When it comes to the recent tragedies involving "bullycide" (bullying that leads to teenage suicide), how are we supposed to cope as parents? As a community? Grief expert David Kessler explains why there are new lessons to be found in the classic five stages of grief.
It is easy to get lost in the question of how did this happen? But what can get missed is the grief that follows a bullycide. My work over the years has taught me a simple truth: Grief must be witnessed. One parent who lost a teenager wrote: "I am so sorry you were in so much pain and I missed it. I can't begin to understand a world that became so hard you saw no way out but death. I would have moved, changed schools or moved across the country for your happiness; and yet, I will never have the chance to go back and make this wrong, a right. I will never know how the school let things get so bad and why limits were not set by the school's administration to keep not only you from being harmed but also other kids from straying into their darkness."
Bullying has changed indeed. "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me" will never ring true again. As it turns out in life, skin and bones may heal quicker than emotional wounds. With so much violence on TV, in music and in the movies these days, we sometimes forget just how fragile we are—especially when we are young. And in today's world of mass media and so many new ways to communicate (the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), words have become even more important and more potent, and—unfortunately—more damaging than ever.
In school bullying, you are left with cries for help that never came; or worse, those cries for help that did come and were left unanswered. Grief casts a large shadow when it comes to bullying. The parents, the siblings, the bullies, the teachers and all the students will be forever changed. In grief, we want to find answers, we want to know our loved ones did not die needlessly. In teenage suicide bullying deaths, satisfying answers are few and far between. The grief that follows bullycide is as abundant as it is harsh. It is no wonder it divides schools and communities. Besides grieving for the young person who died, there are other losses to mourn as well:
• The parents of the victim don't just lose their child; they also have to deal with the added horror of feeling responsible in some way for not seeing it coming.
• In a way, the bullies themselves lose life as they knew it, because they are now labeled as being "bad."
• The parents of the bullies also suffer a loss of sorts—their child is probably not who they thought he/she was, and their lives are forever changed.
• Most of the kids in the school often grieve on some level at what they did or didn’t do; they also must deal with a loss of innocence.
Why bullycide brings on a much more complicated grief