Just recently, my town experienced the loss of one of our beloved community members. He was a bus driver at our school, but for many children, he wasn’t just a bus driver.
For many years, he drove children to and from school.
He also drove on numerous field trips, and to sporting events. He was happy, he knew the children by name, and he kept them safe. Most people in town knew exactly where he lived, and he grew some of the biggest sunflowers I have ever seen.
One day, he finished his afternoon bus route, returned to school, and died.
As you can imagine, there were many upset children, families, and co-workers. Because the thing is, community members like this man don’t come along too often.
We think about how we can help our children deal with lots of different types of losses – pets and loved ones are the first that come to mind.
But what about those beloved community members that our kiddos see every day?
Their bus drivers, after school providers, or para-educators that may work in their classroom? Some of these people are vitally important to our children, often more so than we think.
Our bus driver greeted the children every morning. He was the beginning of their school day. He let them off every afternoon. He was the end of their school day. He drove high school students to sporting events and instead of just staying on the bus waiting, he spent his time cheering them on.
Our children are pretty resilient. Most get through these losses. But we also have to remember that for some children, people like this bus driver are the friendly face they look forward to each day.
Often times when a community loses such a person, they band together and organize support systems and memorials.
Guidance counselors are on hand to speak to children if needed, and we teachers are available to talk, listen, or just give a hug. One of the ways we can help our children through this type of loss is to acknowledge their sadness and the disbelief. We need to offer the hugs and realize that their loss can be just as big, or even bigger than ours.
It is up to us to lift our children up when they are sad, especially when it comes to someone they interact with in their daily life. Here are a few suggestions as to how to help:
1. Contact your child’s school. Oftentimes guidance counselors and support people are available to speak with you and your child.
2. Young children have a lot of questions about death. If someone suddenly disappears from their life, they need to know what happened, with appropriate language. There are developmental stages to understanding death (which can be found here
), and guidelines about what information to share and not to share.
3. Help your child remember the person. Perhaps they can make a picture or a card for the grieving family or donate money in the person’s name to their favorite charity. Sharing happy memories is helpful for a child (and adult) to get through grief.
4. And most importantly, talk with your child. If s/he really seems sad over the loss of a community member, don’t brush it off. It is important to acknowledge their sadness, whether it is for a day or a month.
This post is written in memory of Pete Lavoie, 1955-2017