Friday, February 10, 2012

Death at Middle School

Last month, a teacher at my grandson's school was murdered by her husband because of a contenious divorce.
He shot her, then shot himself, leaving three young children without parents.
The school sent a e-mail to the parents of students from the middle schools where she taught, informing parents that grief counselors would be at the school a few days, to help children cope.
My grandson, a sixth grader, seemed his usual cheerful self when he arrived home that afternoon.
We were surprised, because he cried when his best friend moved to Howell, and when his chocolete lab died last year, at the age of 16.
"Maybe asking him how he feels will make it worse," my daughter said.                  
But we decided to take the advice of the principal in his e-mail, and fighting back our own tears, we asked Dustin how he felt about the tragedy.
Dustin waved his hand as if to dismiss us from his bedroom, where he bent over his X-Box.
"Oh, she's okay," he told us reassuringly. "She was going to get a divorce but the daddy did not want to lose his children.So they had a fight and a gun went off, but nobody got hurt. She wasn't in her classroom this morning because her family is taking vacation at a water park up North."
"Who told you this?" my daughter asked.
"I told myself. My friends and I got together, and this is what we figured out happened, because otherwise, how can we sleep at night?  We all liked her. And what if we lost our parents when our eyes close?"
As he came to understand the truth, he had trouble falling asleep, and began awakening when the furnace clicked on or his mom coughed.
He was often sad and frightened, and did not know why.
He never spoke about her, until one night when he insisted everyone go to sleep and he would fall asleep without someone still awake in the living room, as someone had to be since the tragedy.
He asked to be tucked in, for the first time in a year or so, and told his mom, "She had a most beautiful smile, like she was always glad to see me every morning. I'll always keep that smile with her name, inside me."
We will each recover in our own way, those less close the fastest, but even the closest recover at last.
The first sign of our healing from a tragic loss is always a joyful memory of the person's life, or recognition of something they've left with us.
Every child impacted by this will carry something inside, just like I will never forget a teacher at Parkdale Elementary in Midland in 1959 who died with two friends in a car crash when I was in sixth grade.
Her name and smile still dwell inside me, too.

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