The death of a Luther student, faculty member, or staff member often has a strong and far-reaching impact on members of the Luther community. The impact for students is often quite profound if a student dies, if the death is sudden, and if the death occurs on campus. A death by suicide is very difficult. Students generally have less experience dealing with death than do faculty and staff members and may not yet have well-developed personal resources for dealing with major loss in their lives. Certainly those who had a direct and close connection with the deceased will be deeply affected. But even those who only knew the deceased indirectly or casually will also be affected. It is difficult and disturbing for college students to experience the death of a peer.
Faculty and staff members may also be strongly affected by a death in the campus community, especially when they have had a significant connection with the person who dies. The impact for faculty and staff may be particularly strong when they experience the death of a close colleague.
Please see the section of this web site on grieving loss for information on normal responses to loss and how to help someone who is grieving.
In addition to offering each other mutual support, faculty and staff members who are grieving may wish to talk with one of the campus pastors. Another resource is the college’s Employee Assistance Program. This program offers both telephone consultation and three in-person visits with a local counselor.
In the aftermath of a death on campus, faculty may have opportunities to offer individual support to students. Students usually prefer to talk with people they already know and with whom they have an established connection. While some students may wish to talk with counselors or campus pastors, many feel more comfortable talking with their friends, parents, professors, work-study supervisors, or with faculty or staff with whom they have a bond through a co-curricular activity. It can be very helpful to students to talk with adults whom they respect, who have the benefit of more life experience, and who have dealt with death and loss in their own lives. You offer students a great deal simply by your willingness to be present with them and to listen to their experience. You do not need to have answers for them or ways to help them feel better quickly.
In addition to offering individual support to students, faculty members will have opportunities in the classroom to acknowledge a recent death in the Luther community. You may also choose to initiate some brief conversation with your students about the death and their reactions to it. Here are some suggestions about how you might do this.