I am a fourth grade teacher and work with what has to be the most amazing staff on the planet. I also work with pretty great kids. I have been at the school I teach at for 11 years - sometimes that is very hard to believe that it's been that long! It is the end of May...the weather is warming up (today it's supposed to be 90 degrees - yikes!) and everything is as green as can be. The sun is finally out after a very long stretch of rain. All of this means that summer is almost here...seven school days left and another year will be gone. An old friend once told me that the nice part of teaching is that we get a "do-over" every August. All of the things about our jobs we mess up or don't do very well...we get the chance to change and do better once a year when we get a new class. I love this time of year - everyone is just a little more relaxed and smiles are a little easier to come by. Last night was our school carnival. Worried that we might have to move it inside because of predicted rain, we did not. The rain came in the morning and by the afternoon when the carnival started, it was a cool and pleasant evening. For the last part of the carnival I was supervising the bounce house. I just wanted to share a story that happened with a student.
He is a fifth grader that I taught last year when I was the science teacher. When we lost Faith this year, we had the classroom teachers in fifth grade tell their students (all of whom I'd taught in fourth grade) about what happened. We kept it in "kid" language - that our baby was very sick and died. They were also reminded not to ask me a bunch of questions or bring it up with me when I get back because it makes me very sad. My current class of fourth graders were also told. I have to say that the kids have been amazing about it. We had one session where I let them ask questions, but they have been very respectful, which is a huge relief.
So, last night at the carnival, one of the students I had last year says, "Can I ask you a question?" I said he could, but he hesitated and finally said, "Never mind. I think it might hurt your feelings." I sensed he wanted to ask about Faith, so I said, "It's okay. You can ask me a question." He replied that he wouldn't ask the question yet, but would tell me what it's about. I motioned for him to whisper it in my ear. He whispered, "It's about your baby."
I gently pulled him out of line off to the side and told him to ask. He asked, "How old was she?"
"She was three days old," I replied.
He looked at me with the confused face of an 11-year old who lives in a world where babies don't die. "Three days?!" he confirmed, confused. I nodded.
After a moment of silence and as much profound thought an 11-year old can have, he looked up at me and said, "That doesn't make sense."
I smiled wryly at him and told him and said, "You're right. It doesn't make sense to me either."
I went on to confirm what I knew he was thinking and said, "Babies aren't supposed to die, are they?" He shook his head and I thanked him for being brave enough to say something to me and to do it in such a polite and mature way. The conversation was winding down.
He looked at me again, and said, "Can I ask another question?" I said, "Yes." He looked up and said, "Can I have my spot back in line?"
I cackled and laughed and laughed, put his face in my hands and told him, "Yes, you can have your spot back in line." And off he went, back to the line at the bounce house. 11-year olds can bring such joy if you let them.
The whole conversation probably lasted a minute or two, but I was so touched by his ability to articulate that he wanted to say something but didn't want to hurt me. See, most adults don't usually do this much. Adults think they understand grief and pain and hurt better than children and somewhere in our society, we think if we just say nothing to a grief-stricken person than they won't think about their loved one. In our world, if we say something, we will remind them of their pain.
I have news for you...
...you won't remind me of something that I don't already think about 24 hours a day. Especially when you lose a child, your world is forever altered. You are never, ever the same. Your very soul is so changed that there are moments you don't even recognize yourself. You begin to understand this and weave this great chasm of loss into the new person that you are. That is how we survive. I had to accept that the Erica I was before I had my daughter is no more - I am this Erica now, the one whose daughter sits on the lap of Jesus instead of mine and her daddy's. Some days are filled with sadness, but most days now just are...and joy and hope are part of our life again. Last night, an 11-year old reminded me of my daughter and it brought a smile to my face. I'd like to leave you with this poem I found last fall...
The mention of my child's name may bring tears to my eyes,
But it never fails to bring music to my ears.
If you are really my friend,
let me hear the music of her name.
It soothes my broken heart and sings to my soul!