Coping with grief

By Faire Davidson

ate* has always been partial to impressionism. Hanging in his home are two paintings done in the impressionist style of water and buildings near water and a portrait of him as a child in Seattle. And for a long time, Nate didn’t know that his mother had painted them.

On April 28, 2007, Nate’s mother passed away from lymphoma.

Less than a month ago was the two year anniversary of her death.

Although Nate felt that the first year anniversary was not difficult, the second year anniversary was harder for him. Because of what he calls “a buildup of emotions,” April 28, 2009 was a struggle to get through.

“Everything she did, she did with a passion,” Nate said. “She insisted on driving her children places herself, not leaving the work to a hired hand, because she believed that sometimes the deepest and most intimate conversations happened when we drove from place to place.”

Nate has seen a change in the family dynamic since her loss.

“She kept our family, both nuclear and extended, very close, and it’s been very hard to keep the family as tight as before without her,” Nate said.

Although people grieve in different ways, the process usually lasts from nine months to a year, school psychologist Sheila Siegel said. Some may want to return to school right away and others may need time alone or with their families before they are able to regain their usual daily structure.

“The grief comes in waves all the time,” Nate said. “Sometimes I can go days without thinking about her whatsoever and other times there is nothing else I can consider.”

The adolescent grieving process is different from the grieving process of an adult. All adolescents go through a process that involves pushing their parents away and becoming more independent from their family. However, if a parent dies when his or her child is this age, the process is interrupted, said psychotherapist Beth Becker.

Adolescents are “perhaps fighting more with their parents, it is more difficult if a parent dies and these issues have not had time to resolve themselves,” Siegel said. “There may be more guilt or regret when this happens.”

When Nate’s mother passed away, most of his friends expressed their condolences, others made food but some said nothing, unsure and uncomfortable about how to approach the situation.

“I can understand that feeling of being unsure about what to do,” he said.

Friends can be most helpful, Siegel said, by showing sympathy and telling their friend that they’re sorry and listen to whatever their friend may need to talk about, including stories about their parent.

Cards or notes can be extremely helpful because people often reread them during the grieving process.

Mary*, who lost her father this year, appreciated her friends’ constant assurance that they were there for her no matter what, she said.

“The week after he died, my friends insisted on being near me around the clock,” she said. “They would have listened if I told them I needed to be alone, but I think they all realized that even if I wouldn’t say it, I wanted them there. It brought a little bit of normalcy to such a crazy time to have them hanging around the house laughing.”

Most adolescents don’t want to talk to an adult about the way they feel, but rather to their peers Becker said. Friends should encourage those who have lost someone to share their feelings rather than telling them to be strong.

“I didn’t want to talk to my mom about it because she was already having such a hard time, but I also didn’t want to be a burden to my friends,” Mary said. “When they made it clear that they wanted to hear me talk about it and I finally opened up a little bit, it got easier to sort out what I was feeling.”

The Crisis and Support Team, or CaST, tries to support students or faculty who are grieving. Most of the time they send a card to the bereaved person.

However their strategy changes depending on the situation. For instance if they know the student doesn’t want a lot of attention over their parents death, CaST does nothing at all.

“Personally, I often try to determine if the family has a connection with a clergy-person, and, if so, I would maybe only send cards, e-mails, etc.,” said Father J. Young. “If not, I may take a more active role or suggest that to Rabbi Feigenson.”

Clark* lost his father in 2002 to a heart attack when he was 12 years old. He started going to Our House, which is a grief support center similar to Peer Support, about five months after his father’s death.

At Our House, children who have lost a parent join discussion groups that focus solely on dealing with their loss. All groups are separated by age.

“It’s about realizing that there are actually many people out there who are going through the exact same thing as you,” Nate said.

More information about Our House can be found at

Like Nate and Mary, Clark got comfort from friends who came to his house and talked the day after his father died.

After two years going to Our House, Clark decided to volunteer there. He now leads a group of younger children.

Nate was a member of Peer Support as a sophomore and when his mother died, found the group to be extremely helpful.

But because Peer Support groups do not focus exclusively on dealing with loss, Nate went to Our House and found he appreciated the difference. The group was more effective at helping him focus on healing than Peer Support was, he said.

He has been attending for two years but does not feel he is ready to leave his group. In order to volunteer, you cannot still be a part of a group for your own therapy. Although Nate does not agree with this rule, he has taken an unofficial leadership role in the group he is now in by encouraging discussion.

“To anyone who has recently lost a parent, I would say that whatever you’re feeling is fine. There is no one way that you should feel,” Clark said. “Also, just know that even though it doesn’t seem that way now, you will feel better as time goes on.”

*Name changed upon request