Today was a horrible day, but I guess the only way through grief is to go through it. That's how I've been talking all day, sounding kind of like Yoda. Or at least, like someone who's been through this grief thing before. I've said "I don't know" lots of times too, though. As in, "I don't know why she died when she was so young and doing so much good work." And, "I don't know why things like this happen." Lots of the time I didn't know what to say, but we all cried together and it seemed to work out somehow.
We started the day with an assembly, telling the kids exactly what had happened and sharing some scripture with them. Some of the kids said they didn't really believe it was true until they saw the Director crying during his talk. Honestly, I don't know how one would deal with a situation like this in a school without some kind of spiritual beliefs, because what is there to say in the face of death? What comfort can you give or receive without God's help?
We went to class, and we spent some time talking about our loss, remembering this person we all loved so much. There were many tears. Later we went out to the display that had been set up with photos and memorabilia from her office. There was paper for the kids to write things they remembered and appreciated about her. All of these writings will be put in a book for her family.
While I was in front of the display, kids were coming back and forth from my classroom. After a while I went back to check on the ones who were inside and there was a smell of burning. I had lit a votive candle which a staff member had given me this morning, and I had also stupidly left the matches on my desk and then left the room. What was I thinking? It turns out that some of my boys had been setting fire to pieces of toilet paper (we had a roll in the front of the room for nose-blowing purposes) and someone had even dropped one of the burning squares of paper into the recycled paper box. Thankfully we didn't have a burned down school to add to our list of crises, but it was a reminder that seventh graders can careen quickly from heartfelt grief to acts of arson. And that they shouldn't ever be left alone with matches.
When my eighth graders came, they were pretty much wrung out from a morning talking and grieving together. We talked for a few minutes and then we played a rousing game of Taboo. I felt a bit uncomfortable, as though we weren't being respectful, but then I remembered that K. knew these kids - she had taught them! - and that she would understand what I needed to do to get through my day with them. They were genuinely devastated by the loss but there's only so much crying you can do at one time. We all need breaks from the high emotion.
Tomorrow I'm going back to normal teaching. I'll be sensitive to students who need to talk, but none of us can handle the free-form grieving any more. On Wednesday morning we will have a memorial service and then we are off the rest of the week (national holidays).
I always read a poem with my students each day, and tomorrow I am planning to use Death, be not proud
. And yes, it's a bit much for seventh and eighth graders, so here's the paraphrase I wrote. I'm planning to read my version first, and then Donne's. (I know his is way better, by the way. But if you have suggestions for how I could improve on mine, please feel free to comment.)
Death, don't think you're all that, even though some have said you're mighty and dreadful - you aren't. You think you're defeating those who die, but that's not the way it is, and you can't kill me, either. We get pleasure from rest and sleep, which are just imitations of you - won't we get even more pleasure when we die? As soon as good people die, they get rest for their bodies and freedom for their souls. You, Death, are a slave to many things - fate, chance, rulers, criminals. You hang out with poison, war, and sickness. If we want to sleep, we can always take Tylenol PM and get a better rest than you can give us, so what do you have to be proud about? After a short sleep, we'll wake to eternal life, and you, Death, won't even exist any more. Death: you're going to die!
If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be getting through these days. Because I do believe it, I can, somehow.