Ask the Intergenerational Expert: Q & A with Bridges Together

Ask the Intergenerational Expert: We are starting an occasional series featuring Bridges Together’s responses to intergenerational-themed questions that we receive. Here’s our first one, fielded during a recent webinar.

Question: What should we do when a volunteer passes away? (The situation: There is a group of older adults from the senior center and high school students that meets monthly. One of the active members died at the age of 92. The intergenerational leader wants to know how to best approach this with the students.)

Bridges Together:  Next time you gather:

  • Welcome people and do any ice breakers or initial getting-to-know- you activities.
  • Tell everyone that this volunteer has passed away, adding any facts that are appropriate and/or public information. Examples might include, “He died in his sleep” or “He died after a short hospitalization due to a fall.”
  • Explain to the group that you are going to give them a few minutes to reflect on the volunteer. Hand out blank pieces of paper to everyone and make markers, pens and pencils available. The markers are for anyone who wants to draw a picture as some people will prefer that to writing. Have tissues available. Assure people that they can spread out for this activity. If possible, consider dimming the lights and putting on background music. You may also want to light a candle, explaining that it is a symbol of someone’s presence and that their spirit lives on. You may also want to have a photo of the person framed, perhaps at your IG program. Invite people to reflect on the following topics or prompts: the person’s favorite memory of the volunteer, three words the person would use to describe the volunteer, a lesson the person learned from the volunteer, a part of the volunteer they want to carry with them or anything else appropriate.
  • When the majority of people are done, invite everyone to come back to the group. Invite anyone who wants to share their reflection with the group to do so.
  • Let people know that if they want, you will make a copy of their reflection to share with the volunteer’s family.
  • End with a poem, saying or picture book about how the person’s spirit lives on even after they pass. For example: “How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?” — Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Or “Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy.”  — Eskimo saying
  • Thank everyone for sharing and say that you are confident that the volunteer would appreciate all that was shared and they would want you to continue with your plans, so that is what you’ll do. Remind people that you are available to listen and chat about the volunteer today or any time in the future. Then launch into the regularly planned lesson.

{{Click here for a blog post about two Bridges Together-recommended books on death.}}

 

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