Confronting death

Death is a subject that is not usually discussed. Also, dealing with one's death can raise many questions for which there are no obvious answers. Serious illness and the loss of a loved one can be very difficult. Everyone experiences loss or the threat of death from illness or other factors in their own way. It is important for young people to know that grief is normal, that it is legitimate and that it can take time.

Confronting death for a young person

Death and loss in the lives of young people can manifest in many ways. It can be the loss of a pet or the loss of a loved one, whether it be a friend or family member. Facing death is a situation that can also occur when young people are faced with illness. They or someone close to them may find themselves fighting an illness.

Death raises many questions for young people that are not easy to find answers to. First, because of the sense of injustice that death or the imminence of death brings. And secondly, because in today's society, the mourning process and funeral rituals still take place behind walls. They remain more or less invisible, because they happen in great discretion. Youth are therefore unfamiliar with the process and can easily feel lost or overwhelmed.

Sometimes young people feel alone in facing death or mourning. And sometimes, some feel that they are expected to grieve quickly. However, grief is not an event that can be put behind us. It is part of all the trials that a person goes through and that make up the person.

In some countries, death and mourning are more visible. For example, el Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico is celebrated by the entire population. Every year, it is a real national holiday that commemorates the memory of the deceased with joy and music. In fact, since 2008, Día de los Muertos has been recognized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). From this tradition, we have inherited the celebration of Halloween in Canada.

Behaviors of young people facing death

Facing death is a painful situation that marks the life of a young person. Grief manifests itself in different ways for different people. They may feel overwhelmed by emotions that vary from day to day, and even from hour to hour.

Moreover, feelings and behaviors can sometimes get out of hand and it becomes difficult to function normally. For example, when bouts of sadness occur at times when they are unexpected. Or when grief or anger overwhelms us, and strong conflicting emotions overwhelm us. Or even when our feelings are so powerful that we feel paralyzed.

Youth can experience a plethora of reactions when faced with the loss of a loved one. They can include :

  • Acceptance: the person accepts the loss of the loved one and is able to talk about it. They learn to live with the loss and are able to move on with their lives.
  • Sadness: the young person feels a deep sadness that is not always equal at different times of the day. When sadness is shared, facing death becomes a constructive and healing process.
  • Anger: Young people may feel deep anger due to a sense of injustice. This anger or irritability may be directed at others and at themselves.
  • Avoidance or denial: The person is so shocked by the loss of a loved one they cannot face death. Young people may avoid talking about it and fill their free time as much as possible to avoid thinking about it.
  • Guilt: Sometimes young people feel responsible for the situation. They imagine that their behavior or choices have had an influence, when this is never the case.
  • Anxiety: Death may come unexpectedly and is often a reminder of the uncertainty of the world. Therefore, it can generate anxiety and fears about other people dying or about dying oneself.
  • Difficulties functioning: Grief, misunderstanding and other overwhelming feelings can lead to changes in behavior. Youth may have difficulty keeping up with school and engaging in family life activities. In the most difficult situations, they may engage in risky behaviors such as using alcohol or drugs.

Some ways to help youth face death more serenely

How do we make the unacceptable more acceptable? Talking about feelings and loss is not always easy, but it helps to remove the stigma around talking about loss and grief. Talking with people you trust is also a great way to break the isolation. Some young people may not dare to talk about it for fear of breaking a taboo.

As a parent or friend, you can bring up the subject of loss with the young person from time to time to remind them that you are there to listen. This also prevents the silence around grief from being perceived as taboo.

If you have lost a loved one or a pet, it is also possible to pay tribute in your own way. You know best what will help you in your grieving process. It is possible to draw on traditions from here and elsewhere. For example, some people sing, others plant a tree. In many cultures, taking the time to remember good memories and lighting a candle brings comfort.

In any case, taking time to care for yourself is a healthy way to deal with death. Bereavement and serious illness are difficult at any age.

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LOVE supports youth to thrive through programs and healthy relationships that build emotional intelligence and help overcome the challenges they face. Our participants emerge from LOVE’s programs with greater resilience, heightened skills, and the confidence to be inspirational leaders.