September 2, 2011

"What should I say/do to my son after this happened to him?"

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From Ask Reddit:

I'm a single parent living with my 15 year old son. On Sunday a classmate of his died. (I will not say how or where as the last thing I want to do is bring the parents more grief by me posting it all over the internet.) I didn't know the girl personally but she was in most of my sons classes to my knowledge. He was very shaken when he heard the news, which is to be presumed but he has not talken to me since the incedent, he has stayed in his room since sunday night, I leave his dinners at the door.

Today while looking at the girls facebook, which is crowded with messages, I saw a post made by my son.

I have never told this to anyone but I have had a massive crush on you since the seventh grade.  This was the year I was going to ask you out.  I hate myself because I didn't ask you sooner and I miss you so much. Goodbye.

I had no idea he felt this way about her as he has never told me. I am starting to think he is depressed. I keep trying to talk to him but he wont reply. Should I get a psychiatrist for him. I honestly have no idea on how to deal with this. Please help.


Im sorry to say that he did the same thing as before, he closed the door before I could speak. Thank you for all the coments but I am really stuck now.

I know people are saying that I am prying into his life too much, but I need to know if he is going to her burial.

Just for clarity, I am his father

Edit Again

Hes going to the funeral. I heard his door close and there was a note at the door. "I am going to the funeral, if you are at work, I will bike there. I will not miss it."

Edit Its about 3 am here, I walked into his room about an hour ago. I just wanted to see him agian to be honest. He was on his bed sleeping. The room was covered in tisues. His eyes were bright red from rubbing them.

I was going up to tuck him in when he siad "What is it dad" I was taken back that he was awake and even hearing him was a shock. I told him that I will drive him to the funeral if he wants and that he should get some sleep. He asked about work, I siad that doesnt matter. I kissed him goodnight then left.

I think we had a breakthrough.


These are the four "Best" comments:

Time. Too much interference an attention during a normal grieving process can be damaging (see studies on the negative effects of debriefing therapies post-trauma). Be there, but let him be. I would only start to worry if his grades drop, and he continues to isolate himself (I'm talking months later). He will probably benefit greatly from attending the funeral and connecting with peers there.

  • PhD student in clinical psych


I think sending him to a psychiatrist would make him feel like there is something wrong with him. Losing someone special always takes time. Whenever you see him give him a good hug. Tell him he can always come talk to you whenever he needs to, but never force him to talk. He'll come to you when he's ready, if he ever is.


I had a lot of friends die when I was growing up. Between junior high and the end of high school, the count was closing in on two dozen. I'm not a psychologist or a counselor, but I went through a fair amount of grief, so take this for what you will.

Everyone deals with grief differently, so it's hard to say how much time your son needs or how this will affect him long-term. He needs to talk with someone--talking will be like letting poison from a wound--but he has to decide when and to whom on his own terms. The key is to make sure he has opportunities.

I didn't have a great family growing up, nor did I have many friends. I was the outcast loner because we moved to the school after cliques had formed and I didn't go to church, so I didn't have an instant social connection with anybody. School counselors are usually worthless, and several of the people who died were the ones I would talk with about serious matters. It was my chemistry teacher, late after school one day when I stayed to make up a test, who decided to forget the test and just spend time talking with me. We talked for over an hour and a half and then she drove me home, and that conversation did a lot to get me through. Prior to that, I had spent 4+ months locked in my room, staring at a wall in the mental equivalent of shock, just totally shut down. She was open to talking, and that was enough.

So be open to your son. Don't ever try to force him to talk, and don't force him to go to counseling if he doesn't want. Just provide space and time, and maybe even awkward silences, to give him room to talk.

If he's crying, let him cry for as long as he needs. Don't tell him it's OK or that it'll be alright. Don't say a damned thing. Just let him cry. Crying's like talking--it lets that poison out and can clean the soul a bit.

PM me if you want to Skype or something, as I'd be happy to talk more. After going through so much of this stuff when I was younger, I really want to do what I can to help others going through the same stuff. Let me know if I can be of any help.


Just let the kid grieve. Everyone needs time to let out all their emotions when someone the loved dies.


I lost a friend at about that age and I can tell you that 15 year old boys are primarily going to rely on their peers to help them come to terms with this. Seeing that OP's son is a 15 year old in 2011, much of that interaction is going to take place online and via cell phone.

The best thing OP can do is let him know your there to talk if he wants to (he won't, but it's still good to hear) and make sure he's got enough minutes/texts on his phone.


And the "Best" comment (1061 votes):

It's only been two days since the girl died and he's clearly grieving. Just give him some time to come to terms with it and let him know you're there when he's ready to talk about it.


Here's the problem with that otherwise well intentioned advice: it isn't for the Dad, it is about themselves.

The majority seem to think that the son is grieving a dead girl he had a crush on as if he had a relationship with her, but all of this grief is over a girl he did NOT have a relationship with.   I suppose it is possible that he was desperately in love with her from afar, and that her death has devastated him because he felt she was The One.  But it's far more likely she represented something to him that her death has either obliterated or made very real. 

Note the manner of death isn't mentioned. Hmmm. Let's assume, oh, I don't know, it was a suicide. How would that change our reading of the son's "grief" and his emotional connection to her?

Furthermore, no one thought it relevant that this is a son being raised by his father ONLY. I know we live in a post modern, nothing-is-remarkable period, but I'd like to suggest that that is odd, 3% of kids odd; and that therefore his relationship to women, to certain types of women, and to the loss of women, is probably of central but clearly unexplored importance.

And: he posted publicly on facebook. It's not surprising he posted his grief on facebook, it's surprising that he posted that he had a crush on her from afar on facebook. He's 15, right? The age where you are too embarrassed to announce unrequited love? Which means he's not telling her he likes her, he's telling everyone else a message that is encoded, "I was in love with THIS girl."

"Just let him grieve", "just give him time" is not good advice, because you do not know the context of this grief and most of what I am seeing tells me this is not normal grief. I could be wrong..   Do you want to wait to find out?

So, Dad, if you are reading this:

    If your wife died, you need to reach out to your son. If it can't be you, or it doesn't work, you need to find someone else to work through, even if it is a school friend. Even if it is the parent of a school friend. You cannot leave him to his own.

    If your wife is alive (e.g. divorced) get her involved. Maybe there's a good reason not to get her involved, but if there isn't a good reason not to, bring her in. Any aunts? grandmothers? Sisters? Female friends of his?

If he's drinking, it's not good.

You're his father, not his friend. This may make a certain kind of conversation impossible, fine, but you still have to represent a kind of man, a kind of strength and presence and selflessness, "even if you do not want me I am here, permanently, no surprises" and you reinforce that by constant, honest, non-contrived connections. You don't approach him as a peer because you hope it will make a connection, you come at him as Dad. He can reject it, but he needs you to be a Dad to reject. You don't/maybe can't make him feel better, but you have to offer a foundation for his sadness-- "any lower than this and I'm here." (Tucking him in and driving him to the funeral was great.)

And, Jesus, no more food at the door, are you Japanese?


But there's one more piece of information that makes this all more urgent.

Consider you are a 15 year old boy, grieving a potentiality that you loved, wondering where that leaves you now.  You have no place to express this loss, so you put it on facebook.

Now consider you are the father of such a boy, and you also have nowhere to turn, so you turn-- to reddit.  It may be normal for a boy to go to facebook, or a father to go to reddit, but it is anything but coincidental that a father who is so out of ideas that he is even able to have the thought to turn to reddit is raising a boy who who is similarly out of connections and defaults to the pseudo-anonymity of facebook.

This is not a judgment against them, but you have to understand the context and the only context we have are the words.  The father never mentions any other human being except his son and the girl.  He does not mention talking to family, or teachers, or other kids.  The father is not depressed and yet still operates in a tiny universe of two people.  The father himself is Alone, isolated, struggling for a connection to someone and losing his only real connection to another person.  So how do you expect a depressed 15 year old to act?

Both of their universes used to have at least two extra people: the father used to have a wife, the son used to have a mother, and now the son used to have a potential love.  By my count, the father lost 33% of the population of the universe, and the son lost 50%.  No wonder he's depressed.

Given this-- and, again, not a judgment, just a statement of fact-- given that they both operate in universes with very few people in it, the father must force a connection to his son.  He cannot wait it out, he cannot give him his space, he cannot let him grieve alone in his room for a month and let him come out of it on his own.

If forcing that drives his son in typical teenage fashion away from him into the arms of other kids, good-- at least there are other people in his universe.  But if that kid sadly drifts away from his father, into isolation, he will have lost 100% of the population of his universe.  It will then be too late.