Few bombs leave as much immediate damage as a life cut short. The effects are lasting and deep. Because it’s so unexpected, the death of a teenager catches everyone unaware—often including the youth worker.
Plan ahead. Have readily available the numbers of local counseling agencies. Interview potential counselors so you don’t have to make referrals blind. And don’t be afraid to refer. Everyone deals with grief differently. Sometimes their grief will go beyond your expertise as a pastoral coach.
Know the infrastructure. C’mon – you’re a youth worker. Spend some time building relationships with school administration. Know the school counselors. Even if they are resistant to you, in times of crisis they will remember your name and availability. Always be sure to leave an updated business card with them, just in case.
Pencil the calendar. For the foreseeable future, you’ll be spending time talking with people – parents, students, others who are grieving. So write your calendar in pencil and be available for interruption. Expect the late-night phone calls and adjust your work schedule accordingly.
Expect to grieve, as well. Don’t forego your own grief to help others. It’s dysfunctional and unhealthy. Even if the student was not personally involved in your ministry, expect to have pangs of grief because of the heart you carry for teenagers. Find someone available to share your hurt and heart with. And do so liberally.
Remember the words of Jesus in Luke 6: You’re blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning.
Darren is a veteran youth pastor in Corpus Christi, TX, and co-hosts a weekly podcast for parents of teenagers (http://www.facebook.com/mipodcast) with his wife, Katie.