Sunday, May 22, 2011


Since Wednesday night, I've been thinking about what to say, what to write, how to wrap my brain around what happened. I'm not any closer to any answers, but I'm going to try.

Wednesday night I received a phone call that one of my favorite students--a beautiful, talented, vibrant, super intelligent, gifted singer, wonderful 16-year-old--committed suicide that day after school. I sat in stunned silence, unable to process the words. I stared at the TV, not seeing anything. I talked on the phone more than I have in a long time to other teachers and friends, trying to make sense. Wednesday night was a very restless sleep.

Nothing could have prepared me for the hell that was Thursday. It was the worst day teaching I've ever had in 12 years. We had a faculty meeting before school, and I was doing okay until I saw my friend Leigh Ann. We shared this student, and shared a close bond with her. Then I had to walk upstairs, and walk into a classroom of students with a prepared statement I was supposed to read. I stood in front of 25 faces, most mirrored mine: shock, tears visible, most wearing white in her honor. Nothing in my education classes had prepared me for this moment. I crumbled up the prepared statement, threw it in the trash, and winged it. We cried together. The day didn't get much better...most hours were a repeat of 1st hour.

5th hour was the hour she was in. Her counselor was going to all of her classes, and we had more grief counseling. After she left, the kids shared with me how frustrated they were with the adults "preaching" at them about how to handle grief. We talked about her and shared some laughs.

I'd heard that several students closest to her had been working on a poster. At the end of the day, I went down to see it. Tears overwhelmed me again. It was the largest poster I'd ever seen--many pieces of white butcher paper taped together, a huge painted Eiffel tower, for her dream of making it to Paris one day, along with personal notes, pictures, etc. It was an amazing outlet for the kids to be able to express how much she meant to them.

Today was the memorial. Probably 300 people filled a barn on her family farm in 90 degree heat, sweat mixing with tears. It was a nice memorial, as those things go. I wish she could have seen how loved she was.

Things I've been wrestling with internally: how did I not see anything. I talked to this girl, about lots of stuff. She drew me pictures for my bulletin board, told me about her weekend, things she was looking forward to, invited me to choir concerts, we discussed books and love and boys and work and families...never once did she let on that something was terribly wrong. How did I not see it? How did none of us see it? How could she have thought that breaking up with a boy, a fight with a friend, a fight with her mom was so terrible to warrant taking her own life? That those problems are minor in the grand scheme of things? Did reading the Great Gatsby, which ends with a man killing himself, put the idea in her head? We were reading it at the exact same time. How could she think her friends didn't like her?

She may not have been family, may have been *just* a student, but she was a student I talked to every day, more than I do my own family. Just because she was *just* a student doesn't mean it hurts any less. Most teachers, well, most good teachers, build relationships with students, and that was the case with her. She and I had a bond, and it hurts that she is gone, and that I did nothing to help when I was supposed to be there for her. 

They played two songs at her memorial today: If I die young by Band Perry, and Why by Rascal Flatts. Both were right to the heart of the matter. Since this is already the world's longest post, I won't put the full lyrics, just a few key phrases.

If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song

Lord make me a rainbow, I'll shine down on my mother
She'll know I'm safe with you when she stands under my colors
Oh, and life ain't always what you think it ought to be, no
Ain't even gray, but she buries her baby

And maybe then you'll hear the words I been singing
Funny, when you're dead how people start listening


You must have been in a place so dark, you couldn't feel the light
Reachin' for you through that stormy cloud
Now here we are gathered in our little home town
This can't be the way you meant to draw a crowd

Oh, why?
That's what I keep askin'
Was there anything I could have said or done?
Oh, I had no clue you were maskin' a troubled soul
God only knows what went wrong
And why you would leave the stage in the middle of a song

1 comment:

Jennifer Jayhawk said...

I am so sorry for your pain - I'm sure she really appreciated you as a friend and teacher. I couldn't even imagine what it must have been like the next day at school and her service. All your students are lucky to have you!!th