What Happens After the Sudden Death of a Friend or Classmate

Originally published March 2011.

Special thanks to Renee Zando, a Comfort Zone Camp Healing Circle Leader and High School Counselor, for sharing this article with us.

Most teenagers think they are invincible. Nothing will happen to me or to my friends; that stuff only happens to other teens and I will only see it TV. But what happens if you get that shocking phone call or read on Facebook, that a friend or a classmate passed away?

Teenagers aren’t supposed to die; they haven’t even had a chance to live.

Often when a classmate dies, it is a complete shock and you find it hard to believe that it really happened. The news usually spreads very quickly through social media and text messaging as your friends share the news with one another.

Some teenagers immediately break down and cry. Others might act like nothing even happened, because they still can’t believe it is true. The loss of a classmate may also trigger another loss that you have had in the past.

You might feel many different emotions after the death of a classmate whether you knew them or not.

You might be angry that the doctors who you feel should have known that they had a health problem, or at the person who caused or survived an accident. Maybe you are angry because your friend made a choice that resulted in theirs, or someone else’s death.

You may be afraid that someone else might die or that it could have just as easily been you. You may worry about your friends, how they are holding up, and how they are ever going to get through this.

You might feel guilty that you could have done something, anything differently and this might not have happened. Sadness, anger, fear, worry and guilt are all common feelings.

When you return to school, it often seems very surreal.

You might walk in, go through your normal routine, and expect to see them walking in the halls, but they aren’t there.

You might feel like you are walking in a fog, going through the motions, wondering how some other students could be laughing and having fun as if nothing ever happened. You might wonder how you are ever going to get through this day.

You may find yourself reaching out to find students who feel the same way you do or reaching out to those students who seem to have forgotten in hopes that maybe you can get it out of your head.

Usually the school will make an announcement first thing in the morning and have a moment of silence. They will probably announce that if you need someone to talk to or somewhere to go, there are extra counselors on site that day that you can go and talk to at any time. They might set up a central location in the library or school counseling office for students to come into throughout the day.

Maybe you think that you don’t need to talk about it. You might feel that it is easier if you don’t because it hurts too much when you think about it, let alone talk about it. Then going through the day, you realize you can’t concentrate, and all you can think about it your classmate. Talking about it with a professional counselor might actually make you feel better. Just having someone listen to you, or being in a room with someone who is sympathetic could help you get through the day.

Every time you talk about your loss or express your fears, you heal a little bit more. This makes it easier to get through the choked-up feelings and move forward throughout your day. The counselors might even give you some tips for what you can do to get through the really hard times.

Closure is important part of grieving. A lot of teenage funerals and memorials are very large because people need closure. If you were friends with your classmate, you may want to do something in addition to find closure. Some ideas are:  finishing something that you knew was important to them, spending time with their family, writing down your favorite memories, or going to your hang out spot.

People might eventually tell you that you need to move on or get over it, which is impossible to do. However, you do need to move towards healing, and with the support of your friends, family, and counselors you can get through this difficult time. You may never get over the loss, but healing gets easier.

Photo Credit.


  1. Bill said on March 30, 2011 at 4:44 pm ... #

    Very well said and helpful. The scenarios you use are so real I’m sure they will touch the mind and heart of those who read this and will make it OK to talk about the feelings and make that move towards healing. Thank you.

  2. Alexis said on May 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm ... #

    I had a recent classmate’s father die suddenly of a heart attack. I know that my classmate didn’t die but it was hard for everyone because his Dad coached multiple sports teams and was a really nice guy. He lived across the sreet from my aunt and uncle. Everyone was breaking down and crying and even people who didn’t know him, because it brought back bad things from pass losses. I had a teacher who let me and a few other girls go into her classroom and eat lollipops and draw while listening to music and do nothing for an hour or two. It helped a lot and it made us all feel beter knowing that there is someone to listen to us. I don’t know if i should reach out to my classmate now or not because i don’t know him that well, so i am left questioning…

  3. Victoria Noe said on May 12, 2011 at 11:18 am ... #

    Although I deliberately don’t talk about teenagers’ experiences, my blog and the book I’m writing are all about the experience of grieving the death of a friend.
    One of the most common – and surprising – experiences is that others don’t value your grief. After the moment of silence at school and the funeral, no one wants to talk about it any more. They want to forget, move on, and they want you to do the same thing.
    For teenagers – and many adults – friends are the closest relationships you have. That kind of disrespect for your grief is very hard to handle.

  4. Ali said on May 24, 2011 at 12:28 pm ... #

    A very well written article. I lost a friend when we were 19 and although many of us went through the same experience, we all dealt with it in different ways. Talking did help a lot, and still does. I also stay in touch with her parents and that helps too.

  5. Shannon said on June 6, 2012 at 2:29 am ... #

    My friend was murdered yesterday. I found out today and I am in complete shock still. This article will hopefully help me in the days to come.

  6. Alexandria said on March 1, 2015 at 3:22 pm ... #

    This article is very well written. Just this past December, I went to school like a normal Friday and 20 min into the school day I found out my best friend was killed on her way to school. I told no one all day, but that next Monday everyone knew but it seemed like know one knew the pain. This article showed me that their is a light at the end of the tunnel.

  7. Anonymous said on May 30, 2015 at 10:28 am ... #

    Today I found out a classmate passed away and Ii am just in shock. We weren’t close but I knew him and it’s just in the middles of exams and we don’t know many details. My thoughts are with his family but I just don’t know what to do I just feel selfish if I do anything

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