For adolescents, grief comes on top of all kinds of developmental issues as they struggle to find a new identity and a new balance between dependence and independence. Death may present a challenge and threat at a time of great natural self-absorption and great uncertainty. Young people may feel that their life has been disturbed, e.g. “Why did dad have to die just when I’m doing my A-levels?” However, their awareness that such thoughts would be judged as “selfish” may induce guilt and these thoughts are difficult to express to other members of the family. Adolescents may need written information about grief and why they might feel so confused. Young people may want to talk about difficulties in relationships with their friends, sensing that death is both frightening and embarrassing for their peer group and worrying that it is something that makes them different just when they most want to be the same. Talking may not be something that comes easy for some people; keeping a diary, watching films and reading books, using sport as a release or practising relaxation techniques can all help adolescents to express their feelings.
Both adolescents and children learn how to mourn by observing others. One of the most powerful messages for parents is the importance of sharing their feelings. Young people are often uncertain about what is allowed and need to see others’ crying and to know that others, too, feel hurt and confused. Adolescents are helped most when they are allowed to comfort as well as to be comforted. Bereaved children of all ages arouse strong feelings in all of us. We are often reminded of ourselves as children growing up. We should also hold on to the fact that children are survivors; offered the truth with love, they can and do respond to the challenges of bereavement.