"You're such a good teacher." The man hands out compliments about as often as snow falls in Malibu (and that was exactly 3 times this winter); his remark made an impression.
But he wasn't referring to tests, or essays, or helping out a Cherub who was short on lunch money...all things I've done more than once. He was talking about the hardest part of a teacher's job. Going to funerals.
I attended another memorial service on Saturday, for the father of my Yearbook Editor. Felled in the prime of life. Extinguished by heart attack at the age of 50.
The process never gets any easier. In fact, I'd rather grade a stack of horrid timed writings than have to face a sanctuary full of mourners one more time. But it's something I do; not because I have to, but, really, because I need to. For my peace of mind. For the kids.
The service was short, upbeat; a celebration of this Dad's life. His extended family was there. My Yearbook Cherub greeted congregants outside, smiling, laughing, carrying on several conversations at once. She was so strong. I felt like the student; she was the teacher that day.
The funerals, wakes, viewings & memorial services, over 15 years of teaching, become a part of the process. More vivid than the imagery we study in Advanced Placement Language; far more insightful & full of meaning than the standardized tests we administered last week.
The deaths of the students are the most difficult. The shining star gunned down a week after her 20th birthday in the Virginia Tech Massacre. The fun-loving ice hockey captain who killed himself on his siblings' swing set. The sweet, sweet grad who perished last August, whose death left even me without adequate words for several days.
Saturday, the family chose to celebrate a life, instead of mourn a death. The Dad who sang "Surfer Girl," much to the chagrin of his children. The Husband who held on to his Monte Carlo with the blue plush interior much longer than fashionably imaginable. The Friend who celebrated birthdays, commemorated milestones, and even mourned a few deaths himself over the years.
As I told Mr. Fairway after the service, my Cherubs make this difficult rite of passage bearable. But their very presence at a function that speaks of a life well-lived instead of a life soon-to-be-lived also leave the strings of my heart tied up in tiny little knots.
They shouldn't have to go through this. But at the same time, they must. We want to protect them, but at the same time we can't. Death is a part of growing up. We don't teach it, but somehow I think we should.
Editor's Note: Yet another March entry in The Random Complexity Writing Challenge. 462 words.