Thursday, September 24, 2015

Losing a Recent Student

On Tuesday morning, the faculty and staff at my school was called to the lecture hall. There, the Dean of Operations tearfully broke the news that one of our recent students had been killed in a car accident the night (or early morning) before.

We've had a lot of staff turnover, so for some her name meant nothing. Others of us, however, worked closely with this young lady every day for years. Speaking for my myself, I taught her either English or Advisory for over four years. I am distraught beyond words...

That doesn't mean, of course, that staff members unfamiliar with D were unaffected. It's always tragic when a child of 18 dies, no matter the circumstances, and most new staff members had to aid in supporting distraught students. D was a fellow student and peer of the group of kids that graduated in June, so many kiddos remain that were very close to her.

I teach in a very small town, and one of the great things is how everyone comes together in times of tragedy, whether they get along otherwise or not. Everyone in this small town is lifting high D's spirit to heaven and keeping her parents, siblings, and close friends in their thoughts and prayers. I fear that when the shock of this tragedy wears off, the gossip mill, the biggest thing in any small town, will go into overdrive. For right now, love is abounding, as it should be, and love and prayers for D are all over Facebook and the accident site and in the halls of my school.

D. is not the first student I've lost (RIP Teddy D...please show D. the ropes in heaven...you will like her, everybody does), but she is the one I had most recently and one I had an extremely close connection with at one point.

I don't know if this is common knowledge, but most teachers refer to their students as "my kids" or "my kiddos". For over four years, D. was one of my kids....and because I am me, she will be forever.

These are the things I will always, always remember about D.:

1. The Mickey Mouse sweatshirt she frequently wore. Every time I see Mickey attire, I will think of D.

2. The way she greeted me with, "Hey, Miss Loud, hey Miss Loud, hey!" every time I saw her.

3. The ability she had to connect with a book. D. did not love to read (although I'm pretty sure she in general liked it). When D. found a book that called out to her, she would devour it in a matter of days. She would write about it insightfully. She would discuss it intelligently and thoughtfully. 

4. She adored her niece and wrote often in her journal about babysitting and time spent with the little girl.

5. She was loved by many different factions of students. Looking at D's Facebook wall, outpouring of emotions are coming from students of all social groups, all ages and grades. She was well-known; it's safe to say that she transcended most typical "cliques".

6. Although D was delightfully sassy, she had a heart of gold. Her laugh was infectious, and she shared it generously with pretty much everyone.

7. I once gave a writing assignment where my students had to write about a "defining moment" in their lives. Some students didn't understand the depth I was looking for ("a defining moment for me was when the dog ate my homework"), but D wrote the most poignant defining moment essay I have ever read. I will never forget D's defining moment and that she was willing to share it with me.

8. D's handwriting was like the cliche of what "girl handwriting" looks like in the 2000s...it's pretty, but big...a little bit of cursive combined with a little bit of print. She filled many class journals with this interesting script...

9. D did not like to read aloud or share answers she came up with for questions in school. She tended to say in a melodramatic voice, "I just don't know, Ms. Loud. I think maybe you'd better ask someone else." The irony, of course, is that she had great insight and very often correct "answers". I spent years trying to convince D that she was a smart girl that would never, ever be dismissed as "the stupid kid". I wish I had been able to convince D of her potential and how to believe in herself a little bit more. She knew that I cared, knew that I wanted her to succeed, knew that I believed she could succeed...but she never totally believed in her own potential at school. I wish with all my heart that I had tried harder...

10. D had a tremendous zest for life. She lived fully every day that she was alive, and there are some people (including myself) that need to learn how to do that, how to suck the marrow from the bones of life and find passion in the mundane. D taught me that, if you are bored or unhappy or lonely or thinking bad thoughts, you need to find it within yourself to change that. It's not always easy, but her grit pulled her out of any unhappiness and forced her to focus on finding happiness, humor, and hope.

If you are a parent, as I am, please hug your children extra tightly today. 

Every child is a gift, a joy, a potential for greatness on his or her own terms. D taught me that, among other things.

She was loved by many (every time I saw her mother in town, we chatted about D and what a good kid she was and what she was up to these days). Her Facebook wall is an outpouring of grief from friends and former classmates that are in shock and completely brought to their knees by this terrible, tragic loss.

The site of the accident has become a shrine to D (pics taken from Facebook walls of those honoring D)


The world will sparkle a little less without D, but she was the kind of person that touched pretty much everyone she met in some way or another. For that gift, she has impacted many, many people and left many legacies for those she left behind to follow.

D, I will always be honored that I was your teacher. I was proud of you all the time, more than you know. 

Fly high, beautiful angel...you will always be loved by those of us here on earth lucky enough to have had you in our lives.

I will never forget you, D ❤️