There are some things that should never happen.
The following story is one of those things:
It was Spring Break, and three families traveled from Oregon to Utah to go hiking.
On Monday, one of the kids was feeling really gross, so they took him to the hospital, where he was quickly diagnosed with Leukemia. Initially the doctors were optimistic.
This is the kind that gets cured.
But just a few days later, the bleeding in the brain was discovered, and by Friday the kid was gone.
Caitlin was his teacher when she lived in Portland, and she came down to help celebrate the kid’s way-too-short life, but also to give hugs to his classmates.
She asked me to join her, and I hesitated at first. I didn’t want to go. I’m not the kind of person who goes to funerals for people I don’t know, but I am the kind of person who understands how hard it must be to attend a funeral of a former student when you haven’t been a teacher for 50 years.
The funeral was held in the Unitarian Church, and Caitlin was asked to be among the people delivering gifts to the altar.
There were so many people that I had to really fight to keep her seat open while she was away.
Now, of course, I was sad when Grandma died at 89 and a half.
But listening to how much potential the kid had.
Thinking of the parents and what they must be going through (a cannonball in the stomach).
Looking around at all the kids and trying to put myself in their shoes.
The tears were free flowing.
It made me more sympathetic to Nana when my mom died, actually. Because the answer to the question, “how much time is enough time with your kids?” is infinity. There’s never a point in a parent’s life, not when their kid is 15, not when their kid is 58, that they say to themselves, you know what? I’m at peace with this, because I’ve had enough time with this child of mine.
I suppose it’s a small blessing that at least there wasn’t much suffering.
At least for the kid.
But the community was blind sighted. “Have a fun break!” they said, not thinking those would be the last words exchanged.
A video of a concert where the deceased played drums was aired. It was from two weeks ago.
Nobody could make sense of it.
All I wanted to do was go home and spend more quality time with Clara, even though I knew she’d be fast asleep by the time I made it home.
Mortality gets us all.
But it simply isn’t fair when it takes someone who hasn’t lived a lot of life yet.
You never know how much time you’re going to get with someone, and a bright, visibly healthy, talented, friendly student is a level of vitality that feels like you can trust.
I feel for the parents. The kids, too, of course.
It was the saddest thing.
I’m happy I went, because funerals, of all places, highlight just how alone we are in the world. It was nice to say to my sister that no, you’re not alone, you don’t have to do this alone, I’m here.
You can’t live your life in fear of the boogeyman, whatever form that is.
If you did, you’d be taking your kids to the ER for every sniffle. You’d never let them in a car, or on a street where there were cars.
Heck, you’d never let them go to school because there’s no guarantee a psychopath with a gun won’t get in.
But if there’s something to be taken away from the death of a high school sophomore, it’s this: presence.
I want to be more fully present for the people in my life I love.
This is an odd thing to want while moving farther away from many of those people, but we humans are complex beings.
Instead of worrying when I call my sister and she doesn’t call me back within 45 seconds, I can make sure that I’m spending real, quality time with her when we’re in the same room, and stepping away from my desk when she calls me to chat.
Instead of trying to get work done in the living room when Clara is playing, I can do work in my office, and close my computer before she asks to play.
Sadness comes from feeling less connected, so I’ll make it a priority to be more connected.
And love my loves as best as I can while we’re still on the same earth together.