I was talking last night with a friend, and somehow the subject of death came up. Cheerful stuff, you know? But it's real. And sometimes it's best to get it out, talk about the emotions, let someone listen and absorb and tear up in empathy.
I've been blessed with relatively few deaths in my experience. All four grandparents are still alive. My parents are well and healthy. I've lost very few people. When my great-grandmother died long ago, she had lived a long and wonderful life. I didn't truly experience the unexpected death of someone I knew well until nine years ago. Last night I realized the litany was more extensive than I thought.
Nine years ago a casual friend (a friend of my friends) was murdered, brutally. He had to be buried in a closed casket. The murderer was never caught. The general belief was that he had started dating a married woman whose husband had connections. My best friend at the time had dated him years before. It was the last straw in her already imbalanced mental state, and she went off the deep end shortly thereafter.
Seven years ago I lost my first student. He was very sickly, with a fatal condition. He simply never returned after Christmas break.
A year later another student died during the night from an undiagnosed heart problem.
Almost four years ago one of My Boys, the fringe kids with whom I somehow connect, was captured in Iraq. He was MIA for almost two years before the army found his remains. I remember when he came to see me and a few other teachers just before shipping out. He was so excited, so proud to be serving his country. The army had done for him what little else had done: given him a drive and purpose, structure for a life that had been chaotic. I worried, wondered what would happen, hoped he would return safe and sound. I'm still mourning him.
Three and a half years ago my aunt, my mother's only sister, lost her battle with leukemia. She left behind five children. I'm still working through it.
Three years ago a former student, one with whom I had become close through a Leadership Camp the school had run, died from shooting up heroin laced with fentanyl. She had been beautiful, brilliant, filled with potential. The waste of her life rocked me to the core. The other teacher and former students who had been part of our small group hugged and cried at her wake. She had gotten clean, had started dating another former student of mine who loved her and treated her well. We had hoped so much for her. The vicious embrace of that poison proved too strong for her to resist.
A year and a half ago my father's oldest brother died from a catastrophic stroke. Both my sets of grandparents have now outlived a grown child.
I know there will be more to come. My grandparents, as well as they are still doing, are in their eighties and nineties. And in my profession, the tragic deaths of the young are inevitable. Some are more senseless than others, like the student from one of the other high schools in the district who was killed when another teen hit him in the back of the head with a baseball bat. He had simply been in the area trying to get his brother to come home, away from a prearranged meet-up between hot-headed youths fighting over text message insults.
The world seems, at times, filled with the senseless deaths of those who have not lived long enough. It is broken. We are broken.
So I cling to hope and faith and friendship and love. If life is so short, if it can end in a moment's breath, then it should be lived fully.
And I'm finally learning how.
3 years ago