Today was the last day of high school for my very first set of students. What a sweet and memorable day.
However, it was over shadowed by the fact that I had to attend the wake for a 16 year old boy who walked in room 214 when he was just seven years old. He was on the shy side. He was a very hard worker. He could be silly with his friends but he never got into trouble. I remember how much he loved gym days and his little cheeks would always be flushed when I picked up the class because he worked so hard. I remember his smile the most. Sometimes he would try to hide his smile and it would be more of a smirk. I remember he'd often share stories about his little sister who was just a year younger than him.
I tried to keep extra busy all day to avoid facing my feelings today. 30 minutes before I had to leave I sat down with the sympathy card for the family and I looked at the blank left side and I felt sick. By the time I had written four sentences I was sweating. I kept whispering to myself, I can't do this, I can't do this. I am an overly emotional person on a daily basis, so when it comes to something this emotional it's so hard to keep it together. Plus when I'm somewhere as a teacher, rather just a mom, wife or crazy lady crying for some reason, it's important to me to stay professional. I finished the card, dropped the kids of at Mama Jeanne's and picked up two friends and I drove over to the same church that had just held Christian's preschool graduation just a couple weeks ago. We arrived just 15 minutes after the start time and already people were out the door.
As we finally stepped foot into the church I could barely breath. There was a poster board with his baby pictures just three steps away. I was clenching my Kleenexes like they were going to give me strength. We got up the steps and there was a table with his brand new year book on it, some rubber bracelets his teammates had made and a Mother's Day book he wrote when he was in second grade. I gasped when I saw it. I whispered to Amanda, "Oh my God, he made that book in my class," and I started crying. I held that book and turned to the very last page where I knew it was the About The Author page. I read what he wrote about himself eight years ago while sitting in my class. There was a tiny school picture of him glued to the top of the page. Right about that time his grandma approached the three of us and she said, "You look so familiar, I know you face." I introduced myself and she said, "Yes, yes, he just loved you." I couldn't speak and I put my head down and began to cry. I whispered how sorry I was for her loss and stepped out of the way so she could talk to my friends.
Next I saw his sister. She was holding her one year old baby sister who was sleeping in her arms with a Nuk in her mouth. I walked up to her and wrapped my arms around her and she started crying. All I could whisper was, "Oh, sweetie."
We waited in line for nearly an hour more passing more tables and poster boards with more memories. There were many team pictures and ribbons from elementary track n field days and pictures of him and his siblings. There was a set of his little painted hand prints that were cut out and tied together with a red piece of string from just a decade ago. I ran my finger along one of the ribbons and Amanda said, "This is all his mom has left." His letterman jacket hung there with his last name on it. His basketball friends roamed around with their eyes swollen and red. Huge bouquets of white and orange flowers in vases made out of basketballs were fragrantly sitting on stands. Music played from the slide show that was going in the sanctuary.
Finally, we were approaching his family. I was watching how other people acted and what they said. I wasn't sure what to say. I didn't know if they'd recognize me. As soon as I got close his dad was so kind and happy to see me. He said he heard I just had a baby and how happy he was for us. He said there with a picture of me and his son and a friend who was also in my class on one of the boards. We hugged and I thought how I was so amazed at his strength. When he let me go I looked at his mom and the poor woman was standing there completely sobbing. She held her arms out and I immediately hugged her. We both cried and held on to that hug. She said, "You were always his favorite teacher." I pulled back and had my head down and she said, "Really, even as he got older he still always said you were his favorite teacher. You really touched his life." I was sobbing and wiping my eyes and she continued, "We requested you to be (his sister's) teacher. It had to be you." It was so moving. I was so touched.
As a teacher you always hope you reach students and, really, you never know. They will never know how much they reach me too.