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Teens Dealing with Death

Distributed by Cambridge Educational, 2572 Brunswick Ave, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648-4128; 800-468-4227
Produced by Justin Mitchell, Diane Paragas
Directed by Diane Paragas
VHS, color, 28 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Psychology, Adolescence, Death and Dying

Reviewed by Karen Plummer, Cataloging Department, Bierce Library, University of Akron, Akron, OH

Date Entered: 4/9/2004

Losing a loved one is never an easy process, particularly for teenagers. This film examines the grief process through interviews with teenagers who are struggling to cope with loss and features advice and comment from Dr. Elena Lister (clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Cornell University Medical College and collaborating psychoanalyst at the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center).

Many teens work very hard to fit in and be like everyone else. The death of a loved one throws all of this out the window. They feel different, as though they have "death kid" written on a banner over their heads. They do not feel that their friends will understand what they are going through. Many internalize their pain and do not feel free to grieve openly. Dr. Lister explains that grieving is an intensely personal process. Recognizing that each person will grieve in his/her own way and having the support of the people around them allowing them grieve in their own way is one of the first steps to getting through grief.

The film begins with an exploration of the common stages of grief. Beginning with shock and denial, teens recall their feelings and thoughts upon first learning of the death of a loved one. One reported feeling completely numb and not wanting to believe that the loved one has died. Isolation may set in as the teens feel they are alone in their grief. Some physically isolate themselves from other people, attempting to keep the truth about death distant. Others feel threatened by the expectations of others. When everyone thinks you should be crying and hysterical but instead they hear laughter or jokes or you are too numb to feel emotions, the teen can develop deep-seated guilt. Often guilt will set in as the teen assumes blame for the death of the loved one, feeling something they could have done would have prevented the death.

Intense feelings of anger can occur as the teens describe lashing out at friends and relatives. One young man describes his anger outbursts against his brother-in-law and explains that he wished to either shoot the brother-in-law or himself. Many teens describe great sadness and depression, particularly noting recurring sadness when hearing a song or someone saying something that reminds you of the loved one. While sadness is normal, the jump to clinical depression can occur. Many teens begin questioning their faith, asking why a loving God would take lives before their time.

As they struggle to come to terms with the unfairness of life and death, they begin the process of memorializing the loved one. One teen describes a scrapbook filled with pictures of her recently departed father. She can turn to her scrapbook when she's feeling low and it helps her remember the fun times. It serves to keep her father tangibly in her life. Dr. Lister also recommends keeping a journal or a memory book to record thoughts, feelings, and memories. Acceptance is the final step in the process when the teen accepts that the loved one is dead and admits that they are not to blame for the death. It is the stage when the teen feels that he/she can move on.

Many of the interviews take place at a bereavement camp in Virginia called Comfort Zone Camp. The owner explains that she lost her mother when she was a teen and realized how little support and help there was for teens in similar situations. The camp offers a safe haven where everyone is given respect and allowed to grieve as they need. Working in small groups over a weekend, the teens are able to discuss their feelings with other teens that are struggling through the same emotions. Assisted by an understanding peer group and trained counselors, the teens describe the healing process and the end result shows teens who have coped and survived, taking negatives and turning them into positives as they begin to move on with their lives.

This film is very well-done, although portions of the beginning seem like a promotion for the camp. The teens are generally articulate in expression of their emotions while Dr. Lister's comments are helpful in tracing movement along the grieving process. She suggests points of intervention, and provides pointers for the adults in a teen's life. The accompanying teacher's guide includes an introduction, list of learning objectives, educations standards, program overview, main topics, fast facts, vocabulary terms, pre-program discussion questions, post-program discussion questions, group activities, individual student projects, internet activities, assessment questions, and additional resources.

Designed for use in the middle school/junior high/high school classroom, this film would also be appropriate for use with parent groups, grief counselors, psychologists, and other health care professionals. Running time for the film is 28 minutes. The accompanying teacher's guide is 14 pages and fits into the videocassette case. This film would be a nice addition to school, public, or academic libraries. Recommended