Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Learning About Loss

There are times when I debate whether a moment in our lives here is appropriate to share with the world.  The lines of blogging can be a bit blurred.  Somethings can be just a little too personal and at the same time, these are the moments that mold us into the people we will become - whether good or bad.  And in this journey of ex-pat life, so many events have impacted our lives.  Loss is one of them and has come in several forms.

We all suffer from loss through out our lives in different ways.  Loss of a home (or country).  Loss of identity (common for expats), loss of friendships and more.  But worst of all is the loss of a life. It's a painful lesson that everyone learns - no one is exempt no matter where you live or who you know.  

This year my boys have had to learn first hand what it means to lose people from your life (but not your hearts). We've been lucky thus far that beyond the loss of our dog Sailor 3 1/2 years ago, that they had not needed to learn what it means to have someone gone forever.  They lost 3 of their great-grandparents before Aidan was even 4 (Liam was 1) - an age where not only did they not understand the concept of death, but also could not comprehend the idea of forever and honestly have limited memories of them beyond pictures.  But the last 6 months alone have been filled with these losses and it breaks my heart watching them process what death means. 

Jake's (our beloved dog) death in August hit us all pretty hard.  Liam still talks about him at least once a week.  Aidan is one who keeps his feelings in check and is often very emotionally reserved.  On occasion he will tell us that he misses Jake.  The day Jake died, I could see the pain in Aidan's eyes - he was upset because when we left for vacation he had not said goodbye to Jake and now would not have that opportunity ever again.  Jake taught us what unconditional love means.  

Then in October my last grandparent passed away.  We weren't close.  Aidan hadn't seen him since he was 2 and Liam had never met him.  It did not impact them.  Nor did I expect it to.

A few weeks ago, a beloved teacher at the boys' school passed away.  She was in her mid 60s and taught nursery school.  Liam knew her as he started BFIS in nursery and while she wasn't his teacher, with only about 25 kids in all of nursery at that time, they often spent time together as a group for recess, lunch, etc. The campus was stunned by her passing.  Being an international school it's normal for not just the students to come and go but also for the staff.  But Ms. Peggy had been at the school for years and was a fixture there.  She knew everyone.  She always had a kind word and a smile.  She was full of energy. She was full of ... life.

I didn't know Ms. Peggy beyond the occasional wave and "how are you doing?" and yet when I heard of her passing, I was shocked and emotionally raw.  These things just don't happen at BFIS.  Right? Aidan didn't know her well either but when his soccer coach called for a moment of silence before their soccer game in her honor (her passing had not yet been announced to the kids unknown to him at that time), you could see the shock in his eyes.  And I heard him stage whisper "Ms. Peggy died??".  

He didn't cry.  He didn't believe it either.  He made me read the email that came from the school.  He was adamant that he had seen her that morning.  I assured him that he had not seen her that morning as she had passed that morning.  

Liam's reaction, that of a typical 6 year old.  "That's so sad.  But she was old.  Old people die."  Very to the point.  He didn't have that emotional attachment.  Nor did I expect him to.  He's only 6.

Neither of them wanted to attend the memorial service and I didn't want to push it.  It wasn't that they didn't care, it just didn't impact them in the way that it did for other people.  This has to be something that they are comfortable with.  If they weren't feeling the loss the same way as others, why make a sad situation worse by intensifying the emotions in a room full of mourning people? 

Again, that was just a few weeks ago.  This afternoon, right around noon, I received a call from the head of school.  He told me that something had happened at the school.  I immediately thought something happened to one of the boys.  Thankfully they were ok but what he told me caught me completely off guard.  He told me that Mr. Stone, Aidan's co-teacher, had passed away unexpectedly this morning.

It wasn't until after this news that I really gave some thought on just how much impact teachers have on our children.  Yes, they teach them; they guide them.  But beyond that.  They are with them more hours per day then they are with us.  When I think of how well my children know myself and Josh and vice versa and then I look at how few hours they spend with us compared to their teachers... well, do the math.  These teachers have a huge impact on our children above and beyond their education.  They help to shape the people they will some day become.  

Mr. Stone was new at BFIS this year.  I didn't know him well but he seemed like a very nice guy.  He was young, only 26.  I knew his parents had been out to visit him over the winter break from Ohio.  I knew he wasn't sure if he was going to stay beyond the one year as he missed his family.  But I also knew that this is a teacher that Aidan adores.  You see, not only was he the co-teacher in his class, but he was also Aidan's private tutor once a week.  

When I first suggested a tutor to Aidan he was absolutely against the idea.  But after his first session with Mr. Stone, he was a changed kid.  Suddenly homework was no longer painful in our house (ok, except for the occasional outburst).  He became more independent with his school work.  Aidan looked forward to these sessions with Mr. Stone every week.  There was a week when a soccer game was scheduled for the same day and he was so worried that he would miss his weekly session with Mr. Stone that he was willing to sacrifice his soccer game so that he could meet with him.  Mr. Stone had an impact on Aidan's life.  And when you meet someone who has an impact in your life, no matter how old you are - you remember that.  And when they leave your life - you won't forget that either.

This is Aidan's first true loss.  And he is devastated.  And he is so young that it breaks my heart.  I remember my first loss of a loved one.  I was probably about his age give or take a year.  It was my great uncle Wally.  I will never forget the feelings of sadness when my parents told me he had died. And it was at that age that I became aware of my own mortality, my parents mortality and the mortality of those all around me.  That's a pretty scary feeling for a kid.  Emotions that I'm sure are running thru Aidan's head right now.

I picked the boys up at school expecting Aidan to be highly emotional.  At the same time, I know him and he doesn't wear his emotions on his sleeve.  When I picked him up he just kind of shrugged his shoulders and was like, no big deal.  I knew that wasn't true and it pained me to see that he felt he had to hide his feelings.  He told me that they wrote letters and drew pictures in class and that his picture had the two of them together with the words "best friends forever".  Yeah, the tears were streaming down my own face at that one.  

The moment we got into the car, he broke down.  Tears welling up and crying his little heart out.  I never want to see my children in pain but in a way it warmed my heart to see that he could allow himself to be emotional since I know it's not something that comes easily to him.  Liam, being the compassionate brother he is, just reached out and said "I'm really sorry Aidan".  I don't think I could have asked for more in that situation.

We got home and we gave Aidan some space.  He was highly emotional and we could hear him crying but he didn't want to be with anyone.  I tried talking with him but he needed to be alone.  I had no choice but to respect that.  After Liam went to bed, I offered to let Aidan stay up with me for a bit to talk about it.  He didn't want to talk but just laid on my lap and cried.  He wouldn't let me rub his head or back... he just needed my presence to comfort him but I felt so helpless to guide him thru this moment.  

Tomorrow he goes back to school, or at least that is the plan for the moment.  I think he's going to get the best support there and being with his friends and other teachers will be good for him.  But if he's not up for it, then we will play it by ear.  I know that the school will have the best support available.  I also know that they will plan a memorial of some kind for Mr. Stone.  Aidan has already told me he would very much like to attend.  

I cannot imagine the grief that Mr. Stone's parents must be going thru right now.  Mr. Stone was a mere 26 years old.  I may never get the chance to meet them, but I hope I get the opportunity some day to let them know that their son, while taken too young from this world, had an impact on at least one student. One student who looked up to him.  One student who will remember him forever.  

The next several days are going to be tough.  The community will grieve.  Aidan will continue to grieve as well.  It will take some time for normalcy to resume.  But we will come together and get thru this together.  And we will learn from this untimely loss - we must live life every day to it's fullest because we never know when it might be our last.  And if I know Aidan, he will continue to work hard because he knows it would make Mr. Stone proud.  

Besos and our deepest sympathies to the Stone family,

1 comment:

  1. Wow that is very powerful. I have also had several losses since I arrived here in Catalunya and I too questioned myself about writing of them in my blog but as you say, these are important stages of our journey and to miss them out makes our lives seem rather more shallow. But as I don't have children I haven't thought about the impact on them of all these deaths. As a child I never faced death at all and was lucky not to deal with that till much later. I still had a strong sense of our mortality - I think that hits us all even when we haven't had direct experience. but to lose your teacher is a big experience. It says a lot about your children that they were able to express themselves - one in his grief and the other in his condolence.
    thank you for writing this as it has made me think

    You are in Barcelona? Not so far from me in Granollers. i will go and take a look at more of your story but wanted to respond to this one immediately. I hope your little boy is gradually coming to terms with this big change. Goodness knows it isn't easy at any age.
    Kate x