Student ministry leaders:
If you’d like to see the best resource our church has for helping students who are dealing with grief, look in the mirror. You have been trained, discipled, and commissioned to serve the students under your care for a reason. When one of the students you have invested in suffers through a loss, such as a death, divorce, or other disappointment, you are in the best position to move toward them and their family to help. Move toward your student with guidance from the Word and with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, just as you typically do in your ministry role. “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).
That being said, there is a wealth of resources out there for how to help people, and young people in particular, through grief. If a student under your care has experienced loss, big or small, look through these resources. They will give helpful perspective and practical next steps. Most of all, they will help you to move toward your student with confidence. Also, be sure to reach out to Middle School Ministry staff for more help and prayer support.
Book recommendations for students themselves:
- Stuff that Sucks by Ben Sedley. Told in an extremely down-to-earth and winsome voice, this book walks teens through negative thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Sedley begins with a discussion about things that suck and how they, well, suck. Then he discusses our negative thoughts and emotions, pointing out that sometimes people, or society in general, or even our own minds tell us not to think or feel what we are thinking or feeling. The way forward he suggests is to embrace rather than fight against what we are feeling. Stuff that Sucks also includes activities that help readers decide what matters to them personally, think through how to make small steps of progress toward those values, and practice mindfulness by focusing on the moment and the senses. Overall, this is a practical and approachable read to help students experience, rather than run from, the negatives in their circumstances and their own minds.
- When a Friend Dies by Marilyn E. Gootman. This book is a tear jerker so brace yourself! It speaks directly to teens who have lost someone, providing empathy and clarity. This is a handy resource because it speaks directly to the grieving teen. Also, it is laid out visually in a way that will get and keep a teen’s attention, with little text on each page and lots of visual aids. It is also very accessible in the way the ideas themselves are presented. It is less cool and more heavy than Stuff that Sucks, due to its very specific intended audience of teens grieving the loss of a friend. When a Friend Dies is full of useful suggestions and clarifying points necessary for young people suffering through loss, including allowing yourself to mourn and communicating to others. It emphasizes thinking positive thoughts more than other sources which focus more on the need to embrace the bad feelings. It does teach that teens need to accept the loss and mourn, but it places greater emphasis on avoiding extreme negativity. The biggest strength of the book is that each section has a series of quotes from teens about their own experience.
- The Grieving Teen by Helen Fitzgerald. This book is laid out in question-and-answer format with over a hundred different prompts and responses. It is not very engaging to read straight through, but it is a good resource for students to have so they can look up the section on their specific question or circumstance. The more universal topics are better covered in When a Friend Dies, but this book is useful because of how specific some of the sections are, for example: managing hospital visits, taking on additional responsibilities at home after the death of a parent, dealing with the added pain of having witnessed the death, navigating funerals and other services, postponing grief to focus on other crises if necessary, and adjusting to the idea of potentially getting a step-parent.
Book recommendations for a student’s support person (i.e. you):
- It would be wise to read any book above to help understand what your student is going through, especially if you recommend that book to the student.
- What Grieving People Wish You Knew by Nancy Guthrie. This book is a MUST READ. Nancy Guthrie is one of the founders of GriefShare, and has experienced profound loss in her own life. Writing from her own experience and pulling from extensive surveys from people in grief, Guthrie provides a very practical, very powerful guide for how to help those who are dealing with loss. She writes from a biblical and gospel-centered perspective. This book emphasizes moving toward people who are grieving, and it gives many excellent, clear, well-reasoned ideas for how to do so (and how not to). Like most Christian books, What Grieving People Wish You Knew has its best content toward the beginning of the book, so even reading just the first two chapters would be an extremely valuable experience. That being said, the whole thing is full of wisdom, with insightful chapters about specific topics like how to show support in the age of social media, and how to sensitively discuss heaven.