In the sad event that the childs health continues to deteriorate and all possible treatments have been exhausted, it is time for the students and staff to discuss ways to be supportive during his final days. Classmates need timely information about their ill classmate, so that they can deal with his declining health and prepare for his death. The possibility of death from cancer should have been sensitively raised in the initial class presentation before the students return to school, but additional information is needed if the students health declines. The following are suggestions on how to prepare for the death of a classmate:
• The school staff needs to be in close communication with parents and hospital. They need to be reassured that death will not suddenly occur at school, that the child will either die at home or in the hospital.
• Staff needs to be aware that participation at school is vital to a sick childs well-being. They should welcome and support the childs need to attend school as long as possible.
• Staff can design flexible programs for the ill student, for example, part-time school attendance and/or part-time home tutoring (if appropriate) for a child too weak to attend school all day.
Jody was lucky because he went to a private school, and there were only sixteen children in his class. Whenever he could come to school, they made him welcome. Because children worked at their own pace, he never had the feeling that he was getting behind in his classwork. He really felt like he belonged there. Sometimes he could only manage to stay an hour, but he loved to go. Toward the end when he was in a wheelchair, the kids would fight over whose turn it was to push him. The teacher was wonderful, and the kids really helped him and supported him until the end.
• Staff can designate a "safe person" and "safe haven" in the school building, so that the student can retreat if physically or emotionally overwhelmed.
• The hospital advocate should meet with school personnel and the students class to answer questions about the students health status and to address fears and misconceptions about death.
• It is helpful to provide reading materials on death and dying for the ill childs classmates, siblings' classmates, teachers, and staff.
• Extraordinary efforts should be made to keep in touch once the child can no longer attend school. Cards, banners, tapes, telephone calls, or conference calls (on the principals speaker phone) from the entire class are good ways to share thoughts and best wishes.
• Visits to the hospital or childs home should be made, if appropriate. If the child is too sick to entertain visitors, the class could come wave at the front window and drop off cards or gifts.
• The class can send a book of jokes, a Walkman and tapes, or a basket of small gifts and cards to the hospital.
• The class can decorate the family's front door, mailbox, and yard when the child is returning home from the hospital.
All of the above activities encourage empathy and concern in classmates, as well as help them adjust to the decline and imminent death of their friend.
When the child dies, a memorial service at school gives students a chance to grieve. School counselors or psychologists should talk to the classmates to allow them to express their feelings. Parents appreciate receiving stories or poems about their departed child from classmates, and having other children attend the funeral also supports the grieving family.
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Although nobody gets a parenting manual or bible in the delivery room, it is our duty as parents to try to make our kids as well rounded, happy and confident as possible. It is a lot easier to bring up great kids than it is to try and fix problems caused by bad parenting, when our kids have become adults. Our children are all individuals - they are not our property but people in their own right.