Funeral Service and Memorials
Guidelines Regarding the Funeral
During the contacts the principal and Crisis Management Team members have with the family to offer support and assistance, the family's wishes about funeral services will be explored. Let the family know that staff and students will want to attend the funeral, but be sensitive to any family preferences for a closed service. Offer to make announcements of funeral arrangements at school. Ideally, these announcements should be made in small groups. Decisions about school response to the funeral will depend on a variety of factors including the funeral arrangements, the impact of the death on the school, the circumstances surrounding the death, etc. Parents should always be encouraged to accompany their children to the funeral, especially in the elementary grades.
The most accepted practice for funeral attendance has been to excuse students to attend the funeral only if they have parental permission. The deceased's family may be receptive to scheduling services after school hours so that more people could attend. If district buses are available to transport students, parents must provide written permission for their child to ride the bus. Staff should be available both at the funeral and at the building to assist distraught persons.
In the case of a suicidal death, the funeral should not be held at the school to avoid glamorizing or romanticizing the death. Students may be excused with parental permission. Continue to stress the fact that suicide is a permanent response to temporary problems. If appropriate, contact the minister and discuss ways to help decrease possible contagion. Crisis Management Team members and other support persons should attend the funeral/burial to help any unattended or high-risk persons. If the funeral is during school hours, some team members need to remain in the building to help those students unable to attend.
If the family chooses to have a closed service, this decision may have its own ramifications since the funeral is a way for people to say "good-bye" to the deceased. The family may agree to a memorial service for the deceased. Such a service should be held after school hours and off school premises, if possible, although the school may be an appropriate site for the service, i.e., accidental death of an administrator. It may also be appropriate for the school to host a memorial service in the event of multiple accidental deaths of students/faculty.
Guidelines for Memorials
Gifts and memorials are a mechanism for people to recover from the loss of a death. A small gesture can mitigate feelings of helplessness and communicate the concern of the school. Suggestions for memorials include books for the library, planting a tree, making a quilt, founding a scholarship, etc.
When a person has died by suicide, the issue of memorials is complicated by the need to prevent romanticizing or glamorizing the death. It is recommended that any activity chosen be a one-time event. Memorials for suicides might be donations of blood to the Red Cross, contributions to a suicide prevention program, etc.