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Helping Son with Grief Process
Q: My son is almost 14. Two years ago, his best friend from school died of leukemia. My son still hasn't adjusted to this. He lost it in school last week, to the point that the school called me. He was uncontrollable.
What can I do to help him through his grieving process? He will not talk much, but I do know he feels he did not do enough for his friend. His school gave him no grief counseling; in fact, when he started crying, he was told to go sit in the closet until he was over it.
A: Your son is in desperate need of dealing with and moving through his deep sense of guilt and loss regarding, respectively, his best friend's dying and death. I'm not surprised that he is still having great difficulty adjusting to his best friend's death. We don't just get over loved ones' deaths in a prescribed amount of time. We learn how to live with the pain and profound sense of loss that we carry as a result of moving through predictable stages of grief.
Your son was never afforded an opportunity or the level of support needed to go through the necessary emotional transitions that accompany a healthy adjustment to such a horrible event. He also hasn't been able to forgive himself for not doing enough for his dying buddy. In his mind, I'm sure he believes that his perceived lack of support for his friend made his friend's dying more painful. Your son has most probably been depressed for some time and has been in need of professional therapy. His school's lack of grief counseling was unfortunate and insensitive, but his teacher's comments to "go sit in the closet until he was over it" were inexcusable and cruel.
You need to see to it that your boy gets some skilled, compassionate therapy right now. He is showing everybody that he is still too overwhelmed by his best friend's death to function in a healthy and productive manner. Search for therapists who have counseled boys your son's age on similar issues of grief and loss of a friend. He has shown you that he cannot and most probably will not get better on his own. Dealing with the normal roller-coaster emotions of a teen his age is difficult as it is. His additional burden of intense sorrow and guilt has made the emotional load too much to bear. I know that you'll get your son the professional help that he needs.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.