Dealing With Death

One in five teens will lose a loved one by age 18. Nothing can make the pain go away, but it is possible to feel better.

Sami lost her classmate.

I met Kat when she was a freshman and I was a sophomore. We spent lunches and off periods together and talked on the phone for hours outside of school. Then in May 2017, I received the worst news: Kat was in the hospital, and doctors didn’t know if she’d make it.

I couldn’t stop crying. There was nothing that I could do to help Kat, which made me feel awful. Then my mom showed me something she found online—it was a picture of rocks painted with inspirational messages. That’s when it clicked: I could do something for Kat.

I decorated about a dozen rocks with drawings and written prayers. Then I scattered the stones where people would see them, such as around our school and on hiking trails. Somebody found one and posted a picture to Facebook, which spread the word. Before we knew it, even people who didn’t know Kat were painting rocks for her.

Sadly, Kat passed away three weeks after being admitted to the hospital. Some of her other friends painted more rocks for her funeral, and we all took one with us.

It’s been over a year since I lost my friend. I still miss her so much, but the rock decorating project has been a source of comfort while I’ve grieved. It helps me feel better to know that I did something to remember Kat and spread love.” 

Keylon lost his aunt.

My aunt and I were really close. She lived with my grandmother, so I saw her all the time. When she was diagnosed with cancer, I thought that she’d pull through—it was impossible to imagine not having her in my life. I was so sad when the disease

worsened and she passed away a few months later. I didn’t want to talk about the death, even with friends. I was afraid that I’d break down and cry.

My grandmother thought it was unhealthy to keep my emotions trapped inside, so she suggested that I go to a weekend-long camp for kids who have lost a relative. I was hesitant. Talking about my aunt was the last thing I wanted to do. But then I found out that campers stay in cabins on a lake and have bonfires and scavenger hunts. I’ll admit that was what got me to go: I went to have fun.

The camp was fun—we had pool parties and a movie night—but even better, it taught me how to manage my emotions. The counselors explained that it’s important not to suppress your sadness. There was one activity that really stood out:
We blew up balloons as full as we could to represent what it’s like to keep emotions bottled up; some balloons popped. Then we came up with ideas of ways to feel better, like journaling or taking a walk. With each suggestion, we let a little air out of the balloons.

The camp also gave me the chance to meet other kids who’d lost someone close to them. I finally had friends who I could talk to about my aunt’s death. The discussions we had weren’t always easy, but they made me realize that it’s OK to be sad, cry, and let it all out.

The weekend flew by. Now I meet up monthly with the same group of kids and counselors to hang out. If I’m upset, I use these reunions as a chance to talk about my feelings, and I always leave our conversations feeling a little lighter.” 

Hannah lost her brother.

Even though he was nine years older, my brother Ryan and I were best friends. He enlisted in the Army when I was 13. I remember that he gave me a little wave from the bus as he rode off to boot camp. I cried all the way home.

In May of 2015, we received a call from Ryan’s wife. She told us that Ryan had been killed on base. I was devastated, and my anxiety made his death that much more difficult to deal with. I didn’t go to school for a week and became angry, often fighting with my dad. Ryan had always been the family peacemaker, and I missed having him there to make things better. My doctor ended up increasing the dosage of my anxiety medication. That relaxed me enough to be able to go back to school, but it didn’t make dealing with my brother’s death any easier. 

Over the next year, I slowly took steps to deal with the grief and depression, such as exercising and talking to my teacher when I was feeling down. I also saw my first Field of Honor, where hundreds of flags are put on display to pay tribute to those who served our country. It was mesmerizing, and it gave me the idea to organize my own Field of Honor to memorialize Ryan and other military members while also raising money for charity.

The project was a lot of work. I had to get permission from the mayor and spread the word so that people would purchase flags to display, but it was worth the effort. We raised over $5,000 for a local food pantry.

On the last day that the flags were up, I made a speech during a short ceremony. Afterward, people came up to me with tears in their eyes, saying that my brother would have been proud.

I still miss Ryan every day, but being able to honor him while helping others lifted my spirits. And you know what? He would have been proud of me.” 

Austin lost his best friend.

Noah and I were like brothers: We had the same interests, such as riding dirt bikes and going to drag races, and we worked together on a farm. Noah also talked me into showing steer, which he was really good at. His goal was to take home a grand champion win— the biggest honor—at the 2017 Ohio State Fair.

About three months before the fair, Noah got into an accident while riding his tractor. He died that same day. I was in shock. I had just talked to him a few hours earlier. How could he be gone?

Those next few weeks were tough, especially at the farm. Noah and I had done everything together, from checking the cows to making hay, and each task made me think of him. But there was one thing that helped: After speaking with Noah’s dad, I decided to make Noah’s grand champion goal come true by showing the steer myself. Busying myself with preparations for the fair distracted me from my grief. Show steers are high maintenance, and although taking care of them took up a lot of my time, it also became a comfort.

The day of the state fair, I wore a purple shirt, which had been Noah’s signature outfit. Throughout the entire event, I felt like Noah was right there with me. His steer didn’t win, but I didn’t let that get me down. I showed the steer again a few days later at a county fair and we did it—Noah’s steer was picked as grand champion!

A week later, I bought my own steer to show. Filling my days with an activity that Noah and I loved to do together makes me happy and keeps his spirit alive.” 

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