Parenting a Teen Through Grief and Loss

We stayed up late with our daughter last night.  She was sad and exhausted.  We were exhausted, but we sat with her and just listened as she talked…..

I won’t pretend to be an expert walking down the path of grief many Valley parents are on this week.  I know I am not.  I am just a parent working to soothe a heart-broken child – and make sure she heals.

I hugged her yesterday and whispered in her ear, “It will be ok.”  She replied, “No it won’t.”  At that moment I realized I had just said to her what so many told me after my father died.  A light went on inside my head.   I told her she was right because I hated it when people said that to me after grandpa died.  The truth is, in some ways it won’t be okay…. mostly because some things are just not the same anymore.  Death is final like that.  Everything feels so different for those affected.

I wish I had said instead, “Each day will get just a little bit easier.”  I wish I had said, “With time your heart will ache just a little less each day.”  It will never be the same for many of our kids.  They experienced a loss that most high school kids don’t.  Pieces of their hearts broke yesterday and they struggle to make sense of a tragic situation.  Some innocence was lost.

I dealt with the loss of parent.  It was hard, but I was an adult.  I took solace knowing my dad had lived almost 70 years – a pretty long life.  I am still not totally “okay” because someone I love isn’t here.  So I understand why my daughter feels like she does.   She doesn’t have my solace of thinking about a long-lived life.  All she thinks about are his life plans that won’t happen.  All she sees in Spanish is the empty desk where a smiling boy she loved used to sit. Learning to cope with grief is a journey.

My parenting strategies going forward are simple…. watching over her while also giving space and letting her tell me her stories.  Letting her cry and then talk some more.  Trying to tell her in some gentle way Cody is at peace and watching over his family and friends.   He is in every sunrise, sunset and every rainbow over Mt. Si.   We will talk about how the pain never goes away completely… it just hopefully aches a little less each day.  Each day is a move forward – even if it’s with baby steps.   I know it is my job to guide and monitor this grieving and healing process.

Many of our kids are forever changed.  MSHS is changed.  The kids’ strength is a powerful thing, though.  My daughter says (and many others agree) Cody had this kind of strength and that he is channeling it to them now.

Hug your kids tightly.  Let them talk and share their memories of the friend they miss.  If it can’t be with you maybe they can Facebook it. I know it made my daughter (and me) feel a little better as she read me Cody’s wall posts.   I think it reminds them just how many friends share their pain… and they can find strength together.  We laughed a little and cried a little and we were together…. just like they are inside the school auditorium today.

So to all you parents out there aching for your kids…. they need us more than we think and maybe more than they show.  Stay connected to other parents, too.   Sometimes it really does take a village.  Please keep hugging our kids!

**Dedicated to my beautiful daughter with the aching heart, Annie.

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  • What a wise and beautiful sentiment. We are all given a lifetime; the number of years is what we’re never sure of.

  • I want to say thank you for your words of wisdom, they brought tears to my eyes. Hug your daughter for me, even though I do not know her.

  • My heart goes out to his parents who I went to high school with. Both were loving and caring teenagers and loving and caring parents. My heart breaks for the loss they and their children suffer daily now.

  • Living Snoqualmie