By Kathy Jefcoats

The families of two teens killed in a car crash Wednesday evening have years of coping ahead of them, say local grief experts.

"Children are not supposed to die before their parents," said Greg Cannon, a certified grief facilitator. "There is the feeling that these kids didn't have the opportunity to live."

Cannon is one of the owners of Cannon Cleveland Funeral Directors, which is handing the final services for crash victims Joshua Carreker, 18, and Tyler Phillips, 16. Tyler was a student at Union Grove High School where Joshua was a former student.

The Carreker's family is compounded by the fact that they had already lost two children. A son, Jordan, was 11 and trying to cross a road when he was struck by a hit and run driver nine years ago. The driver was never found. A daughter, Tara, died shortly after birth. With Joshua's death, Chris and Libby Carreker are left with Kristen and Christopher.

"This is a very traumatic experience for them," Cannon said.

Tyler leaves parents Dave and Kim and brothers Chris and Max. None of the family members could be reached for comment Friday.

Cannon and colleague Don Daly offer grief counseling to the public at Henry Medical Center. The hospital's pastoral director, Chaplain Bob Griffin, is a certified grief counselor and supervises 12-week classes on coping with loss at Henry Medical Center. Cannon said his funeral home is the only local one he knows of that offers grief counseling.

About a week to 10 days following a funeral, Daly visits families, delivers certified copies of death certificates and advises them on the after-care program.

"But the classes are open to the public and gives families an opportunity to be with other people experiencing death," said Cannon.

Not everyone is immediately ready to face their loss.

"We've had people come as long as three years after a death," Griffin said. "For some, it takes that long to face the fact they can't handle grief. Working with a group is a good way of doing it."

Griffin said the families can expect to have to overcome four stages of grief - shock, denial, anger and sometimes depression. They may also feel guilt.

"They can expect there to be a lot of anger," he said. "And people deal with it in different ways in terms of moving through it. It certainly takes time. Hopefully, they can have people to talk to about how they are feeling."

Don't even talk about "getting over" such a loss.

"We never talk about getting over it," said Griffin. "You learn how to live your lives with the loss of the person you've loved but you don't get over it. It is part of your life from now on."

Survivors also should not put a deadline on dealing with grief.

"People will say you can deal with grief in 30 or 60 or 90 days," Cannon said. "But it can take two-six years to come to terms with the loss. People also need to learn they are not crazy. Death brings on a lot of emotions that make you think you're losing your mind."

What does help is learning that the relationship with the deceased loved one can continue, just not in the same way.

"Death is an ugly thing and takes a lot away," he said. "The person is gone physically but what we knew and loved about that person is in our hearts. The relationship is not physical anymore but through our hearts and minds, we can still have a relationship."

Because of the teens' link to Union Grove High School, Cannon offered grief counseling services to Principal Rodney Bowler. Making such resources available to teens is an important part of the coping process because young people rarely know how to handle their emotions about death.

"We've encouraged Mr. Bowler to offer printed materials we brought to the school," he said. "Young people haven't had to deal much with death and don't know how to express their grief. For that purpose, we have an online guest book that we've encouraged the kids to send condolences to the families. It is often therapeutic for young people to write their feelings."

Cannon also encourages parents to talk to their children about the teens' deaths.

"Talk to your kids and listen to them," he said. "Let them know they have an avenue to what they are thinking and feeling. The death of a young person often opens the doors of their friends to become depressed. But parents and kids don't always talk so let them know they have other resources. They can always contact us."

Services for the teens are Saturday at Cannon-Cleveland Funeral Directors. Tyler's service will be held at 11 a.m. followed by Joshua's at 2 p.m.

For information on the grief classes at Henry Medical Center, contact Griffin at 770-389-2252.