It’s hard to believe that this letter needs to be written. You can call me naïve and out of touch, but I just took for granted that people should be sensitive to those grieving the death of a loved one. I simply assumed everyone knew that under no circumstances is it cool to use another person’s trauma or loss to manipulate, taunt or bully them.
If you are being bullied about your loved one’s death, I’m sorry. I’m sure when your parent, sibling, friend, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or other loved one died you thought things couldn’t get any worse; then, thanks to one or more of your peers, they did.
It seems only logical that grieving kids should get a break from this type of negativity because you already have so much to deal with. You should be able to go out into the world and find support, kindness, and maybe even some relief from your pain and sadness. The thought that you would encounter meanness seems hard to understand.
When someone is treating you badly I know you'd rather shove them in a pig sty than take the time to understand their behavior; yet I find that looking deeper into a "problem" often makes it less threatening and scary. Of course I don't want to find reasons to excuse your bully's actions, but I wonder if knowing where they come from might make them easier to deal with. So let's take a few minutes to brainstorm all the reasons why your bully might be acting the way they are, I promise it won't take long.
My first instinct is to think your bully is a self-centered, insensitive, cruel, evil, heartless jerk. Thankfully, because of their bad deeds, they will grow up and find themselves miserable and disliked, living in a leaky, creaky, stinky apartment with bad internet connection and spotty cable, and working a boring job where people yell at them all day. Trust me, this is even worse than it sounds.
This is a pretty harsh judgement though and, even though it seems like your bully deserves it, I'm not so sure. In reality very few people are all bad and often those who act mean do so for reasons that aren’t observable to us or even obvious to them. Because we’re awesome and generous people, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and keep on digging.
Another pretty common reason why people bully is because they’ve been pushed around, yelled at, put-down and teased themselves. I know it seems odd to think people would repeat the very behaviors they've been hurt by, but it’s just something that happens. It’s kind of weird to think that your bully, the person responsible for your misery, actually knows what it’s like to feel the same type of pain you're feeling. I’m just glad you’re not the type of person to turn around and take it out on someone else. Thank you for being you. Let’s move on.
I guess you don’t need me to tell you that your loss makes you different than your peers. Maybe a few other kids in your school have experienced the death of someone they love, but probably not many. Your loss makes you different and bullies love to pick on differences. Why? Because they need a target and they can’t very well pick on their peers for being the same. For some bullies any target will do and because we can’t all always be the same as everyone else, we all end up being targets at some point in our lives.
Right now your scars make you a bit more vulnerable than others. Grief makes us all vulnerable. But don’t worry, there’s actually some of evidence that kids who experience the death of a loved one in childhood grow up to feel stronger and wiser than their peers.
They’re just jealous. I know weird, right? You’ve experienced the death of someone you love, how could anyone be jealous of this? But it's not the loss they're jealous of, it's the attention. Chances are most people have had the appropriate response to your loss and that’s one of showing caring, kindness, support and assistance. This is the kind of attention that some kids crave and they think if they were in your shoes, they would feel special.
My last guess is that the bully thinks your loss is scary and fear makes people do crazy things. Fear might even make someone put your loved one down and pretend their death is something crazy, odd, or bad. They do this to distance themselves from the loss and to make it seem so different and out of the ordinary that it could never happen to them.
You know the thing that’s happened to you, it is pretty scary. Even some of the strongest and most brave adults are scared of the stuff you’ve been through. You are incredibly tough and you’re just as strong, if not stronger, than anyone else.
1. Remember it’s probably not your fault. It’s not you, it’s them; they're just looking for a target.
2. Ask yourself, "Who in my life is acting like a friend?" It’s often pretty clear who is being nice and who isn’t. Don't ignore those who are willing to protect you because you're so busy seeking the approval of those who treat you unkind. Stick with your true friends, there's strength in loyalty, support and numbers.
3. Plan how you will respond the next time someone picks on you. Will you walk away? Pretend they're not even there? Feel sorry for them? Tell an adult?
4. Talk to an adult about what you’re going through. If you talk to one adult and they're not supportive, talk to another. Different people are helpful in different ways and sometimes you have to go through several people before you find the right person to help you with your problem.
5. Talk to your parent or guardian about opportunities to spend time around kids your age who are also grieving. Grief camps and support groups are places where you won't feel quite so different and maybe a few of the kids you meet will even be able to relate to what you've been through.
Lastly, remember you're awesome, you're strong, you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness, and your loved ones - those who are here and those who have died - are right beside you.
The WYG Girls
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We wrote a book!
After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books: