Sunday, May 13, 2012

The world is a better place for him having been in it

Maybe this is just selfish catharsis, but a student of mine died this morning and I'm writing about it. The feelings will out, I just discovered, dissolving into tears while typing his name in farewell.

Today, I stared at the face of my 3 month old niece while the death of a beautiful 19 year old rattled around in my mind. The sun was shining. He was gone. Spring is here. He is gone. He was ill, and now he is gone.

I can't think of any other reason besides love that leaves me sitting here with tears dripping down my chin. We call students "our kids"- we call them "ours". I think I'm realizing that the term has or had nothing to do with ownership, and everything to do with love, or pride- some kind of attachment or connection. And it works both ways. We are theirs as much as they are ours. When one is lost, so are we.

 I hadn't felt it in sadness before, how all the students would always matter to me, long after they walk out of the classroom for the last time. Always, and not in a small way.

Students are supposed to move on. Why else do we teach them: preparation for the future, right? You'll thank me later. You'll need this later. One day you'll think back to this, and... "Future, future, future."

Teachers remain behind, in space and in time. Locked away in our classrooms, sure, but also in the memories of the students we teach. For many we'll always be wearing that sweater, those glasses, or the haircut that they remember on us. Telling that same joke. I know all about that- it's something I accepted when I became a teacher: the knowledge that for a while I would matter to these people, and after a while, I wouldn't. I'd be a memory, and then only sometimes. That, I'm ready for. I'm ready to be left behind. Being left behind is easy.

Being forced to move on is not. It's that hopeless plea of "don't leave me here". Here becomes anywhere you aren't. I'm still here, and you aren't. I'm going to get older, and you aren't. I'm going to laugh again, one day.

I have a photo of this boy up on the wall behind my desk, a gift, and it will always remain there. That white jacket. The glasses, the hair. That smile.


  1. Claudia AmendolaMay 13, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    Thank you for sharing your emotion with the world. I recently lost a friend of mine of the same age. She had a blot clot that burst. It was a completely unexpected tragedy. Her former teachers showed up crying at her funeral with the same emotions you shared.

    - Claudia Amendola

  2. Erin,

    This is a very powerful blog post you have shared. I can certainly identify with the situation that you describe. I too experienced this in my teaching career.

    I can tell you value the people part of teaching. I also applaud your choice of music as the Enigma Variations is one of my favourite pieces -- very powerful and well matched to these circumstances.

    Thank you for sharing, and thanks for making a difference.

    CIO, Waterloo Region District School Board

  3. What a beautiful tribute to your student, Erin. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Erin,
    I am so very sorry for your loss.
    Everything you said about the kids we teach is true. I call my students my kids as well, and it is because I love them dearly. Their pain is my pain, much like their joy is also mine.

    I know there aren't really any words to adequately express my condolences to you, but I do hope that the students you have taught and will teach know how fortunate they are to have someone as caring and compassionate as you in their lives.


  5. Dear Erin,

    Your posts are always thoughtful--but this piece transcends the quality of your usual reflections in the powerful and honest way it commemorates your student. All of us share the hope that eulogies belong to a province of the old, and thus many of us fumble for words to articulate our grief when a loss such as this one occurs, and at such a young age. But how fitting a tribute! And how fortunate for both of you to have shared such memories.

    You prove the power and beauty present in the written word, and you speak for all of us who have ever felt the loss of someone close to them.