The Road Back – Depression Is Part of the Normal Grieving Process

I learned something new yesterday.  It is normal for a teenager to go through some depression while grieving the loss of a close friend.  I think I always knew this.  So watching my grieving daughter the past 3 weeks hasn’t scared me too much.  Until yesterday.  That’s when the school counselor called and said maybe my daughter needs anti-depressants.   It really freaked me out – made me step back and think… why?  Why should she take something to “force” her to cheer up?  She feels sad.  Isn’t that normal given the circumstances?  That’s when I called our grief counselor and started to read more…

There are steps in the grieving process – and it’s important to experience the emotions in order to heal.  I firmly believe Annie’s feelings of sadness, hurt, anger are completely normal.  It’s okay to be un-focused at school and tired.  Of course, not forever, but it’s only been 3 1/2 weeks.  Please, give the girl some time.  I still cry a little each time I fly into Mexico for Thanksgiving.  It’s where my dad lived and where I went to see him.  His sandals still sit in my entryway 2 yrs later.  It’s hard to let go.

So here’s my thoughts… and you can disagree.  Please don’t ask me to mask Annie’s emotions with a pill.  She is simply a sad girl missing a friend she loved.  She’s not sad all the time.  She still smiles and laughs – even though she is sad.  She is excited for homecoming.  She wants to be with her friends.  She is talking to me.  She is still working.  She is just sad and not focused in school right now.  She needs to heal and express the emotions she feels.   She can always catch up in school.  Maybe there might be some summer school… but that’s a small price to pay for experiencing a normal, healthy healing process.

I say to the high school… don’t forget about kids like my daughter.  Cody had many friends.  The memorial service marked only the beginning of a long journey forward for many kids.  They need guidance and support.  They need tools to cope.  They need to know they aren’t the only ones having trouble moving forward… the only ones who can’t change their Facebook photos.  They are simply holding onto a friend they aren’t ready to let go of yet.  Give them time.  Suicide is a traumatic, confusing event.   Let them know their feelings are normal and that there are indeed many documented steps in the grieving process.

To anyone out there who’s lost someone…  do you remember that point where you still felt sad and it seemed everyone else had moved on?  I did after my dad died.  All of the sudden no one asks how you are anymore.  They don’t want you to be sad anymore.  If you say you are – they try to cheer you up and distract you.  Inside you’re screaming, “But I don’t feel happy.”  I regret pretending so soon after my dad’s death.  I regret only crying in private so not to upset anyone.  I know the reasons were valid.  You don’t want to scare your kids.  You want to be brave. You want life to feel normal again.

I want my beautiful daughter to feel what she needs to feel.  To express what she needs to express.  To take her baby steps back each day with honesty… not with medications or pretense.  She is mine to protect and mine to guide.  So if you see her, or any of Cody’s friends,  ask them how they are.  Don’t be scared of their answer.  Or maybe just give them a hug.  If they tear up, squeeze tighter.  They will slowly make their way back.   At the end of the healing journey they might be a little changed, but I hope they realize just how strong they really are.

Dedicated to all those kids still hurting even though they are smiling for us.

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  • Danna, thanks so much for putting this out there. I agree 100% with you. Everyone who is affected by this needs to grieve in their way in order to heal. Hearts have been torn and only time and expression of the pain will help to lessen the pain of the tear they feel. Grief, like life, is not a sprint or any kind of race, it is a journey. I just want to be there for my kids as they find their “new normal” with Cody gone. I know for my girls, his spirit will never leave them and there is comfort in that as well.

    Thanks for this message. I hope many others read this.

  • Your daughter is indeed so lucky to have you! (as are her friends… and all of us who have found your sensitive, thoughtful and achingly beautiful posts on love and loss, grief and healing, in the wake of Cody’s death.

    Personally and professionally (having worked in community mental health for a number of years), I support your advocacy for Annie’s healing… allowing her time to go through her own process of grieving… respecting her inner wisdom and the ways that it manifests (be that changes in sleep, appetite, concentration… tears, laughter, rage or whatever comes to the surface)

    I also lost a friend when I was in high school. The January of his senior year. He had just worked out a plan to make up for missed credits that meant he would be able to graduate on time. He was so happy that he and a friend took a drive to the mountains together to celebrate. But he missed one sharp turn and they went over a cliff. That was nearly 32 years ago. I still vividly recall joking with him in marine biology on Friday; and the expression on a teacher’s face that Monday morning when he told a friend and I the news as we sat outside before class. The details of the funeral are there as if it was yesterday… and I can still feel the warm breeze on the hillside when his best friend played Amazing Grace in his memory at graduation. I have suffered far too many such losses of friends, family and colleagues over the years.

    Grief is not a one-way process… it comes in waves… or spirals. The stages are not neatly linear. Every marked moment that is experienced without someone we love brings the loss to light again (the Spanish class, a birthday, a play). Most research says one year to mark all the significant anniversaries. But even if the shock of the loss diminishes as years go by… the loss never goes away. Yes… Cody’s friends and family will take small steps forward when they know they can… they will also fall back as they need to. And it is important that they are not alone on this road.

    The advice you give is invaluable… ask how they are and don’t be afraid of their answer. Offer hugs and hold them tight as long as they need to be held. Trust that they have the strength to experience their pain and the resilience to move through it (even when it seems impossible)… holding them with that love and trust will foster the strength and resilience they will need for the rest of their lives. You offer the opportunity to be whole… to integrate the pain of loss along with love, support and compassion… into the complexity of life itself. That’s the most any of us can hope for.

    Truly – we all would do well to follow your advice with anyone we know who is experiencing any pain… I suspect most of us are afraid of another’s pain because we don’t quite trust our own capacity to experience and move through the losses in our own lives. But as you say so clearly, not expressing sadness is not the same as not feeling sad. Being able to acknowledge and express what we feel (with loving acceptance from others) is so essential for healing and wholeness.

    Thank you for your willingness to share your questions and insights with others (known and unknown) in your extended community. Your openness is truly a gift

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