Support youth mourning their missed milestones

Special to Western News

Grief is not only about mourning someone’s death. It can also be about mourning the loss of expectations, celebrations and friendships.

Editor’s note: Visit the official Western COVID-19 website for the latest campus updates.

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Kids and teens are saying virtual farewells to each other and to milestones in their lives: track-and-field days, overnight Grade 8 trips, final band concerts, year-end pool parties, proms, commencements.

Children might be sad or angry about these might-have-beens and never-dids that COVID-19 stole away – and parents simply need to understand that is a reasonable response to loss, says King’s University College professor Carrie Arnold.

Grief is not only about mourning someone’s death, she stressed. It’s also about mourning the loss of expectations, celebrations and friendships.

“They’re really aware of what they’re missing out on – their sports teams and playoffs, their peers, their classes, celebrations, music festivals. They really are missing out on a lot and it’s important to help them name that, ‘Yes, you are grieving.’”

That grief may emerge as teary episodes or withdrawal – or even angry outbursts that, to a teen, may feel easier to express than their fear of the future.

“Our job as adults and parents is to really give them voice for this, help them to normalize the losses and, at the same time, give them some tools that they can use to cope.”

Marking some of the milestones in some modified way is still possible, and even healthy, she said.

“What we call it in grief literature is having a ‘good goodbye.’ So, yes, it’s sad. But how do you reframe that? The three things I say to students are, first, be creative; second, connect with people who you want to connect with; and third, be sure to celebrate, whatever that looks like.”

In an Instagram post addressed to university students, she suggests some options:

  • Get dressed up and have a Zoom party with classmates, complete with the celebratory food and drink you’d otherwise have planned;
  • Send an email or thank-you note to people who made a difference during the year, and say farewell;
  • Invite a faculty member or staff member for a virtual coffee.

Adults should not be dismissive of their children’s feelings in the face of today’s uncertainties and upheaval.  They should offer reassurances that in all likelihood kids will emerge OK – emotionally, medically, academically and socially.

It’s a key time when youngsters can grow more resilient, Arnold said. “People have had to live through wars and flu epidemics and this is our generational piece that we are dealing with. What learning do we take from that?

“I’m hoping – fingers crossed, and maybe this is delusional on my part – we come out of this kinder. I hope we come out of this more grounded and more willing to help each other out and more connected. I hope we’re more willing to put our screens and phones down and really connect with other people. It might be very idealistic, but this is a chance for our kids to learn some of those skills.”