A DEEP DIVE INTO GRIEF In Young People
by Arissa Roy
Arissa Roy is a Canadian High School student, activist, Unsinkable Youth Ambassador and founder of Project Power Global. Something she lives by every day is, "If not you, who." Follow @unsinkableyouth and @projectpowerglobal to plug into her newest venture, the Grief Initiative.
"When it comes to these great challenges like the pandemic, there are also many opportunities for loss. I know all too well what it feels like to lose something or someone in a blink of an eye."
— Arissa Roy
Generation Z (gen z) is one of the first young generations to live during a global pandemic. Not to mention all the other social issues striking today's youth including the almost unbearable effects of climate change, racism, gender inequity, political unrest and more. When it comes to these great challenges like the pandemic, there are also many opportunities for loss. I know all too well what it feels like to lose something or someone in a blink of an eye. In 2021, on my birthday, my family and I got a call saying that my grandma passed away. Her name was Khatoon Dhanani and she was an incredible woman. Not only did she work hard to be a great mother to my mom and her siblings, she also dedicated her life to service. Over her lifetime she raised more than 1 million dollars for charity projects with the Aga Khan Development Network working on development projects in rural communities. She was a change maker, inspiration and fierce woman. I loved her dearly and it was a huge shock to lose her. The following months were difficult as can be expected. I found school challenging and did poorly in classes I normally excel in. I found it difficult to see other grandmothers with their granddaughters, and holidays without receiving my grandmother's card was challenging. After a while, I realized that I wasn’t just sad, I was experiencing grief. In my opinion, this grief I will feel for the rest of my life. Now the question is, how do humans learn to live with it?
A study published by Frontiers Science noted that one of the most helpful strategies for dealing with grief is community. The power of having a supportive group of people you can rely on to pull you through the dark times is difficult to describe. I know that this is true because for the past two I have been working with an organization called Unsinkable, as the youth council chair. Unsinkable is dedicated to using the power of storytelling to make an impact in the mental health space. Every month from September to June, I gather with a group of middle school-aged youth to discuss all aspects of whole health, social dynamics, and generally how we are doing. When my grandmother passed away in February 2021, that community helped me a lot, and it inspired me to continue leading in the space. Fast forward to January of 2022, I was struck with another loss, but this time in a different form. Our Council supervisor was moving on from the position, and I was challenged with trying to navigate this situation to make sure our space could still function without them. This situation taught me that grief can come from any area in life, and it opened up a new perspective on the pandemic. Over the course of two years, the entire world changed and moulded into a novel reality. Despite a lot of positives, with newness comes great loss. A kind of loss that many young people have not ever experienced. Further, with the notion for our world to begin “building back better”, it finally hit me that we must do something - equip our youth with tools to understand, manage, and deal with grief in a constructive way. Right there came the birth of the "Grief Initiative".
"Now, to young people who may be reading this and can resonate with some of what I said so far, I want you to hear something. Everything that you feel is normal. When it comes to dealing with grief, the most crucial step is radical acceptance. This means not just accepting how you feel, but also what consequences come from your state."
For the past several months I have been working with both my team at unsinkable and my team at Project Power Global, the non-profit I started to organize the initiative. The ultimate goal of the project is to educate youth and expand awareness of grief by producing an event. Our goal is to work with various stakeholders including companies, mental health professionals, and leaders across Canada, to break the stigma around grief. With over 1.2 million youth across Canada suffering from mental illness, yet only 20% are getting the required support, there is a separate need for more awareness, resources and support (“Youth Mental Health Stats in Canada – Youth Mental Health Canada”). We are advocating for this.
Now, to young people who may be reading this and can resonate with some of what I said so far, I want you to hear something. Everything that you feel is normal. When it comes to dealing with grief, the most crucial step is radical acceptance. This means not just accepting how you feel, but also what consequences come from your state. Additionally, self-care is a must when it comes to grief. Ensure that you take time for yourself every day, doing something that makes you feel good. Secondly, the most transforming tip I can share is asking for help. A few months after my grandmother passed away I started going to therapy. I can't explain how helpful this was. Not just for my grief but also for starting to understand that in order to become the person you want, you will need support.
In conclusion, it is true that “grief only exists where love lived first.” When we grieve something it's only because we felt a degree of love for it/them. Although it can be painful, grief is an emotion that enables us to remember the importance of the thing or person in our lives and forces us to reflect on that.
Follow @unsinkableyouth and @projectpowerglobal to plug into the grief initiative.