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Coping with the Loss of a Loved One

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Coping With The Loss of A Loved One

Feature Article by Becky Laney


It's never easy to lose someone you love. Grief is a natural part of life made up of a complex variety of behaviors, emotions, and physical reactions. The grieving process has been depicted in literature for thousands of years. Even in the field of children's literature, grief is a prominent feature year after year. Whether dealing with the loss of a pet, friend, parent, or grandparent, chances are there is a children's or young adult book to cover the topic. In 2004, there were many outstanding titles dealing with the subject of grief. Each of these young protagonists dealt with the loss in his/her own way.


Many protagonists responded to the loss of a loved one with an identity crisis. The impact of the loss changed them so much that they did not know who they were anymore. They had to redefine themselves in response to their loss. In THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER, Macy Queen lost her former identity of track champion, and became "that poor girl whose father died" (Dessen, Viking). She was so in shock by her father's death that she became emotionally numb or dead to the world. She was unable to cry. She avoided dealing with the grief, but even after two years, Macy was still in the midst of it whether she wanted to be there or not. It took wise counsel to show her that while every person has the choice whether to face grief head-on or to take the roundabout path and ignore the hole left in your life by the death--the grief is still there whether you open your eyes to it or not. Through open and honest communication, Macy finally came to terms with her loss and accepted her new life and new identity.
Leah Weiczynkowski, like Macy, was a very determined and goal-oriented athlete prior to her father's death (GOING FOR THE RECORD, Swanson, Eerdmans). In fact, she was close to making the under-eighteen national soccer team; however, when her father tells her he only has three months to live, everything changes. Leah's identity changes drastically. She no longer feels that sports are her life. She realizes just how important it is to spend time with her family. Even after his death, she has a hard time returning to her old lifestyle and priorities. In THE KEYS TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD, the reader sees how the death of a father drastically changes the family dynamics for three sisters (Johnson, HarperCollins). Brooks, Mayzie, and Palmer all respond to their father's death differently. Brooks rebels and turns to alcohol to ease her pain. Mayzie becomes a workaholic. Palmer, the youngest, isolates herself and drowns out the pain with television and sports. Although they share the pain, they don’t communicate their needs effectively to one another. It takes time and the encouragement from family friends to get this family back on track.


Many of the teen protagonists in these novels feel displaced after the death of his/her loved one. Perhaps this is best illustrated by Sonya Sones' verse novel ONE OF THOSE HIDEOUS BOOKS WHERE THE MOTHER DIES (Simon & Schuster). When Ruby's mother dies, she not only loses her mother but she loses her home. Suddenly she's living across the country with a father she's never met. She not only has to learn to accept the loss of her mother, she has to accept her father and new home as well. Lydia also feels displaced and isolated in Amy Gordon's THE SECRET LIFE OF A BOARDING SCHOOL BRAT (Holiday House). After her parents' divorce and her grandmother's death, Lydia is sent to a boarding school where not only is she coping with the loss of the life she's always known, but she also has to deal with peer pressure and bullying. She copes with her losses by writing in her diary and talking with a friendly old janitor.
KIRA KIRA by Cynthia Kadohata deals with the displacement of an entire family both by the loss of the oldest child Lynn and by the prejudice this Japanese American family faces in a small southern town (Atheneum). Although life was plenty hard before Lynn's illness and death, things become nearly impossible to cope with after her death. In fact, the father is feeling so overwhelmed with anger, shock, and confusion that he vandalizes his boss' car. Katie, the younger sister, also struggles not only with where she belongs but with who she is now that her sister is gone.


When you're in the middle of all of this pain and confusion, it's so easy to feel that life is hopeless and that things will never get better. It seems that the grief will be fresh and painful forever. There are no standard rules or timelines for how long the grieving process lasts. It takes some longer to accept the loss and make peace with life, and others seem to move on more quickly. WHAT IS GOODBYE? is a poetry book told from the perspective of a brother and sister and how they both grieve differently when their older brother dies (Grimes, Hyperion). The book covers the span of a year and illustrates how each family member grieves and finally begins to make peace with the situation and begin to live life with hope. Similarly, BEHIND YOU depicts how an entire community grieves the loss of a young man's violent death (Woodson, Putnam). When Jeremiah is killed by police officers because he's African American, a whole community is outraged and grieves. The story is told from the perspective of Jeremiah (ghost/spirit), his parents, his girlfriend, and several of his classmates. The novel also spans a year after his death and is helpful in showing how everyone grieves differently. In Mark DeLaney's PEPPERLAND, Star's grief is still fresh (Peach Tree). Her ongoing rebellion and anger worry her stepfather and school administrators. Through counseling, Star learns to cope with her anger and learns to focus her energy and emotion into something positive: writing a song on her guitar to honor her mother's memory. Although it is a difficult journey, Star is finally able to let go of her anger and accept the love and support of her stepfather and friends.


These books are outstanding examples of literature on the subject of grief because the authors wrote honestly and authentically about dying, death, grief, and the ability to move on with one's life. In addition to the subject of grief, these books all have something in common: each one shows how important communication is in coping with the grieving process. Whether the protagonists shared their feelings with a parent, grandparent, friend, significant other, teacher, or professional counselor, each one learned that it is only by expressing and sharing these feelings openly that one can begin to heal. Many protagonists also turned to a creative outlet to release their emotions either through writing, artwork, or music. Most importantly, each book showed that it was okay to have all of those often-conflicting and overwhelming emotions.


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