This week has been the most difficult week of my teaching career. I know I have been teaching only three years and have many more years to go before I can retire, but I know this will remain one of the most difficult times of my career.
I thought it was difficult to find out that I will be losing my job at the end of the school year due to cuts in the school system. It hurt, because I love my job. My school is also closing because they built two new schools in town, so all of the teachers I work with will be split up and spread amongst the new and the old that are kept open. Such a great staff will not be together for much longer.
But it was this week that the staff suffered a tragedy that no one should have to face. It is hard enough when a school loses a student due to an accident or illness. But it is another thing all together when the student commits suicide.
This student, who shall remain nameless because of his tender age of fourteen, was in my homeroom and book club. He was on my team, and I saw him daily. Every morning he would walk through my room with his headphones blasting so loudly I have no idea how he had any hearing left. I could be at my computer desk and know the instant he was ABOUT to enter the room from the opposite doorway. It was that loud.
I got the call Tuesday night and I was devastated. I never expected something like this to happen. He was not bullied. He was a well loved student who many looked up to or were friends with. Teachers loved him as well. He was bright. He loved poetry. He was an advanced reader who enjoyed Dante’s Inferno and could discuss the translator’s style with me. He was gothic in the true, original sense of the word, and loved all the literature that accompanied the style.
Wednesday morning I had to read a short announcement to my homeroom about the loss. I broke down crying. My homeroom, of course, already knew. They were all friends with him. I have never known a silence to be that pervasive. My homeroom is never quiet, but they were for the entire Flex period. I almost wanted to beg them to say something, make some sort of noise to shatter that silence, but they didn’t. They could barely even look at his seat.
The school did so well with handling the students and staff. A crisis team was called in to offer support for students, and each of the teachers of my team had a sub in the room with them in case they needed to step out and grieve. It was wonderful to have another adult in the room with me. Even though I was okay for most of the day, just knowing someone else was ready to take over if I needed it was help enough.
Friday evening was his wake. The teachers on my team went together as support for each other, the family, and our students. I stayed the entire three hours with two of my fellow team members. The right shoulder of my shirt was soaked by the time it was finished. Students I never thought I would see cry broke down and hugged me tightly. Other students came up and hugged me, told me it was okay for me to cry, that they understood I was being strong for them and that they were there for me, too. That made me tear up. It’s wonderful to know how much the kids care.
I have had a hard time processing everything. I wanted to write about the experience, but I just couldn’t find the right words. When I finally did, I wrote a poem. It’s five pages long in my poetry journal. It felt good to get the words out onto the page, and perhaps I’ll share it later. But for now, I’ll keep it close until the time is right.
Suicide is never the answer. So many people are left behind hurt and confused. Maybe it’s selfish of us to want the person to stay when they are in so much pain, but that pain will not last. It will get better. It DOES get better.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, PLEASE get help. There is always someone out there to talk to. Someone will listen. Tell a trusted adult. Call a hotline.
If you are in Connecticut, you can call the United Way of Connecticut Crisis Hotline by simply dialing 211.
There is also the National Hopeline: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
Or The National Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Please. Get help. It Gets Better, no matter who you are.