Making Sense of Tragedy in your Child’s Life

Walking by a hearse with a teenage daughter isn’t on my Top Ten list of things I’d like to do. Sitting next to a teenage daughter at the end of a row of her grieving friends, struggling with disbelief, in a sanctuary anchored by a simple casket—not on that list either. Especially when that casket holds the lifeless body of their friend.

That was Tuesday.

So please bear with me as I briefly grapple. Because I’m sad. Sad for those kids. Sad for my daughter. Deeply, so deeply, grieved for the family. So very sad for her.

And I’m mad.

I’ve started and stopped this post over a dozen times. But I wanted to write because I feel like something needs to be said, but words are really hard to find.

Within the span of one week, two teenage kids in our neck of the woods (one in San Antonio, one in our neighborhood—my daughter’s friend) decided the world would be a better place without them. In San Antonio, it’s clear that bullying played a crucial role in a worn-out boy’s decision to part with life on this earth. My daughter’s friend’s decision is likely another story, though we don’t know much about the why in her case.

Her decision literally shocked everyone. Shock is an understatement. Her friend group is as encouraging and others-centered as any can be at their age. She has a very loving family, a committed community of faith, supportive teachers. What was she thinking? What lies stole her thoughts?

It appears as if, somewhere deep inside, pressures to measure up duped this sweet girl into believing the importance of reaching an elusive mark. And it was too much. We’ll never know exactly which lie won, because we can’t ask her. And no one knew she needed to be asked. She was so busy encouraging everyone else, making those around her smile – it was easy to assume her tank was filled to overflowing.

But in a place only she knew, her tank was not full. And, she will be so very missed.

We can’t bring these kids back. But I hope that the bad-messaging which held them hostage can be countered by truth, so that those who are left behind can find some footing.

Mis-messaging hardwires itself into kids’ thoughts. Tween/teens can easily buy into a flawed message that they’re stupid, fat, ugly, a loser—so many non-truths—even when their homes and real friends promote messaging that is completely counter to those thoughts. The world around these kids (with its pressures, social media, anonymity-based platforms. . .)  can pack plenty of punch to make a fit kid feel fat and a smart kid feel stupid. It can make almost anyone feel completely alone while sitting in a crowd.

Pressures have always existed and will absolutely continue to exist. It could be bullying. It could be the vice-grip that dupes kids (us) into believing that they (we) have to achieve/to be/to do in order to be okay. Measuring lines involving all things Pre-AP/AP or 4.0 or 30+ACT or 2400 SAT or Varsity or Starting A-Team or the right date/right group . . . fill in the blank . . . are nothing short of ruthless. Because the minute a mark is within reach, it moves and begs for more attaining.

So why not talk about it. I think talking is important.

  • Talk about how hard life is—we don’t have to pretend like it isn’t; we don’t need to sugarcoat it. Let’s ask questions: Where do you feel pressure? Where do you see friends struggling? Are you struggling? Am I pressuring you? It’s okay, let’s figure it out.
  • Talk about seeing the unseen—help them keep their eyes open to see beyond themselves, to see the lonely, to see the sad, to see the good when someone can’t see it themselves.
  • Encourage compassion—to consider how someone else feels when . . .
  • Talk about how there is more to life than a moment
  • Talk about how their/our self-worth isn’t determined by a score or a grade or a party invitation. Throw in some perspective, from our own lives (you know, how looking back it wasn’t such a big deal that most of Saturday nights were spent with Julie & her Love Boat crew) and from theirs, because perspective is always available. It tends to bring with it some needed oxygen.
  • Talk about how comparing accomplishments (test grades, scores, tryouts . . .) whether in person or via texts might carry with it some major underlying, potentially harmful, messaging.
  • Talk about what’s on the other side of actions. Most kids have little to no clue as to the consequences that their actions (which easily seem trite in the moment) can have on someone. So talk about it.

“It’s interesting,” my friend B said when we were trying to make some sense of it all. “I just had a conversation on Friday with one of my kids.”

“There was some talk that had gone on within a group at school,” she shared. “None of it was intentionally rude or mean, but it certainly could have landed that way on one of the kids who has been hurt in the past. I talked with my teen about how sometimes we need to purposefully put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to be aware of the way that remarks/invites/not-being-invited can be taken, to consider the person on the other side.”

It’s hard during adolescence to go that far. Everything in their world screams for them to see everything as it relates to them.

“It was really good,” she continued. “Once we talked about how words can so easily be misconstrued, he was actually quick to get it. And he was so open to being more aware and considerate. Just thinking about it seemed to lighten his overall load. Listen, if a teen boy can get there, we all have hope.”

I’m not naive enough to think that talking will solve this problem, but maybe its a start.

And, maybe while talking, we can get to the place where truth is spoken. The truth that we all—at the core of our being—desire to be known, to be loved, and to belong.

What I’d give for these kids to have heard the Truth that they are all of those things.

Thanks for walking the (tear-stained) road with me.

-Kay

[more to the story:

I asked my oldest daughter to read this, just to be sure my own emotion didn’t make it un-readable or so many things. Her reply: “Yes—on the knowing you’re loved part especially. Sometimes I can catch myself watching a romantic movie and thinking, oh if only a cute boy can love me that way, then everything would be okay. Then I remember how loved I am by the Lord who sacrificed a lot in order to be sure I know. And I want my thoughts anchored on God rather than all the other stuff around me. He isn’t shifting ground like everything else seems to be.”

As usual, I yield the floor to wisdom from a shotgun passenger. I really love the car and conversation it promotes 🙂 ]