I have a little job. I work two days a week at my children’s school; not in any of their classrooms but as an aide in the first grade room. It is an incredible job for a lot of reasons, not the least of which are the 21 students and one teacher with whom I work. Without violating anyone’s privacy I would like to tell you more about it sometime.
One thing that is important to me is to be as professional as I can while I am there. Maybe “professional” is not the right word…maybe “steady” is more what I have in mind. Since our kids have been at this school for three and a half years most of the people here know about our family events during that time. The school staff gave us a lot of strength and support during our dark days with Lucy, and many of the students offered words, prayers, and cards of honest love.
I no longer live at the knife edge of life and death. Life is different now.
The beauty of an job like mine is that what you do feels important because each child is infinitely important.
And because the job is not about me, I keep my feelings, which is to say the mess of my heart, away from the work at hand. Grief beats you about, but children need you to be consistent. The great teacher I work with needs me to be faithful. So I try. Works most days. When I have a bad bit I only cry in the bathroom alone.
Today for only the second time this year the children broke my self-imposed wall and asked me about Lucy. While we were talking about baptism during our Bible lesson, the textbook asked us to discuss ways a Church congregation was like a family. Loving, helping, sharing meals, caring for the sick, that sort of thing. And the book asked how church people like to spend time together – to which one boy replied “in funerals…like when people die.” (I know this boy recently lost a beloved grandmother.)
First Graders ask like they breath…unencumbered by their own image they take in what you say and let out a response. They don’t know the subjects that are taboo. Most things are equal to them. So the next child to raise his hand said it smiling: “Like with your baby. Your baby that died. Did she have a funeral?”
And it hurts – oh, how it hurts – the love lost and the life torn and only a small child absent but an abyss of emptyness left behind: me changed and us changed and the long hours spent holding God in the sights of your gun wondering how to fit reality into something that makes sense again.
So I answer him: “Yes, sweetie, she did have a funeral. Here at this church! And many people came and we all said goodbye together. Like a family, right? We do the important things, like baptism and saying goodby at funerals, as a family. And that really helped me.” I answer him true and without thinking it out beforehand or telling him any of the black stuff, and HE is real and I am real. (I do not cry or scream, which faintly amazes me.)
Their eyes are all on me – focused hard – several of them say at once that they saw her picture in our school yearbook last year. I can’t hear them all at once or distinctly. And then a boy raises his hand and asks why they burn people who die in the movie Star Wars. Which I try to explain.
That is what real life is, isn’t it? You trek through the sublime and the petty in the space of a Bible lesson. These 7 year olds don’t know it, but they pull me closer to normal life by seeing the death of my daughter as a part of who I am: adults are so mysterious anyway why SHOULDN’T the lady who keeps telling me to tie my shoes have a dead baby. Maybe lots of people have dead babies. Maybe lots of people don’t. Let’s talk about Star Wars!
And I’m grateful for any place in life in which I can feel normal. – Katie