Untangle the web of lies – What a teenager won’t tell you

As I prepare to speak to teen girls about brutal lies and cultural myths that we get so easily caught up in, writing about some of them on this blog has really helped me organize my thoughts.  I hope it has been beneficial to your journey as well.  Revisiting memories has been understandably painful at times, but it’s also been a huge blessing to see just how far God will go to rescue someone; that everyone is valuable to Him; and sticking through the rough times reaps beautiful blessings on the other side.

Two cents.  That’s all I have in my pockets today.  I want to offer my two cents with some tips that may help smooth some rough spots with teenagers when life gets hard.  I am not a trained professional.  My opinions are based on my experience, what I’ve learned in college and as a volunteer.  What works for some may not work for others.  Always consult a qualified professional before making significant changes in a teen’s life who has suffered loss.

* When dealing with a teen who has a sick or dying parent, don’t take I’m fine as an answer.  Certainly don’t push the teen to talk, but understand that those two words have little to no value.  If you hear them, let it be a red flag that you may want to follow-up on.  Sometimes they may not be up to talking, but they can also be testing you to see if your inquiry to their well-being is genuine or if it is really just to ease your own conscious.  Don’t ask them how they are doing.  How do you think they are doing?  Instead, ask how they are holding up.

* Familiarize yourself with the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  Website of grief stages and their explanations.

Understand that everyone grieves differently.  People should never compare grieving!  We are unique, as are our experiences and how we process them, and it is completely unfair to place our own expectations on someone else.  Judge not – it’s like kicking them when their down.

Understand that the first 12 months are extremely important in grieving.  This doesn’t mean we count the months beginning in January, it means 365 days from the day the parent died.  Think about it, there are so many things that happen in a year (holidays, school events, social events, big and small moments in life that surround a particular date or memory), a full cycle needs to be lived out in order to understand life is never going to be the way it used to be.  Quirky family traditions for April Fool’s Day may change, first-day-of-school dinner may not happen, you know, family stuff – it’s all different now.  Be patient with the teen as they try to live through a year of firsts so they can begin to find a new sense of normal.  Yes, a full year.  I believe productive grieving can take place during that year, but life needs a year just to walk through each of the 365 days of being and feeling different.

The Hospice website is an excellent resource for the whole family.  They offer priceless words of wisdom for teens, as well as a host of other resources for children, parents and caregivers.  I highly recommend this site for caregivers, family and close friends.

* Listen.  Listen.  Listen.  Don’t be so quick to offer a resolution, solution, or fix.  Just listen to them.  It’s amazing what can surface when a teen actually gets to have our undivided attention.

* For trusted friends and family – be there.  You don’t have to say anything, just offer a presence.  Teens who have suffered significant loss are waiting for everyone else to leave, too.  Find something the teen likes to do and offer your time with permission (i.e., watch sports, walk the dog, go to the movies).

* You can’t replace the loved one they’ve lost, but you can help ease the pain.  Remember back-to-school shopping I wrote about?  Perhaps offer to fill in a gap when the teen doesn’t know how to ask for help.

* Make your home a safe place.  Teens go through a lot every day – even on the best day hormones are raging and emotions can be unpredictable.  In a safe environment (not just physical, but emotionally safe meaning they feel free to be themselves without judgement) the teen can drop their guard and may just open their heart.

* Say the name of, and talk about, the parent who died.  One of the most painful aspects of grieving is that the loved one becomes invisible – as if he or she never existed.  People are either too uncomfortable or too worried they’ll upset the teen if they mention the parent, therefore nothing gets said.  For me, it was literally years before anyone ever said my mom’s name (my own family never even mentioned her).  It was an old friend of my mom’s who approached me.  She didn’t know that my mom had died.  This friend asked how she was doing.  I told her, and the friend immediately began apologizing up and down.  I interrupted her and said, Thank you.  You’re the first person to say her name to me in years.  It’s feels good to hear others remember her.  It was about 5 years after my mom died when I realized I had forgotten what her voice sounded like.  It absolutely devastated me!  I cried and cried.  Their legacy, memories and media (photos, video) are really all we have left.  Give the teen the chance to relive good memories when they’re ready.  It can be very healing.

* Offer to help.  There may be large needs you may or may not be able to help with, but I can promise you there are a myriad of small needs beloved friends and family can help meet.  If the teen is in sports, drama, music or any performance activity, offer to attend.  Empty seats are a heart-breaker.  Remember the teen’s birthday with a card or phone call.  Remember the deceased parent’s birthday with a card or phone call.  Offer to help rake the leaves in the fall, plant flowers in the spring, or go for ice cream on a Saturday afternoon.  Just being there is so helpful.  Offering a hand and sharing a smile in the everyday moments of life make the big milestones (holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, etc.) more bearable.  If everyone close to the teen each did one thing, just think about what a difference that would make to remind them they are valuable, loved, and remembered.

Consider letting the teen make some decisions about their life when appropriate.  One of the best gifts my grandparents ever gave me was the freedom to let me choose whether or not to attend my high school graduation.  I DID NOT want to attend for various valid reasons.  They didn’t push the issue with me.  Today, I still don’t regret it.  Situations are different for everyone, but if a teen feels adamant about something that isn’t earth-shattering or life-changing, at least be patient and listen to their side. Teens in grief may appreciate feeling a little bit of control over their life in times of unrest.  My decision came almost a year after my mom’s death.  Careful consideration should be made concerning the 5 stages of grief and the teen.

* If you have pictures of the parent, scan copies and compose a small photo book for the teen.  Maybe add some short text about a funny story or memory; or what was special about the parent or how they positively impacted your life. People have different roles in each other’s lives. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to have photos of my mom at work, out with girlfriends, etc. in roles other than as I knew her – Mom.  Online printing companies and superstores print these photo books for little cost nowadays.  It may take a few hours of your life to do this, but it will give the teen a lifelong treasure.  Wait for the appropriate time to give this gift to the teen.

* If I haven’t stressed this point enough already, make yourself available.  It may take days, weeks or months for a teen to be ready to talk, share or do stuff together, but just knowing you are willing to invest in their life can help talk a teen down from their proverbial ledge.  In the meantime, keep a watchful eye on symptoms that need to be addressed by a professional.  Offer a shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen, a heart to feel and hands to help, but know when to encourage the teen to seek professional help.  They are trained in the most appropriate ways to assist the teen to work through their grieving.  Our best attempt at “counseling” may prove to hurt the situation more than it would help.

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I hope these suggestions have helped shed some light on an issue too dimly lit.  Teens are far too often swept under the rug because adults don’t give teens enough credit that they have thoughts, opinions, feelings, questions, and words that need to purged.  Most teens are profoundly affected by parent loss.  Literally, the teen’s future hangs in the balance of how healthy the grieving process has been.  Research is downright scary for teens who are unheard, ignored, and not helped through every stage of grieving.  It could be the beginning of a downward spiral, or, with proper attention and care, the teen can come through the entire experience with hope, optimism, healing and strength.

Give the teen in your life every opportunity to grieve, mourn, heal and realize their full potential.  They have the rest of their lives ahead of them.  May they experience the abundant life Jesus calls them to in John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

 

Untangle the web of lies – guys & labels

We continue with the discussion of teen labels today.  Many teenagers see themselves this way – Tell me who I am.   Internally, teens are growing and changing physically, mentally, and emotionally at warp speed.  Externally, there are parental, school, social and community standards who all say, Follow me.  I know best.  Oftentimes, however, those voices contradict one another.  Their rules are different, they argue opposing expectations, and no one will back down from their position of being right.  Who in the world do teens listen to?  To confuse matters more, some of the “should-be” positive voices that impress their standard on teens are actually harmful (i.e., abusive homes, dangerous friends or fallen mentors) and it convolutes teens’ thinking even more.  It’s no wonder why being a teenager can be so frustrating!

So it’s no surprise when, taking all of the above into consideration, at the end of the day the teen relinquishes his or her own identity in defeat and says, Just tell me who you want me to be.

One of the stickiest labels attached to teens is how the opposite gender sees them.  I can’t think of many other factors that affect a teen more.  For teenagers reading this blog, yes, how we present ourselves to the world, and our desire to be accepted by it, is important.  It’s how civilization continues.  But, that’s when the labels are positive.  What happens when the labels hurt?

When I was in 9th grade, before the reality show “The Bachelor” ever aired, I found myself in the middle of my very own rose ceremony.  Forget the fancy dresses, mansions, and Barbies falling all over their Ken.  My rose ceremony happened on a baseball field on a Friday night.  A large group of guys and girls hung around after the game.  In that group was a guy that I had a huge crush on – for years.  And, he knew it (ug).  I thought he was the hottest guy ever, and oh how his dimples just made me melt.  He lived down the street from me, and I found every reason to pass by his house just to catch a glimpse of him and perhaps, maybe, get a Hi from him.  I walked the dog, rode my bike, ran for exercise, anything that kept me moving past because I never would have dared to actually stop at his house.  I was smitten.

After the baseball game, rumor had it he was going to choose between another girl (I didn’t know her) and me.  Oh the thought!  I was going to finally find out where I stood with him and if the strong feelings I had for him were mutual.  The group formed a circle, and the three of us were in the middle of it.  When I look back on this moment, I can totally feel the awkwardness of it all over again and cringe in discomfort at the whole affair.

He looked at both of us with those dimples.  Without a word, he walked over to the other girl, took her hand, and they walked out of the circle together and disappeared into the night.

I was…crushed, humiliated, devastated, mortified, angry, hurt, shocked and embarrassed.  I felt ugly, hideous, worthless, rejected, stupid, and a host of other feelings.  I compared myself to nothing more than the mound of red baseball dirt beneath my feet.

Have you ever said something out loud that you meant to only think in your head?  Yikes, I have.  This was one of those times.  I (accidentally) said under my breath, trying to hold my composure together, Why not me?  What’s wrong with me?  I never expected a response.  A girl standing next to me looked at me as if I really was as stupid as I felt and replied matter-of-factly, Because he knows you won’t sleep with him and turned and walked away.

Whoa.  Okay, let me just die and then ask you to repeat that to make sure I heard you right, I thought with my jaw agape.

The roseless ceremony was over, and the group of amused teens dispersed.  I was left standing completely alone, in the dark, behind the dugout, stunned and speechless.

I had just found out, very publicly I might add, that my label as a virgin was not a good thing.  I found out that it made me lose the guy I really liked and that none of my peers supported me.  As I walked away alone, I tried to figure out how he knew.  I am a Christian, but the topic of virginity never came up to me by him or anyone.  At fourteen, I didn’t understand the powerful impact that personal convictions can have on others – when not one word about it had been spoken.

My knee-jerk reaction, of course, was to move, change schools, change my name, dye my hair, and never ever mention this moment again.  But, something surprising happened instead.  God showed up – in the dark on the baseball field on a Friday night.  How do I know He did?  Because He gave me eyes to see a perspective I was completely unable to see on my own.

All of a sudden, my heart saw that the guy that made me weak in the knees had shown his true colors.  He wasn’t looking for someone to have a meaningful relationship with, to care about, have fun with and get to know better.  He was looking for sex.  And with that, he was looking at me as someone who potentially could give that to him.  He didn’t care about who I was, my thoughts and opinions, or what makes me laugh or cry – I was seen as a tool for his selfishness.  Oh, that changed everything.  This great-looking guy suddenly didn’t look so good to me.  In that moment, I realized my firm position in that I was not going to ever allow myself to be seen as a tool.  He had separated body from mind and spirit when choosing a girlfriend, and now I wanted no part of it.

God reminded me that I am all three (mind, spirit, and body), as much as anyone else.  I am valuable.  Priceless.  Important.  Significant.  I am worth the wait.

I saw that the amount of value I had put on this guy was not returned, but God loved me before I ever called Him my God.  God, indeed, is the polar opposite – loving me unconditionally, not for what I can do, but for who I am to Him.  His child.  His daughter.  Princess in His royal line.  Forgiven.  Beautiful.  The passion of His heart.  I saw the experience with this guy for the shallow, superficial event that it was, and I chose to walk in the Truth that I am worth dying for.  So are you.

All labels have a cause and effect.  I can’t think of one label that is 100% risk-free.  Teens who choose to be abstinent walk a difficult (but not impossible!) road.  However, it’s a sacred road that spares them from unnecessary physical, mental and emotional drama that is tied to promiscuity.

Do I regret that night?  Nope.  The Teen Creed offers an excellent piece of advice, Stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.  I had fallen for a guy for sure, but after his quick exit from my life, it was God who was there to pick me up, brush off my knees and put my dignity back together like Humpty Dumpty.

I wasn’t ashamed of the label that was pinned on me that night instead of a rose.  Actually, I was secretly glad that not only did this guy know where I stood in my convictions, but others did as well – without me ever having said it.  This experience spurred in me a stubbornness to be resolute in my convictions until my wedding day.  I was never going to set myself up to feel like a faceless, nameless tool again. And, perhaps it helped encourage other girls standing around that they too could make the precious choice of abstinence and save themselves the grief.

Regardless of your yesterday, you have the freedom to choose your actions today.  Although this guy never gave me another chance (nor did I want one), God is the God of second, tenth, and a thousand chances.  More than giving me a rose, God gave His Son for me – and for you.  Now that is true love.

<<Check out the companion song to this blog on my Tunes page!>>

Untangle the web of lies – loss & labels (re-posted from April 14, 2012)

Per request, this blog entry is being re-posted.

May God use it for his glory. ~ Kristi

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Labels.  We all wear them.  Some labels make us feel like we’re on top of the world.  Others plunge us into an endless abyss.  Teens are among the hardest hit by labels.  In middle school, (what I affectionately call The Cannibalism Years) guys and girls spend their energy jockeying for a position of acceptance at least and popular at best.  In high school, labels are still clearly present, but for those who have survived the “lord of the flies” experience of middle school, teens emerge with a little more knowledge of who they are and what they want. Scars may be internal, external, or both, but I wildly applaud those who graduate middle school and are still standing when the first day of high school hits – as long as they haven’t left a trail of casualties leading to their success.

Labels during these years change like the wind.  Popular, freak, cute, funny, smart, nerd, jock, quiet, dweeb, stupid, pretty, weird, shy, daring, promiscuous (the nicer word), and  invisible – are a few off the top of my head. Depending on the day’s events, some of those labels are encouraging and uplifting.  Others push teens to the brink of wanting to end their life.  Oh the power peers have over each other.  (sigh)

Other labels aren’t so easily gained or lost.  Some are branded onto teens without their consent or permission.  Divorce, poor, orphan, and victim are a few.  I remember a teen in my high school that looked as though every day was his last. He was always dirty, his clothes were way too small, greasy hair, and he wore shoes that barely held together.  I cannot remember his name.  He was invisible.  He was poor.  He was never given a chance.  I often wonder what became of him.  I wanted to say something to him like, hello, but never found the courage because I didn’t know what to say after hello.  He wore his label on the outside. Everyone knew it and ostracized him for it.

My labels were internal, but just as isolating.  I was a product of two divorces, sub-par family finances, and a mom who was dying.  What do teens say to that?  You’re a train wreck and we don’t know what to do with you, was one encounter I vividly remember.  I went to a large public high school filled with people who had more money than we did.  It wasn’t just that we were a single family trying to survive on a secretary’s salary, it was that my mom spent my entire junior year in and out of the hospital with cancer. Unable to work during portions of the year, I really have no idea how our bills were paid – my grandparents helped, I assume, and debt accumulated.

While many classmates had predictable schedules, homes, extra-curricular activities and parents to buy them poster board needed for a project or sign a permission slip or drive them around to friends’ homes and parties, my day went something like this: Sleep at my grandparents’ house, get up, go back to my house, shower, get dressed, go to school, leave school and go straight to the hospital to be with my mom.  There, I made great friends with the stiff, cold vinyl chair in her room in which I did my homework and watched tv while she slept.  One night, with books opened on my chest as I was slumped back in the chair, the nurse came in, tapped me on the shoulder and woke me up.  She said in a soft voice, Honey, go home.  Get some rest.  She doesn’t even know you are here. Although I appreciated her kindness, her words pierced my soul.  All of this is for nothing? I asked myself.  I gathered my books and drove back to my grandparent’s house in a sleepy daze just to start it all over again the next day.

Nobody knew this because nobody asked.  All I looked like was a disheveled mess.  There wasn’t a parent to tell me, You need a hair cut, or Your shoes need replacing, or You don’t look so good, do you feel okay?  My mom was simply trying to stay alive.  She told me once after a hard chemo treatment, The only reason I am alive is for you girls.  You are my reason for living.  

At a time when I didn’t know if she was going to live, and if not, what would happen to me, I was still straddling a world of teenageness where I needed to absorb academic material for tests, not be tardy for school, and keep from falling asleep in class.  I got so angry at other classmates when I overheard their whining about boys, cars, parties, and the latest gossip.  I thought, You don’t have a clue what life is about.  Your stupid little problems are NOTHING on the scale of life.  Get over yourself.  I kept those thoughts to myself so I wasn’t run out of town – or at least out of school.  I was completely unable to identify with anyone at my school – but desperately, secretly wanted to.  If others were having similar life-threatening problems at home, they didn’t share them.  None of us did.  Why?  Because who wants to be around high-maintenance teens?  No one.  In this age of life, teens are incredibly self-absorbed.  It’s normal in their development.  But “freaks” (as I saw myself) like me had a daily inner struggle with wanting to be a typical teenager, but at the same time being forced to be an adult – handling grown-up problems on my own with no dad and a dying mom. (breathe)

I remember at the end of my junior year, everyone was talking about prom.  Oh good grief, I thought.  Can this issue just please go away?  Is there any other high school event that singles out social groups, money and popularity more than prom?  My first limo ride (and only limo ride to date) was to my mom’s funeral barely after my junior year ended.  In the limo I thought, While everyone is taking their first limo ride to prom, I’m taking mine to my mom’s funeral.  

Since we’re being honest about feelings, which is what this blog is about, I’ll mention another extremely painful memory that may surprise some who haven’t walked this road.  The end of summer before my senior year.  Why?  That’s when moms (or dads) take their girls shopping for school clothes.  I can still smell the stale mall air as if it were yesterday, and I remember watching the girls that went to my school walk the mall with their moms and their shopping bags while I sat numb on a bench sipping a Sprite.  As a girl, this hurt almost as much as not having been validated by the male influences in my life in yesterday’s blog.  It seems like such a superficial thing, but digging deeper, to me it was more about not being able to spend time with my mom, ask her opinion on what looked good on my insecure body, and such a time would be a sort of send-off to my senior year that would have been affirmed by my mom.  This one step would have felt like a natural progression toward the beginnings of her letting me go.  Instead, she was ripped from my life by a horrific disease, and I had to let her go.

My mom had died just 2 months before, and I was now living with my grandparents to avoid foster care.  They loved me.  I loved them.  But, it was their daughter who they just buried.  We were all broken and didn’t know how to fix each other, so we just went to our own corners and licked our wounds.  They were from the Depression Era.  They were frugal and financially wise.  A senior in high school is not.  Whether it be they had no concept of buying school clothes because they A: were too deep in their grief; B: too frugal to see the physical need; C: too out of touch to see the social need; or D: a combination of these – the bottom line was I began my senior year in my older sister’s hand-me-downs.  Yes, I am thankful I had clothes to wear at all, but these were nothing to brag about.  They were old and tired.  I didn’t have the nerve to ask my grandparents for new ones, so I wore them without a word.

In high school, when you don’t look the part, you don’t get the part.  It’s really hard to be accepted into social groups where you stick out like a sore thumb.  I didn’t dress right; I didn’t have the right car (I drove my grandmother’s 1972 Cadillac which was defaulted to me from my mom when she died); I didn’t have a home to invite people over to, and I didn’t have parents to take my friends and me to fun places like to the beach or a music concert like others had.

Did I feel sorry for myself?  No.  I couldn’t go there.  If I had stopped for one second to think about the enormity of what was happening to my life, it would have swallowed me whole.  My life felt more like a Jason Bourne movie, where one thing happens after the next and you can’t blink or even go to the bathroom because if you turn away for a second, there is something around the corner that’s going to get you.  In many ways, I felt like it already had.

Today’s blog is dedicated to all of the BRAVE young men and women who are fighting for their lives, or a loved one’s life, today.  I want you to hear the Truth – circumstances do NOT define you.  Don’t believe the thoughts or people that tell you they do.  You are not a label.  You are a person – loved by God.  

By God’s grace, you CAN get through this.  People asked me, When are you going to get over your mother’s death and move on?  I was so offended!  If you love someone, you don’t “get over” their loss, but you can get through it.  It’s too much to handle alone.  Seek trusted help to confide in.

There is more to say on how to deal with teen labels of loss and trauma, and on this blog we’re not afraid to talk about it, ask tough questions, or simply admit I don’t know.  This issue is real for a lot of teens, and every single one of you count.  You are important.  You are loved.  Your feelings are valid, and you need to know you are not alone.

<<Check out the companion song to this blog on my Tunes page!>>

Untangle the web of lies – loss & labels

Labels.  We all wear them.  Some labels make us feel like we’re on top of the world.  Others plunge us into an endless abyss.  Teens are among the hardest hit by labels.  In middle school, (what I affectionately call The Cannibalism Years) guys and girls spend their energy jockeying for a position of acceptance at least and popular at best.  In high school, labels are still clearly present, but for those who have survived the “lord of the flies” experience of middle school, teens emerge with a little more knowledge of who they are and what they want. Scars may be internal, external, or both, but I wildly applaud those who graduate middle school and are still standing when the first day of high school hits – as long as they haven’t left a trail of casualties leading to their success.

Labels during these years change like the wind.  Popular, freak, cute, funny, smart, nerd, jock, quiet, dweeb, stupid, pretty, weird, shy, daring, promiscuous (the nicer word), and  invisible – are a few off the top of my head. Depending on the day’s events, some of those labels are encouraging and uplifting.  Others push teens to the brink of wanting to end their life.  Oh the power peers have over each other.  (sigh)

Other labels aren’t so easily gained or lost.  Some are branded onto teens without their consent or permission.  Divorce, poor, orphan, and victim are a few.  I remember a teen in my high school that looked as though every day was his last. He was always dirty, his clothes were way too small, greasy hair, and he wore shoes that barely held together.  I cannot remember his name.  He was invisible.  He was poor.  He was never given a chance.  I often wonder what became of him.  I wanted to say something to him like, hello, but never found the courage because I didn’t know what to say after hello.  He wore his label on the outside. Everyone knew it and ostracized him for it.

My labels were internal, but just as isolating.  I was a product of two divorces, sub-par family finances, and a mom who was dying.  What do teens say to that?  You’re a train wreck and we don’t know what to do with you, was one encounter I vividly remember.  I went to a large public high school filled with people who had more money than we did.  It wasn’t just that we were a single family trying to survive on a secretary’s salary, it was that my mom spent my entire junior year in and out of the hospital with cancer. Unable to work during portions of the year, I really have no idea how our bills were paid – my grandparents helped, I assume, and debt accumulated.

While many classmates had predictable schedules, homes, extra-curricular activities and parents to buy them poster board needed for a project or sign a permission slip or drive them around to friends’ homes and parties, my day went something like this: Sleep at my grandparents’ house, get up, go back to my house, shower, get dressed, go to school, leave school and go straight to the hospital to be with my mom.  There, I made great friends with the stiff, cold vinyl chair in her room in which I did my homework and watched tv while she slept.  One night, with books opened on my chest as I was slumped back in the chair, the nurse came in, tapped me on the shoulder and woke me up.  She said in a soft voice, Honey, go home.  Get some rest.  She doesn’t even know you are here. Although I appreciated her kindness, her words pierced my soul.  All of this is for nothing? I asked myself.  I gathered my books and drove back to my grandparent’s house in a sleepy daze just to start it all over again the next day.

Nobody knew this because nobody asked.  All I looked like was a disheveled mess.  There wasn’t a parent to tell me, You need a hair cut, or Your shoes need replacing, or You don’t look so good, do you feel okay?  My mom was simply trying to stay alive.  She told me once after a hard chemo treatment, The only reason I am alive is for you girls.  You are my reason for living.  

At a time when I didn’t know if she was going to live, and if not, what would happen to me, I was still straddling a world of teenageness where I needed to absorb academic material for tests, not be tardy for school, and keep from falling asleep in class.  I got so angry at other classmates when I overheard their whining about boys, cars, parties, and the latest gossip.  I thought, You don’t have a clue what life is about.  Your stupid little problems are NOTHING on the scale of life.  Get over yourself.  I kept those thoughts to myself so I wasn’t run out of town – or at least out of school.  I was completely unable to identify with anyone at my school – but desperately, secretly wanted to.  If others were having similar life-threatening problems at home, they didn’t share them.  None of us did.  Why?  Because who wants to be around high-maintenance teens?  No one.  In this age of life, teens are incredibly self-absorbed.  It’s normal in their development.  But “freaks” (as I saw myself) like me had a daily inner struggle with wanting to be a typical teenager, but at the same time being forced to be an adult – handling grown-up problems on my own with no dad and a dying mom. (breathe)

I remember at the end of my junior year, everyone was talking about prom.  Oh good grief, I thought.  Can this issue just please go away?  Is there any other high school event that singles out social groups, money and popularity more than prom?  My first limo ride (and only limo ride to date) was to my mom’s funeral barely after my junior year ended.  In the limo I thought, While everyone is taking their first limo ride to prom, I’m taking mine to my mom’s funeral.  

Since we’re being honest about feelings, which is what this blog is about, I’ll mention another extremely painful memory that may surprise some who haven’t walked this road.  The end of summer before my senior year.  Why?  That’s when moms (or dads) take their girls shopping for school clothes.  I can still smell the stale mall air as if it were yesterday, and I remember watching the girls that went to my school walk the mall with their moms and their shopping bags while I sat numb on a bench sipping a Sprite.  As a girl, this hurt almost as much as not having been validated by the male influences in my life in yesterday’s blog.  It seems like such a superficial thing, but digging deeper, to me it was more about not being able to spend time with my mom, ask her opinion on what looked good on my insecure body, and such a time would be a sort of send-off to my senior year that would have been affirmed by my mom.  This one step would have felt like a natural progression toward the beginnings of her letting me go.  Instead, she was ripped from my life by a horrific disease, and I had to let her go.

My mom had died just 2 months before, and I was now living with my grandparents to avoid foster care.  They loved me.  I loved them.  But, it was their daughter who they just buried.  We were all broken and didn’t know how to fix each other, so we just went to our own corners and licked our wounds.  They were from the Depression Era.  They were frugal and financially wise.  A senior in high school is not.  Whether it be they had no concept of buying school clothes because they A: were too deep in their grief; B: too frugal to see the physical need; C: too out of touch to see the social need; or D: a combination of these – the bottom line was I began my senior year in my older sister’s hand-me-downs.  Yes, I am thankful I had clothes to wear at all, but these were nothing to brag about.  They were old and tired.  I didn’t have the nerve to ask my grandparents for new ones, so I wore them without a word.

In high school, when you don’t look the part, you don’t get the part.  It’s really hard to be accepted into social groups where you stick out like a sore thumb.  I didn’t dress right; I didn’t have the right car (I drove my grandmother’s 1972 Cadillac which was defaulted to me from my mom when she died); I didn’t have a home to invite people over to, and I didn’t have parents to take my friends and me to fun places like to the beach or a music concert like others had.

Did I feel sorry for myself?  No.  I couldn’t go there.  If I had stopped for one second to think about the enormity of what was happening to my life, it would have swallowed me whole.  My life felt more like a Jason Bourne movie, where one thing happens after the next and you can’t blink or even go to the bathroom because if you turn away for a second, there is something around the corner that’s going to get you.  In many ways, I felt like it already had.

Today’s blog is dedicated to all of the BRAVE young men and women who are fighting for their lives, or a loved one’s life, today.  I want you to hear the Truth – circumstances do NOT define you.  Don’t believe the thoughts or people that tell you they do.  You are not a label.  You are a person – loved by God.  

By God’s grace, you CAN get through this.  People asked me, When are you going to get over your mother’s death and move on?  I was so offended!  If you love someone, you don’t “get over” their loss, but you can get through it.  It’s too much to handle alone.  Seek trusted help to confide in.

There is more to say on how to deal with teen labels of loss and trauma, and on this blog we’re not afraid to talk about it, ask tough questions, or simply admit I don’t know.  This issue is real for a lot of teens, and every single one of you count.  You are important.  You are loved.  Your feelings are valid, and you need to know you are not alone.

<<Check out the companion song to this blog on my Tunes page!>>