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Returning to school after a bereavement

Returning to school after a bereavement

Returning to school after someone important has died can be difficult. Some young people can’t wait to go back, see their friends and get back into a routine, while others might be worried about what people will say and how they will cope.

Even if your important person died a few months or years ago, going back to school after the holidays, starting a new class or school can be daunting. You might be anxious about explaining about your bereavement to new classmates or teachers.

However you feel, it can be helpful to have a think about what you would like to happen when you return to school, what support you might need and the kinds of things you might want to say to your teachers and friends.

“When my dad died I quickly realised that my friends didn’t really know what to do and they had no idea how I felt.”


When should I go back to school after a bereavement?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, it’s about when is the right time for you to go back to school. Some young people find that they want to go back to school straight away as they find the sense of routine and being around their friends helpful, whereas others prefer to wait for a while. It can help to talk to your parent/carer and teachers about how you feel and when you want to go back to school. There might be the option to do shorter days or a couple of days a week to start with to ease you back in.

What might help you when you return to school?

1. Having someone to talk to

Some young people find that it helps to have a designated member of staff that they can talk to. It might be that you have regular times to meet up with them during the school day, or your school might agree to give you permission to go and find them as and when you need to. It can be a really helpful thing to have someone who just knows what’s going on, is there to listen unconditionally and who doesn’t need to ask you to retell your story over and over again.

Or you might prefer to have quite a clear separation between their home life and school life. School might be a place that you go to ‘forget’ about what is going on at home and have a chance to feel ‘normal’ when other things in life might feel like they are constantly changing or out of your control.

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2. Speaking to your school before you go back

It can be helpful to let the school know what you would prefer to happen when you return, so that they can make sure it is as best as it can be for you. If you don’t feel able to tell your head teacher yourself, you can ask a parent or adult to do it for you.

Your school may suggest some things to help you return to school. If your school haven’t contacted you to ask what you would like, speak to a teacher, parent or friends so that they can help you ask for what you need. Your school will want to support you, but they won’t be able to read your mind.

You might change your mind about what you need as you settle back into school and that’s ok. Just let them know.

We have lots of advice, training and resources for schools to help bereaved students, you could let them know that they are available here.

3. Thinking about what you will say to your friends

Your friends may or may not be aware of what has happened and who has died. They may ask you questions or they may not mention it in case they upset you. If you are starting a new school or class then your classmates might not know what has happened and ask questions like “Do you have any brothers or sister?” or “Is your dad picking you up from school”.

It’s not always easy knowing how to talk about your loved one or why you have been off school. Sometimes young people wonder about how they can talk about their family now – for example what should you say if someone asks how many siblings you have or what your parents are like?

It can be helpful to have answers prepared so you know what you are going to say. For example, “My brother died a month ago. We’re really sad about it but I’d prefer not to talk about it right now.” “My mum died of breast cancer last week. I’m not really sure how I’m feeling right now but I’ll let you know if I want to talk about it.”

Remember, you don’t have to talk about anything if you aren’t ready to, but you may also find opening up to a friend can help.

We have some advice for your friends to help them know how to support you – you could send them this video to watch.

“When it comes to friends and classmates, they can be unsure on whether to mention what’s happened or even say things related to your loved one’s death. If you feel comfortable telling your friends how you feel it not only helps you it helps them.”


4. Remember to go easy on yourself

Grieving can take a lot of emotional, mental and physical energy and can impact all areas of life, including your eating and sleeping patterns. So you might find yourself feeling more tired and finding it harder to concentrate on school work or in class.

You may find that you have less time to be able to do things like homework, as you may need to spend the evening talking as a family about how you are feeling and grieving. It can be a difficult balance, ensuring that you give yourself enough time and space to do the grieving that you need to as well as trying not to get too far behind in your work as this can become an extra worry.

It can really help to talk these things through with someone at school that you can trust. They might be able to work with you to make a plan for how you will balance your school work with everything else you are dealing with at the moment.

How to get support

If you have any questions about returning to school or want to talk to us about your worries , you can use our live chat, email us on ask@winstonswish.org or call us free on 08088 020 021 (open 8am-8pm, weekdays).