A grandparent’s death may be a teenager’s first experience with losing someone, states Child Bereavement UK. How your teen responds to and grieves a grandparent’s death depends on several factors, including the closeness of the relationship and the events leading up to the loss. It’s important to realize that grieving is an intensely personal process and everyone grieves differently. When a grandparent dies, a teenager will need help to grieve the loss.
Provide physical support for your teenager if she wants it. Sometimes just holding someone and being physically close while she cries and feels intense emotions can be comforting and helpful. Words aren’t important or even necessary, just physical closeness to comfort and support.
Explain normal grieving that your teenager may experience so she’s prepared. Tell her that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed with sadness and that sometimes she might even feel like her grief and sadness are beyond her control. Child grief experts Donna Schuurman, Ed.D. and Amy Barrett Lindholm, M.S., authors of "Teens and Grief" appearing in The Prevention Researcher, these feelings of lack of control can be scary for teens, especially if they’ve never experienced such overwhelming emotions before.
Invite your teenager to help with the funeral arrangements, if she desires, suggests the “Teenage Grief” publication, published by Leaf Learning. The funeral can often be a tool to help families process grief.
Be available for your teenager if she wants to talk. Resist the urge to lecture or talk. Instead, make yourself available to listen. This might involve sitting near your teenager, giving her a hug when you see her and telling her that you’re always available if she needs to talk.
Talk about the deceased grandparent with the teenager, if she wants to reminisce. Remembering the grandparent fondly can be a healthy way to process the loss and keep the grandparent’s memory alive in the present. Share positive memories you have and listen as your child shares her memories.
Get your teen professional help if you perceive that she’s not grieving in a healthy manner. While everyone grieves differently, if you witness reckless or destructive behaviors in your teen, seek help from a professional therapist or counselor to help your teen work through her grief. The National Center for Grieving Children & Families cautions that some teenagers may become overwhelmed with grief and attempt to flee from it with destructive behaviors.
Realize that grief doesn’t end. Don’t expect that your teenager will close the door on her grieving and move forward. Schuurman and Lindholm compare a death to the creation of a vacuum in the lives of the survivors. The absence of the grandparent will forever change life moving forward. While the intensity of the grief may abate and lessen, your teen (and you as well) will likely always feel the absence of the grandparent.
Don’t neglect to take care of your own grieving as you help your teen. You likely have your own grief to work through. Your grief may be similar to your teen’s grief or it may be different. Your teen may also be watching you as you grieve, patterning herself after your example, states Child Bereavement UK.