Genevieve Liu's dad died two years ago rescuing two boys from Lake Michigan.
“My dad pushed the two of them back into shore, but 20 minutes went [by] and eventually his body came back,” Liu said. “He drowned.”
She says she lost the one person who understood her most and never felt so alone.
“There are so many people out there who have lost a parent at a young age, but yet you feel like the only person in the entire world who it’s ever happened to,” Liu said.
One in ten kids in the U.S. under 16 loses a parent each year, but Genevieve says you'd never know it. She says she looked online for support and found only medical and religious advice, and some blog posts. So, the fourteen year old took matters into her own hands. She founded the nonprofit organization: Surviving Life After a Parent Dies, or SLAPD.
“I just came up with it because with the situation, as cliche as it sounds, you’re just sort of slapped in the face,” Liu said. “I mean you're totally caught off guard. It’s like the floor has come out beneath you and you don't know what to do.”
SLAPD is based on five components: an interactive forum, articles, interviews, ask an expert, and a tribute page.
“It’s a community where teens can go and realize that you're not alone in this situation,” Liu said.
Fourteen year old Isabel Levin, a friend and contributor, says she's found a lot of comfort in SLAPD since her mom died of cancer three years ago.
“It makes you feel [I'm] part of a club or a community rather than alone,” Levin said.
The girls know nothing can bring their parents back, but at least having a place to keep their memories alive will help them move on with their own lives.
By age 12, a youngster’s understanding of death approaches that of an adult. However, having the intellectual capacity to grasp the repercussions of death doesn’t necessarily equip them as a teenager to cope emotionally with the tragedy. Teenagers typically appear to feel grief more intensely than adults, especially if one of their parents died.
Because teenagers are so sensitive about how the world sees them, they may feel self-conscious or embarrassed by displays of grief and struggle to suppress their emotions. Grief is frequently expressed in one of the following ways:
- Changes in conduct or acting-out behaviors
- “Perfect” behavior
- A decline in academic performance
- Refusing to attend school
- Turning to alcohol or drugs to numb emotional pain
- Seeking solace through sexual relationship
- Overeating or under-eating
- Sleeping more than usual or not getting enough sleep
- Physical symptoms
Showing no reaction at all can also be misleading that the teen is coping well. The child may excel in school or immerse themselves in sports or hobbies. They may be using a defense mechanism known as sublimation, in which the youth is subconsciously trying to channel their strong emotions into a more socially acceptable outlet. For some children, months or years may pass before they allow themselves to fell the full impact of a loved one’s death.