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September 25, 2017 10:52 pm

Reflections on a tragedy

Our school and our community suffered a tragic loss of life last week.  A former Washington Woods student, still in the district as a sophomore, died unexpectedly at his home, apparently by his own hand.  My reflections will not be an attempt to understand or explain this loss–certainly that’s beyond me, and it’s not where my head and heart are as I write.

Along with our school counselor, I attended the calling last evening.  What struck us first was the number of classmates and young people who were there.  Clearly this circle of friends was wide and deep.  Seeing their pain, their confusion, their efforts to console each other made us feel this loss even more deeply.  We’re told that when confronting someone’s grief, of utmost importance is our presence.  My hope is that these young people intuited this; better that than to have learned it through previous experiences with too-young deaths.  They were certainly present for each other.

Next we were drawn to the posters and slide show of picture after picture after picture.  We were told that friends had gathered over the weekend to put these tributes together.  I’ve never had that experience, but surely it’s the purest sense of a celebration of life–heads bent over keyboard or poster, hands touching, selecting and commenting on each image of a normal, joyful life, sharing laughter, tears, and memories.  Another reminder that our living continues after our lives end.

Our slow, sad march finally brought us to the parents.  Their strength is heroic; in their position, I can’t imagine engaging with others or even staying upright.  But if it’s presence that helps console, it’s our presence which supports them.  They cling to us as we search for words that will matter, holding on as if already feeling the terrible emptiness that awaits them, at the end of this night and from now on.  It is outside the natural order for adults to bury their young.  Any parent would surely, eagerly, trade places with their lost offspring, but that choice is unavailable.

As we turn that awful corner and head to the back of the room, what competes with the abyss of sadness we face is the relentless, almost desperate human drive to connect to something positive.  Especially in this setting, we are compelled to identify hope, because the alternative is acknowledging hopelessness.  And hope is there, in the way the students care for each other, in this compassionate gathering, in our presence for the courageous family, in the conversations that uplift and let us reconnect.

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