Another occasion of sorts? Another card to sign. It is something that the social committee always does. On our staff, I think the secretary is now the sole committee member thanks to COVD-19. After all, aside from sending out cards and flowers, there’s not much else going on these days. Not like the way things used to be when dinners in/out, theme days and special activities were always a priority in creating an atmosphere of camaraderie separate from the passion that we all share.
Yesterday’s occasion was not the kind of occasion one wants to have to send cards or flowers for; yet, it is and has been far more common than we’d like. Death is no stranger to me. I first met its darkness when I was eleven. Funny in that I never calculated my age properly until this very experience. I’d always thought I was nine when my Baba (Grandma in Ukrainian) died which just so happens to be the exact age that my present students are as they, too, try to process this difficult and final stage of life as we know it. I can see in them what I remember of myself, albeit I was two years older: disbelief, fear, confusion, inquisitiveness, sadness, anger, etc. I can also understand the need to want to protect and shelter them from such an awful reality, but it wouldn’t be right or fair. They deserve to know the same as the rest of us. Having begun to move through the process of grief with them, there is an odd sense of beauty in watching their innocence, their sincerity and their genuine expression of feelings shine through. With kids, you get what you get, including the extreme rawness of it all. You cannot make up their reactions. They generally wear them despite any efforts to hide their reality whereas adults are too good at suppressing their emotions, often to our own detriment.
Last Saturday is when I first learned of my colleague’s passing. It was a blow to say the least. Eight short months ago, I’d bid her farewell in the staff parking lot as we each walked to our vehicles with our usual boxes in tow. There was one significant difference between her and I though. She’d made the somewhat difficult decision to retire. I say difficult because as an educator, leaving the children behind is never the easy part no matter the circumstance, COVID-19 and all. They are the reason we do what we do. They are what grounds us, what keeps us there, what keeps us sane when the powers that be appear to be working against us. They keep it real, keep us in the present, so there’s little time to think about much else. That can be a good thing or a bad thing since teaching can be all-consuming if one lets it.
I will admit that when I’d first learned of C.’s death, I’d silently wondered if stress was in some way responsible for her untimely demise… well, stress or the Omicron virus. She hadn’t even been retired for eight full months yet—her ‘golden years’ stolen from right beneath her. It’s not right. While there’s never a ‘good’ time or circumstance under which to die, her death just seems so unfair in the overall scheme of things. Here was a long-time educator who gave her all, who gave thirty-five years of her life to our particular school community, and then whammo!
Being as private as she was, none of us at school really know the ‘why’ behind her passing. In some ways, it makes her sudden exit from this world more difficult to grasp. That being said, it is probably for the best, and most importantly, it appears as if she did not suffer which is all that any of us could want. As I told her children from last year (my now class make-up), her obituary stated that she’d passed peacefully with her family members by her side which meant that she knew that she was loved and cared for in her final hours. To me, that is all that matters since we all just want to be loved and seen for who we are throughout our time spent here on this Earth.
As we’d come to learn this past week, C. had never married or had children of her own, but she was a beloved sister and auntie predeceased by her parents and grandparents. Family was her number one priority and second to that was her passion for educating children. She loved both deeply. Hopefully, she knew that her second love loved her in return and always will, just as her family does. Her time here was not for naught, even though I will confess that that is what I have really grappled with the most over this past week. To see one’s lifetime work culminate in such a manner is heart-breaking, yet that is and will be the reality for many of us. Thanks to C. and this week’s sad events, I can see now that our true legacy lies in those that we leave behind—those who can share in our time spent together, in our hearts and in our memories. Our body of work matters, but not nearly as much as our relationships. In our profession in particular, we are fortunate to have numerous opportunities to build upon both.
C. was not only a brilliant teacher, her connections with her students are what she is most admired for. Those meaningful interactions have clearly transcended the four walls of her quaint little corner classroom. I can see and hear it in her last year’s children whom I teach, and I’ve seen it in those who have come back to visit their “Favourite teacher ever!”. Because she was at our school for three and a half decades, some of our parents and community members even had her as a teacher. The news of her passing has resonated with them as much as it has with us as a staff. Having taught nearly a thousand children in her tenure, C. and her masterful ways will definitely live on; probably more so than any of us realize. She will be remembered. She will be missed. By all of us, including those who haven’t even met her but know (or will know) of her through the timeless stories and lessons she’d passed along—life lessons, not just pencil/paper lessons.
What has my dear and sadly missed colleague taught me? To make each day count. Don’t count the days until… Our days are precious and they are numbered whether we like to believe it or not. She may have been unduly robbed of her retirement years, but her living and working years were full. Full of love and life for her family and her ‘children’. C’s life may have been cut short, but she was not short on life.
Rest in peace, C. Thank you for being such an influential part of our lives—my life. I am grateful for our seven years together on staff and I am grateful for the silent wisdom and grace which you humbly bestowed unto us all. Your time here will be fondly remembered and forever treasured. 💕