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What is Grief?

When someone close to us dies, we experience something called grief. You may have heard about grief but are not quite sure what it is all about. Grief can be feelings: anger, sadness, worry, relief, fear, numbness. Or it may be thoughts, such as “Who will take care of me now that my mom died?,” “Why do people get cancer?,” or “What will happen next?” Sometimes, grief affects our bodies. We feel sleepy, or have trouble falling asleep. We may not feel like eating. We may have headaches or stomachaches or all of a sudden don’t feel like doing things we usually like to do, such as playing or going to school. All of these experiences are normal for grieving kids.

You might have wondered: will I ever get over this? There is no magic pill for grief. It’s not something you “get over.” A lot of people say grief is like a journey. Although it never ends, things do get better, and there are things you can do to smooth over the rough and rocky places along the way.

Every kid grieves differently. There are no right or wrong ways to grieve. There are, however, some helpful things and not-so-helpful things you can do while you’re grieving.

Information from the Dougy Center

"Getting Over It" vs. Reconciliation

We don't ever really "get over it" when we are dealing with grief. Grief is more like finding a balance between reconciling the feelings and emotions that come with grief and learning how to live in a new normal without the person or thing that you lost.
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The image above is taken from

Brain Function When Grieving (It's Like a Computer Processing!)


That Do All The Terms Mean?

Grief: Deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death

Sadness: the condition quality of being sad

Depression: feelings of severe despondency (a state of low spirits caused by loss of hope or courage) and dejection (a sad and depressed state, low spirits)

Trauma: a deeply distressing or disturbing experience

Mourning: The outward expression of deep sorrow.

Some Questions to Ask Yourself...

  1. Can I be dealing with all of these conditions?

  2. What emotions do I contend with when I feel and/or think about these conditions?

  3. What was the cause that leads me to feel and/or think about me dealing with these conditions?

Grief Emotions

The word Emotions has the word motion in it. There is movement in our emotions. We are meant to feel them.

Dr. Erica Sirrine

Emotion Wheel

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Try To Move Away From Focusing On The Cause To Addressing The Emotion From The Chart Above

Focusing and discussing the cause repeatedly heightens the negative effects (stunts the grieving process) potentially causing trauma

Emotional expression allows for introspection of the primary (anger, rage) and secondary (hurt, sadness, betrayal) emotion

What are the barriers to expressing secondary emotions?

The Stages of Grief (Kubler-Ross)

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The stages are in fluid steps (you can start at any stage and go back and forth between the stages until acceptance occurs) of the Kubler-Ross Grief model.

Any loss can result in potential grief (relationship ending, loss of a loved one, moving to a different area, etc) with degrees in intensity, and frequency being potentially different.

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Denial: failure to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion or to admit it into consciousness (state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings).

How am I avoiding expressing secondary emotions (hurt, sadness, pain)

When denial occurs what does that mean for me in dealing with my grief?

How do I get past this denial?

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Anger: a strong feeling of annoyance (cause discomfort), displeasure (feeling of disapproval), or hostility (unfriendliness or opposition)

Healthy versus unhealthy anger (rage, passive and covert)

How am I avoiding expressing secondary emotions?

What do I do with my anger?

How do I handle my anger:

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Bargaining: negotiate the terms and conditions of a transaction.

The ask and compromise effect:

  1. What am I asking for?

  2. Why am I asking for this?

  3. Who am I asking for?

  4. When do I want what I am asking for to happen?

  5. Where do I want what I am asking for to happen?

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Depression: feelings of severe despondency (state of low spirits caused by loss of hope or courage) and dejection (a sad and depressed state)

What do I have control over?

What do I not have control over?

Is this emotion normal?

Will it get better or easier?

If you think you are experiencing depression please reach out and tell a trusted adult.

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Acceptance: embracing the present including the positive and negative for the intent and purpose to shape the future

I have allowed myself to feel these emotions and understand why I had these emotions so what does this now mean?

What did I learn through my process about



A Grief Exercise

Try to write your story out. After you have it on paper you can try to define each stage from your perspective. After looking at what you have experienced, try to come up with your own definition of each phase.

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Continuing Bonds is an attempt to help maintain closeness/ proximity to the deceased.

  • How can you recall memories that you have with the deceased (photos, videos, yearbooks)
  • How can you engage in activities you once enjoyed with the deceased (cooking, playing sports)
  • Talking to or about the deceased (going to the cemetery, family gatherings, etc.)
  • Engaging in the memorialization of the deceased (wearing clothing of the person, listening to music that reminds you of them, etc.)

Assessment for continuing bonds: Loss severs a physical attachment, it does not sever an emotional attachment

Information from Erica Sirrine, Ph. D, LCSW, FT

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An example of continuing bonds might be to use someone's dishes that have passed away at the holidays.

Some Things You Might See In a Grieving Child...

Infancy - Age 2

  • Will sense a change in the environment
  • Will respond to change in schedule
  • Will sense emotional reaction of caregivers
  • change in sleep patterns
  • change in elimination patterns
  • increased irritability or crying

Toddlers and Preschoolers

  • Limited understanding of irreversibility
  • Short Attention Spans
  • Regressive Behaviors
  • Changes in eating and toilet patterns
  • Sleep disdurbances

Elementary School (ages 6-10)

  • Most understand irreversibility and causality
  • Sometimes view death in a violent scene.
  • May fear death is contagious
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Aggression, anger, or acting out

Late Elementary / Middle School (Ages 10-12)

  • Understand universality
  • Adolescent egocentrism begins
  • May view death as a punishment
  • May fear they will forget the person
  • May express concern about how death will impact them personally
  • May conceal emotions from peers, teachers, and caregivers

High School (ages 13-18+)

  • Understand Death on an adult level
  • Experiencing a major life transition prior to the death
  • Increased questions about sirituality
  • May assume family roles of deseased
  • Often conceal emotions
  • May lack peer support
  • Read the Bill of Rights for Grieving Teens - Dougy Center

How Should I Grieve?

Everyone grieves differently

  • One teen may want to talk about death
  • Another may choose to cry
  • One might write about their experiences in a journal or chat room
  • Some choose to express their grief in creative/artistic ways
  • Others are physical in their grief - participating in sports or other big energy activities
  • No one way is the right way to grieve - your way of grieving is right for you
  • The Dougy Center

Red Flag Behaviors

  • Clinical depression
  • Suicidal ideations
  • self-mutilation or self-harm
  • Excessive risk-taking/rebellion
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Drug/alcohol use or abuse
  • Illegal behavior
Above information about the different stages from Dr. Erica Sirrine

How do you prepare a child for a funeral?

  • Who, what, where, when, why

  • What are the rituals that will happen?

  • Keep in mind the developmental stages of the people grieving (explain to the child that people may be crying, that is a way that some people express sorrow and sadness).

  • Explain that they might see the body and that it will look and feel different. (because your brain has only seen grandpa when he was alive then it is really hard for your brain to believe that grandpa is not moving or breathing anymore).

  • Try to prepare them in advance for what they might see and feel.

  • Can the children participate in planning the funeral and different items (clothing, etc.)

Information from Dr. Erica Sirrine

Anticipatory Grief

  • Normalize the Dying Process
  • Use concrete terms
  • Provide death education and practical support (referrals to hospice and funeral planning)
  • Legacy journals/letters/videos/linking objects
  • Anticipatory grief retreats/support groups

Activities To Help You Process Your Thoughts While Grieving

Videos of Teens Sharing Their Stories

(2010) A Day in Myakka
(2012) If Only I Could Fix You
(2010) A Letter to Finn
Podcast of A Grieving Teenager - Grieving an Overdose

Click on this link to hear the podcast

Grieving The Loss Of A Best Friend

Click on this link to hear a podcast of a grieving teenager grieving the loss of a best friend.

The Bill of Rights of Grieving Teens: By The Dougy Center (

As grieving teens, we have the right to…

• Know the truth about the death, the person who died, and the circumstances surrounding the death
• Ask questions and have them answered honestly
• Be heard and listened to without receiving unsolicited advice
• Be silent and not share our thoughts and emotions out loud
• Disagree with your perceptions and conclusions
• See the person who died and the place where they died, if we choose to
• Grieve in our own ways – without hurting ourselves or others
• Feel all the feelings and to think all the thoughts of our own unique grief
• Not have to follow the “Stages of Grief” as outlined in a high school health book
• Be angry at death, the person who died, God, ourselves, and others
• Disagree with people who are insensitive especially those who spout clichés
• Have our own beliefs about life and death
• Be involved in the decisions about the rituals related to the death
• Have irrational guilt about what we could have done to prevent the death

This Bill of Rights was developed by participating teens at The Dougy Center and does not represent “official” policies of the Center.

Tips For Getting Through The Holidays

Click on this link for tips to help you get through the holidays from the Dougy Center

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Click on the Six Principles of Teen Grief Below For More Information

What is it like for teenagers when someone close to them dies? How do they respond to the death of a parent, a sibling, a relative, a friend?

In our work with teenagers at the Dougy Center, we’ve learned that teens respond better to adults who choose to be companions on the grief journey rather than direct it. We have also discovered that adult companions need to be aware of their own grief issues and journeys because their experiences and beliefs impact the way they relate to teens.

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What If You Need 24/7 Support?

National Alliance for Children's Grief

This resource has a comprehensive list of treatment centers, camps, and many other resources.

The Dougy Center

The Dougy Center is one of the best online resources we have ever discovered. Please refer to their website for resources, books, podcasts, videos, activities, etc.

Judi's House

Judi's house is a resource to help families navigate through grief.

Hope and Grief

Dr. Erica Sirrine is an amazing social worker that specializes in grief and loss. Check out her blog as a resource.