reactions may vary

This isn’t how I’d want to hear it.

A pass out of class, summoned mysteriously to the media center.

Corralled toward tables with dozens of classmates, whispering, searching each others’ eyes for a clue.

In their upright clothes, adults — administrators, counselors, absolute strangers — stand around the perimeter, somber yet chummy: the public school system crisis team in full force, assembled and ready.

Waiting for “everyone” (whoever that is) to arrive, wondering at the common thread between us all.

Then the cleared throat, the single sheet of plain white photocopy stock, the authoritative recital:

We have some sad news to share with you that some of you may not have heard. On [INSERT DATE], [INSERT NAME], a [INSERT GRADE LEVEL] in our school, died suddenly. [INSERT ONE SHORT, PASSIVE VOICE, NONCOMMITTAL, ZERO-BLAME SENTENCE ABOUT CAUSE OF DEATH.] We will need to wait for an investigation to be completed before we can know more.

We are never prepared to deal with an unexpected loss such as this, and doing so may take some time. When we hear sad news like this, lots of people feel many different emotions — sadness, anger, confusion, helplessness, guilt. All of these feelings are normal. Reactions to death may vary for each of you. Members of our counseling staff will be available in the media center if you feel you would like to talk to someone. Your teacher will sign your agenda book to let you come down to the media center.

At this time we do not have information about funeral services.

A pause for questions. As if.

Statement delivered, they stand there, watching, adult eyes fixed on us, looking for — what? A crack of emotion? A “normal” response? Shall we distribute the candles right here and sing Kum Bah Ya?

No one walks up to them. No one makes eye contact. A few sniffle, a few whisper; most wonder how long until we can return to class, please.

It’s not a crisis management event. It’s not a grief counseling session.

It is death.

And school has nothing to say in its face.

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3 Responses to “reactions may vary”

  1. Bruce S. Says:

    The vast majority of them will be fine, i.e. back to normal, within two weeks. Tops. Party on.

  2. Howard Says:

    The irony is that this may occur in many churches as well. The very place that should be preparing people (either themselves or relatives or friends) for the inevitable, never really deals with the need of man head on. How much less a place as a school in a system that teaches a world view that may recognize obvious symptoms and reactions of people, but is not prepared to deal with it as God prescribes.

    Interesting thoughts you have provoked.

    God Bless

  3. the forester Says:

    The irony is that this may occur in many churches as well. The very place that should be preparing people (either themselves or relatives or friends) for the inevitable, never really deals with the need of man head on.

    Interesting charge. I’ll pay attention to my church to see if we’re addressing death directly. I think most of our sermons are geared toward teaching us how to live, not so much how to face death. Thank you for the challenge.

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