Rituals and Commemorative Activities with a Grieving Teenager
By Tom McLeod
Rituals are an important part of human life regardless of one’s age and life experience. When the death of a loved one occurs, adults are faced with difficult choices about whether to include younger family members in such death rituals as funerals, memorial services and cemetery visits. The following suggestions may make these decisions a little less burdensome.
Allow a teenager to set his or her own limits regarding attendance at such rituals as a funeral or memorial service. It is important, however, to understand the reasons a teen may have for not wanting to attend, so any fears or questions can be addressed. If teens decide to attend a funeral or memorial service, prepare them for what will happen. Describe the events in detail—what they will see, how other people might react, etc. This can help allay anxieties about the event. Let teens know that it’s OK to cry and also OK not to feel like crying.
At the ritual, allow the teen to say goodbye in his or her own way. The teen might want to bring a special gift to lay in the casket or say goodbye to the deceased. Appropriate attention and affection from adults may be necessary so that the teen does not feel forgotten or neglected. But remember not to embarrass the teen in front of his or her peer group.
Never force anyone to view or touch a body. As with adults, teens should be given the choice and then have that choice respected. If they are going to view the body, it is helpful to describe in advance how the body might look. For some teens, touching the body may satisfy their curiosity, be a way of saying goodbye or be an expression of love.
Visits to the cemetery can be helpful. The visits might be a way of saying goodbye or of satisfying natural curiosity. Allow teens to ask questions. Placing flowers on the grave or bringing a special gift or memory item may be helpful.
Some teens may find it helpful to write a letter to the deceased or to express their feelings in art or poetry.
Another suggestion is to plant a tree or flowers in memory of the teens’ loved one. The birthday and death anniversary of the loved one could be acknowledged by developing some ritual or having a moment of remembrance.