Pass the Torch Tuesday

I am not always proud of how I handle death. I can get very self-centered, finding reminders of my loss at every turn. That's to be expected, to an extent, but I often wish I could be stronger, and provide better support to people who have more of a reason to fall apart than I do. During my final year of teaching, the year that showed me that teaching was not my calling, I had a student with cystic fibrosis. By the time she reached sixth grade, the disease had progressed to the point that it was very clear that she was living on borrowed time. Michelle was a frail child, but during the limited time that she was well enough to attend school, she was the heart of her class. This was a parochial school with one class at each grade level, so most of these students had been together since kindergarten. The year I taught them was my first year at this particular school, so the sounds of Michelle's barking cough were not as familiar to me as they were to her classmates. My heart broke a little every time I thought of how helpless I was to relieve her pain and struggles for air. In previous years, before her lungs were so full of mucous and her weight began to drop so much, Michelle had participated in all of the events the other kids did- her smile lit up the pictures of the softball games, Christmas plays and field trips. The year she was my student, she fought and fought to regain enough strength to be allowed to come to school for our Christmas program. The doctor gave her clearance, but it was only for one day, a Friday. The following Monday, she was back in bed. She never returned to class. Michelle was too weak to open her Christmas presents. She returned to Children's Hospital on December 26. She slipped away during Christmas break, and her funeral was scheduled for the day we returned to school in January. At the funeral home, her casket was surrounded by pictures of Michelle in happier and healthier times. The room where she was laid out was crowded, and although the students I saw were sad and reserved, I saw few tears. "Shelly made the most of when she was around," they told me, "and now at least we know she doesn't have to fight to breathe." The faculty and staff were on guard for any signs that the students needed help to deal with their loss. But, it seems that they had already gotten help- as she prepared herself for the end of her very short life, Michelle was also preparing her classmates. And I cannot express how proud I was of the maturity and dignity that this group of middle school students showed as they witnessed all too closely the circle of life.


Blogger Pass The Torch said...

Another beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing how this courageous girl passed the torch.

Home of Pass the Torch Tuesday

9/12/2006 11:59 AM  
Anonymous Mary said...

I am finding more and more that kids are amazing and resiliant creatures. Wonderful post.

9/12/2006 5:12 PM  
Blogger Waya said...

This post just breaks my heart and brought tears to my eyes even though I don't know Michelle. It's so sad that kids have to endure devastating illnesses, just too sad for words. May she rest in peace.

9/13/2006 2:14 PM  

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Who's Who

    Hubby- aka DH My husband since 1995. He is the head of the band department at a college prep school, and dabbles as a wanna-be pop star.

    The Princess- aka DD. Third grader at the local parochial school. Loves butterlies, sparkly things, the color purple and has recently developed a crush on one of the twins from "The Suite Life of Zach and Cody". Is ready for her teenage years, having already perfected her exasperated sigh and dramatic eye-roll.

    Hoss- aka DS1. Kindergartener and resident spirited child. His aunt likes to call him "the evil genius" because of his penchant for letting a lack of intellectual stimulation lead him into mischief. Likes trucks, sports, building things and burping. His current favorite word is "underwear."

    Lil Joe- aka DS2. Born in 2003. Doesn't say much we can understand, but has mastered the important stuff ("eat!", "Wash hands!", "Want chocolate ones!", "Hockey game!") Likes to push buttons, much to the consternation of whoever is trying to watch a DVD. Firmly refuses to use the potty, despite evidence that he is physically ready to be out of diapers, indicating a level of stubborn that eclipses even that of his parents and siblings.

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