Supporting Youth after a Tragic Loss

Supporting Youth after a Tragic Loss

I have to be honest with you. I am weary from writing blogs about losing young people.Tragedy wears us all down. St. Albert Public Schools lost two young people in the past couple of weeks, in different ways, though equally tragic. My heart goes out to Zach and Luke’s families. The only thing I know to do with these feelings is to reach out to my community to offer support. I think the current context of our pandemic is taking its toll on all of us. My private practice is busier than ever and filled with teens that are struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma and grief. Not everything is pandemic-related but even if it isn’t, our youth aren’t able to connect and cope in the ways that they normally would regardless of the causes of their stress. Our youth are struggling and these recent losses in our community have potential to be the breaking point for some. Here is the best advice I can give you for talking to your young people about loss. It was adapted from one of my earlier posts a few years ago after young Darian Mar died in an accident. 1. Talk to your kids. If a tragedy happens in a community, then the whole community grieves. Regardless of the age of your child, they will likely be exposed to this event in one way or another if they are a part of this community. Even if your child does not know these families or children directly, the school, sports teams and anyone connected directly or indirectly are likely to have a reaction. It...
The Grieving Helper

The Grieving Helper

I haven’t blogged in a long time. The reason being is that I really struggled to find anything productive to say. It is hard when you are fighting your own inner battles to focus on things like writing. Every time I sat down to write I felt like a fraud and a hypocrite. Anything I wrote seemed glib and flat. Mostly I have been just putting one foot in front of the other trying to survive. There isn’t anything particularly inspirational about that. You see over the past year and a half I have been struggling with my own loss. My father died in November of cancer. He was diagnosed early and doctors were able to buy us a precious year and a half before the inevitable came.  That last year was an invaluable gift. We talked, we traveled and he helped tie up loose ends. His battle was brutal but not as brutal as some. While the struggle was long, the end came quick. I struggle to share this with you. Professionally there is only so much value in sharing my personal life. While my blog is personal in nature I try to walk a line between oversharing and being too clinical. While I was in the middle of the chaos the lines were blurred. Was I sharing for my own therapy or to help others?  It felt safer personally and professionally to remain quiet so I did. Also it didn’t always feel like my story to tell. My family members have a right to their privacy. My Dad was a private man and really didn’t want anyone...
Surviving Disaster: For the Survivors

Surviving Disaster: For the Survivors

As I watch from the safety of my home, I see images of my northern neighbours fleeing from the flames that threaten their homes, work and lives. It is a living nightmare. I can’t help but imagine what it would be like to have to pack up my family, pets, and all that I have worked for in a matter of minutes.  I can’t even begin to get my head around that. I have worked with people in crisis my whole career. Still the enormity of this crisis is unprecedented for me. Like many Albertans, I can only offer what I have to give and I offer it up willingly. Over the next couple of days I will write a series of blog posts on living through crisis in the hope that it will provide some guidance and reassurance to those it reaches. Here are some survival tips for the survivors: 1. Take care of the first thing first. In a crisis it is almost impossible to know where to start. Right now there is so much to do and so little ability to do anything. If you have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, this is the time to use it.  Basically Maslow said that you need to deal with the basics of human functioning like food, shelter and water before you can even begin to deal with the bigger picture stuff like future planning, emotional release and recovery.  So make sure you have food and water. It is easy to get overwhelmed and forget to eat and drink but your body cannot function well unless it has the...
Surviving Disaster: For the Children

Surviving Disaster: For the Children

It is easy in the middle of chaos to become obsessed with the details and the talk of grown ups. After all there are important decisions to be made and critical choices to discuss. Most of these things are not appropriate for younger ears. It can needlessly worry and overwhelm them. Because we want to protect our kids from the big things, it is easy to forget to make sure that we also prioritize talking to them. When I think of the ongoing crisis happening in Fort McMurray, I think about the parents and how they are trying to help their children cope with the unimaginable. For what it’s worth, here are some tips I’ve learned through working with families in crisis on how to deal with kids in the middle of a disaster. 1. Talk to your kids. Remember everything to a child is big in a crisis.  This includes things as small as their favorite to toy to as big as their pets. Also the loss of routine, consistency and sense of safety will have big impacts. Here are some tips about talking with kids about a crisis: Speak to them directly. Don’t expect kids to pick up information from what is happening around them. They need to hear it from ideally their primary caregivers. They need to have the space and comfort to ask questions with your full attention. Be honest and factual.  Children and teens need to know they can come to you for the real answers and that you will tell them the truth. If you avoid talking about what happened, make up or gloss...