- What is my role in this situation?
- Am I a family member or close enough to be considered family?
- Am I directly connected—my student or my friend?
- Am I certified and qualified to offer grief counseling?
- Have I considered that some reactions may do more harm?
In most cases, you really need to leave these situations to the family, guidance, councilors, and the administration. Let them lead. Let them know you would like to assist in any way they feel is helpful. If you have an idea or suggestion, speak to guidance, councilors, or the administration first. Let them communicate to the family instead of you directly. Starting a "Go Fund Me" campaign before informing the family may be intrusive and unwelcome. Having kids dive in and make mini-memorials may inadvertently deepen wounds; so again, seek approval and guidance before doing something for a whole class.
Perhaps councilors may find it helpful for you to lead a special art sessions for kids dealing with grief during a non-class period or after school. That might be great! I'd recommend that you partner with a councilor should unforeseen issues arise.
Above all though, be observant. If someone seems upset and need to speak to guidance, write them a pass, send them. Though we should generally carry-on because normalcy can help heal, we also need to remain aware and ready to refer those who need help. You may never know if a cousin or half-sibling is in your class and how they might react to your proactive lesson to deal with the tragedy head-on.
We know through research that suicides can actually trigger more suicides among teens. (https://goo.gl/453mGE) and up to 5% of suicides among teens occur in clusters. (https://goo.gl/sTOQ4v) Kids see it and say, "If they did, maybe I can too." So though we may want to set up a memorial, comfort everyone, help the school heal, some actions can actually make things worse. "They made a nice memorial for that kid, maybe they will make one for me?" This is why it is rare and maybe even unwise to memorialize a suicide. We need to deal with the loss, but a memorial may not be the best route. This may seem harsh, or cold, but those decisions really rest with your Board of Education, and the Superintendant.
Given a bit of time past the incident, you may want to let students work on a project that allows for them to express emotions in a safe way. I have a lesson here that explains how to code emotional values through color and shape. https://goo.gl/O5kJuk My example uses a family theme, and should a loss have occurred, students can express that without being very specific if they are not yet ready. This is based on information in the book, "The Emotional Color Wheel."
Another project I have done that helps students explore loss at their own pace is a mini sculptural memorial. Students write a bit about someone they know that is no longer around, this could be because of a move, divorce, death, or historical figure should they not yet have experienced a direct loss. Many however can relate to an old friend they no longer see or hear from. Those who have faced a death can, if they wish, focus on that, but it should be their choice. Students start with by making a list things about the person. Best memory, their positive attributes, something they wish everyone knew about that person, and maybe even 1 or two negative traits if appropriate.
In the first example, the student took on the topic of his grandfather who passed away. The van was his grandfather's, and they would take weekend drives to the ocean, park facing the surf, and talk about everything he felt he couldn't discuss with his parents, or just share in some guy-talk and advice.
I have done the same process as a clay project too with students doing a memorial bell, etched with symbols of the person. I do it as a pinch pot that's inverted. My option for those who do not want to deal with loss is to make a bell to commemorate an achievement or something they hope to achieve.
The student in the first image below created a bell to memorialize his father who had recently passed. The second image was of a family represented by animals for their personalities, and the butterflies represented the children. One child was stillborn and is shown in the bright area between the parents. The last image was a portrait of a grandmother who had passed and the work became a family treasure. These all became wonderful keepsakes and a safe way for students to express their feelings at their individual level of comfort