One of my former students, G, a sophomore in high school, committed suicide over the weekend.
I got this news late last night, but the reality of it didn’t truly set in until I went into school this morning. As we stood and listened to our principal deliver the updated information at our staff meeting this morning, I broke down into tears despite my best attempts to hold them in. Kids were already making their way down the halls at this point, and I wanted to be strong and stoic. No middle schooler wants to see his/her teacher crying, but I couldn’t help it.
Even though not all of us teachers are professional counselors, we take on the counseling role on nearly a daily basis. We’re counselors, confidantes, mentors, disciplinarians, cheerleaders. We see kids at their best and at their worst; we keep them in line, and we encourage them to grow. It’s a messy business, but it’s our job.
Part of the job is also being oddly poised for disaster to strike at any given moment. And in my five years of teaching, disaster has inevitably occurred—there has been a lot of loss at my school, but this is the first time I’ve experienced the loss of one of my students. I knew it had to happen eventually; I’m only five years into the profession, and already I’ve taught close to 650 students. Statistically, I knew that I probably couldn’t live out a full teaching career without experiencing this kind of loss, but I (naively) hoped I never would. And I truly never expected to experience in this fashion.
I cannot imagine the pain that G’s family and friends are feeling. I cannot fathom their helplessness, their realization of the void that has suddenly opened in their lives.
What I do know is that, after I pulled myself together this morning, I made sure to look every single one of my students in the eye today. I greeted and acknowledged all 132 of them at my door. I asked them about their spring breaks, and I genuinely listened to their responses. I waved at them in the hallways during passing time, and I made sure to tell them to have a good night when I watched them board their buses. These are things I try to do every day of the week, but sometimes I slack. Occasionally I’m rushed or pissed off or distracted, and I let these things slide. Today, this interaction with my students, with my kids as I call them, was my first priority. Then I emailed my family and Nick and I told them that I loved them.
G was a good girl; she was kind, bright, and talented. As one of my colleagues put it this morning, “She’s the last kid I’d expect this to happen to.” She’s right. That fact doesn’t make this easier or harder. It’s just the honest truth.
I don’t want to end this on a preachy note, but it has to be said: Be kind. Be loving. Reach out and tell someone you love them, or that you miss them. Hug your spouse, or your kids, or your pet. Be thankful for what you have and for your own resilience. Realize how lucky you are.
We miss you, G.