Life is fragile. I accept that but it is also something that I am forced to relearn without warning. During my 18th year of teaching, last year, I lost a student. There are no instruction manuals for these situations and I have never attended any workshop that helped me devise a lesson plan for that life lesson.
I won't forget the day that my principal came and told me. What a hard job for her, negotiating teachers, parents, and students through this time. What a hard job for me, figuring out how to handle it.
We are coming up on the one year anniversary of this student's death. Even though I have suffered loss in my personal life, the loss of a student is quite different. The grief is more public. You aren't managing your grief but the grief of the twenty-four classmates that remain. Interventions come the first day and they may even linger for more one. There comes that moment in time when it is just you, your students, and an empty seat.
It's hard. It takes more courage than you think you can muster. In my class we wrote, we read, we talked, we listened. My students understand that these are safe ways to negotiate the world. As Sharon Creech says, "It seems to me that we can’t explain all the truly awful things in the world," and we can't, but we can help our kids learn healthy ways to navigate through dark times.
As the one year anniversary of this student's death approaches, I am trying to figure out how to let the parents know that I remember. I will never forgot your child's smile and the joy that your child's presence brought to our class. It's the least I can do.