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Teen Retreat Supports Grieving Youth

Categories: Blog, children's grief, grief and loss

Teen Retreat Supports Grieving Youth

Image of teens in a circle from 2018 midland care Teen Retreat 29

Midland Care’s annual Teen Retreat for kids ages 12 to 17, was held this past weekend at the Midland Care Center for Hope and Healing in Topeka. Teen Retreat offers teens the opportunity to interact with others their age who have experienced the death of someone they love. In the retreat atmosphere, participants cook meals, interact, watch movies, enjoy outdoor activities and spend time memorializing their special person. More informal than Hearts of Hope Camp for younger children, the Teen Retreat is a relaxed opportunity to remember a loved one and learn coping tools to deal with the loss.

Activities at this year’s retreat included aromatherapy, crafts and ukulele group. Teens also moved through five therapeutic groups, including:

  • Telling the Story: Teens used story cards to start conversations with others in the group about when they found out their loved one had died. The moment they learned about the death is a powerful memory, and processing their feelings can be an important part of their grief journey.
  • Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda: Sometimes when someone dies, we don’t get to say goodbye or the things we wish we had said. Teens wrote the three words on three separate post-it notes, and stuck them to themselves, showing how guilt, etc. can “stick” to them. They had the option of shaking the sticky notes off and putting them into a fire, or leaving them on and continuing to work on them.
  • Remembering: Group members threw a ball around the group. The group member with the ball opened a bag with memory cards, took one out, read it and responded, sharing a memory of their loved one.
  • How I Am Affected: Group members threw a die and chose the reaction card that matched the color on the die. Group members shared whether the reaction applied to them, and discussed which reactions are most common. This activity helps normalize teen’s feelings surrounding grief.
  • What Helps/Continuing Bonds – Teens read and discussed Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning and created a “How I Will Continue To Remember You” poster to promote ongoing connection and self-care.

This year’s retreat served fifteen teenagers, who worked with ten specially-trained adult volunteers. We have learned that teens respond to people who choose to be a companion to them on the grief journey, rather than to direct it. Grief for a teen is different from that of a child or an adult, compounding and complicating his or her already complex life. When someone close to a teen dies, they may suddenly find themselves dealing with unresolved issues with the person who died, the circumstances of the death, dramatic changes in his or her life situation or changes in relationships with others after the death.

On Saturday night, the group participated in a fire ceremony to help wrap up retreat. Each person made a spirit arrow, a piece of bark, paper with their writing on it (something to purge or make go away), feathers and twine. Individually, and after a prayer to each direction, they threw these into the fire. The ceremony was followed by s’mores and a movie.

Midland Care thanks our donors, whose financial support makes this program possible, and our volunteers. Special thanks to Mary Truhe, who prepared meals for the Teen Retreat.

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