Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Adolescent Unresolved Grief in Response to the Death of a Mother

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Adolescent Unresolved Grief in Response to the Death of a Mother

Article excerpt

The grief processes of young children and adults have been studied in depth. However, adolescent bereavement, particularly in response to the death of a parent, is an area of limited research (Clark, Pynoos, & Goebel, 1996; Garber, 1995; Harris, 1991; Kandt, 1994; Meshot & Leitner, 1993). Elisabeth KUbler-Ross (1969) in her book, On Death and Dying, referred to adolescent grievers as the "forgotten ones." Researchers and professionals alike often group adolescents with children and assume that the mourning experiences of adolescents are similar to those of younger children (Gray, 1987). Similarly, bereaved adolescents are classified with adults, assuming that adolescent grief is merely a less intense form of adult grief (Clark et al., 1996; Kandt, 1994). Adolescents are a distinct group with very specific developmental needs that complicate the normal grieving processes.

To further complicate matters, many adolescents who have experienced the death of a significant otherwhether a friend, sibling, or parent-respond to the loss by inhibiting their grief (Harris, 1991). Adolescents' reluctance or inability to grieve expressively often contributes to the lack of response by adults to adolescents in the aftermath of a significant loss. Parents, teachers, and mental health professionals may assume that, since adolescents do not appear to be distressed, they are adjusting to the death without difficulty. However, the more composed adolescents appear, the greater their risk may be to experiencing a complicated grief known as unresolved grief.

Unresolved grief occurs "when the grief process is prolonged, obstructed, intensified, or delayed" (Meshot & Leitner, 1993, p. 295). Adolescents who refuse to engage or are incapable of engaging in the mourning process may be vulnerable for unresolved grief, which could interfere with the recovery process. Adolescents, as a result, may be unable to resume relationships with significant others and may find it difficult to again feel pleasure (Meshot & Leitner, 1993). Resolution of grief occurs when adolescents come to accept their grief and can move beyond that grief to again enjoy life, work, friendship, and love. Those who can not resolve their grief may be at risk for depression, physical illness, and increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse (Keitel, Kopala & Robin, 1998; Raphael, 1983; Zisook & DeVaul, 1985).

A loss that has the potential to be traumatic for an adolescent is the loss of a parent, particularly a mother. This article explores developmental factors and gender differences in the grief responses of adolescents who experience maternal death and presents professional counselors with factors that place adolescent daughters at increased risk for complicated grief reactions to a mother's death. School counselors who are aware of the implications of such events can provide bereaved students with valuable opportunities and services to express and explore what may be overwhelming grief and begin the transition to a healthy adaptation and recovery. Recommendations and strategies for schoolbased services are included.

Parental Death and Adolescent Grief Research

Limited research has been conducted in the area of adolescent grief reactions, particularly to the death of a parent (Harris, 1991; Keitel et al., 1998; Meshot & Leitner, 1993). One reason for this is that the process of adolescent mourning is complex; adolescence is inherently a time of loss, as adolescents relinquish childhood and their idealized conceptions of parents. Researchers often feel unable to differentiate the characteristics of grief over the death of a significant person from the developmental grief that typically characterizes normal adolescent development (Garber, 1995; Keitel et al., 1998).

Consequently, few researchers attempt to study this population. Another explanation for the lack of research on adolescent mourning has been the long-held belief that adolescents are developmentally unable to grieve (Clark et al. …

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