I do not know how to deal with loss. Well- death. Death is what I mean. Especially young death. A former student of mine was killed in a car accident on Monday, and it’s just so wrong that I can’t make sense of it, and I like to make sense of things. That is how I prefer to look at the world. It’s hard when I can’t do that.
A lot of things don’t make sense. I’ve spent most Mondays this school year at the English Learning Center, where I teach refugees from all over the world. Their stories challenge me. When a student from Bhutan tells me that he can’t read or write in his native language because of the government that burned their books, and that he and his family fled to Nepal because of the soldiers who kicked down their doors, beat their men and raped their women, I don’t know how to make sense of the fact that I was born in the United States to parents who loved me and supported my education, under a government that, for all of its faults, constitutionally protects my right to read, to learn, to work, to worship or not worship, to vote, to speak.
But young death gets inside my head the most. I have now lost two of my students. We say that, in education- my students. Because we take some ownership of our kids (our kids). We live in That Village it takes to raise a child. We learn their names and their pet peeves, the way they sit when something’s wrong, the way their faces look when they’re really excited about something. And I can’t speak for everyone, but even when my students disappoint me and I’m so frustrated that I tell myself I should just walk right out to my car and drive home because I do not have to put up with this!, I know deep down that the only reason I feel disappointment is because I care about who they are and what they do. Because they are worth caring about.
Both of the students I’ve lost were eighteen. Thinking about the years and years of life they should have had makes me crazy. The loss is too permanent and too real. I could be wrong, and I don’t mean this flippantly, but I don’t think I ever studied How to Deal with Student Death when I was in college. I guess that’s probably because it’s impractical to teach, impossible to learn.
So I try to stop myself from trying to make sense of the nonsensical. And I grieve.