“I also became a volunteer to help other families who had experienced bereavement. It reminded me that I was not the most unfortunate one,” she says.
Eventually, the counselling and voluntary work not only influenced her values, but also her career path. She is currently studying for a degree in social work at Shue Yan University. “Life education is more than telling you what to do when you face deaths, it aims to reflect values in lives,” says Poon.
However, not every teenager can address grief and death so easily. Poon’s brother, who was 12 when their father died, responded to his passing by hiding in his room and expressing his emotions violently.
Rex Wong Chi-on, the centre director of the Comfort Care Concern Group that provides grief counselling, has come across young people who respond to grief by acting out.
“It is good to vent emotions in healthy ways such as playing ball games, running and swimming. But things can get complicated if [young people] do it through means such as self-mutilation, or compensated dating,” says Wong. He recalls the case of a teenager who became addicted to drugs after the loss of her father and was admitted to drug rehabilitation facilities.
Another long-term impact of death on young people is that they may develop a sense of insecurity and fear of sudden separation. This could shape their personality, leading to a lack of trust and fear of forming intimate relationships
Wong explains that more than 80 per cent of people can handle grief without the need of counselling. But for the others, resources are woefully inadequate. He says there are roughly 40,000 deaths per year in Hong Kong. At a conservative estimate that means one out of 10 deaths will lead to a child with a problem grieving, and that ten per cent of those cases will require professional aid, “It would only be 400 children, but the service in Hong Kong can’t even support that,” says Wong.
There are currently fewer than five organisations in Hong Kong providing specialised grief counselling services and life education. Wong says there is only one full time worker and a few counsellors at their centre. They can only handle around 60 cases a year.