When a student or classmate dies, their family’s grief can have a ripple effect on the entire school (and wider) community. And when reunions come into play – 5, 10 or 15 years after graduation – grief can be experienced all over again.
Finding the perfect way to honour a deceased classmate, both immediately after their death and years later, can be difficult. If this is the first time students have been exposed to death, that wouldn’t be entirely surprising. They’re young, and watching their classmates, teachers, parents and friends’ parents grieving over the loss of another student around their age can be incredibly confronting.
There are a myriad of ways you can honour a classmate or student who has died in age-appropriate ways that feel true to them, true to their family, and true to the school.
Remembering a classmate who has died (for students)
These suggestions are mainly recommended for the deceased’s classmates and other students at their school, ie. Young adults.
Hold a candlelight vigil
Sharing your grief with others can be extremely comforting, and congregating to hold an in-person candlelit vigil is a wholesome way to talk openly about emotions and remember the student who has passed. Our recommendation, though? Schedule the vigil for dusk to increase the impact of the lit candles. And if the school won’t allow for a real flame, consider opting for LED tealight candles. Those flickering ones will do the trick (because they kinda feel like real candles).
Create a photo display or memorial at the entrance of the school
Set up a table at the school entrance (preferably indoors) and adorn it with the student’s artwork, awards, projects they had recently worked on and photos of them both at school and outside of school. Allow other students to drop off their own memorabilia so the memorial table becomes a collective project that includes everyone.
Ask students to write letters to the parents of the deceased
Students can be provided with pen and paper to write letters to their classmate’s parents, sharing their fondest memories with the deceased and letting them know just how much they’ll miss them. As we already know, grief can be debilitating for so many families – especially when it’s a young adult, and even more so when it’s unexpected – so writing these letters to the parents can be a lovely way to show them just how much of an impact their child had on their school friends.
Include a moment of silence at the next assembly or school event
A moment of silence is a period of quiet contemplation, providing students and teachers with an opportunity to sit (or stand) with their grief and reflect on their loss. You might even want to consider including this moment of silence in events and assemblies for the next few months or the remainder of the school year (or even longer than that – the choice is yours).
Create a food roster for the family of the deceased
When a person passes away, the last thing their family wants to think about is food. Cooking for oneself is a task for the too-hard basket, and opting for healthy and hearty meals is also generally a non-option. So, when it comes to grief, we love nothing more than filling the family’s bellies with delicious food that’ll make them feel a little more whole again, from the inside-out. Create a meal planner and ask students and their parents to contribute. This can be a lovely way to show the family you’re thinking of them and are there if they need anything.
Our go-to for organising meal rosters is Take Them A Meal.
Arrange a fundraiser
The desire to help or take action is not monopolised by adults. Allowing the students to arrange a fundraiser to support a cause close to their classmate’s heart can bring them together and give them a sense of purpose and achievement. Some school fundraiser ideas are:
- Ask the whole school to ditch the uniform for a day. Instead, wear a particular colour and bring a gold coin donation
- A step-a-thon around the school grounds with sponsorship from family and friends for each completed lap
- Liaise with a relevant charity to sell merchandise on their behalf; beanies in winter and sunharts in summer.
Remembering a classmate who has died (for adults)
Have a school reunion coming up? Looking for ways you can honour a deceased classmate at the reunion? Here are some of our suggestions:
Mention them in a speech
Will there be an M.C on the night? Maybe you’re the one doing the talking, or multiple classmates will be hopping up on the podium to say a few words? Consider mentioning your deceased classmate right from the get-go. This not only breaks the ice around the topic, but can be a really respectful way to acknowledge their absence at a time where everyone in the room will be aware of it (and might be feeling awkward about it).
Create a memorial table
This is similar to what we mentioned above (for students). Create a memorial table at the entrance of the school reunion, featuring photos of the deceased. Ask everyone to bring along something that reminds them of their classmate to add to the table upon arrival.
Raise money for a related charity
Whether you’re looking for a meaningful activity to incorporate into your school reunion, or you simply want to find a way to remember your classmate during the year, raising money for an important cause is always a good idea. Always. Do some research and find charities or fundraising events that feel relevant to the deceased (and possibly related to their cause of death), and ask other classmates to donate or sponsor you.
Organising a memory book? Include the deceased in it.
If you’re developing a year level memory book, consider including the name of your classmate in the foreword of the book. And don’t shy away from including photos or funny memories of them throughout the book – chances are they (and their family) would’ve loved that.
There’s no one way that’s right when it comes to remembering a classmate who has died. In order to decide what’s best for you and your school community, consider the age of the students and those that are mourning their passing, as well as the wishes of the family left behind. But giving the students the time, space and support to grieve, whilst also having heartfelt and meaningful conversations with them will almost certainly put you in good stead.