When a Teenager Loses a Parent

middle schoolers holding hands in a circle

A question I get a lot is what type of student comes to Arthur Morgan School.  We get students from all over. A lot of middle schoolers seek us out because they want school to be something more than sitting at a desk.  Others choose us because they want a school where they can openly express themselves without fear of bullying or peer pressure.  Some of them feel most excited about our art spaces while others can’t wait to go on our outdoor trips. Over the years we have seen another group of students that find AMS and then thrive here: teenagers who have lost a parent.

Even under normal circumstances, middle schoolers have a difficult time understanding and expressing their complex emotions. After experiencing a trauma like losing a parent or other family member, it can be even more challenging to process what they are going through, especially if their other parent is also grieving. Balancing their grief with their desire to have normal teenage experiences can be hard. Attending AMS allows these students the space to redefine themselves in a new setting, surrounded by caring peers and adult mentors who can help them when they are ready. We don’t replace the valuable services that counseling can provide teenagers in these situations, but we offer a safe place that supports their grief and helps them through it.

A Unique Situation with a Common Thread

two middle silhouetted against the sun sitting on a roof

The following story is by Michelle Cordova, the parent of one of our alumnus. In her own words, you can hear the difference AMS made in her son’s life after her husband’s death. While her family’s story is unique, its theme is one I hear repeated over and over from families in Michelle’s situation. We thank her for sharing.

My son’s father died suddenly in an accident sixteen days before his 12th birthday. Before that, life was good for my son – he was in a safe, secure family with two loving parents. His relationship with his dad was based on love, companionship, friendship, and most of all, mutual respect. My son adored his father. After that day, life would never be the same for him.

two middle schoolers sitting on swing looking at the mountains

My son always had issues with anxiety and relied heavily on his father to help guide him to walk a mindful path in life. Together, they appreciated and soaked in the natural world through their love of photography, biking, and hiking. I can’t even fathom what it would be like to have your rock torn away from you so violently, so suddenly, so unexpectedly – especially for a child. At first, he was brave. He held it together for me, his mother, and his younger sister. He went on with life, attended school, but never really talked much about his dad, or what happened, or what he was missing. He did a great job of shoving his feelings way below the surface.

“Getting up in the morning and facing the drive to school
and his friends was more than he could bear.”

That worked for about a year. When he was headed into the eighth grade, my son took a turn for the worse. He became withdrawn, isolated, and depressed. Getting up in the morning and facing the drive to school and his friends was more than he could bear. He decided he couldn’t do it anymore. He would hide under his covers in the morning, throw the blankets over his head, and cry until I agreed to let him miss ‘one more day’ of school. We were all exhausted.

In the winter of 2012, we discovered Arthur Morgan School. My son was – to my surprise – open to the idea of going to visit, so we contacted the school and made an appointment to visit in early spring of 2013. This was no easy task. We live on the west coast and the trip to North Carolina was not a quick one. Once we got there, we were both instantly sold on the school. The welcoming, warm environment was all we needed to know he was home!

The spring and summer of that year held a lot of anxiety for us both – now knowing what to expect, my baby boy flying across the country and living 2,000+ miles away from me, all these unknowns were scary. When we arrived at AMS that year, my son was ready to say goodbye to me – more than I was, that’s for sure! The staff embraced him, guided him, and helped him through his anxiety and his grief.

a middle schooler and a teacher talking

AMS saved my son’s life

My son stayed at AMS for two years and completed 8th and 9th grade there, coming home for holiday and summer breaks. I shared with the group at AMS, during the graduation ceremony, that ‘AMS saved my son’s life’ and I meant it! The youthful, caring male models were his mentors and they were exactly what my son needed at this time in his life.

I am very grateful and forever thankful to AMS, the staff, the school life, the challenges, the experiences, and guidance it provided my son – and me – during the most challenging years of our lives. I cannot imagine what we would have done without AMS. It scares me to think about how things would have turned out differently – possibly tragically – if we hadn’t found this gem in the mountains of North Carolina.