Establishing Memorials

Often, the school crisis response team must address the content and timing of memorializing the event. Immediate issues, such as how to formally convey condolences to family survivors on behalf of the school, are appropriately addressed by the school crisis response team after receiving as much input as possible from the school community. Frequently, formal memorialization activities, such as raising funds for a scholarship to honor a murdered teacher, are undertaken too soon—sometimes within hours of the crisis. Although loving and therapeutic, memorialization activities that are undertaken too soon may divert energy and attention from the acute psychological and emotional needs of the victims. In addition, early memorialization events may be mistakenly interpreted by victims as indicating closure of the crisis. Victims who face closure of a crisis prematurely fail to take the time they need to grieve, adjust, and cope. For optimal recovery, nothing should discourage victims from continuing the grieving and healing process as long as necessary.

Thoughtful responses and ideas about how to memorialize people will often arise over time. Schools that rely on formal, traditional means of memorialization, such as placing a plaque in a hallway or dedicating the yearbook, should keep in mind that their actions may establish a precedent that may be difficult for the school to follow in the future. At the time of subsequent deaths of students or staff, those most directly affected by the loss may question why similar memorial activities are not instituted for their loved ones. Comparison of memorialization efforts is inevitable and likely to cause contention. To avoid painful comparisons, it is best to encourage the development and implementation of meaningful, symbolic, and respectful memorials for each person who died and whose loss affects the school community.5

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School Crisis Response Initiative
September 2003