Chapter 5: Other considerations after student death
“Our staff decided to add a small display of Shawna’s picture and some of her artwork in honour of her memory. The students seemed to like this and a few of them helped to organize the display”. – Teacher
There is a natural human tendency to want to commemorate the life of someone who has died; and having the opportunity to do so can play an important role in fostering a healthy grief process.
All deaths should be acknowledged and commemorated in the same way, regardless of whether the death was a result of illness, accident, suicide, or homicide. However, particularly where there has been a death by suicide, it’s essential that any school-based tributes do not appear to sensationalize or idealize how the person died because this may put vulnerable students at risk for harming themselves. It’s also important to be aware of and follow current guidelines and best practices.
Following a student’s death, their desk or locker may become a spontaneous or intentional tribute where messages, notes, cards, art or other items are left. A hallway notice board can also serve this purpose. Clearly communicate with students about how long these items will remain in place and what will happen to them once removed. Many schools gather these mementos and create a special box or a scrapbook that is given to the family of the student who died.
A proactive approach is for your school is to develop a commemoration policy and plan before a death occurs that takes into consideration current best practice guidelines. Consider incorporating a prosocial, growth-oriented approach that provides a way for students and staff to participate in activities that may benefit participants or others while also honouring the student who has died, such as organizing a community service event or fundraising for an important cause.
For additional information, see Chapter 2 – Teachable moments in Module 1 -- Grief in the Classroom.
For additional information on commemoration, After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools (2nd Ed.).