Time may heal some wounds but Michelle Shreeve knows their pain never fully goes away.
She still remembers her mother’s death in December 1993 – when Shreeve was only 9.
The Gilbert writer – who wrote columns for teens for several years in AFN while she lived in Ahwatukee – has channeled her lingering loss into helping children whose lives have been torn apart by the loss of a parent or other beloved adult.
Several years ago, she published “Parental Death: The Ultimate Teen Guide.”
It is based on her interviews with 90 people ranging in age from pre-teen to the mid-80s and is part of the “It Happened to Me Ultimate Teen Guide” series published by Rowman & Littlefield and available at Barnes & Noble bookstores and hardback and digital forms on a variety of book-sale websites.
Now, Shreeves has embarked on a follow-up to that project.
She is working on a book tentatively titled “Coping with Parental Death: Insights and Tips for Teenagers,” which will be a part of publishers Rowman & Littlefield “Empowering You” series.
The series is aimed at helping young adults deal with important issues that they or their friends might be facing, such as coming out, having a loved one with dementia, cyberbullying, depression, grief, volunteering and other topics.
Each book features stories from teenagers themselves to provide personal perspectives to the issue.
Shreeve is looking to connect with anyone who lost a parent before age 20. "Even if children lost their parent at 8 or 10 years ago, example, they can still share how it felt during their teen years," she said. "Same with adults who might be 70 years old now."
“I would like to share their story to help other teens navigate this difficult situation,” she said.
Teens can email her at email@example.com, she will send them a questionnaire that she will edit and send to her publisher while sending them a consent letter their parent or guardian can sign that allows their words to be published.
There is an option for anonymity in the book.
The last time Shreeve did this she received over 60 emails in 24 hours, so she advises that respondents should be patient because she will get back to them in the order their initial email is received.
Her goal is to “offer support, healthy coping mechanisms, advice from other teens who have experienced parental death and from adults looking back to when they lost one or both of their parents during their teen years.”
“It will offer resources, organizations, support groups and more to help teens not feel alone who are facing a parental death situation,” Shreeve explained. “It will also list movies, books, and notable figures in society who grew up without one or both of their parents but still gave something positive back to the world.”
Shreeve said her own mother’s death still pains her, especially on holidays and particularly on Mother’s Day.
For a while, she said, “I would also watch comforting motherless daughter or mother-daughter movies to help make it through the day, not to mention talk to her and cry.”
A 2003 graduate of Mountain Pointe High School, Shreeve holds two undergraduate degrees in psychology and two master’s degrees in English and creative writing.
Between 2008-16, she wrote the Ask Mikey advice column for the Ahwatukee Foothills News and has been a freelance writer since 2008, frequently writing about the topic of parental death.
“I want to make sure kids, teens, young adults and grieving families know that they’re not alone in this, and that there are many others who have gone through parental death or are currently going through it like they are,” she said.
“When I was young and going through my own personal loss, I used to get scared and worried about my future,” Shreeve explained. “I would often think my life was in trouble because I didn’t have two parents to support me like most of my peers did.
“I would think to myself, there has to be someone out there who lost a mother/parent like I did but was still able to make it. I knew that I couldn’t be the only person out there.”
Before reaching out to people for her first book, she researched the topic of parent death and found “many notable people – Nobel Prize Laureates, actors, athletes, musicians, philosophers and more – who grew up to give something positive back to the world but who also lost a parent like I did.”
“I thought if they could make it through their childhood without one or both of their parents and still pursue their dreams or give something positive back to the world, then maybe I could make it too. And that gave me strength and motivation on my challenging days. I also used it as a therapeutic coping method.”
She had not been prepared for the responses she received when she was seeking people for her first book.
“Each and every one of the participants’ stories was heartbreaking, especially when realizing what they went through at such a young age,” Shreeve said. “There were many times when I had to walk away from the computer as my heart broke for each participant. … Let’s just say many tears were shed and went into this book that came from both the participants and myself.”
“In the book, I tell children and teens there are two ways you can handle your loss throughout the rest of your life: You can either use it as a handicap and say you don’t know how to do this or that because your parent wasn’t there to teach you, OR you can learn things on your own, be there for yourself instead of dependent on others and teach yourself the things your late parent left off teaching you.”
“Something I’ve noticed over coping with the death of my mother, helping others feels like the right thing to do.”
She still thinks about her mom.
“I try to act like she’s still here,” she explained. “I talk to people about her, I watch movies that I think she and I would have probably watched together, I look at old pictures and I even talk to her daily. I’ve learned a lot about myself, some things the hard way... but that is why I wanted to share this book with other kids and teens who might be struggling with parental death.”
To order her first book: rowman.com/ISBN/9781442270879/Parental-Death-The-Ultimate-Teen-Guide