It seems as though this year has taken a toll on our community when it comes to dealing with death. In one of our local high schools we have had three student deaths in less than 8 months (two in one car accident, and one suicide). The students are devastated and the adults are trying to hold it together themselves. One tragedy after another.
Maybe your community has experienced similar experiences, and if so, you know firsthand the toll it takes on the students. So what do you do for your students when they mourn the loss of a fellow student or friend?
1. Be available. Depending on your school districts policy on crisis situations, schools will often invite youth leaders from the community to come and talk with students. It’s interesting, because our school won’t let youth pastors talk to the students at lunch time, but they will allow them to come during a crisis. So call the school and offer to be available.
2. Be a listener. It is our nature to want to be fixers, but death isn’t something that can be fixed. Instead of talking, listen. When they ask the question why, or say they don’t understand, they aren’t looking for answers (not at first) they just want to verbalize their hurt.
3. Be an asker. Some students may need you to ask them questions to help them begin talking about their hurt. Questions like: “Were you close to the person?” “Where were you when you found out?” “What was the last thing you did together?”—general questions just to show you’re interested in listening.
4. Be a provider. Most schools will have a place set aside for mourning students, however they need a space when the school is closed. Open up your church as a safe place to go and grieve; let the school know that it’s available to the students.
5. Follow up. As hard as it is to make time to follow up on your students in regular day-to-day ministry, it’s ultra important to follow up with students that you’ve met who are hurting. This shows that you truly care, and it is during the follow-up that you can begin to have deeper conversation about hurt and about hope. Can God bring good out of tragedy? Yes he can! But being available in the process will help students understand firsthand that there’s someone who will walk through this with them. Remember, it’s our job to be the hands and feet, and just as we know Jesus walks with us through crisis, we in turn must be that for our students in crisis.