Yesterday, our governor announced the continued closing of all Ohio schools for the rest of the school year. Many of us were hoping for a different outcome, but here it is and now we have no choice but to accept this decision and grow from it. But where do we start and how do we help our teens make sense of this loss?
We start with us. We can't help them until we first dive into exactly how we feel about this. I'm going to be honest. I'm angry. You may disagree with my anger, and that's okay. I'm allowed to be angry. I need to feel it. I need to recognize it and I need to figure out what's under it. Anger is always just a smoke screen.
For me, my anger always comes back to being heard. Someone didn't let me have a vote. Someone didn't see me. Someone ignored me. Someone made a choice that would change my circumstances. It conjures up feelings I am all too familiar with. Feelings I often continue to run from. Feelings of helplessness.
If you've ever burnt something and filled the house with smoke, what's the first thing you try to do (after you wildly swat at the smoke detector with a towel or take out its batteries?) You try to open a window or a door. You need to get air circulating, so new air can flow in and the smokey air can flow out. Imagine your feelings being the same way. They are little toasted and overcooked. You let them sit too long. Time to let the old ones out to clear the path for some fresh air.
So, open a window to your soul and sit back and let the smoke dissipate (after you've disconnected the smoke alarm of course). No need to do anything at this moment. Just let it be. Recognize it for what it is. Acknowledge the feelings. See them. Stop running from them. Don't eat a cookie to appease them. Don't watch TV (especially the news), or scroll thru social media posts to escape them. Don't DO whatever it is you DO that lets you stop feeling them. Feelings are here to teach you something. They want your attention. Give it to them now, so they don't surge back up on you when you least expect it (usually when they will make no sense).
If you want to help clear the smoke faster, you could always turn on some fans. There are things we can do to help speed up the process. For me, it's writing. I need to vomit it out of my system. Writing or journaling is a beautiful means to get your feelings out of your body and onto paper (or a computer screen). It's like downloading data onto a USB drive so you can safely put it aside and free up some much needed space. You don't have to make it public, but you do have to find a way to release it. If writing isn't your thing, then what is? Identify whatever works for you.
Another tool I use to clear the smoke are good old fashioned tears. That's right, cry about it. I find every tear to be golden. Men especially are taught it's not okay to cry. Well, that's a pile of bull crap. It is okay to cry! Every time you do, it's like you pushed the button on a pressure cooker and let out some steam. If you don't, that pressure cooker is likely to explode one day, which results in a lot of people getting hurt. Men and women alike, need to be able to express their grief, and not be shamed for it.
While you are doing all this, give your teen all the same opportunities. Talk about it. How do they feel? Are they battling anger or sadness or both? Anger tends to be blame oriented - someone else is controlling me and I do not like them as a result. On the other hand, sadness turns inward - someone else is controlling me and I must have did something to deserve this. Either one can make your teen feel out of control and powerless. This may not seem like a big deal now, but if we learn early to start recognizing these feelings, it will help them become much more well rounded adults.
Here's some very important rules to follow as you and your senior navigate thru the every stage of grief.
1) Recognize all the losses, no matter how small. Everyone is going to have similar losses, but yet different, and that's okay. There's no wrong answer in identifying what was important to you, or what you were looking forward to.
You want to hear one of mine? It's his last choir concert. For years, I have watched all the seniors grab roses and head into the audience to find their moms. I would cry for them, knowing one day it would be me. The day would come when my baby would hand me that rose, and my last moment would arrive. I was dreading it, yet looking forward to it also, a weird conundrum. In any case, I wanted that last moment with my baby. I wanted to be there. I wanted to live it. I wanted to feel it. I wanted to hold onto him and cry, even it was for only 30 seconds. It was moment I was waiting for and a moment I will now never experience.
2) Behind every loss is a feeling. It may be clouded in anger, or despair, but recognize that behind the smoke, is something bigger. Try to dig deeper and get to the roots. It's personal and different for everyone. For me, it's being robbed of moments I yearned for, of not being heard or able to protect my son. For him, it's disappointment, a feeling that life just keeps pushing him down.
3) Validate whatever you have identified. Don't trivialize it or make it unimportant. It is important to you. It is important to your teen. Ignore the people who don't allow you to sit in that space. People tend to hide behind a screen and attack people too easily thru social media tools. That's not fair. It's also not personal. Behind every attack is a hurting and fearful person grieving something of their own. They may not be able to recognize it, but they are simply striking out at anything they can, like a cobra protecting itself.
Loss and grief is a very individualized and personal process. Don't let anyone make you feel that what you are feeling is not important, or minor in the light of things. Shame doesn't belong here, not now, not ever. You and your teen are allowed to feel whatever this brings up, without being shamed.
4) Now that you've both spent time recognizing, feeling and validating your hopes, expectations and grief, see if you can't find ways to put all this into a prettier frame.
What can't be saved and needs fully grieved? What can be saved and recreated? Can you have a mock mini prom in your backyard? Can you recreate any last moments in your living room? Can you bring some of those lost memories to life at their graduation party? They may not be exactly what they expected, but they show your child just how much you care and respect their feelings. It also teaches them resilience. It teaches them that in the face of adversity, we decided to get out our lemon squeezer and turn those sour lemons into a different, but still delicious pitcher of lemonade.
Finally, when our teens were being brought into this world, our country was in the middle of readjusting from 9/11. It was a shift of huge proportions and ironically, but not coincidentally, here we are again. However, this shift feels even bigger, which leads me to believe that God must have some amazing plans for our children.
This is one special generation. God has been teaching them resilience and flexibility from the start. Yes, this is big loss. Yes, we need to recognize that. We need to feel it and we need to grieve it, but, I also believe, with all my heart, that our children have been tagged for something greater than we can imagine. Behind every amazing person, every person who has changed history, every person who has overcome, is a story of triumph. Our kids are being prepped for something big, and somehow, simply by changing the frame, the picture somehow looks better, maybe not today, but it will...
Angela Miller is an an RN and Professional Life Coach passionately pursuing her purpose to help others remember who they are and how to become their best self. For more information, visit www.soaringforward.com.