Helping an Adolescent Cope with Death

Suggestions for ways to help an adolescent deal with service-related death

Growing up in the military presents adolescents with many challenges, not just those related to the death of a parent or sibling. However, losing a loved one in the armed forces is often sudden and quite traumatic and can place an adolescent in a new world where they have to try and understand the military legacy and culture that they are now leaving behind. It can be difficult to guide adolescents in their identity development in the most normal of times and almost impossible to imagine how to help them when they lose a major piece of that identity. Losing a parent or sibling while approaching young adulthood can leave an adolescent feeling stranded in very new surroundings.

Some ways to help

As with young children, it is important to give our adolescents prompt and accurate information. Through this process parents as well as other adults in an adolescent’s life can establish a bond of trust and prevent community rumors and media from creating a false picture for an already fragile youth.

An intense range of feelings surrounding their loved one’s death can catch adolescents off guard and place them in a scary and lonely place. They should be encouraged to openly discuss their emotions. A parent who is capable of doing the same is a wonderful role model. These grieving youth should be given the opportunity to express their strong feelings and shown how to have healthy life styles with these emotions through physical and artistic activities.

The military does a wonderful job of memorializing those who die in service to this nation and adolescents will often show the same desire to memorialize and pay tribute to their fallen loved one. Their desires should be respected and encouraged as they struggle and search for their own identity.

Different kinds of challenges

Teens experience the gamut of emotions and feelings: abandonment, guilt, sadness, relief, fear, frustration and a huge sense of loss for what might have been: the loss of a mentor, role model, friend and confidant. It is also the loss of special events for the adolescent: mom not there for high school graduation, brother not there to make the holidays fun, dad not there to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding, or a grandfather never holding his first grandchild. These feelings and losses occur at different times of a teen’s life. Be patient with all the challenges facing adolescents, both in the best of circumstances and the worst.

Finding support

Many people find it helpful to talk about their grief with someone who understands what they are going through. Expert counselors and support groups exist that can provide you with support and understanding and suggest ways to handle the challenges you face.