• Rev. Dr. Dale A. Young

How Schools can help students grieve.

How Schools Can Help Students with the Tasks of Grieving:

(Based on the work of William Worden who has described the basic tasks of grief, here is an application of that theory to schools.)

Task 1: To accept

the reality of the loss


Acknowledge the loss. Don’t ignore what happened, but make sure it is talked about in a structured, controlled manner. Your taking active control is one way to minimize the situation’s getting out of control.

Stick to the facts! Use written communication whenever possible to minimize speculation, rumors, or gossip about the death. Steer clear of making value judgments, offering explanations or attributing blame. Having data that is as factual as possible assists in helping people acknowledge that the loss has really occurred.


Task 2: To work through

the pain of the loss


Provide a time and place to grieve. Recognize that the first day after the death is the most chaotic and that the level of visible grief will decrease after the funeral. Provide students and staff with opportunities for individual and group expression of their grief.

Assess the needs of high-risk students and use community resouurces to provide them with assistance. Anticipate the critical times when the intensity of the loss might resurface (anniversaries, holidays, special school events) and reach out to those who might have trouble getting through. Remember that close friends of the deceased may have more difficulty 6-9 months after the death with the long-term implications of the loss and may benefit from support at that time.


Task 3: To adjust to an

environment in which

deceased is missing


Assist people in managing without the deceased. This may be as simple as arranging for substitute teachers or as complicated as helping people recognize and reassign the emotional roles filled by the deceased. Recognize that the empty desk, locker, or parking space left by the deceased student is a concrete reminder to the entire school of the loss. Involve students in problem-solving to address how to handle these reminders in unsensationalized ways that both respect the deceased and recognize the fact that life must go on.


Task 4: To emotionally

relocate the deceased and

move on with life


Give your school time to come to terms with the loss. Remember the resolution of grief is a focus on the meaning of the life of the deceased, not on his/her death. Use caution in your selection of memorialization activities and avoid expressions that will be continual reminders of the traumatic death. Recognize members of the school community who seem to be stuck in the process and refer them for additional help.