Pain grips my heart so tightly my lungs feel its pain. Throbbing, bursting within its cage, it fights to maintain a hold. The pieces of it struggle for freedom, but sheer strength keeps it together. I cannot lose a grip now. Everything is fine. It’s all okay. You’re all right. My mind ticks off bland statements of reassurance. But then, I meet their eyes, their sad, solemn eyes. Any hold I have shatters, and pieces of my heart float down into the pit of my stomach. My stomach knots, trying to brace itself against their intrusion. I beg my legs to stay in place, not to run to each of them, hug them and let them know I care.
They don’t understand. They don’t understand that even though they are not mine, they are mine. They, well most of them, will always hold a special place in my heart. Even when they speak ugly of me, hate me for reasons beyond what I understand, ignore the potential I see in them, or move on as though I was just “some teacher”, they will remain in my heart as mine. Because my students are just that. They are mine. Am I tough on them? Yes. Because I love them enough to push them into better things. Do I hug them? Yes. Because some of them are not hugged often enough. Do I wipe their tears? Listen to their fears? Banter back and forth with them? Yes. Because they are mine- they are MY students, my kids.
So as I watched those boys file past me in the gym today as the funeral ended, my heart was obliterated. Not so much from my pain, but from that which was so evident on their faces. Faces that are those of boys who are not yet men, striving to be strong in this time of loss. Though I am so, so sad to lose Cameron, a boy who, as everyone knows, was sweet, kind, and an all-around great kid, I am mourning for my other kids. Cameron, I know, is hanging out waiting for us to join him later.
But for those kids who remain, my kids who remain, who still have the challenge of loss, my heart is broken and tears fall.
Hearing from the other end of the phone, “Mrs. Dyson, he’s gone” will forever haunt me. That sweet voice, which is normally so bubbly, so full of wonder, calling to tell me the news was full of such pain and overwhelming suffering. Her tears seemed to leak through the phone and fall onto my shoulder. I swear I felt them. But I was too far away to offer that hug. That hug that she wanted, that I so very much needed. Her pain, her loss became mine in that moment. Because she is one of mine.
Now here we are. Here we are telling ourselves, “Cameron wants us to…”, “Cameron would say…”, and “My, look at that storm outside.” Here we are with our wonderful memories, our tears and laughter, our storms and peace. Here we are. Together. Because we are friends. Because we are family. And I grieve with my kids as they grieve together. And we rise together.
And we remember just one of those special kids- one whom I am fortunate enough to call mine.