Nobody likes to think about death – whether its our own or that of someone we love. Yet death inevitably touches all our lives, and its impact changes us forever. If it is difficult for adults to cope with the loss of a loved one, imagine the struggle of a child, who lacks the knowledge, experience, or even sufficient vocabulary to express their feelings.
This is something 16-year-old Kim Ternan knows about, and has experienced firsthand. Kim became aware of the problems caused by unresolved grief while watching her younger brother struggle with grief, after the death of his best friend. The experience inspired her to help other teens in similar situations.
Her brother, Jack, was just 12 years old when his best friend Reid drowned in Sept. 2013. “At first, he seemed ok,” Kim said. “He was sad and subdued, but we all were. He continued to play sports and participate in all his school activities. But he wasn’t okay, and about six months after Reid’s death, he changed.”
Her little brother, who had always been happy and easygoing, began to withdraw. He dropped out of the sports he had always loved, stopped hanging out with friends, stopped talking to his parents and sister, stopped doing his homework and didn’t want to go to school. He also began marking many things with Reid’s initials – RHK – on folders, sports equipment, etc. He felt that everyone had returned to their “normal” life, but his wasn’t normal anymore.
“My parents were really worried,” she said.”Fortunately they knew about the Children’s Bereavement Center and Jack started seeing a counselor there.
“I watched how he changed – how going to the Center made such a difference in his life. He was able to express his feelings and began to talk about his sadness. The counselors helped him see that he could still be happy, could still enjoy life, even though he missed his best friend,” Kim explains, adding, “When Jack’s experience was so positive, I wanted to let other teens know that it was okay to need help – and to ask for it.”
As a longtime Girl Scout who had already completed projects for her Bronze and Silver Awards, Kim decided to devote her Gold Award project to educating grieving teens about the importance of asking for help. The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest achievement in Girl Scouts, and challenges high school age girls “to change the world—or at least your corner of it.” Gold Award projects focus on a local problem that is linked to a national and/or global issue. The project must “address the root cause of this issue, and produce impact that is measurable and sustainable.”
Kim developed the idea for a video that would show teens – from a teen’s perspective – “that you shouldn’t be embarrassed to need help, and that it’s important to ask for help.” She met with the staff to learn about the center, plan, and get help with her project. She was impressed by the services provided, the different ways the staff meets the needs of bereaved children, and the effectiveness of the program.
Peer support groups are the core of the center’s program and are designed to help children and families develop the relationships and tools they need to cope with a significant death loss. The center’s goal is to stabilize the family and improve overall mental health. The ultimate goal is to prevent dysfunctional behaviors and unhealthy outcomes for grieving children. Support groups are augmented by individual and family counseling if needed.
According to Center Program Director Tami Logsdon, the biggest problem”is the lack of awareness of our program. We feel that we are everywhere, all the time, telling people about our services, but in reality there is much greater need, especially among teens.”
Kim was happy to learn that her project would help to solve this problem. The Alamo Heights High School sophomore began working on the video 18 months ago, outlining her ideas and consulting with the center’s staff and neighbor Trish DeBerry, whose son had been on a baseball team with Reid, about the best way to show the importance of asking for support and guidance after the death of a loved one. As part of her research, Kim also participated in Camp Heroes, an overnight camp experience for grieving children held at the center in summer 2015. While serving as a peer leader, she met one of the video participants. The staff at Innovative Multimedia Group (IMG) volunteered their time, expertise, and equipment for filming and editing, while The Deberry Group underwrote the video.
The center’s staff put Kim in touch with several teens who had received help at the center and were willing to talk about their experiences on camera. The young people who appear in the film, freely share their feelings and talk about the ways in which they were helped by the services available at the Center. The resulting video, Teens Take On Grief provides the audience with a window into the pain, anger, fear, and confusion experienced by young people following the death of a loved one.
“There is no doubt that Kim’s film will be a great tool for us to use in getting the word out to the San Antonio and South Texas communities about our programs,” said Logsdon. “It will help us realize our organization’s vision that ‘every grieving child and young adult in San Antonio and South Texas will have access to competent, compassionate care when faced with the death of a loved one.’”
For Kim, the most important message conveyed by Teens Take On Grief, is that “It’s not weak or uncool to grieve or to ask for help. It’s more important to do what you need to, in order to get better. It’s about YOU and about YOUR feelings.”
To view the video, click here.
The film premiered at the center on April 1, kicking off a new effort to meet the needs of grieving teens. Starting April 15, the center will set aside one night each month exclusively for teens. Kim’s friends and family were on hand to celebrate with her, and Maj. Gen. Angie Salinas, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas was also present to acknowledge Kim’s accomplishment.
“This project changed my view,” Kim said. “I used to think it was weak to grieve, or that it was something you had to do in private – get over it – move on. Now I know it’s more important to get help.”
She wants this message to spread to other communities, she said.
“I want my peers to know they can – and should –ask for help! And I want people who work with teens to know that this help is available.”
The video has been uploaded to the Center’s website and will be used by the organization’s Outreach Coordinator for education and awareness purposes. In addition, school counselors were invited to the premiere and have received an email containing a link to the video on the Center’s teen page.
Though there are still many hours of work ahead before she can submit it for consideration by the Gold Award panel, Kim is content.
“It feels good to let people know it’s here,” she said, referring to the Children’s Bereavement Center. She hopes to receive a Gold Award in spring 2017.
Thanks to Kim’s efforts, soon many more young people in San Antonio and surrounding communities will learn about the Center and benefit from the help and support offered there.
Top Image:Teens sit and watch Kim Ternan’s film at the Center. Photo Courtesy of the Children’s Bereavement Center