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Death in the classroom: a family

Five years ago, Sandra Robinson's husband was killed on the building site where he was working. It was a savage blow, made worse by the fact that the news arrived without warning while Sandra and her four children (Anita,7, David, 10, Simon, 15, and Christine, 16) were at home together. The children witnessed Sandra's instant despair and denial, and this has undoubtedly contributed to their continuing difficulties.

Simon, now 20, and the only one of the children who felt able to talk to me, has very clear memories of how his secondary school dealt with the news next day. "While we were still waiting to be told to sit down, the form teacher told the whole class what had happened. Afterwards she did have a word with me and say that I could see her at any time."

Such was the school's formality that Simon observes: "I never really felt that I could let my guard down, or actually go and see her." His work, inevitably, came almost to a standstill: "I stared out of the window for four months."

A few months later, though, he went to a further education college, where "the head of department quietly told me that he knew I had been bereaved, and just said that he was there for me. He was brilliant at spotting if I was bad tempered or upset, and he'd just say a word to me."

Most worrying of all for Sandra is Anita's continuing failure, five years on, to come to terms with the loss of her father. "She's locked in at how she was when she was seven," says her mother. "She won't let me out of her sight and rings up from school to say she's ill and wants to come home."

The names of this family have been changed

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