As a teacher I am used to saying goodbye. Students move in and out of the district, always coming and going. Farewells naturally occur at the end of every school year as I pass along my little cherubs to the next lucky soul that gets to touch their lives. Often times I ignore my feelings of loss and try to focus on the next batch of students that lie in wait. However, when I lose a student to death…well, that is just the wrong kind of goodbye.
I recently attended the funeral services of a sweet young lady named Danielle. A senior at my high school, she had yet to see her 18th birthday, had yet to recieve her diploma, had yet to live her dreams. I taught Danielle when she was a freshman and although there is a certain detachment that occurs between student and teacher when the student is no longer a regular in the classroom – there is always a connection as our life paths have crossed.
Filling the needs of students drives me as a teacher. Sometimes I fill their minds with knowledge and growth. Sometime I fill their heart with love and acceptance. Sometimes I fill their bellies. Sometimes, honestly, I don’t know what I am doing or if I am making a difference in their lives at all – but they always, always make a difference in mine. I carry hope for all students that enter and leave my classroom that they live long lives, find joy and love, reach their goals, and live free from despair. So, when I say goodbye to them because they move on to another grade – I never really say goodbye – until it’s the wrong kind of goodbye.
Danielle drove off the road and into some trees. Two passengers also died. One survived. Danielle’s speed led to the accident and an unforgiving road on a sharp turn sealed her fate. Our community loses too many young people to these roads. We say too many of the wrong kind of goodbyes. As I sat at her funeral service and looked at all of the beautiful flowers, I was surrounded by current and former students. Oddly, I focused on a wasp that had found his way into the chapel. This wasp, rather than hovering on the mounds of colorful blooms that were gathered around the coffin, sputtered at the ceiling as if trying to escape the pain and suffering in the room. I remember thinking that his flight path was staggered and haphazard; misguided and misdirected – simply all over the place, as if a strong, shifiting wind kept him from going his intended direction. It seemed so symbolic of life sometimes. Determined, however misguided, he pounded himself into the white ceiling again and again to no avail – no escape. Eventually, he gave up and landed on the chandelier and remained motionless, as if he had found peace. When the preacher began to speak I lost sight of the wasp as I focused on the words of the man. Tears do not scare me, nor do I shy away from public displays of emotion, especially in a situation like this. But, I was trying to be strong for the students around me. So when I found myself overcome with emotion I searched for the wasp again in an attempt to distract myself. However, much to my disappointment, I could not find the wasp. The wasp was gone. The wasp had found his way out; he was free. Right then, as my eyes swelled with tears, I realized that Danielle is also free. She is free from all of this pain and suffering. Her struggles have ended and she has found peace with her Savior. Still, I remain, looking at her grieving parents, and cannot help but feel that this is the wrong kind of goodbye.
When I returned home I did as expected – I hugged my chldren, cried into their shoulders, and told them that I love them. I spoke to them about speeding and reckless decisions. They are teenagers, afterall. “Please don’t ever do that to me,” I told my son. “I would be lost without you,” I told my daughter. They heard my message; they felt my love and despair for Danielle and the wrong kind of goodbye.
**The featured photo is of a banner that the students signed as a way to help them greive and say goodbye to their friend, their classmate. Sadly, this has becomre tradition.
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