Burying students

Never, was I ever, prepared by anyone, principal preparation courses or mentors, to attend funerals of current or former students. Yet, many school leaders have done this. I’ve written about attending funerals before, but this entry will focus entirely on student funerals.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve only had to attend 2 student funerals. Several of my colleagues have had to attend more than that. Even more interesting, both funerals were of former students who had concluded their time in schools.

The first one, I’ll never forget, was in November of 2009. The former student had never finished school, and I knew him very well during the time he was in school, as he inevitably ended up in my office very regularly for not attending school. I worked closely with his parents, who worked tirelessly to get their adopted son what he needed. Unfortunately, all the help in the world never sunk in, and he passed of an overdose.

The second one was different. He was what many of us refer to as a “squirrel” his freshman year of high school – made his share of poor choices always getting in the mix of this or that…. but sweet enough to apologize for his misdoings and take his consequences like a young man. He cared deeply for many people and many things, and he graduated from high school last only to be taken in a tragic motorcycle accident. The love and support of his family, his friends and his alma mater honored his life.

At this funeral, a parent of another former student who was attending said to me, “I was sad to hear when you left the school. We always knew our boys were safe with you.” That was always my goal as a principal, was to maintain a safe environment for all students. I’m glad that the outside perception matched the purpose of my actions.

It’s sad that I can’t always keep them safe, and I still think about the student of mine who passed in 2009, who was never able to find his place of safety on earth. As a school leader, these memories are etched in the mind forever.



Filed under Experiences I Wasn't Prepared for as a School Leader

4 responses to “Burying students

  1. Jason the Saj


    I remember one or two students passing while I was in school. I wasn’t close to them. Did lose a friend from my time in the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

    It’s rather surprising that there is not more grief training. I also lost a teacher in 5th grade. They told us she was sick, but not how sick. I wrote “get well” and jokingly added “don’t die on us” a several weeks later we were informed she died.

    For a long time I bore guilt over that. Until talking to a friend who pointed out that I was only a child, hasn’t meant any I’ll will, had no idea that it was serious. And pointed out that any loved ones reading my words would merely take them as concern. And that finally freed me of the guilt.

    Grief isn’t easy. I still see it pip up with my kids in regards to the death of our cats. Hopefully, education will realize the necessity of equipping teachers with the tools and training to help accommodate their students during such tragedies.

  2. Monica Reinsfelder

    What a beautiful article Dr. Wright. In the brief time we worked together I felt the same safe environment as the students. You truly cared and did your best to help some of our young adults try to find their place. So sorry for the loss of both students and my heart is with you all.

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