I often joke with my students about my room being a “touchy feely” free zone, because it’s science and math class. They know that in a science report I’m interested in fact and not what they feel and that they should discuss their feelings across the hall in humanities. However, today made me really appreciate the importance of reflection and taking the time digest the things that happen in our day-to-day life.
I teach a group of 38 grade 8 students in the community of Radisson, Calgary, Alberta, situated just outside of Forrest Lawn. This group of students has had a rough go for the past few years. Some time back one students father committed suicide, last year a student was killed in a sudden accident and in May of last year a young 13 year old boy was diagnosed with cancer.
Last week we got news that he wasn’t doing so great and that the family had planned a party to celebrate his 14th birthday on the Sunday of that weekend. We let our classes know that there was a party, which they were all invited to, and that we were going to take some time to make him a birthday book from all of his classmates. It had been a long time since many of them had seen him, heard his voice, or even talked to him at all. The class was buzzing all morning, wishing their friend a happy birthday, writing stories, printing pictures and most common, telling him how they couldn’t wait until he was back at school. As a teaching staff we made sure students had rides to the party Sunday and many students and staff went to celebrate his 14th birthday. The Make a Wish Foundation put on an amazing event to celebrate his 14 years of life. There was an apparent Iron Man theme with a race-car track, air hockey, foosball and Wii. The students were able to hang out with their friend, talk, laugh and act like no time had passed at all.
On Monday, after the party, those students who were unable to attend were very interested to hear how he was doing. What I found most fascinating was the fact that all of them commented on how good he looked, how he hadn’t changed and how excited they were to have him back. Not one student mentioned the fact that he had no hair, or that he moved very slowly and looked weak. To his peers he was just him and none of that mattered.
Today we got a call saying that he had taken a turn for the worst and if anyone wanted to come to say goodbye, now would have to be the time. We brought all the kids together to tell them the sad news, not knowing when he was going to pass, just that it would be in the near future and we wanted to prepare them. The class came together as a united front. Some students laughed while reminiscing, others cried and some had very little physical reaction. Regardless, there was no judgement. Each person in that room was free to mourn the way that met their needs best and was able to do so in a safe environment with the support of those around them. For last period we took the students to the gym to run around and blow off some steam. Unfortunately, shortly before the end of the day we got the news that he had passed away. Again, we gathered the kids to let them know of this extremely sad news. And again, they came together in unison to mourn the loss of their friend.
Being able to relate to this experience so closely, I can’t help but feel moved at the reaction of these kids. One of the kids said to me, “we just can’t catch a break, that’s three people in three years.” I get that it’s a “fact of life”, whatever that means, but for these kids to have gone through so much in such a short period of time and at a young age is awful. This truly is a resilient group of young adults, who with no doubt in my mind will continue to join forces together to combat the next few weeks as we all mourn the loss of a dear friend.
I never had the pleasure of teaching this young man, but from listening to his friends and teachers I know he was an extremely special person.
Until next time,