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.”

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This is not the typical end to a school year. It can be really unsettling and bring many challenges within school, work, and family. Dr. Carrie Arnold shares how to cope and how to have a "good goodbye" #carryonkings #igotokings ⁣ ⁣ “Hi, my name is Dr. Carrie Arnold and I teach in the Thanatology program which is the study of death, dying, grief and loss. Many of us think that we only experience grief after someone dies yet we can also have a grief response to non-death losses, such as the loss of a job, health, or the end of a relationship. ⁣ ⁣ The ending of this school year is so very different than what we had all hoped for and with that can come some real feelings of anger or confusion or sadness or just a sense that this really isn't fair along with a sense of anxiety and uncertainty. Please know that that's a really typical response to what we're all going through at this time and reach out to us if you feel that we can be of help. ⁣ ⁣ For graduating students you're not having the chance at this time to have the farewell or the celebration that you might have hoped for. So in response to that we thought we'd share a few ideas with you. If you want you can get dressed up and have a zoom party with your classmates and celebrate. If there are people who really made a difference in your university experience you're welcome to send them an email and let them know what that was like for you and have your own experience to say farewell. If you and your classmates want to invite a faculty member, a staff member, or any other person on campus who's made your experience memorable, invite us for virtual coffee. We're happy to come and celebrate all of your achievements. What we call this is having a "good goodbye." ⁣ ⁣ So as you find a way to say farewell to your university experience be creative, connect with us, and be sure to celebrate. For students who are returning in the fall, we look forward to connecting with you. For graduating students, congratulations. We are so incredibly proud of you. Well done!"

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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.”