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Be Kind.

April 10, 2012
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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.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. April 10, 2012 5:48 pm

    Oh that’s rough. I used to teach too and I cant imagine what that must feel like to recieve the news. As teachers we want to thibk that we can help everybody, and i can only assume that you made her life full and special during the time she had to look up to you and learn from you.

  2. Rebecca permalink
    April 10, 2012 6:15 pm

    I cried today too and I haven’t taught for 4 years. It’s so sad and senseless. Some of the younger ones just don’t understand that it does get better…

    I wrote about this too…I had to.

    • April 10, 2012 8:33 pm

      That’s all I could think about today—how, if she had just waited a few more years, her entire life could have been different. To end your life at 15…it’s just, as you said, completely senseless.

      Thanks for your post, too, Rebecca. It hit home.

  3. April 10, 2012 7:25 pm

    In the two years after I graduated from high school, 6 high school students and recent graduates from my town committed suicide. Living through that, watching that happen to people I knew (some of whom I was friends with), changed me in a profound way. I think teachers like you have such an incredible impact on kids’ lives. Your students are lucky to have you.

    You’re in my thoughts. I’m so very sorry.

    • April 10, 2012 8:36 pm

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Katie; this is my first time dealing with the suicide of someone I knew, and like you said, I can see how it changes people (even people on the outskirts like myself) in a big way.

      Thanks for your support, lady. It’s so greatly appreciated.

  4. April 10, 2012 7:46 pm

    Hillary, thank you for taking the most positive notes from this. From someone who has lost a family member to suicide, it gives me hope that you’ve directed people to do exactly what could save us all: be kind, be good, and tell someone you love them.

    • April 10, 2012 8:39 pm

      Thanks, BLG. I know this is a weird way of viewing the situation, but I do hope that’s what my kids take away from this: just be nice to each other. I know that way oversimplifies a much greater situation, but it’s a start. And it’s one that I can learn from, too.

  5. April 11, 2012 10:58 pm

    Wow, that a sad sad thing… Hopefully the family can find comfort with their loved ones, I can’t even imagine what they might be going through 😦 And hope you can be strong for your students! I’m really sorry 😦

    • April 12, 2012 7:39 pm

      It’s been a tough week, but I can’t begin to imagine what her family is dealing with. The funeral is this weekend; I’m hoping some peace and closure comes to the community. Thanks for the kind words, Lyvia.

  6. April 13, 2012 8:33 pm

    oh I’m so so sad to hear this. Ugh, it just makes me so upset that it ever gets to this point. thanks for using this tragedy to hopefully prevent others and for doing amazing work everyday. so sorry you had to go through this.

    • April 13, 2012 8:41 pm

      Thanks, lady. It is awful to think that kids can get to that scary point of helplessness and feel that this is their only option. Hopefully all of our kids take in the scary reality of the situation and think more clearly about their own actions from here on out.

  7. April 17, 2012 11:44 pm

    Hillary, my heart breaks to read this. I know I’ve slacked lately too…and blamed the end of the semester and senioritis for it. Definitely giving everyone of my kids an extra smile tomorrow.

    • April 18, 2012 7:28 am

      As a fellow teacher, I know you can relate to this one, Sarah. It is a terrible, nightmare situation, and it’s rocked our community in a big way. It really reminds you to stop and give everyone some love. Have a good day, and a good rest of the semester!

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