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A Loss and a Legacy

Contemplating a death within the school community

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


Explores students’ understanding of death and its effects in response to a death in the school community (SEAL theme: Managing feelings).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and a reader.
  • The assembly follows a structure similar to that used within a conventional funeral service. Each element is self-contained and can be expanded by adding music, visual images and silence as appropriate. It is recommended, however, that the complete structure is used in order to help students begin to deal with the bereavement process.
  • The emphasis within each section can be varied as appropriate, depending on whether the person who has died was a student or a member of staff.
  • A picture of the person who has died may be displayed as students enter.
  • Prepare a brief summary of the personality, relationships, achievements and ambitions of the person who has died to include at the end of the section on the legacy that person leaves behind. This could be in the form of a tribute given by a student or students, a member of staff or a montage of images could be put together and displayed as a slideshow.
  • Have available a suitable quiet, but not sombre, piece of music and the means to play it as the students enter, such as ‘An ending (ascent)’ by Brian Eno, and choose a piece that starts quietly and ends on an uplifting note, such as ‘The rising’ by Bruce Springsteen, to play at the end.


Leader: This assembly is taking place because (name) has died. We're gathered because (name's) death has an effect on us all in one way or another and it's important that we acknowledge how we feel.

We're also going to be thankful that we knew (name) and prepare ourselves to face the future without (him/her).

Let us think about our feelings for a moment.

Words are an inadequate way to express how we're feeling right now, but they're all we've got. We may not all choose the same words. Some may feel numb with shock, others angry at the unfairness of this death. Some may feel upset, others may feel a sickness in the pit of their stomachs. Possibly there are those who wonder what all the fuss is about. There may be others who really can't see any future without (name).

Let's take a moment in silence to be honest with ourselves about the mix of emotions that are going on in us and those around us.

Pause for ten seconds.

Now let’s think about the legacy (name) leaves behind.

We're in a privileged position because (name) shared (his/her) life with us. (He/she) was part of the rich diversity that makes up this school community. (His/her) words and actions were a gift to us. It's the legacy (he/she) leaves us with.

Give the prepared brief summary of the person who has died or ask the student or students to come up to give their tribute or show the montage of images, as has been arranged in your preparation.

Let’s now think about death and various beliefs about it.

(Name) was a unique person, a never-to-be-repeated example of humankind. That's why we feel the loss. There's a hole in our shared community.

There's also a question mark. When you're young, it's easy to feel like you're invincible. Your life is ahead of you, full of opportunities, challenges and achievements. A time like this reminds us all that, in the great span of history, we're actually only playing very small and temporary roles. Life is short.

The Psalms – one of the parts of the Bible shared by Christians and Jews – describes us as being like weeds that sprout in the morning, grow and burst into bloom, then dry up and die by the evening. It's a vivid image from the hot climate of Israel and Palestine where the psalms were written, but, still, it evokes the sense that we're living in this moment and we never know when the moment may come to an end. It’s a disturbing thought.

Jesus died a premature death. He realized that this would be difficult for his followers to handle, so he tried to help them face up to it. This is what he said.

Reader: Do not be worried and upset.

Leader: That's easier said than done.

We feel worried because we've been brought face to face with death, with the realization that it will one day happen to us. We're upset, many of us, because we can't change what's happened or bring (name) back.

Jesus also said this.

Reader: Believe in God and believe also in me.

Leader: If ever there's a time when we need something or someone to believe in, it's at such a time.

Christians believe in an afterlife. So do Moslems, Jews and a number of other faiths. For them, death is not the end, it's merely the start of another phase in existence. That thought may be helpful to you.

Others may believe that this life is all we've got. If that is you, what can you believe in?

If you believe in the here and now, then this death may motivate you to make something of the opportunities you have right now and think about the legacy you might leave to those who live after you. 

Time for reflection

Whatever we believe, we need to prepare to face the future. Let's do so with a few moments of meditation and a prayer.

In the silence, be thankful for (name's) life and the way it touched you.

Remember (name's) family and friends. Commit yourself to helping those who may be most upset.

In the silence, find a mental picture that, for you, sums up what happens beyond death. How does it affect the way you live your life now?

What do you plan to do for the remainder of this day? Think about the priorities for yourself and those you'll be with.


Dear Lord,
Give us the patience and the courage to be all that we need to be for each other.


‘An ending (ascent)’ by Brian Eno

‘The rising’ by Bruce Springsteen 

Publication date: April 2015   (Vol.17 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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