On Friday, I attended a memorial service of one of my former students. That’s the thing with teaching….once a kid was assigned to my class, he/she became one of ‘my kids’. And that final good-bye was just rough.
Especially when this young person found the world so dark he planned–and enacted his own exit. “Lots of questions, no answers. This is hard stuff. Even for the teacher who is supposed to have all of the answers. It is just as hard for me to understand, as you.” This was my response to many classmates, who tearfully begged me to make it all better. In fifth grade I stood between them and the real world. My toughest call might have been at recess, deciding which team would bat first. Then they all grew up, and scattered. Seven years later, we gather…with lumps in our throats, confusion in our hearts, and moments of awkwardness. I would strain to put names with faces, then they would recall an event or such, and I was back under their spell.
When I learned that ‘my’ kid had passed away, I did not sleep all night. Replaying events and memories. Even though he was on my watch seven years ago…I was sifting through my days with this boy. Was I too harsh? Did I talk over listening? Did I miss something? What could I have done differently to have served him better?
Prior to attending the service in his memory, I substitute taught at my granddaughter’s school. Their entire day was planned around a fundraiser for a classmate battling cancer. Her fight for life so fierce, an entire school corporation has raised thousands of dollars on her behalf. Hours later, I would sit in church with several hundred people, wondering why this young man chose not to grow old. Too bad he couldn’t have given his unwanted minutes to this young girl, praying for another remission. Better yet; why couldn’t we all see how dark his days had come?
The death of a young person is always haunting. If it occurs in the military, there is honor. If a car crash or occupational accident claims one’s life, it is tragic but explainable. When we bury a young adult who has died under medical catastrophe, we shake our heads, pin a colored ribbon to our lapel and join a marathon. Okay—-that sounds cold and heartless, and that is not my intent. But folks become passionate about finding cures and many outlets are available to fund such research. There is purpose in their passing.
But with suicide, there is such grim darkness that we all stand in its ugly shadow. There are so many layers of guilt, blame, self-torture. It is a mean game of hide and seek. The individual has hidden away his demons and his tomorrows; those left behind still seek answers that will stay unrevealed. Maneuvering through a future that seems hopeless and without peace, we try to calm the emptiness with cliches and platitudes. The closure is sloppy and unfulfilling, and laced in failure. Ours….not his/hers.
I know that this blog is perhaps, disturbing. I do not want my posts to be that of gloom and doom. But I am an authentic author and must share the “ongoing stories of my soul” as they play out in my days. I cherish you for plodding through some of the painful parts of my ramblings. In doing so, you bring a balance and understanding to that which is so incomprehensible.
I lost a boy whose life was laced in one kind act after another. A gentle soul who could make others feel welcomed, at ease, and best yet: could make them laugh. Perhaps he was just a person too kind for this world. May his exit from this life become an entrance to a world full of promise and inner peace.
How I wish the same for his broken, beaten mother, who will never be the same. Her son was an amazing young man; I am honored to have called him my student. This was his senior year…a milestone in the journey of education. But he moved up his graduation from this life to whatever comes next. I do not blame or judge…but struggle with what we all should learn from this.
So many lessons, so little time. A sad exit, indeed.