How to talk about grief with teens - Ask them if they've seen a thestral

 

Do you wonder about how to talk to teens about grief?

Wish you knew what was going on in their heads? 

My recommendation? 

Ask them if they've seen a thestral. 

This fall I spoke with over 300 high schoolers in Minnesota about death and grief. While my story is one of sudden trauma, it's not everyone's story. If, by chance, in your story your experience of loss means you've seen death, your answer to the question: have you seen a thestral? is yes. 

Celebrated Author of the Harry Potter series J.K. Rowling has created an international phenomenon, yes about witches and wizards, but also about life and death. 

In the fifth book, Hagrid, the Care of Magical Creatures professor, brings students to see magical creatures called thestrals. The trick is you can only see a thestral if you've seen death. So, when Hagrid asks the students how many people can see a thestral, Harry, Neville, and Luna are the only students who raise their hand. 

Ask any high schooler and you'll probably hear that being singled out is one of the last things a teen wants to be. 

For so many teens, and in conventional approaches to grief, having an experience of death feels like you've been singled out. Your experience makes you different from everyone else (and most of the time the solutions offered to teens to support their grieving process take them out of class, or in a special grief group that singles them out even more).

On top of that, if the loss a teen is experienced is also one your community experienced, it doesn't take long for people to start talking about who was closer to the person and use that perceived level of closeness as reason for who gets to be most affected by a death.

Your feelings are your feelings. The relationship you had to someone is what it was. There is no justification needed for how you react to losing something in your life. 

No matter what age, you know what it feels like when the ground is shaking, or when you are walking on broken glass, or when something you love has been taken from you. And even if the loss in your life looks different than the loss in my life or in Harry's life, what we can know, without a doubt is that where this loss is ...there is love. 

So when you want to talk to a teen about someone they've lost - sure, use pop culture references to books or tv shows they care about - but more importantly, ask them about what they loved. 

This is where healing begins. 

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