There are no medications for grief

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

My 15 year old niece who now lives with me lost her mother one year ago. As my sister was a single mom and had no other children they were very close. Prior to her mom’s death my niece was an honor student. Although a bit head strong she had no behavioral issues and was a pleasure to be with. Now she is failing all her classes. She obviously is depressed and finds everything “Just no point” especially school. “Why do I need that crap?”  Therapy, medications, church have all made no difference. What am I supposed to do? What can I say?


At a Loss


Dear Loss,

In our culture, when we lose a loved one all we have left of them is our grief and suffering. Those who try to comfort us can seem as if they are trying to take our grief away as well. Many people try to keep their lost loved ones fresh in their mind like a photo they carry around. But memory fades regardless. The more others try to help us let go of our grief, the more we can try to hold on: “I will not let go. I will not forget.”

There are other ways to look at death. The western cultural idea of souls leaving to going to heaven can be viewed as another loss, requiring letting go of the person. I prefer the eastern view of death. All of your ancestors live a line that culminates in you here now. They are all within you and part of who you are. For your niece, her mom is part of this chain and lives on through it. All of your niece’s ancestors want her to go on and be successful and carry the torch on to her own children. She honors them all through her behaviors. If she improves herself through school she improves all of them. The opportunities she creates for herself and her future children are a gift she gives to both her past and her future.

Her mom doesn’t fade, isn’t lost, but continues to evolve in a dynamic with her.  Your niece’s mom did everything she could to help secure her the best opportunities she could because she loved her. Those gifts mom gave her aren’t gone; they are waiting to grow.

It is okay to grieve, feel mad, sad, guilt, whatever. There are no wrong feelings but there are wrong behaviors.  It is not okay to quit life. One has to choose to be alive even if it means change.

No one at 15 years old should have to get slapped in the head with reality like this but it is part of life. In no way should her grief be covered up through the numbness of medication, drugs or social expectations.  At the same time she needs to continue to deal with the usual responsibilities of a 15 year old.  Volunteerism helps a lot with grief. It can recycle negative energy into positive energy.


Dr. Brilliant Cliché


Granny says: I’m not sure if it is our egos that drive us to feel we should “help” people who are grieving, but it is a pointless effort. Grief is a long process that takes its own sweet time.

I have dealt with the loss of both my parents, a husband, numerous friends, and much-loved pets. Nothing that anyone said to try to comfort me did much but make me want to slap them. I know that your intentions are good, but anyone who tries to comfort those who grieve usually makes the error of assuming they understand how that person feels, and that comfort is what is needed. This just is not always the case. I know that when someone tries to comfort me, I often feel like I am being smothered or restrained by their needs. It is not about me- it is about the ideas in their own head, the things that they are imagining they would feel in my circumstance.

If you want to help your niece, be normal with her. Treat her like a normal girl. Expect her to deal, don’t treat her like she’s made of glass and will break. If she gets mad at you, that might be the best thing. I have seen people wallow in depression for months, unable to lift themselves out of it while their friends comfort them…and then one day, something will happen that sets them off and they will explode, scream at everyone, cry, just lose it. After that, they seem to be able to go on.

Life is tough. What happened to your niece is very sad. She is in mourning. She really needs everyone else around her to continue participating in life as usual. It can be more comforting than you know.





About Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Dr. Brilliant Cliché and the Granny Dr. are a fictional web presence and advice blog. Together we offer a joint perspective that is deep but not academic, entertaining but not fluff, and educated yet street smart. By joining the internet community we hope to share thoughts and stimulate insightful conversation around pressing issues that affect us all. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. (This is not a site for therapy nor does it intend to replace medical or other professional care. ) You can leave comments here or email The Dr. at and don’t forget to like us on facebook. Our facebook page is Dr. Brilliant Cliche
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5 Responses to There are no medications for grief

  1. Comment from Dr. Brilliant:
    The Disney movie, Mulan, is a great opportunity for questions and conversation around the eastern vs. western views of death.

  2. Reader K adds:

    Attitude is the position or context in which we bring our perspective. When it comes to death our perspective is already out of context. There are two parameters I would like to share which give out-of-context positions value. The first is Yalom’s concept of learning obliquely which is the way he states that we learn. Nothing refines and refreshes perspective more than the gift of making practical use from unplanned perceptions. The second is the relationship between success and happiness. Society claims that happiness comes when goals are successfully achieved. The reverse must also then be true. If we do not achieve the goals, we can not be happy. But there is one goal we may seek in which happiness is not correlated with success; and that is being human. I’m not suggesting we should seek to fail in life and by doing so we will be human and therefore be happy. What I am suggesting is we embrace the failure, identifying it as the unknown “wild-card” and main ingredient of our happiness.
    This young 15 year old lady has been exposed to the greatest mystery of all, death. Her views of death are not like anyone elses because she will “fail differently” than anyone else. This is why our words of comfort are often not helpful and at best only delay her journey where only the unique perspectives she will realize will be of any value. Why hasn’t church, medication, or therapy helped her? These disciplines are their own entity. They can assist but not lead the individual. Whether from an individualist or collectivist culture, the journey to death (at least from the physiological aspect) takes place one person at a time. This young lady could be grieving from many different angles; emotions of her own eventual death, whether the bond with her mother still exists somehow in the present moment, or whether its continuity is broken until some future point, or simply whether not knowing peace IS the answer at this time. We help this young lady best by being failures ourselves. Only then can she connect to the true human condition and the happiness that comes from it.

  3. Dear K,

    Interesting and informative.

    Dr. B.C.

  4. Not Alone says:

    I agree with K! We all grieve differently! There is no specific or standard way to accept a lost, especially at age 15. If I lost my mom at that age, I would angry and feel on control of the situation. Therefore, why should I bother with anything, and what is the point. I believe what the 15 year old needs is some empathy. Grieve with her, share her emotions, and don’t fight with her. You can’t totally understand what she is going through but at least you tell her that you are trying.

  5. Dear Not Alone,

    Yes, Ones Presence is the best of Presents !!!

    Dr. B.C.

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