When a Teacher or Classmate Dies: Helping Students Grieve When COVID-19 Prevents Physical Gathering
It is not unprecedented that a teacher, school employee, or student may die when school is not in session; summer break is one example. The difference now, of course, is that we can’t gather in person to honor the life and commemorate the loss of someone in our school community. The need for physical distancing does not require social separation. There are numerous actions and activities that schools and parents can take to provide opportunities for children and teens to recognize and mourn those who die during this quarantine period.
Most school policies on responding to the death of someone in their community likely have not considered how to adapt those policies when school might still be technically in session, but not in person. Whatever you call the current schooling options – online, virtual, remote, or distance learning – none of these modes are particularly conducive to collectively memorializing a deceased friend, peer, teacher, or other school staff. However, existing policies and procedures can be adapted for this new reality, and here are some options to consider:
Zoom, Facebook Livestream and/or Videoconference Remembrance Sessions
All of these platforms pre-date COVID-19 and the current restrictions about gathering in groups of more than 10 people. Numerous folks have used them for live-streaming memorial or funeral services when family members could not attend due to cost, distance, or health reasons. Schools can use this technology, in coordination with the wishes of the family of a deceased teacher, student or school staff member for all in the community to gather, albeit remotely.
All smart phones have video capability, and in the face of our inability to meet face-to-face, we can still communicate to each other, to family members, and to our larger school community in sharing thoughts and reminiscences after the death of someone in our community.
Write and Draw
Even if virtual opportunities are offered, parents can help their children participate and honor a deceased teacher, friend, or school staff member by having them write memories, draw pictures, and share these on-line and/or with the family of the deceased.
Have your Own Small Remembrance Service
If there is no opportunity to participate in rituals through the family’s plans, and your child’s school doesn’t take the initiative to respond to the death, you can still take have your own remembrance ceremony or service in your home. It may be as simple as lighting a candle and sharing memories about the person who died. You can write a letter together to the family of the deceased, especially since they are grieving both the death and the inability to gather with others for connection and community support.
Despite the challenges presented by physical distancing, the worst thing we can do is to do nothing. Families will appreciate every gesture of kindness; and we are showing our children that in the face of considerable odds, we will find ways to honor and remember those who die during this time of forced separation.
Donna Schuurman, EdD, FT
Sr.Director of Advocacy & Training, The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families
This is very timely this morning as I just had two students killed in a car accident last night. Both seniors and scheduled to graduate in a virtual graduation today. So I am seeking information on virtual memorial and support for our students. Thank you this helps