41 years-ago today I said goodbye to my father. He was home recovering from surgery when another medical emergency arose on a Saturday afternoon. As my mother prepared to rush him to the emergency room, he told me goodbye. And, that was the last time I spoke to my father. He died the next day.
People were kind to our family in the immediate aftermath of such an unexpected event. My father’s colleagues from all over the country flew into Lubbock for his funeral. Neighbors reached out. A minister who knew my brother-in-law treated my family like he had known us for decades. He officiated at my father’s funeral. You would have thought he had known my dad well, but in reality, he had never met him.
Spring Break began the week after the funeral. I had a reprieve from school to get myself together. My 16th birthday rolled the following May. And as normal routines resumed, I became a confused and very angry teenager. I later learned that anger is one of the stages of grief. But, I am not convinced that is a sufficient explanation.
Adolescents don’t know where to “put” grief. Perhaps, they have learned how to do deal with the breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend. They have no doubt experienced conflict in friendships, but there is usually not a frame of reference for grief. They are not equipped to work through the grieving process unguided.
Where does a teenager place grief? It seems to like it’s commonly saved in the “anger” file. 16-year-old boys don’t cry. They are not going to tell you that their world has been turned upside down. Every single day they are observing their mother grieve, and that is indescribably painful. But, who are they are going to reveal that experience to? There is no male at home to usher them into the experience of manhood. They have lots of unanswered questions, but such inquiries are seldom verbalized. All of that pain is bottled up, and it slowly releases pressure in the form of anger. I spent a good 4 years angry at the world.
Is there a better way? Can such extreme anger that is triggered by grief be defused? I don’t think the grieving process itself should be circumvented, but I do think it should be guided by caring adults. Here is a grieving wish list. Here are the resources I wish I could have had in 1978.
I Wish I Could Have Had __________ 41 Years Ago
- I wish one adult would have reached out to me with a listening and understanding ear in a consistent manner. This is a major commitment, but it would have made a huge difference.
- It wish I had met an adult who had experienced the loss of a parent. It would have been good to have at least one conversation with such an individual. That would have been helpful.
- I wish one man would have taken me hunting, fishing, or golfing on a regular basis. This was done on a couple of occasions, but consistency would have been really healing.
- I wish there had been a man to call me out on my bad behavior. (My friend’s Scott’s dad really did help in this department!)
Do you know an angry teenager right now? That person could very well be grieving over some major loss. I wonder what their wish list will look 41 years from now? Perhaps you are the answer to the prayers they don’t even know how to articulate…