Within the span of 10 months, our small school district tragically and unexpectedly lost two high school students. Talk about devastating. This is the first time I had faced something like this in my short time working with students. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t exactly know what to do. But by the grace of God and lots of prayer, we worked through it. I hope that the following tips will help you if you should ever find yourself in a similar situation. I’m offering up these tips, not as an expert or professional grief counselor but as someone who has been there.
- Start with Prayer. Get on your knees and take the situation to God. This is so important. Do not go into a situation like this without involving God.
- Practice Self Care. It may seem counter intuitive to take care of yourself first, but it is so necessary. Just like the flight attendant instructs you on a flight to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, you need to breath in God, and deal with your own grief as well as you possibly can, before you can begin to deal with the grief of your students.
- Make Yourself Available. Make sure the students know that you are available and that you care. In both of these situations, I spent countless hours at the school, along with other pastors and youth leaders from the community, just to have a presence and to be available in case a student or staff person needed to talk. We made ourselves available to the students individually and to groups as well. If there was a particular group, sport or extra-curricular activity that the student was involved in, it is very important to care for that group of students. As they begin their activities without their friend, team mate, band mate, etc, it can be devastating. Be pro-active and help them process that before it gets to that point.
- Make it Hands On. It helps students to have a tangible, hands on way to process their grief. There are so many great ideas out there for this. For example, as a youth group, we made a simple knotted blanket. We sat around the blanket as a group, and went around the circle tying the knots. For each knot tied, a memory about the student who had passed was shared and a prayer for his family and friends was lifted up. Afterwards, we presented the blanket to the student’s father as a way of letting him know that we cared about him and were praying for him. This was a great way for our students to honor the memory of their friend, process some of their feelings out loud and also reach out to the student’s grieving family.
- Seek Out Resources. There are so many wonderful resources out there to help you help students deal with their grief. Do some research. Seek out tools to help you, and check in to what your denomination may have to offer resource wise as well.
- Know When You are Not Enough. If you are like me, and don’t have a lot of experience in grief counseling, there may be a point where you realize that you don’t have the skill set or knowledge to help the student. That’s ok!!! When it comes to that, it is important to be honest with the student, and refer them to someone who can, while letting them know that you will continue to pray for them and be available if they just need someone to talk with.
I hope these tips will help you in the unfortunate event that you should ever find yourself in a similar situation. Above all, just simply be loving. Love goes a long way in mending broken hearts, and the love of Jesus, that you have to offer, is more than enough to deal with the deepest hurts.
Image attribution:David Pereiras Villagrá / Thinkstock