Grief and Bullying: A Letter to Teens & Preteens

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Eleanor Haley

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Dear Griever,

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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5 Comments on "Grief and Bullying: A Letter to Teens & Preteens"

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  1. AL  November 26, 2021 at 4:37 pm Reply

    Thank you for this.. I can’t even believe kids would Target others for this reason it they do. My thoughts & prayers go out to all who are dealing with this very horrible treatment from others.

  2. Vicki  September 3, 2015 at 3:19 pm Reply

    Another post I wish I’d read back when it was happening.
    This was an absolute nightmare in my life. Even a teacher acted that way to her so I decided to take her out of school and have her taught at home.
    My daughter’s dad died in Tower 1 when she was a freshman in high school. A year later she was still unbelievably distressed and one of her teachers told her she was “taking too long to get over it.”
    She certainly didn’t say it was the other students and not my daughter; she was more inclined to think the other way around. I was still barely feeling any emotions about what had happened on September 11 (bc I was too damn numbed by it to feel much until my brother went to Iraq on March 24, 2003 and I thought I was about to lose another family member) but I was angry enough to take her out of school after the people supposedly in authority said she was taking too long to “process it” and “obsessing on it.” I didn’t know you “processed” grief. In fact I’m still not sure if you do or not; unfortunately, it took me almost 10 years to even start the grief work bc I couldn’t even find anything that made any sense until I discovered The Grief Recovery Method by accident.
    But until they found Osama bin Laden I never felt even an inkling of whatever closure is, I was always too upset that the person who created the problem was still living large. If he was living at ALL he was living large in my opinion. People have said he was living like a Spartan. I don’t care if he was living in the Iron Maiden; if he was breathing, he was being allowed to do more than the thousands of people whose lives he took without feeling any remorse for what he’d done. (I’m nowhere near ready to forgive him.)
    What made me most upset about the situation w/ my daughter is that every single person in the country had watched while her dad died but still couldn’t work out why she might be a tad more upset than usual about it. I would wonder to myself ‘what the hell is it going to take for some people if watching it happen made no impression on you?’ and I felt they were hopeless. Taking her out of school for a while seemed the only viable option.
    She was hospitalized for over 3 months when it first occurred bc she tried to take her life a month later and would have succeeded if I’d never been an EMT with on-the-job experience, which is the only way I recognized the ataxic muscles that the person with me mistook for her being in a deep sleep instead of unresponsive and in a reduced level of consciousness. Something seemed “wrong” about the way she was lying there and I felt compelled to check her vital signs.
    She had taken an overdose of time-release seizure medication (it was her dad’s) and I’m really glad I wasn’t a paramedic when this happened bc I would have fallen completely apart upon learning the information. I only knew vaguely what that meant then but trusted they would be able to save her, not the detail of it I know now – and how it was a game of waiting to see if her system was going to be strong enough to take the result of what would happen when the dosage finally peaked in her blood.
    I don’t do well with waiting to see whether someone’s going to make it due to the intervention of a medical miracle.

  3. julie  July 19, 2015 at 11:26 am Reply

    I’ve always thought to be the only one who was treated awfully after the tragic death of a parent.

  4. Patti  March 30, 2015 at 6:27 pm Reply

    You’re so very correct.These types are, indeed, just as you describe…”clueless”
    That cluelessness is precisely where said ‘tough love’ bully gets his/her bully-essence. There is a lack/void (big ol’ hole) where empathy, thus ‘clue’, should be. For reasons we as a collective culture will likely never fully understand -though science has come a long way in explaining the biopsychosocial components that contribute to a person’s demonstration of low or absent empathy/compassion- some people are hard-wired to dismiss/ignore/marginalize the despair and suffering of a fellow human being. When possible, empathy-wired types should work toward creating a safe distance from empathy-challenged types. This kind of systematic bullying is especially tragic in the case of children or other vulnerable individuals who are not capable of choosing to remove themselves from the ‘clueless’ offender.

  5. D. Johnson  January 29, 2015 at 2:10 pm Reply

    You missed one (type): the “tough love” bully. They think they are doing you a favor with gallows humor and a “get over it”! mentality. They may be scared, but they are also clueless as to how to offer support.

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