For one 16-year-old in Florida, going to the movies with her father was a favorite pastime – and not because they always saw great films. “We could both say it was awful,” she says, “it was more like, okay, we got to spend time with each other.” Since his passing from COVID-19, going to the movies has been just one experience where her father’s absence is acutely felt. He was also a mechanic and, after he passed away, it seemed like everything started breaking. The young woman shares how, in the beginning, “I didn’t know if I was doing anything right. Like I was like, ‘am I okay?’ Because it was weird. It didn’t feel normal.”
Since her father’s death, one-on-one therapy has proven helpful in navigating the world without him as it provides a setting to talk about whatever is on her mind. Mentorship from trusted teachers at school who she had a rapport with before her father’s passing also provides a safe space and supportive environment. Of one teacher, she says, “I see her every morning. One morning, I came into her room just about to cry. And she’s like, ‘You’re okay. You’re fine.’ Like almost like a guidance counselor, but also like an advisor.”
At school, the 16-year-old also finds support amongst her peers, especially the friends she has made through an agricultural program for youth. “I have a really, really good group of friends and I didn’t really notice this until after he passed,” she recounts. “I have a few people in [the program] that I consider like brothers and sisters.”
Even with the support of good friends, she wishes she could connect with more youth who relate to her experience. “My one friend,” she explains, “she’s really understanding but she doesn’t understand … You can’t understand the situation if you haven’t gone through it.” It can be difficult when no one really knows what to say to her except, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Alternatively, sometimes people who mean well can become overbearing. The young woman advises: “Be supportive, but also, just for me, don’t hover on it.”
In an attempt to find more peer support among those going through a similar experience, she has attended a grief support group for children and teenagers. However, she found the meetings either geared heavily toward younger children or the virtual meeting for teenagers was not at a time she was able to attend. She thinks it could be helpful to explore connecting teens through social media instead.
To other youth experiencing the loss of a parent or caregiver, she encourages: “It will get better. I’m still pretty early into it, but I’ve found things that make me happy, like hanging out with friends or family and just finding different outlets, but then still also talking about it and still getting help when I need it.”