It was in the early days of January in 2009 when the phone call arrived with the devastating news that our young colleague and friend had suddenly died. In a small rural community, the impact was instant and continues to be felt to this day.
The natural response of the school staff was to grieve together in the privacy of one of our colleague’s homes and process the shock we all shared. To have this time together, in advance of meeting with the pupils and parents was hugely important in that it allowed us to deal with the shock and bring up our concerns around how to address this tragedy with our pupils. It also allowed us to be utterly vulnerable when we needed to be.
News of our colleague’s untimely passing came over the weekend. On advice from NEPS we opened the school on the Monday for a half day. This was wise guidance. It allowed parents and pupils to gather and process the shock and loss. Our pupils needed to be with the teachers and their classmates and parents needed advice on how to communicate this tragedy to their young children. In advance of opening the school that morning, one of the NEPs psychologists came to meet with the staff and discuss concerns around how to address this with the children. The psychologist stayed for the day to support the team. This was a hugely important for the staff – the knowledge that there was a health professional on site to advise and steer us as required. The NEPS psychologist stressed the importance of the teachers discussing the loss with the pupils rather than an adult unfamiliar to the pupils. This was also sage advice. Although we were anxious about our ability to say and do the right thing with children so young, once we were face to face with little worried faces, we all instinctively knew how to manage.
We concluded the short day with a prayer service led by our local parish priest and with the full involvement of the children and parents. Again, another invaluable opportunity for the whole school community to be together to allow the shock to settle and to be enveloped in community.
This was a tragedy on so many levels: the loss of a highly respected and valued teacher, the loss of a colleague and friend, and the dawning of the reality of death on young children. NEPS provided invaluable support to the whole school community through supporting the teaching staff. We continue to be grateful for their steady support at such a critical time.