I’ve just received news of Facebook that a former student of mine from the UK has died after a long struggle with a congenital heart defect. Out of respect for her and her family I will not give her name but those who need to will know who I mean. I’m not about to ride on the back of her family’s grief and, to my knowledge, none of them are ever likely to read this so hopefully I won’t step on private grief.
Yet, I couldn’t finish my day (I was just about to go to bed) without writing something about this girl and the great sadness I feel right now. I’m grateful that over 21 years of teaching I have only endured a handful of deaths of students or ex-students. I can’t think of any pain worse for a teacher. It is horrible; utterly wretched.
I didn’t know this girl very well – she was always quiet and unassuming around school. I know she was unfailingly pleasant and charming. I can’t remember whether she invited me to be a friend on Facebook or the other way around after I left the UK but I know there would have been no shadow of doubt in my mind about having her as a friend. She wasn’t one of the ones who ‘hogged the limelight’ or made their presence felt all the time. She was just, quite simply, nice. Really nice. There was no ego there, no need to be all important. She was just happy in herself.
I wanted to make some grand philosophical point here – I wrote one too but I’ve deleted it; twice. Somehow, it just didn’t seem right. I can’t make something ‘right’ about a 19-year-old dying after a long struggle with her heart, I just can’t. She should mourn my death in years to come, not the other way around right now.
I hope that in the passing days, weeks and months, her family will be finding that something, that special something that gives them meaning to what has happened – something to carry on for. Right now, I can’t think what that might be.
I do know that tomorrow, when I wake up, the world will seem a little greyer than before and Facebook will be a sad place to visit.
I also know that I will renew my efforts to make sure that those who are important to me know it. Life is too short and too precious to waste – sometimes we need wake-up calls to remind us of that.