Assisting a Private School Faculty, Student Body, and Parents Grieve the Sudden, Violent Death of a Student

"In these stories, the identities and locations have been changed to ensure client confidentiality.”

We received an urgent call from the Headmaster of a local private school, who reported that one of its students was suddenly killed by a freak act of nature, while attending a school sports event. The faculty, student body, and parents were in a state of shock, as many of them witnessed the sudden and violent death of the student.

Our consulting psychiatrist met with the Headmaster and School Counselors to develop a strategic and tactical plan, to take place very rapidly over the next few days to deal with this sudden and catastrophic loss. Separate meetings were held first with the faculty, and then with the entire student body and parents. The meetings began with empathizing with their sudden loss, and educating them about the grieving process, and how to best support one another. Faculty members were encouraged to have open discussions of what happened the week following the event if the students wanted to talk about it. They were also trained to observe for signs of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and if they suspected a child may be developing one of these conditions, would notify the school counselors.  Ongoing support was provided to the faculty in group meetings, where they were able to surface their concerns about specific students, and report in around what the student body was verbalizing and experiencing. The Headmaster was supported in one-on-one sessions with the consulting psychiatrist to progressively modify strategy and tactics in dealing with systemic/organizational issues in the ensuing weeks that followed.

Over time, the school community was able to grieve the loss of the student, and return to the normal challenges of daily life at the school.