how to look at the situation differently to find peace.
- Share the love of God with them teaching them how precious life is and how God loves them so much that He was willing to die so that they might live.
Death can come in many forms for our teens. It can be the suicide of a friend, a loss of a relationship or friendship, a disbelief that someone could do something that hurt them deeply, or even the loss of something they hoped to achieve. In each of these situations, our kids need to grieve. We need to be there to walk beside them and help them process. While we can’t make it better–we can be there to give them hope.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9
We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Dare you to give your kids hope, connection, and a hug this week.
“Let go…and Let God”,