No Right Way to Weather a Storm
This is officially the third time I have sat down with the intention of writing about the last three weeks, but I think I am finally ready to hit publish. It’s been hard to craft something that seems so important to get through writing. I don’t want to shift the tone of the blog or be repetitive about grieving (something Judd went through earlier this year). But I do know I need to be myself and share how I feel so I can move forward and re-dedicate myself to this blog as a space for reflection and honesty.
Life has a funny way of letting you coast for a while, then hitting you with unexpected bumps and tidal waves coming from out of nowhere, knocking the air right out of you, your feet from under you, the words, gone. Your sail has no wind to catch on, and the ship sinks for a brief time.
The waters began to get rocky on Friday, January 11th, when my school made local news when a student brought a loaded gun into our building. In the middle of the first Friday back after Winter Break, all of us were asked to stay in our classrooms between two class periods. We later found out that it was a freshman who was removed, and for our protection while he was being handled, administration wanted us to stay out of the hallways. The whole issue was handled as best as it could by our staff but it still shook us up and forced us to sit down with our classes to review important lock down protocols. What a way to start 2019.
Then, on Sunday evening January 13th, after a day with friends and family, after I had spent some time away from my phone,, I picked it up and noticed that I had a few missed calls from a former student and two co-workers I don’t normally get calls from. My instinct told me it wasn’t going to be good news, and sure enough,my boat was completely capsized. One of our former students, the child of one of one administrator, had taken their own life.
“Everyone grieves differently.” I think I heard that or said that for ten days straight.
Since that Sunday night, I have seen grieving in the form of coloring mandalas, eating chocolate and listening to music really loud. I have seen grief over lots of cups of coffee, tears, laughter, silence. I have seen the grief of friends and teachers who are haunted by the lasting presence of someone who is gone in a space that is filled with memories.
But I haven’t seen debilitating grief, that won’t allow you to even stand up and walk. I haven’t seen the grief of parents that hold a lifetime of stories, firsts. I haven’t hugged a mother and said, I support you. I wasn’t able to attend the memorial service for this student, and that event was for some reason very monumental for me to miss. When everyone returned back to work after the MLK weekend, it seemed like the waters had calmed a bit. After a week when crisis counselors flooded our building and offered support for students and staff all day long, they were gone, and we were left with the pieces. I was left with no closure from a service, or from hugs from former students, the deceased friends and family.
I have sat down and tried to write this several times and have been pulled away by work, life. But in the back of my mind I have been feeling like I need to write this in order to close this wound, close this chapter. Although I know things will never be answered that I want to know, for me, writing, reflecting, and having a space for my words and thoughts I think will help me more solidly move forward from these last three weeks. I have never lost someone this close by suicide, and it definitely has pushed me through all the stage of grief, but in random order, at different times and in different ways. Last Friday, I completely broke down in front of half the school and staff because it was difficult for me to relive memories in our school with that student.
No one tells you when you decide to be a teacher that you might lose students. No one tells you when you decide to be a teacher you might have a student who always made you laugh, made you smile, challenged you to be a better teacher. Someone who was good at just about everything, was friends with just about everyone. Surprised you when you thought you had them completely pinned for who they were and what they were about. This was the biggest surprise of all.
No one tells you how to grieve either. Teacher or not.
Then another storm cloud settles. Momentum for the Denver Teacher’s Strike has picked up. In the same week we found out this news, our teacher’s union decided to strike. While it isn’t as easy as just voting to strike, then going on strike, a cloud has settled over not only my school but my profession. The union and distract have failed to see eye to eye on fair wages and a negotiation that both can agree on, and the tension is palpable.
As the media has finally picked up on the Denver teacher’s strike, I have been getting a few messages from people about how I’m doing and how I feel about the strike. Initially during first few weeks of January, I felt like I was too much in a fog to see the reality of what was going on. My heart was outside of my body, and I felt like the world was spinning as I was just watching it. But as the days have passed and time has embraced its healing qualities, I have a newfound fervor and commitment to standing in solidarity with teachers. It’s complicated on both ends, but as outlined in my December post, there are a lot of reasons why I have voted to strike and feel that enough is enough.
The best place of strength has been my co workers. While like as mentioned, ‘everyone grieves differently’ we are all going through the same motions of walking in and out of work every day with all of these issues hanging over our heads and our hearts heavy. But starting this week, we literally have been walking in and out of the building together at our contract agreed times, with signs in hand and chants rising loud for our community to hear, with students watching closely.
Another storm rages on, as the last one subsides. The waves crash and new rain clouds collect, but through this, I remain hopeful. I truly believe these storms are a test. A test of showing me what I am grounded in, a test of doing exactly this, to see the rainbow through the rain.