I was in Rogue Valley Mall in Medford, Oregon when I took a peek at Facebook and saw a post that might have been related to the death of a former student. At the time the connection was too distant. I was with family and it just sat in the back of my brain and then moved on because one doesn’t really expect something so tragic to happen.
It did happen.
That evening I popped onto my laptop to find Facebook alight with messages of shock and condolences to the friends and family of my former student and his girlfriend. On top of that, one of my current students was also involved in the accident near Mt. Shasta and had survived. I called members of the administration immediately to notify them that it had happened and then tried to get as much information as I could from students online without prying. And I watched the responses pour in on the news feed. It was gut-wrenching. I visited the my current student on the way home from Medford; my only intent was to check to see if she was doing ok and maybe make her laugh a little. She’d been through a very traumatic experience and I thought a little humor might take her mind off of it, even if only for a few seconds. I think the visit did a little good, and it did me good to know that she was ok.
This whole experience has been tough to deal with. I’ve had former students pass away before, although none quite had that little connection that made the relationship close. This was a kid that would joke every day about giving me a big hug while calling me “Papa Bear”. He was a goof-ball, but the kind of goof ball that really did make a lot of people laugh. My last interaction with him was at a Subway restaurant in Ukiah about two months ago. He was walking to work, saw me through the window, and made the effort to come in and chit-chat. I’ll miss him.
I’m also concerned about the living. Those that survived the crash. Those that were with him on the trip. Those that were his close friends and acquaintances. Dealing with 18 year olds in this sort of situation is very, very difficult. Giving students support and space while trying to keep them focused on some level of academics is an interesting balancing act. Those directly involved have all the time in the world. However I think part of life is learning that there is a time when you have to keep going with life, although that’s not easy to explain to a teenager, or anyone that’s gone through tragedy.
Tomorrow I attend the funeral. It will be very well attended by former and current students as the boyfriend and girlfriend had strong relationships on campus. There is not a whole lot worse than seeing kids in genuine pain. It’s going to be rough.