We will have school counselors, school social workers and community mental health providers available in all buildings this week and longer if needed.
If you are in need of support any time during the week please contact the district office at 360-879-1000 and they will provide you with resources.
If you need immediate mental health support or are having a mental health crisis call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “HELP” to 741-741. If you feel you can not keep yourself safe at any point call 911.
Following a Loss
The feelings of grief and shock following a loss will be unique to individuals. However, the grief process has universal stages that can be expected of nearly everyone. The stages are not sequential and individuals can cycle through them in any order and even return to stages later.
This stage includes feelings of shock, disbelief and/or numbness. Strangely, this can initially help you deal with the loss.
This is when the reality sinks in and we ask ourselves questions like, “Why me?” or “This isn’t fair!” Unfortunately, we often take out our anger on the people we love the most, like friends and family.
This is a time when we get into “What if...” thinking. What if the virus never came to America? What if we were still at school? What if the Prom, sports, morning meetings, recess, playing with friends after school etc. weren’t cancelled? “I’d do just about anything to have life the way it used to be.”
In her article, An Examination of the Kubler-Ross Model, Christina Gregory, PhD, writes about this stage of depression: “It represents the emptiness we feel when we are living in reality and realize the person or situation is gone or over.
Just as the title suggests, this is the time when we begin to understand, and be okay with, our new life-reality. We may not necessarily like it, but we accept it (most days!)
Please remember that even though you may hit the Acceptance stage one day, you can easily return to any of the other stages. That is normal and moving through the stages can last a long time, if not a lifetime.
General Tips to Support Students of All Ages
Be understanding and tolerant of common grief reactions which include: decreased appetite, difficulty sleeping, a decreased ability to concentrate, increased sadness, and social withdrawal. Students sometimes also feel anger toward the deceased for leaving them.
Be simple and straightforward. Discuss death in developmentally appropriate terms for students:
Use words such as “death,” “die,” or “dying” in your conversations and avoid euphemisms such as “they went away,” “they are sleeping,” “departed,” and “passed away.” Such euphemisms are abstract and may be confusing, especially for younger children.
Let students know that death is not contagious. Although all human beings will die at some point, death is not something that can be “caught” and it is unusual for children to die.
Be brief and patient. Remember that you may have to answer the same question multiple times and repeat key information to ensure understanding.
Listen, acknowledge feelings, and be nonjudgmental.
Express your own feelings in an open, calm, and appropriate way that encourages students to share their feelings and grief.
Avoid making assumptions and imposing your own beliefs on students.
A variety of feelings are normal. Be sensitive to each student’s experience, as there is no one right way to respond to a loss. Feelings and behaviors will vary across students and will change throughout the bereavement process.
Normalize expressed feelings by telling students such are common after a death. However, if their expressions include risk to self (e.g. suicidal thoughts) or others, refer immediately to the appropriate professionals.
Be sensitive to cultural differences of students and their families in expressing grief and honoring the dead.
Consider a student’s intellectual abilities, behavior, and conceptual understanding of death. For children with developmental disabilities. Their limited communication skills do not mean they are unaffected by the death. Behaviors such as increased frustration and compulsivity, somatic complaints, relationship difficulties, and increased self-stimulatory behaviors may be expressions of grief.
Maintain a normal routine in your classroom and engage students in activities they previously enjoyed.
Provide the opportunity to talk and ask questions and use these questions to guide further discussion. Encourage students to share feelings, but in ways that are not disruptive to the class or hurtful to other students.
Keep in mind that some children may have a difficult time expressing their feelings or may not feel comfortable talking at school. Do not pressure these students to talk. Some may prefer writing, drawing, listening to music, or playing a game instead of talking about their feelings. Provide students with a variety of options for expressing grief.
Talk to the bereaved student’s classmates about grief and emphasize the importance of being understanding and sensitive.
Help bereaved students find a peer support group. There will likely be other who have also experienced the death of a loved one.
Middle and High School
Do not force students to share their feelings with others, including their peers if they do not feel comfortable. Provide them with opportunities to share their feelings privately.
Students often seek support via social media. Be aware of what is being posted and shared. Encourage students to seek support for a friend in need.
Students in their mid-to-late teens tend to feel more comfortable expressing their feelings and grief similar to adults.
High school students may use physical contact to show their support and empathy (e.g., hugging or touching the arm)
Possible reactions include:
Poor school performance
High risk behaviors or substance use
Elementary and Younger
For younger children:
Children may have questions. Age appropriate, factual answers are helpful. Do not focus on cause of death or graphic details which can be upsetting and traumatizing. Be concrete with your answers. A person dies if they have an injury or severe illness that stops the body from working. Let children know that an illness that causes death is a different kind of illness.
Do not compare death with sleep. Sleep is a regenerative process needed for heath. Death is a loss of life. Children may fear sleep if we use this comparison.
Regressive behaviors are common and should be tolerated after a loss: bedwetting and clinging to adults are typical regression.
Mental Health Resources
Pierce County Crisis Line: Call 1-800-576-7764 or Text “HELP” to 741-741
Private or Community Mental Health Providers: *If you need assistance getting connected to a mental health provider in your area please contact your school counselor or social worker. Here are some community agencies you can reach out to. Private providers are also available and can be found at www.psychologytoday.com
Consejo Counseling, Graham, WA: (253) 285-4750
MultiCare Behavioral Health, Puyallup, WA (253) 697-8400
Catholic Community Services, Tacoma, WA (253) 502-2696; (253) 383-3697