Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Finding comfort in a time of sorrow from the pages of a book

Last week I received the devastating news of the unexpected death of a former student. He was 18 years old. Headed to college. He had a bright future ahead of him.

This news shook me to my very soul. All of our students touch our lives in some way, but he was one of those kids who sticks out so vividly in my memory. He had a great sense of humor, but he also could be really thoughtful and profound and he always made me smile. The phrase "with a heavy heart" was not figurative for me upon hearing the news. I literally felt a weight of sadness in my chest for a good 24 hours afterwards.

Yesterday I attended this young man's funeral visitation and to say it was hard was an understatement. I didn't know what to say to his family, friends, and my former students other than to give them hugs and say I wish I were seeing them under better circumstances. I will never forget the feeling of hugging one particular student yesterday. I had just seen her at 8th grade graduation back in June. She had just graduated from high school and was glowing. Her hug only a few weeks ago was quick, light, and joyful. It was full of all of the excitement and promise of what the world had in store for her. Yesterday's hug on the other hand, was heavy, lingering, and full of sorrow. There were no words spoken between us. Our embrace said everything.

Somehow, through it all, I managed to keep myself together, even when hugging his younger brother, who was also a student of mine and who made me smile, laugh, and ponder in equal measure. For someone who cries at the drop of a hat, this behavior was unusual for me. But as I tried to make sense of a life gone too soon, I found myself taking comfort in a book. I started to think about Matt Miller, the main character in The Boy in the Black Suit and how working in a funeral home and constantly being in the presence of grief helped him process his own. So as I sat in the church, I immediately went into observation mode. My way of coping and keeping it together was to almost step outside myself and take comfort in knowing that others were trying to make sense of it all, too. That we were not alone in our sadness and questioning as to why this had to happen. So I am grateful to Jason Reynolds for Matthew Miller, a young man whose poise and wisdom belies his years. It just goes to show you that books can sometimes touch us and give us comfort us in ways we least expect.

Slice of Life is brought to you by Two Writing Teachers


  1. I am so very sorry for your loss. Last October, I had a former student die unexpectedly and the age of 17. It has been extremely difficult for me to process the loss. Every time I close my eyes, I can see him sitting in my third grade class, frantically waving his hand so that he could share information about Ancient Rome with us. Such a sweet and bright young man.

  2. I'm so sorry, Beth. There aren't many words that can comfort when a young person that we've known dies. You are right about the book, finding solace when one can see others that are grieving, too, is helpful. I have three different students always in my heart because they left us all too soon. Hugs to you in your sad time.

  3. So sorry, for you and for all of us when a young person dies way too soon. I appreciated your contrasting hugs with the young girl. Thank you for making us aware of this book.
    I wonder if you will write again about this young man, as you have time to work through your thoughts and feelings.

  4. I am so sorry, Beth! His memory will always be with you. Thank you for sharing!

  5. What a rich and thoughtful post - and how sad that this young man has been taken from this world.