August 13th, 2013
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I saw this letter yesterday and it reminded me that a new school year will be starting soon.  With the beginning of a new school year, perhaps teachers and student will be dealing with conflicting emotions about losses or illnesses that happened over the summer.
When a friend or an acquaintance is grieving from the loss of a loved one, it is natural to want to reach out and make them feel better.  One of the greatest gifts we can give is listening.  Even if you don’t know what to say, we can always listen; listen as the person talks to you about their story of loss.  This is not a small thing.  Everyone needs to acknowledge what has happened to them in their own words.
But what should we do if we don’t know the person very well?
They might be someone we work with or someone we see every day or maybe only once in a while.  In this instance, the letter I read concerned a teacher.  Teachers are in professional situations and they may not want or feel comfortable talking to the parents of the children they teach about their loss.
But still you want to show compassion.
The following letter about acknowledging a teacher’s recent loss was sent to Carolyn Hax, a writer and advice columnist for The Washington Post.  Below is the insightful guidance Carolyn Hax gave recently to a mother who wanted to help her daughter’s teacher and ease her pain just a bit.
Photo Courtesy of New York Times
Dear Carolyn:
     My daughter is in the third grade, and her teacher lost her mother last week.  I’d like to know what we, as parents, should be doing right now for the teacher.  Sure, send a card and flowers.  But, we’re not close friends or family, so I don’t know what her day-to-day needs are.  I asked the school if I should come volunteer  a couple of days next week, but they don’t even know if she ‘ll be back by then.  Do you have any suggestions?


Dear Anonymous:
My main suggestion is not to overdo it.  When people are grieving, they often use work as their place to be normal, to escape being The Person Who’s Grieving.  Even expressing condolences can affect people’s composure when they’d rather stay on even professional keel.*
You have a generous heart, and the offer to volunteer in the classroom is a good one that you can re-make when the teacher is back, ideally through the school and not through the teacher herself.  Having your daughter make/write the card would also be swell — just keep your involvement to the kind that the teacher can respond/react to in private.
*Since things are never easy. . .  some people are terribly offended when no one says anything about their recent loss.  That’s why it’s so important to acknowledge the loss in some way if you haven’t been asked not to.  Just, again, err on the side of discretion in professional situations.
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