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Dear Dougy Podcast: conversations about grief and loss

Drawing from over 30 years of stories and wisdom from grieving children, teens, and adults, the Dear Dougy Podcast is opening up the conversation about dying, death, and bereavement. As humans, we all experience loss during our lives, but often find ourselves lost and unsure when it comes to navigating the grief that follows. Whether you’re grieving a death, or wanting to support someone who is, the Dear Dougy Podcast can help explore your questions about grief. Produced by the staff of The Dougy Center in Portland, Oregon, the Dear Dougy Podcast is a mostly-question-and-answer conversation, and occasionally includes other visitors in the field of dying, death, and bereavement. Have a question to ask? Send it our way at help@dougy.org, with the word ‘podcast’ somewhere in the subject line.
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Now displaying: February, 2015
Feb 26, 2015

Understanding And Supporting The Grieving Teen

If you know a teen who is grieving a death, you may wonder what responses or behaviors you can expect to see and how to help.

Grief is a holistic experience

Grief can affect teens in many different ways: emotionally, behaviorally, cognitively, physically, and spiritually. The following are examples of how grief might look in these realms. Keep in mind that this list is just a sample of the indicators: 

Emotional: Every emotion imaginable can be associated with grief. The most common ones include: sadness, anger, confusion, fear, agitation, depression, relief, apathy, joy, restless, guilt, regret, irritability, yearning, increased appreciation, and gratitude. 

Behavioral: Dropping activities/hobbies, difficulty sleeping, clingy behavior, regressions, aggression, withdrawal, nightmares, diminished/increased performance at work or school, decrease/increase in social engagement, substance use, over-planning/scheduling of activities.

Cognitive: Difficulty concentrating/confused thinking, forgetfulness, difficulty completing tasks, memory loss, narrowed scope of thinking, intrusive/repetitive thoughts, easily overwhelmed.

Physical: Loss of appetite, weight loss/gain, increased frequency of colds/flu, stomachaches, headaches, and nausea.

Spiritual: Questioning or loss of faith, anger at God or other higher power, strengthening of faith, questioning values, rethinking the meaning of life and/purpose. 

 

So what does this look like in day to day life?

  • Grief can make everyone forgetful. Teens may need extra reminders about chores and plans. 
  • School can become very challenging. Engage with teachers and administrators to help support teens. 
  • Teens may be less able to modulate their emotions and have more frequent outbursts and easily feel overwhelmed.
  • Some may grow distant, turning more to peers for support.
  • May see swings of maturity as teens move between feeling like a six year old one minute and then speaking with wisdom of an elder the next.
  • Push/pull of emotional availability. They may want hugs one moment and then retreat to their room the next.
  • Teens can take on additional fears and concern about how the family is doing in terms of financial security. May have questions about their future based on these changes.
  • Strong feelings of wanting to feel and be seen as a normal teen. “I don’t want to just be that kid whose dad died.”
  • Dislike sympathy, but appreciate acknowledgement of what has happened. 

 

Needs of Grieving Teens and Ways to Support Them

  1. Assurances: Grieving teens need supportive and available adults in their lives. Reassure them that grief is unique and that there is no one right way to grief. Knowing that grief isn’t something they have to “get over,” but that it will change over time, can also be comforting. 
  2. Boundaries: Reasonable and consistent boundaries provide safety and support during a time of disorienting change.
  3. Choices: Teens are empowered when they have options and their choices are honored and respected.
  4. Food, water, and sleep: Grieving takes a lot of energy, so it is important for teens to have nutritious food, hydrating drinks, and enough sleep.
  5. Listeners: Not knowing what to say can leave us filling in the blanks with advice and words designed to make teens feel better. Practice listening and asking questions, allowing teens to talk and be heard. 
  6. Models: Teens look to the adults in their lives to provide examples for how to grieve and express their emotions. Molly story
  7. Privacy: Much of the grieving process is private including reflection, emotion, evaluation, and memorializing. Kelina story
  8. Recreation: Grieving teens need “breaks” and chances to play, laugh, and be active. More than just their death. 
  9. Routines: These create consistency so that teens do not have to constantly worry about what will happen next. Remember also to be flexible about your expectations.
  10. Truth: Grieving teens appreciate truthful information related to the death and potential changes in their lives.

For more info, see our guidebook, Helping Teens Cope with Death, or the DVD Helping Teens Cope with Death.

 

Feb 18, 2015

Where did everyone go? How grief affects connections with family and friends. 

This episode grew out of a few questions from the community – 

  1. Why is it common for communication to either lessen with family/close friends or strengthen after a mutual loss?
  2. Why is it easier to connect with strangers?
  3. In my family we don't talk about the person - How do I know if I can bring it up? How do I bring it up?

Grief affects our connections with others in many ways. Loss can foster a greater closeness with family and friends and it can also wreak havoc on existing relationships, leaving people unsure and disappointed. Many factors contribute to changes in relationships, particularly the role that the person who died played in your family and friend constellation. For some grieving people, especially children and teens, it can feel more comfortable talking with those they aren’t close with, including those who didn’t know the person who died. 

Suggestions for ways to make it easier to talk about the person who died in your family: 

  • Let people know that you want to talk about the person. 
  • Reassure them that talking about the person is helpful, even if you get emotional. 
  • Provide suggestions for responses that you find helpful and those you don’t: “I like when people use his name. I don’t like when people tell me not to feel guilty.”
  • Start a conversation about creating a ritual at family gatherings to include the person who died. 
  • Examples include: set a chair or plate at the table for the person, invite people to bring favorite photos and create a family photo board, take videos of family members sharing memories of the person. 

 

Feb 12, 2015

Valentine's Day is one of the many holidays that shift and change while grieving. As with so many other holidays, the lead-up can be really hard. Advertisements and casual conversations about plans can leave grieving people left out, or eager to flee.

In this episode of the Dear Dougy Podcast, Jana and Brendon talk about strategies for approaching Valentine's Day in a way that opens up space to express love and appreciation.

Some ideas mentioned in this episode:

  • Decide on what traditions you and/or your children want to uphold and then figure out who will be responsible for what.
  • Connect with others you find to be supportive - this might look like setting up a phone call, email chat,  or getting together for dinner.
  • Schedule some self-care that feels replenishing: go for a hike,  check out a new movie, take a yoga class, meet up with friends,  journal, or cook a nourishing meal.
  • Ask your kids what helps them feel energized or calm - we sometimes forget that kids need self-care too.
  • Volunteer for an organization or event that is meaningful to you.
  • Send cards, flowers, or an email to friends and family who might also be going through a hard time.
  • If it feels right, create a ritual or activity connected to the person who died. Ideas include, make a meal they enjoyed, go to their favorite restaurant, make or buy a card for them.
  • Many kids like to bring something - card, flowers, balloons, to the grave site. If there isn't one, if you have the ashes in your house for instance, you could put them there. Or visit the place where the ashes were spread. Or if that's not possible, display an image of that place.
  • Write a card or letter to  the person who died. You might write about: events you want them to know about (your son's first soccer game, a promotion at work, a description of a sunrise you recently saw, etc), things you are grateful to them for,  ways in which you and your family have grown or changed, or anything that comes to mind. You can keep, bury, or burn what you write.

Whatever you decide, go easy on yourself. There can be so much pressure, both internal and external to think or feel a certain way. Know that it's okay to feel whatever you feel (sadness, anger, numbness, irritation, etc), leading up  to and on the actual day.

Feb 6, 2015

Alternatives to “I’m sorry for your loss.”

 

This episode delves into that moment when you find out about a death. Most of us don’t know what to say or do, so we go turn to what we’ve heard others say in similar situation, “I’m sorry for your loss.” While there’s nothing wrong with those words, especially when said with authenticity and full presence, it’s helpful to know how that phrase affects those who are grieving and what you can say instead. Whether it’s getting a phone call with the news, writing out a sympathy card, or learning about a loss during a casual conversation, everyone encounters the dilemma of what to say and how to communicate we care.

 

Alternatives

  • “I was so sad when I heard the news about your mom’s death.”

  • With children and teens, they appreciate an honest: “That totally sucks.”

  • If you do go with “I’m sorry” expanding it to “I’m so sorry you have to go through this,” or “I’m so sorry this is happening.” can break up the monotony of “I’m sorry for your loss.”

If you’re talking with someone, try reflecting back what they’ve said, allowing them to say more:

  • “Your dad just died last night.”

  • “Today’s the anniversary of your sister’s death.”

When writing a sympathy card or email:

  • Consider sharing a specific memory of the person who died: “I remember so clearly your mom’s smile, it made me feel so welcome.”

  • “There are no good words, just want you to know you are on my mind and in my heart.” can acknowledge that words don’t always measure up in times of grief.
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