“The Grieving Teen”

Experiencing the death of someone is always a tough time in a person’s life. Teenagers, oft touted as thinking they are invincible, and unshaped by life, have special struggles that tend to be overlooked, written off as adolescent angst. But death does have an impact on this cohort. With the twin tragedies of September 11 and the overseas wars on top of all the other circumstances of death, this issue seems timely and relevant. Author Helen Fitzgerald has written “The Grieving Teen”, which is a handbook for both grieving teens and those who are concerned about them.

Fitzgerald comes to this topic as a wounded healer. During her first marriage, the author’s husband suffered a serious illness and died, leaving her as a widow with teen-aged children. The author came to the conclusion, after some time, that she mishandled her children’s suffering at the loss of their father. She gives an honest assessment of what she feels her mistakes were in this situation before getting into the practical information in the heart of the book.

Most of the book comprises of practical information with anecdotes to fill in as examples. What to do about emotions, answering questions about feeling normal, and how to handle homework assignments are some of the topics. How to handle especially tragic deaths such as murder or suicide are also covered, and what a teenager should do to cope with funerals and other things in the aftermath of death are addressed as well. Fitzerald’s suggestions seem to work the best if adults and other people in the teen’s life are willing to work with the adolescent and respect his or her wishes. If the teen has no support network or a severely dysfunctional one, I am not sure how well these suggestions will work.

I found Fitzgerald’s voice in this book to be warm and compassionate. Written in 2000, it predates September 11 and the wars, but she does make reference to mass tragedies such as Columbine and how they affect teens. My only main complaint with this book is that the author seemed to gloss over complicated mourning. Other than a quick reference to how families might be affected by drugs or alcohol, she seems to not mention what happens to a teen whose abusive parent or other relative dies, or how grief might affect teenagers who have been neglected in favor of a second family far away. As a person affected by complicated mourning in this era of life, I would have liked to see more of that information.

But as a general guide, this book could certainly help, especially to those outside of the grieving teen. It’s good a book like this exists: not all teenagers are moody because they are spoiled. It’s a book that reminds the reader that teenagers are people like everyone else, and how compassion is in order when they suffer a loss, just like it would be for anyone else.