Losing a student to a car accident or cancer or illness is terrible. Losing a student to suicide is almost incomprehensible. In 37 years as a teacher, I suffered and cried with the students more times than I can even count. June, 2011, was the end of my classroom career, and I had so many favorite students (read- all of them!) And I had a phone call last week that one of those favorite students chose to end his life. He was 18.
Death is difficult to accept, even when a person has enjoyed a long and wonderful life. I attended the funeral of a friend’s father last Saturday. Her dad was 96 and I adored him. He was wise and gentle and wonderful, but a stroke hastened his ultimate demise. He would not have been happy being flat on his back and unable to move or speak, and he would not be able to work in his beloved garden, and that made the acceptance of his passing more palatable. His insightful lessons about life to be still and to breathe slowly and enjoy Mother Nature and her bounty will live on. Not so with my young friend and former student who chose to end his life.
Because Scott and I had no children, I have always felt that in some ways, my students and golfers and cast members of shows we directed are “my kids.” I have always been the kind of teacher and person who formed bonds and interests and commonalities with others in a very rapid manner. I was always the teacher who knew about the home and family relationships and problems, the girlfriend/boyfriend issues, the struggles with friendships, and the difficulty with reading and/or homework. For all the years I taught school, I cried on the last day as every class left my 10th grade English class to advance to the high school. I would block the door and shout “You can’t leave! I am keeping every one of you with me forever”, even though I knew that was an impossibility. I hugged every student every year. I was especially sad to say goodbye to my students in June, 2011. They would be my last students, and they all understood that I was leaving because Scott was dying. They knew that I wanted to stay, but that it would be irresponsible for me to do so. The student I mentioned at the beginning of this blog was mature beyond his years. We discussed my decision at length. He said he was sorry for the students who would not have the chance to know me as a classroom teacher, but that retiring to take care of Scott was really my only choice. What a mature young man.
So, what to think? An entire population of friends and former teachers and family members are left with a question of WHY? Although I have repeated this same scenario over and over in my career, trying to understand why a young person wants to end his life stymies me even more than this English teacher trying to solve for X with Calculus or Trigonometry. All I know is this is a waste of a beautiful life, not lived. And I know that the parents will never be the same, as the light of their lives was taken away. No parent should ever have to bury a child.
And what is the message of this blog, of the contrast of a life well lived and a life not lived? Be thankful every day. Tell the ones you love that you love them. And especially for teachers and parents, please be kind as teenagers work to find their way in this difficult and fast paced world. Let them know they are loved and valued. Live your life well by caring for others.
Rittman Publishing, LLC
Rittman Publishing, LLC