This was a dreadfully sad week for the fans, friends and family of James Gandolfini. As we are all painfully aware, he died of a massive heart attack while he was in a hotel in Rome. We will all miss this Emmy award-winning actor and HBO star as we expected to have him entertain us for many more years. He was only 51-years-old and way too young to die.
We are all especially sad that this actor was reportedly found after his heart attack by his 13-year-old teen son. It is one thing to have a parent die. It is yet another to find that parent and watch the parent die. My heart goes out to this teenage boy. He will need to grieve the loss of his father while likely at the same time wondering if there was anything that he could have done to save him. I do not know James Gandolfini's teen son but I do know how teens think after witnessing a trauma. They have a tendency to question themselves and in many cases to assume responsibility for what happened.
I hope that this teenager has access to a support system that will allow him to grieve and discuss all of his thoughts. None of his thoughts should be dismissed or invalidated. Unfortunately, many adults have a tendency to be dismissive without being aware of what they are doing. Simply telling a teen that their feelings are silly is not comforting. It is much more comforting and helpful to entertain all of a teen's thoughts and talk them through in a thoughtful and understanding manner.
This boy, like many other teens who lose their parents, will need a great deal of support. He will likely alternate between all of the stages of grieving including anger, shock and finally acceptance. He will need to be figuratively held by the hand and allowed to talk about his father and the minutiae of that particular day that his father died. He will also need to eventually come to an understanding of what happened and what he could and could not have been expected to do on that day that will clearly be a marker in his life.
Of course, cameras will be following him as he grieves his father's death. It is certainly much harder to grieve appropriately while in the public's eye. He may feel both the sting of his father's death while being blinded by the light of the cameras. I hope that this is not too much for him to handle.
My hope is that we respect his need to grieve and that the spotlight does not exacerbate the challenges that he will face in the year ahead. I hope, also that he cherishes memories of his father and has much support around him. No one can ever replace a father but I hope that he is able to build a rich and fulfilling life that his father would have been proud of.