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School violence

My friend died and I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye

Madge Alberts, Program Coordinator — Children, Youth and Family Consortium

Revised 2005 by author; reviewed March 2015 by Judy Myers, Extension Educator — Children, Youth and Family Consortium.

There are very few things in life that are harder to face than the sudden death of someone you care about. Whether it's a friend, a sibling, or even someone you just sort of know, the loss of their life can make you feel like you have an enormous hole inside yourself.

It's especially difficult for young people to experience the tragic and unexpected loss of a friend, because it happens at a time when you are feeling like you're getting your life under control, and none of this "bad stuff" could happen to you. The shock of seeing that it actually can happen to someone close to you can make you feel pretty vulnerable yourself.

It also happens at a time in your life where you're usually putting some distance between yourself and your parents, who have been your main source of support. You may feel you need them more than ever, but your quest for independence also makes you not want to depend on them too much. This can result in great feelings of confusion.

So there's a lot that goes on in your mind, body, and heart when someone close to you dies.

Grief is a weird thing — it affects every person differently. Like adults, teenagers grieve in their own time and in their own way. It may not even seem real to you at first. You may just feel numb and not really be able to react at all. For most people, this numbness will eventually go away and your body will feel the pain.

You may feel like you're crying all the time, and at the same time, another friend may not cry at all. You might feel angry with them because it doesn't seem to you like they're grieving enough, or taking the death of your friend seriously enough.

Some people grieve by wanting to take care of everybody else and make everybody else feel better. Some people just act completely crazy. Some people get caught up in thinking, "Why didn't it happen to me?" Odd as it may seem, some people laugh a lot when they are grieving.

It's important for the surviving friends to be gentle to each other, and accepting of each other, because everyone grieves differently.

There are all kinds of physical and emotional symptoms you may experience as a part of grieving. Almost all of them are normal, especially at first. Some of them are listed below, but there may be many, many others.

Physical Symptoms

  • No appetite
  • Tiredness or exhaustion, weakness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Actual physical illness
  • Unable to sleep — or unable to wake up — or frequent waking up during the night
  • Crying a lot
  • Nausea, stomachaches, or a feeling of hollowness in your stomach
  • Headaches or other body aches
  • Unable to focus or concentrate
  • Nightmares
  • Forgetfulness

Emotional Symptoms

  • Extreme sadness
  • Moodiness
  • Anger — at the person who died, at God or other higher power, at friends who don't seem to understand, at the person you may believe caused the death
  • Guilt
  • Fear that the same thing might happen to someone else you love, or to you
  • Loneliness
  • Abandonment
  • Emptiness
  • Coldness
  • Blaming yourself
  • Feeling overwhelmed

If you find yourself wanting to act on your negative feelings, try to find ways that won't hurt other people. If you're tempted to yell, try yelling at people who are trained to listen, or at things that won't be hurt emotionally — like walls, trees, the sky, whatever. If you're tempted to hit, try punching pillows, punching bags, or other soft things that won't hurt you. Use of alcohol or other drugs may dull your pain for a while, but not forever — and they will create another problem you will need to deal with later.

What can you do to help yourself and each other?

When to ask for help

There are some things you could be feeling that might indicate you need some professional help in working through your grief. If you experience any of the following things, or if you see a friend experiencing these things, talk about it immediately to an adult that you trust. This could be a parent, a friend of a parent, a minister or priest, the leader of a youth group, a teacher, a school counselor or other counselors, a coach, or a doctor:

You will never forget what happened. If you are afraid to heal because you think you might forget your friend, don't worry — you will never forget. You will always have their memory. You'll always be sorry that you were unable to share life with your friend for many more years. However, in time, you will remember the happy memories more often than the painful ones that fill your mind now.


Dyregrov, K. & Dyregrov, A. (2005). Siblings After Suicide — "The Forgotten Bereaved". Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 35(6), 714-724.

Melhem, N., Day, N., Shear, K., Day, R., Reynolds, C., & Brent, D. (2004). Traumatic Grief Among Adolescents Exposed to a Peer's Suicide. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161(8), 1411-1416.

Williams, A. & Merten, M. (2009). Adolescents' Online Social Networking Following the Death of a Peer. Journal of Adolescent Research, 24(1), 67-90.

Related resources

Helping Teenagers Cope with GriefAlan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. — If parents, teachers, and counselors are open, honest, and loving, the loss of someone loved can be a chance for young people to learn about both the joy and pain that comes from caring deeply for others.

How to Help a Grieving TeenThe Dougy Center — Teens respond better to adults who choose to be companions on the grief journey rather than direct it.

Living with Grief: Children, Adolescents, and LossKenneth J. Doka, Ph.D. — This book features articles by leading educators and clinicians in the field of grief and bereavement. The "Voices" sections are the writings of children and adolescents. Includes a comprehensive resource list of national organizations and a useful bibliography of age-appropriate literature for children and adolescents.

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