20th May 2005 at 01:00

Teachers can demonstrate that funeral rituals reflect both human needs and also religious beliefs about life beyond death. The human needs are: formally to say goodbye to the deceased, to dispose of the body reverently and to celebrate - as far as possible under the circumstances - the gift of the dead person's life. Beyond that, the various religions offer particular statements of hope about a continuing life.

The need for ritual to help cope with death can be underlined by including secular humanist options for funerals alongside examples from religions.

Don't ramble through the many potential examples of the unusual or the yukky, but take fewer examples in more detail, connect ritual with belief and demonstrate the logic in actions which may at first sight appear odd.

Write and talk about: an obituary for a famous religious person; surveys of gravestone inscriptions; the text of different funeral services to examine the beliefs expressed there. Importantly, include - sensitively handled - the experiences of pupils themselves who have attended funerals.

You could invite a funeral director to discuss how people cope with bereavement, how far "special requests" for readings and rituals help, and how for some people religious faith may offer consolation. In fact, death is never far away from a school, with parents, grandparents and even - sadly, but fortunately rarely - children themselves dying.

But "softly, softly" works best and a child who is closely involved with a terminally ill person may need some shielding from classroom exposure to the consequences of loss.

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