A Video Essay on Teenage Grief

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Hospice Volunteer Services of Addison County
McMulti Production, distributed by Fanlight Productions
75 minutes. DVD $249.

When sisters Amanda and Meghan were in elementary school, their father committed suicide. Seven years later, “not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and wonder what it would be like if he was still here,” Amanda says. In another cruel twist of fate, their stepfather also committed suicide.

The summer before eighth grade, Kylie’s dad died of a drug overdose. She didn’t know he was addicted.

When Emily was 10, her dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. For six months, his family watched him fade.

Abby was 15 when her father fell off his bicycle and suffered severe brain damage. After a long coma and three years in a nursing home, he died of pneumonia. “He was really gone after that first day,” says Abby. He couldn’t recognize his family.

Viewers watch these five girls, now in high school or college, with bereavement counselor Virginia Fry of Home Health and Hospice in Vermont, who brought them together when she realized they needed one another. Their grief group is a safe place to find understanding from others growing up without fathers, worrying about their mothers, never knowing when waves of grief or anger might hit. Those who haven’t had such experiences have difficulty understanding the grief.

“People think you get over it more quickly than you do,” says high school guidance counselor Kathy Pelletier. She and another counselor throw out discussion starters to the group, such as, “What are some not helpful things people say?” The girls agree that those who say they know how it feels usually don’t. What helps is friends offering to be there, and meaning it.

The video has two parts. The first segment (28 minutes) shows the group in action, to provoke discussion in health classes, youth groups and support groups. The second segment (47 minutes) targets adults, replaying clips from the first part and adding new discussions, interspersed with commentary from Fry and Pelletier to guide health professionals and educators. (800) 937-4113, http://www.fanlight.com, downloadable discussion guide at http://www.hospicevs.org/HVS_Companion_GuideB.pdf.