Chapter 3: When a family member has died

Cultural considerations

What the educator says
Sue Massaad, elementary school principal, talks about the importance of being aware of cultural practices following a death.(3:22)Video transcript

“It was a very sad and tearful day for my students and I when we attended the funeral, but Shay’s parents were so grateful that we did go”. – Teacher 

There are many different cultural beliefs, rituals, and traditions that influence how a family deals with a death. When interacting with families from a cultural background different than your own, you may worry that you’ll unintentionally say something that offends the family. It can help to keep in mind that while there can be a broad range of traditions and beliefs, grief is a universal experience. By being present, open, curious and accepting, you can offer support in a respectful and effective way.  

Keep in mind that there are also differences within individual cultures. Even if you are aware of certain practices from a family’s cultural background, don’t assume that this particular family follows these traditions. Instead ask the student and/or their family questions so that you can learn about their beliefs and traditions. Most families will view this inquiry as a sign of respect. 

Conversation Prompts

“I’m wondering if there are things that would help me to better understand how your family deals with the death of a family member?”

“I’m wondering how I can best help support your family at this time?”

Funeral or other arrangements

Ask if there will be a funeral or other service and whether staff or students are welcome to attend. This would be especially important when the person who died was also a student at your school or was a sibling known to students or staff at your school. If the family is open to it, try to attend the funeral or memorial service. If the family member who died was also a student at your school, the Principal and appropriate staff should also attend.


Other students may wish to attend the memorial service and funeral. Keep in mind that this may be their first experience with death and so they may need support.