I work at a suburban high school. Outsiders view our community as affluent. There are affluent people here, but mostly we're middle class with a certain amount of working poor. We are not that different from Columbine, CO.
It’s been several years since a student committed suicide, but our hiatus ended last night. It’s not for sure that this young man killed himself, but his body was found near the home he’d moved to in March in Packwood. Besides the sadness that accompanies the loss of someone who has not yet begun to live, there is also the fear that goes along with it. There’s the fear that the school won’t do enough to acknowledge the loss, but there’s also the fear of doing too much—creating more drama and making suicide look alluring for students struggling to deal with adolescence. The previous school administration chose to do nothing when we had suicides. I didn’t agree with that, but I’m not sure I know what would be appropriate. For today and because the death is an on-going investigation the administration decided to do nothing. It’s Friday of Memorial Weekend. By Tuesday they will have decided how best to deal with the situation.
Death seems to be stocking us at school as if budget cuts and lay-offs weren’t enough. We have a teacher whose wife is dying. I didn’t know until last week. This week a Bible appeared on his desk. He’s a nice man; quiet, with a dry sense of humor—a Baby Boomer who ought to be thinking about retirement and traveling with his wife. I don’t know him well, but my heart aches for him. The principal called a special staff meeting after school today. I assumed it was about the student, but if the teacher’s wife had died I didn’t want to know yet and I left at the end of my paid day. He wasn’t in school today and I’d overheard a small portion of an anxious conversation on his cell phone the day before. “Why’s he been coming to school?” a young teacher asked. “Maybe he needs something in his life that’s normal,” I said, remembering how important work was when my father was dying. “Besides, a sub isn’t going to be able to help the students. They’re supposed to launch their rockets next week.” No, a substitute for an aerospace teacher isn’t likely to be found on subonline. It’s not like it’s rocket science…but wait, it is. But mostly I think of him. Maybe we can have the students write condolence letters instead of sending their handmade rockets streaking into the sky. Maybe she isn’t dead. Maybe she’ll rally over the weekend.
The students and staff spend six plus hours a day together and although we are a family of 1,600, we are a family nonetheless. The ending of this school year isn’t as joyful as it ought to be. Our family will be smaller next year in many ways.