The Letter I Don’t Want to Write

A week and a half ago, I received word that one of my former students died in his sleep. James was a senior this year at the school where I taught religion for two years. My colleagues and friends who are still there sound exhausted. I am sure that the students are devasted.

James was not my best student or even my favorite. He was an active member of period 2 Scriptures my first year, the class for which the principal declared an automatic trip to her office for the most minor offence. I sent him to the principal’s office for cheating on the final exam. But I still remember the enthusiam he showed playing tuba in the band, and the video project on the ten commandments that he produced with two other students. It included their awkward and unintentionally hysterical attempt to sit as a panel of experts and narrate. Somewhere under the sophomore boy was a an interest in what I was teaching, even if he would never admit it.

And by the time I had him for World Religions a year later, I could see the ineveitable maturing process taking hold. He was interested enough in the subject matter to be one of two students who took me up on an optional field trip to a synogogue for Sabbath prayers. He poured himself into a video presentation on the life cycles of a Hindu deity. And I will never forget that James was one of only a few students who had two parents at every parent-teacher conference. They were wonderful, and every time I saw them, I knew deep down that James would turn out OK.

Combined with the ineveitable church-during-the-holiday-season lunacy at work, this news hit me hard. I keep thinking about “my kids” at the school, praying for them, shaking my fist at God for letting this happen, and trying to sort out what I might do. Tomorrow, I do what I can: show up and be there for James’ funeral, held at the school. The students are being let in early for a viewing, and I will be there before they show up, because I know that the only thing I can do is just be there with them, and maybe listen and cry a little.

But I want to do something for James’ parents, too. I’m planning to write them a letter, and tell them what I remember about James, what I might say to him if I met him in 10 years. I’ve been composing it in my head since last week, and it is finally time to write.

One Response to “The Letter I Don’t Want to Write”

  1. Kirstin Says:

    Erica, I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope the funeral brought some healing to you and others who knew James. I’m sure his parents will appreciate your letter. So sad.