If you aren’t a teacher, you can’t know the love we feel for our students. I didn’t really even know the extent of that love until three years ago tonight. And every year for the rest of my life August 1 will always be a revisiting of that day for me.
August 1, 2008, was the opening night of our summer play, The Matchmaker. During Act III of the show, my friend Lynn (whose sons were involved in many of our plays but not the one that was performed that evening) pulled me into the lobby from my seat in the back row to tell me the news: Sheila had been killed in a car accident.
Sheila was bright, funny, and kind to everyone she met. She was a very involved member of our theatre program, but she was also the leader of our mock trial team. Between the two, I probably saw her for 10-12 hours after school in any given week. I’d known I’d miss Sheila when she graduated that May, but I hadn’t realized this would be the way I’d miss her. You know, thought she’d still be coming back to visit and see shows and help the mock trial team.
While Sheila was not the first student I lost in my teaching career, she was the first who I was so close to, and losing Sheila was the first time that I had to tell other students that their friend was gone. Of course, I was hurting when I heard the news, but having to gather my students in the auditorium and to tell them what happened was the worst possible moment. To find the words, to try to keep it together for them… it was the worst night of my life.
Even as I spoke the words, I wished I could take them back and make them untrue. Anything to not be the one to tell them this news. Anything for the news to be a lie.
Every year on this day, my former students, Sheila’s friends, share about their amazing friend and how much they miss her. And every night on this night, I relive that night… the finding out, the words Lynn spoke to me, the words I spoke to my kids. It all still seems unreal. It probably always will.