I received a phone call from 99.1 WNEW, about a fatal car crash this morning in Frederick. Claire Knight was 17 years old and a student at Middletown High School. Her SUV collided with a school bus on Old Middletown Road late this morning and she was confirmed dead on the scene.
WNEW reporters were looking for my professional advice on how to help families and teenagers in the community, cope with this devastating loss. Giving a live interview is not something I have had a ton of experience with, so I hung up the phone feeling like I was not able to give such a heavy question justice, on the spot.
I remember one particular loss of a friend when I was a young teenager. The strange, surreal feelings came back as I considered how very different grief can feel at such a young age. As a parent now, the horror of losing a child, also pulls at my heart. I imagine there are a lot of tears falling in Maryland right now.
What can anyone do or say? Not much. There aren’t words to make this kind of pain go away. Gestures of love and respect are generally well received, but the time for words varies for each person. There are counselors and therapists available at Middletown High School for those who need to be heard, but for some, it is too soon to process feelings out loud, and that is alright. Unless expressions of grief lead to violence against the self or others, anything goes. Grief is a personal experience. There is no right or wrong way to feel and express it.
For some people, it can be helpful to use nonverbal expressions of love and grief to explore these complicated feelings. Rituals, like funerals are a comfort to many people. They create a culturally safe place to grieve as a group and find some small amount of closure. For others, a ritual might involve visiting a special place, and spending time writing, drawing, praying or meditating on grief, as it comes up. Words sometimes fail where art takes over.
Parents who are concerned that their child may need some support might want to consider reaching out to a minister or trusted family member or friend. It can be hard for kids to talk to parents about their feelings at this age, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk. A therapist is also a good option, but only if the teen in question is open to the idea. For some, the safe space of therapy becomes a way to let out grief and fears more easily.
As a therapist, the one thing I look for as a red flag, is a sense of guilt. If your loved one is expressing a feeling that he or she is directly to blame for the loss, this can lead to more profound complications in the grieving process. Some amount of guilt is natural. Often people will begin to wish that they had done something to prevent the tragedy from happening. But when a person feels genuinely responsible for the loss, it may be time to seek professional help.
Our hearts and prayers go out to the friends and family of Claire Knight.
Lorah Bess Hauf, LCPC
Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychotherapist
The Zen Life Wellness Community and Maryland Modern Family Counseling