Hope for Tomorrow

While I was away in Vegas, I got sad news. A student in my high school was killed in a car accident on Saturday night. He wasn’t my student, but I certainly knew him from brief positive interactions at school and at the grocery store where he worked. Polite. Personable.

But this news broke my heart just the same.

See…I’ve lived this before.

Between the ages of 16 and 19, I had the to suddenly and prematurely say goodbye to a classmate, a teenage cousin, and my younger brother.

All grief sticks with you, but that experience of grief as a teen seems to imprint on you in ways that are hard to understand if you have not experienced it.

My heart hurts for the students in our building. It hurts for my colleagues and for our extended community.

I could not and cannot stop thinking about his family and friends.

Tomorrow is the first day of school for students since the loss of this young man. I need to think about the needs of my students – the ones who knew him well, the ones who didn’t but still struggle, and everyone in between. Some will want to do lessons as usual. Others will want to go talk to counselors. Some simply are not going to be ready to hear me no matter what stories I have to share with them about meeting authors or picking up new titles or anything else we might attempt to accomplish tomorrow.

It’s a balancing act.

We’ll probably write. I’ll write beside them like I try to do. I’ll leave it open for them to follow a prompt or not.

And we’ll take it all one step at a time.

I know that students look to their teachers to see how to act and react. I did whenever my classmate was killed the day of my junior prom. I remember my teacher barely holding it together as he attempted to take roll. That empty desk was more than he could take but he couldn’t – even by the end of the year – rearrange the seating chart. I remember my eyes filling up every day as I watched him go through this.

I have no seating chart to consider, but I do need to consider how I react in my room in front of my students. If they are like I was at their age, they want to know that they aren’t alone in how they feel. They want to know that this is normal. That this gets better. That this heartache is real no matter how well they knew him.

And that it’s okay for us to take it all one step at a time.


9 thoughts on “Hope for Tomorrow

  1. This is horrible, Cindy. I hope you, your students, and those in your district and community are able to heal. I think writing is an excellent idea; we know how much it can help us navigate through our emotions. I’ll be thinking about all of you this week. *Hugs*

  2. I’m so sorry for you and your school. I’ve been there too many times. If words are needed, you will have them. Writing is good. Sometimes talking is good. One time I had a class that just wanted to walk around the halls together quietly. Sometimes the right thing is an acknowledgement followed by an opportunity for those who want to say something is, and then go on with class approximately as planned. There is no perfect plan. You just have to rely on instincts, and yours are great.

    When this happens at our school, the principal comes on the intercom and reads the same canned, meaningless statement, completely devoid of emotion. Then the teachers and counselors do the heavy lifting.

    You be strong for those kids, and let your support system be strong for you.

    • Thanks, Gary. I think it’ll all be okay. I am mostly worried about those students who may not know yet. You’d think in the age of FB and Twitter and text messaging that everyone would know…but maybe not.
      I have been through this a few times already as a teacher – both with the sudden loss of a colleague and also with students. I’ll trust my instincts as I’ve done before and do what I need to do for all of my students. Thank you.

    • Thanks. I’ve lived through this as student and teacher and I’ve found that it’s remarkable how much the one experience seems to inform the other.
      Thank you.

  3. My eyes filled with tears as I read your note so filled with new sadness that dredges up the other the long-buried sadnesses. I understand the sense of emptiness and not being sure how to cope because as you noted, it doesn’t get easier, ever. For some, writing may be the answer. For others, talking may help. For others, just knowing you are around and care may be enough. My thoughts are with you all

    • It does get easier. My brother passed away in 1995. There isn’t a day that hours by where I don’t miss him. But now I’m far more likely to have a smile on my face recalling something he said or did. I don’t focus on his accident or his death these days unless something like this student’s passing happens. I prefer to recall his life. I have shared with students about my brother in the past. I will share about him again. It opens the door for the ones who want to talk.

  4. My heart goes out to everyone affected by this tragedy. I live in a small town of 200, and we lost our mayor to a motorcycle/deer accident last Friday night. His wife (who was superintendent for 4 years) posted on “his” facebook the other day-it was heartwrenching.

    Y’all are in my thoughts and prayers. Sending you a cyberhug.


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