Whenever a student or classmate dies, it has the potential to affect an entire community and student body. This is regardless of whether you knew the student well or even at all. Their death tends to have a ripple effect that causes many students to grieve their loss.
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One reason is that most school-aged children or young adults have never been exposed to death or dying. Many have never contemplated death or even the possibility of their mortality.
When a classmate or student dies, it sends the message that this could happen to you. What you take away from this experience and how you cope with your grief becomes important as you learn what it feels like to suffer this type of loss. Below are some ways to remember and honor your classmate or student who’s died, learn some important things to know about writing a condolence letter, and how to talk to kids about death.
Ways to Remember a Student or Classmate at School
There are many special ways of honoring the memory of a student or classmate at school. Even if you’re on a limited budget, you can still create an impactful way of showing your love and support to the family who has suffered the loss of their child.
The internet has made it possible for many people to come together virtually to offer words of love and encouragement and to support one another during this emotionally painful time.
1. Create a Facebook page
Creating a Facebook memorial page is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of showing support to the family who has suffered a loss.
It also creates a lasting virtual memorial in honor of the student or classmate who’s died where others can leave loving words of condolence.
2. Set up a GoFundMe campaign
When you set up a GoFundMe campaign you’re not only showing your love and support to the family, but you’re also helping them raise money to go toward burial and end-of-life expenses — or whatever financial help they may need. Like most parents, they likely didn’t anticipate their child dying unexpectedly. And they most likely didn’t have funeral arrangements paid for in advance.
This type of campaign allows friends, family, and members of the community to come together and donate a financial gift in honor of the student or loved one who has died. This is most likely one of the most thoughtful things you can do for a parent suffering the loss of their child.
3. Ask for letters
A beautiful way of creating a priceless gift is by asking others to write a letter to the parents filled with loving memories of their child who has died.
Ask for them to include copies of any pictures they may have of themselves and the student so that the parents can put a face to the name as they read the letter.
4. Ask for a moment of silence
If allowed, you can request a school-wide moment of silence in honor of the student at the beginning of the school day. You can request that it be observed on the student’s birthday, date of graduation, or any other day that has a significant meaning.
While most public schools may prohibit forms of prayer, you can ask if you can prepare a special poem or short eulogy to read instead.
5. Orchestrate a balloon send-off
You can ask others to help you schedule a time and place for the entire student-body wishing to participate to gather and send sweet notes up to the sky in helium inflated or balloons of a sustainable material.
You’ll need lots of paper and writing tools to hand out to those gathered. Ask them to write down their thoughts, things they want to say, and any final goodbyes they want to send off to their schoolmate. Insert each note into a balloon.
When everyone is ready, send the messages upward. You can also arrange for a special song to play during the sendoff.
6. Hold a candlelight vigil
When people are grieving, being able to congregate to share in their loss can be very healing. Congregation allows people the opportunity to share in their grief and talk openly about their experiences.
If the school allows for a gathering of the student body to hold a candlelight vigil, try scheduling it at dusk. You may ask that everyone bring a candle or you can supply small LED tealight candles for those needing one. Read our guide on how to plan a candlelight vigil for more.
7. Volunteer to read books
If the child who has died was young, consider volunteering to come in and read children’s books about death to their classmates. Most children don’t fully understand the concept of death and might be feeling stressed, anxious, and fearful over the student’s death. You may want to first ask parental permission before introducing the concept of death and dying in storybook format.
It may be that some parents aren’t comfortable with a stranger talking to their child about such a delicate matter.
8. Circulate a memory box
A great way of getting everyone in the classroom involved in honoring the memory of their classmate is to circulate a small memory box in the classroom and ask each student to put inside it anything they want that reminds them of their classmate.
It can be a funny saying, a note passed in class, a chewed-up pencil, a wad of old gum from underneath their desk — anything that might bring a smile and loving thoughts to their parents.
9. Line the halls with posterboard
Creating a memorial for the entire student body to participate in can be as easy as lining the hallways with plain posterboard and asking everyone to fill them in with loving thoughts and memories of the student who’s died.
At the end of the school day, you can take the boards and present them to the parents as a keepsake of what their child meant to each person who signed the boards. Take the time to scan the messages for anything mean or inappropriate before handing the boards off.
Ways to Remember a Student or Classmate at Home
If you’re unable to join the rest of the student body at school for whatever reason, you can still find special ways to honor the student or classmate from your home.
There’s a lot of technology out there that makes virtual gatherings fairly easy and convenient. You’ll need to have a smartphone or other electronic equipment to take advantage of some of the more modern ways of communicating.
10. Zoom meeting
If you have access to group video chats or to Zoom — the online video conferencing platform — you can hold a virtual memorial from the comfort of your living room couch.
You can sign up and use the basic plan for free. This plan level should be sufficient for your needs. If it isn’t, try asking for a free limited-time trial.
11. Write a condolence letter
Finding the right words to say to someone who’s lost a child can be challenging. You may want to draft a letter first that expresses all of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions regarding the loss of your schoolmate. Then add in all the things you want to say to the family about what your schoolmate meant to you. When you’re all done pouring your heart out, dry your tears, and put your letter away.
You’ll want to keep that version of the letter to yourself and create a new one for the family that expresses loving words of sympathy and support for what they are going through — not you. This is not the time to add any sorrows to their already mournful days.
Things you may consider adding to your letter are:
- A handwritten message referring to their child by name
- Expressions of sympathy, regret, and condolences
- A special quality about their loved one that is special and unique to your friendship
- A memory of the two of you
- A specific offer to help (mow the lawn, bake some cookies)
- A warm and loving expression of sympathy
- Your signature and phone number (in case they really do need and want your help)
12. Bake some cookies
When someone has suffered the loss of a loved one, it’s sometimes difficult to reach out to others and ask for help when you’re in the midst of grieving. Don’t expect a phone call from the family asking you to come over and help out with the household chores when they might barely know you.
What you can do instead is take action and do what you can to help from home. Consider that this is a very trying and painful time for the family. They may not feel like socializing or entertaining any visitors at their home. It’s a kind and loving gesture for you to prepare a meal for them or bake some sweet goodies to deliver to their front door. You shouldn’t overthink their likes and dislikes. Keep the ingredients simple and universal.
For example, most people love freshly baked cookies. Don’t try to figure out if they like chocolate chip cookies better than sugar cookies. Bake whatever cookies you can and deliver them to their front porch. Politely decline any invitations to come in to give them some privacy during this time.
Ways of Remembering a Classmate or Student
With all the suggestions mentioned above, indeed there can be many ways of honoring the memory of your schoolmate. It just takes a little bit of thinking outside the box, some handy crafting skills, and the rest grows from the love you pour into each thoughtful idea.
What matters is that you are able to give some new inspiration and love for the family of the deceased student and remember the special place they hold in your heart.