This SEAL assembly for primary school children examines the feeling of loss when a loved on dies, and the idea of having keepsakes to remind us of them

A boy talks to his grandfather about the memories left behind by relatives who have passed on.

Cufflinks. You may need to explain how they work. Or show some of the lovely cufflink images on Google images.

Teachers’ introduction
The assembly today introduces children to the knowledge that feelings of loss are natural to people of all ages, and are often long lasting. It’s fine to cry about them, but in time they will take their place in the rich pattern of each person’s life.

IntroductionWho has something that once belonged to someone in the family who’s no longer alive?

(If there are good examples, take some time talk about them.)

If someone has died, then the things they leave behind can’t be a replacement of course. But they can be a reminder. They can bring back memories. They can make you smile as you think about the person, or they can make you cry – or both at the same time. Either way, they help you to put your memories into a good place in your heart and mind. That’s what George’s granddad tries to explain to him in this story.

George was watching his granddad getting ready to go out. Every Tuesday, George called at his grandparents’ house after school, for tea. Sometimes after tea he’d see his granddad getting ready to go out to meet his friends.

He watched his granddad struggling to put cufflinks in his shirt. ‘Why do you wear cufflinks like that?’ he asked. ‘It’s easier when shirts just have buttons.’

‘Ah, but George,’ said Granddad. ‘Buttons are fine most of the time. But for dressing up, I like cufflinks. They look a bit more classy I think. Can’t beat a bit of cuff showing, and a pair of nice cufflinks.’

George stretched out his hand and touched one of his granddad’s cufflinks. ‘Granddad,’ he said. ‘These cufflinks have a letter F on them. Why’s that? Your name’s Gordon. I thought they’d have a G on them.’ ‘They’re my dad’s cufflinks,’ said Grandad. ‘His name was Fred. So his cufflinks have F on them.’

‘But don’t people get mixed up?’ said George. ‘They must think your name starts with F.’

Grandad shook his head. ‘All my friends know what I’m called. And if anyone asks me why I have a letter F on my cufflinks, that gives me the chance to mention my dad. Like I just have.’

‘I’ve seen pictures of him,’ said George. ‘Great Granddad Fred, I call him.’

‘That’s right,’ said Grandad. ‘He’d have been a hundred years old now. Some people live that long, don’t they? Pity he didn’t, because he’d really have loved you and your sister.’

‘But he died,’ said George. ‘Yes. When he was eighty-five. Fifteen years ago. Quite a long time before you were born. But I still miss him.’ ‘Do you get upset thinking about him?’ said George. ‘Not really,’ said granddad. ‘I’m sad, but not upset. And I often smile and imagine him saying this to me like he used to. Most of all I imagine him with you and your sister. I can see the look he’d have on his face if he could see you, so proud and full of love. That makes me sad, and brings a tear to my eye. If I see you in school assembly I always imagine my Dad and what he would have been thinking. But of course there has in the end to be a generation that’s out of reach.’ ‘How do you mean?’ said George. ‘Well, if my Dad had lived to see you, he certainly wouldn’t have lived to see your children. Maybe I won’t either. There has to be a parting eventually. A break in the chain.’ ‘But you have the cufflinks to remind you.’ ‘Lots of things really,’ said granddad. Some of his tools, things like that. But his cufflinks are very personal, worn by him when he wanted to dress up a bit. So they’re really special. When I put them on, I see him putting them on. ‘You’ve got lots of cufflinks,’ said George. ‘In that box. I sometimes look at them. But I expect these are your favourites.’

‘Oooh, I have to be careful now, ‘ said Grandad, laughing. ‘Because there are nice cufflinks in there that your mum and your grandma have bought me. But you know I mostly go for these. I feel close to my dad when I wear them. And I like the way they give me a chance to talk about him.’

George thought for a while. ‘Will you lend them to me if I have that kind of shirt?’ ‘Of course. You might need them for a shirt to wear with a dinner jacket or a tuxedo, or a wedding suit. Then I’d be proud for you to wear them. And one day you can have the whole boxful, to remember me by.’ ‘When you’re dead you mean?’ said George.

‘Well, yes, if you put it like that,’ said Grandad. ‘It’ll be something for you to look through and remember me by. You might even remember this very talk we’re having now.’

George thought again for a while. ‘I think that’s right. I won’t be able to remember everything, but some things will stay, and the cufflinks will be a good reminder.’ ‘Things like that just sort of fix your memories into place in your mind and heart,’ said Grandad. ‘You’ll wear these cufflinks and they’ll link you to me, and then to the great granddad you never met.’ ‘Great Granddad Fred,’ said George. ‘Would he have liked me to be wearing them?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Grandad. ‘He’d have liked it more than you or I will ever know. And maybe he will see you wearing them somehow, in some way. Who can tell?’

The memories we have of people who are no longer alive are important to us. The things they gave us can’t bring them back, or replace them. But they can help us to put our memories into a good place in our hearts. George’s granddad handles his father’s cufflinks, puts them on, and imagines Fred looking at him and smiling. And inside he feels sad and happy at the same time. One day George will share that same feeling as he takes the cufflinks out. Maybe he won’t wear them – fashions will change – but he’ll certainly get them out and have them in his hand, and remember the special talk he had with his granddad one day after school. And in time, too, he’ll pass the cufflinks on, to his own son or daughter, or grandchild. And each time the cufflinks pass on, some good thoughts and memories are kept alive in the family.

A prayer
Lord, we thank you for the love that binds our families together, and for the memories that keep departed loved ones in our hearts and minds. Help us to cherish the memories that are passed on to us by our older relatives, and to keep the stories safe so that we in turn can pass them on in time.

A thought
Among our treasures, the most valuable things are those that have been given to us in love, and which carry memories locked inside them.

Things to think about
Ask children to bring to school some possessions which carry special memories. Let them talk and write about them and place them on display. The emphasis is on the fact that mundane objects can carry very special memories.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2009

About the author: Gerald Haigh