Sometimes the lessons you learn at school are about painful, real-life things like death. When a student, teacher, or teacher's family member passes away, the news can be hard for everyone to take in.
We see them so often in their roles as confident educators at the front of the classroom. It's difficult to watch them struggle with the pain of grief.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Can You Say to a Grieving Teacher?
- How to Give Practical Help to a Grieving Teacher
- What Gifts Would a Grieving Teacher Appreciate?
So how can you help a grieving teacher? Teachers give so much to their students, and they often don't want to be in the limelight. This guide pulls in simple ideas for supporting an influential teacher in your life through their grief experience. Learn what to say, how to help them in practical ways, and explore some gift ideas they’re sure to appreciate.
What Can You Say to a Grieving Teacher?
Don't let uncertainty stop you from supporting a teacher you care about. This simple list will give you easy heartfelt messages to say to a grieving teacher when the time is right.
“I'm so sorry”
Saying you're sorry may feel like the biggest cliché. But it gets right to the point. It gives you a way to share your sorrow and honor their grief. Here's why this works so well:
Saying "I'm sorry":
- Doesn't attempt to solve any problem
- Doesn't minimize or categorize the person's loss in any way
- Doesn’t set any expectations
It's so easy to stumble and say something insensitive. But people in grief don't expect one comment to fix their situation or reverse their loss. They simply want to connect. So saying you’re sorry is a way to verbalize emotion that can be difficult to express in words.
“I'm here for you"
Grieving people are often in a state of shock at first. When a person dies, sometimes the pain of that severed connection is still raw for the survivors. You don't have to have all the answers or know exactly what to do. Just saying that you are there for a person can be enough.
People who are uncomfortable with grief may unintentionally appear cold and distant. Because they don't know what to do or say, they keep to themselves. Giving your support in words clarifies what you mean. They can lean on you no matter what.
Most importantly, keep showing up. Don't wait for the other person to invite you to lunch or call you to talk. Take the initiative to be there for a grieving person even when they aren't expecting it.
“What's your favorite memory about ___?”
Publicly remembering a student or classmate who has died can feel awkward and painful. But talking about it gets easier with time. The pain may never go away, but it can be less intrusive and overwhelming. Asking them to share a favorite memory with you may be easier some days than others. But it gives the grieving teacher a chance to tell their story.
They may feel like sharing something serious, or they may have funny stories to tell. No matter what they start with, sharing memories is part of processing grief. Keep in mind a person may not be ready to share stories right away. Save this question until you've spoken with the person and understand how they are coping.
If they don’t feel like sharing, perhaps you can share a poem written about the deceased student.
Share your condolences in a card or note
If you feel too uncertain about a face-to-face conversation or won’t see the teacher in person, share your condolences on paper instead. Sometimes it's easier to plan out what you want to say rather than feeling pressured to speak it out loud.
You can still keep your message simple. Writing it out can make it easier to share a story or something that might be too emotional to say in person. This is also a good opportunity to thank a teacher for their influence.
How to Give Practical Help to a Grieving Teacher
Taking chores and activities off a grieving person's to-do list frees up mental and emotional energy when they need it most. Consider some of these simple options.
Offer to bring meals
Donating meals is a simple way to support a teacher in grief. Even on days that aren't busy, a grieving person may feel like their head is too full to think about meals. Consider giving shelf-stable or frozen foods. Grief can come in waves.
Even if the teacher doesn't eat a meal right away, they’ll have something ready on a day they need the break. Your gift of a ready-made dinner or simple ingredients can be a blessing at that moment.
Offer to cover or share community responsibilities
Teachers often take part in activities and groups outside their classrooms. If you're part of the same groups and have the ability, cover or share some of their duties.
Be aware that they may want to keep some things on their calendar. Having events to look forward to can make life feel somewhat normal. But depending on the timing, they may not be able to manage everything. Share your thoughts with the teacher first and understand their wishes before taking any action.
Do chores and household tasks
If you know a grieving teacher well, offer to take some chores off their hands. Be specific about your offer and don't just say, "Let me know if you need anything." Most people in grief appreciate the sentiment but don't follow through with a non-specific offer like that.
People who are naturally generous with their time can have trouble asking for help for themselves. So instead of leaving it up to them, offer practical support you know they’ll appreciate.
Offer to mow their lawn for the next month or that you'll run errands for them. Take a few necessary tasks off their mind and have a natural excuse to spend time with them as well.
Connect with the teacher's coworkers
When a teacher takes time off for a loved one's death during the school year, their classroom keeps going. Teachers and administrators often work together to cover lesson plans and supervision duties. For example, when a grieving teacher takes time off, several individuals may take turns covering their duties.
These coworkers may gladly help in a time of need, but their efforts may require late nights and extra work away from home. Consider supporting these coworkers by providing freezer meals or restaurant gift cards.
What Gifts Would a Grieving Teacher Appreciate?
Choosing a gift for a grieving person can be a difficult decision. You can't take away their pain, but you do want to honor their experience and offer comfort. A heartfelt message in a simple card is always appropriate. These ideas can help you make your expression of sympathy more memorable.
Grief can be exhausting, both physically and emotionally. When grief is part of a person's daily life for a while, many other things get shoved to the side. Teachers are busy people, often struggling to make time for self-care under normal circumstances.
If they are grieving, they may think even less about personal needs. However, self-care is even more important when going through a period of grief.
A self-care gift can be a simple reminder for this teacher to take time for themselves. It can be as simple as a comforting blanket and soft pillow or a small picnic kit to encourage them to spend time outdoors. If you know them well enough, you may pick out a book they'd enjoy.
Ultimately, the goal is to encourage them to get rest and take breaks for themselves.
Working through grief takes a mental toll and can make someone feel wiped out before their day is done. A gift card to local discount stores or a favorite restaurant can be a welcome relief. Your gift helps a grieving teacher to grab a quick meal for their family. Not having to think about groceries or cooking can ease the burden for a while.
Also, consider a gift card to a teacher supply store. Even if it isn't the back-to-school season, teachers often use personal money to fund their stash of school supplies. Your gift card can help them take care of their classroom without having to rely on personal cash.
Sometimes when a person passes away, family members create memorial accounts in their loved one's name. People can donate money to a chosen charity, local organization, or a local scholarship. This information is often shared publicly at the funeral, or it may be in the obituary.
If you donate to a named organization, let the teacher know in your sympathy card. A gift of money may not have the same visual effect as giving flowers or a wrapped present. But the teacher will sincerely appreciate your donation supporting a cause they care about.
Appreciation gift from a group
A group gift can have a powerful impact when showing support for a teacher. Consider this option if you and several parents want to go in on something together. Or, if you are a student, you may want to join others in your class with a larger gift.
Since teachers often work with groups of people, it can be incredibly moving to see a strong united message of condolence. It can also make a monetary gift more impactful. A large donation from a whole classroom or group of parents can significantly boost a local charity or cause.
Supporting a Teacher in Grief
The teachers in your life care so much about their students and coworkers. When they're hit with a significant loss, they'll appreciate your love and support. Reach out, show you care, and show them they don't have to carry their emotional burden alone.
- Foh.psc.gov. “Helping Others Cope With Grief.” Federal Occupational Health, foh.psc.gov/nycu/copingtips.pdf
- Michigan.gov. “How to Say I’m Sorry to Those Who Grieve.” State of Michigan, www.michigan.gov/documents/mdcs/How_to_Say_Im_Sorry_Grief_617763_7.pdf