Mental Health Awareness Month
Read to expand your mind this Mental Health Awareness Month
A Toolkit for Grief by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Glasgow
An Instagram user once made an art project featuring my book, Girl in Pieces, which is about a teen named Charlie Davis who uses self-harm to cope with mental distress and trauma.
They paired the book with a hand-drawn silhouette of a person. Inside the silhouette, the words “Help me” were scrawled over and over.
But the words coming out of the silhouette’s mouth told a different story. The words were, “I’m fine.”
When we talk about mental health, especially with regard to teens, we most often talk about depression, anxiety, self-harm, substance abuse. We don’t usually think of grief and how it affects kids.
When my mother was seven, her mother died and she was sent to an orphanage. Her grief was never acknowledged or processed. Even as an adult, talking about her mother brought her great pain and confusion. Her story inspired the story of Tiger Tolliver’s mother, June Tolliver, in my book How to Make Friends With the Dark. After June dies, Tiger has to wrestle with her grief at the same as she discovers the secret of her mother’s childhood.
I miss my mother and my sister every day. They died within four years of each other. I barely had time to sift through the ashes of my sister’s death before my mother was gone, too. I found some solace in online grief groups. I’m an artist, so I was able to write out, and through, my pain. As an adult, I have a little bit of a toolkit to help me.
But kids don’t. When Tiger’s mother dies, she has no one to guide her through what grief is. She has no one to talk to (at first) about the giant hole inside her that’s as big as the Grand Canyon. The one person who could help her was…her mother. And she’s gone.
Kids need a toolkit for grief. Kids need a respite and a place to talk about their grief. When we see a teen struggling, we need to realize grief might be present. We often say kids are resilient in the face of trauma, but I don’t think that’s true, at all. I think we simply expect them to be resilient, and so they try their best because they don’t want to upset us, just like the kids Tiger meets in her grief group in How to Make Friends With the Dark. Every one of them feels like they can’t talk about their grief with their family. They’ve lost parents and siblings to cancer, to car accidents, to suicide. They’ve buried their grief because they don’t want to cause their families more pain.
That’s not resilience. That’s saying, “I’m fine,” when your inside words are, “Help me.” It’s my hope that when we see teens struggling, we remember to ask, “Have you lost someone?”
The answer might surprise you.