Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Black Friday

Well, well, well . . . The best laid Thanksgiving plans changed.

Since I worked both Wednesday and Friday, I had originally decided to order a catered Thanksgiving. Well, back up. Initially, we had all planned to go to my cousin's house for Thanksgiving in Huntsville, AL. Those plans were made before we knew that my mom was sick, way back in the summer. We held onto this faint notion that we could still go, but I finally came to my senses a couple of weeks ago and realized that there was no way that I was going to haul my sick mom and two little kids 3 hours to Huntsville and 3 hours back in the same day. That's when the divine inspiration for the Boston Market catered dinner came in. Seemed genius, and then I realized I didn't even have the energy for that.

Doing my best to conserve my energy to spend with family and not stand in the kitchen, I decided to cancel the Boston Market order and we went out for Thanksgiving lunch instead. I had stumbled onto a really good restaurant that serves all fresh vegetables, buffet-style, and they were open for Thanksgiving. We went, we were dressed casually, they served traditional Thanksgiving with all the trimmings and we enjoyed every bite (even my kids, who don't much like Thanksgiving fare found things that they liked).

My sister, in her wisdom, ordered Thanksgiving dinner from Publix and spent the better part of Wednesday gathering the order and baking pies to take to my mother's apartment. My dad isn't well enough to go out to a resturant, really, and my mom wanted to make sure that my oldest brother had somewhere to have Thanksgiving. My older brother has been acting out again (longtime readers will remember him as Dark Prince in early blog entries), so that precluded any full-family Thanksgiving function.

We stoppped in to see my mom and dad after our lunch, and she looked happy and energetic. Her sister from California had traveled to the East Coast to attend the Huntsville Thanksgiving dinner, but was delayed a day, and ended up having Thanksgiving with my mother. My mother was so thankful to have had a dinner prepared and waiting. My brother joined them, and they all had a nice visit. We were coming in as they were all heading out, so my mother had lots of company, and that seemed to cheer her, which helped me accept the lack of tradition of the day.

I had a discussion with my sister about how depressing the holidays have been the past couple of years. Parents are getting older and sicker, the traditions that we always leaned on have all but disappeared, and we are left with empty holes where tradition used to flourish. Of course, that is how it feels in my head. My children know nothing of the extended family reunion Thanksgivings that filled my childhood. They were gigantic affairs hosted by my aunt in Alabama, and we looked forward to them all year long. Time marches on, things change, my aunt is 71 and living in a tiny senior apartment and it dawned on me that I had to accept the baton and start making some new traditions if I wanted to ever resurrect my holiday spirit.

To this end, I decided to have a Saturday get together. I figured that most of our friends would be around, and through with family commitments. We had a similar get together last year, and with alot of gusto, I approached the preparations. Hubby and the kids, seeing the first spark of holiday spirit in me in days, enthusiastically joined in, sweeping the deck, helping me prepare tables, etc. Actually, it was way more work than I would have performed to actually host Thanksgiving, but I seemingly had NO energy for Thanksgiving preparations, but had lots of energy to get ready for this party. Figure that out.

There was alot to be thankful for, once I thought about it for awhile. The boy, who had been so sick the week before, seemed like his little old self. Hubby and I were feeling more secure than we had in years, my daughter was doing well, and even though my parents were sick, they were well-cared for and safe. I was thinking about all of these things when I got a phone call. My daughter answered it and said "It sounds like somebody that might be coming to the party," as she handed me the receiver. Breathless from cleaning, I answered "Hello?" and a very nice lady immediately began to apologize, saying "It seems as though I might have interrupted a party, I do apologize for the intrusion . . ."

Within the first minute of the conversation, I found out that she was a counselor at my boy's school (he attends PreK at the elementary school). She was calling me to inform me that his teacher would no longer be there.

He has two teachers, so I wasn't sure which one she meant at first. One teacher is about my age and exactly what you would expect a PreK teacher to be: enthusiastic, sweet, funny. The other is an older woman, very quiet, seemingly kind. The counselor was referring to the older of the two.

As she spoke to me, her voice kind of faded as I began to recall what I could about this teacher. I remember thinking when I met her at Open House that she seemed a bit distracted, she looked exhausted, that she wasn't really tuning in when I spoke with her. I remember saying to my husband, "She's kind of out there, isn't she?" and dismissing it shortly afterward. I got a strange vibe from her, as though something wasn't quite right, and I was too tired, too busy to give it much thought. At that time, I remember thinking that I didn't need any more needy people around me.

The important thing was that my son grew to love her, dearly. He was so shy those first few weeks, and carpool and daily transitions were really challenging for him. He tended to hang out along the edges of activity, and this lady took the time to talk to him, engage him, hold his hand when he felt unsure. He has since found his comfort level in class, and hasn't needed that kind of support as much, but the bond was set: he thought the world of her.

Every day, he walked out to carpool to meet Hubby's mom or dad, and every day, he was holding this teacher's hand. Last Friday, I remember that my mother in law mentioned that this teacher took the time to tell her what a good boy my boy was, what a pleasure he was to teach, and how much she enjoyed him. I made a little mental note then to take the time next week to speak to her.

The counselor was couching her words carefully as we spoke. The teacher had passed away a couple of days before Thanksgiving, she wasn't sure about the details, she had some preliminary information, but out of respect for the family, she was not sharing any further details. She would be at school with other teachers on Monday to talk to the class, and she encouraged me to tell my boy over the weekend so he would not be caught off guard.

I hung up, stunned, and wondered how I would break the news to him. My suggestion to the counselor to tell the kids that Mrs. M had retired and gone to the beach was met with a chilly response. I would have much rather told that lie than dumped the reality on my little one, but I really had no choice, since the other kids would surely know the truth.

The party started a couple of hours later, and it was fun, but in the back of my head, this was brewing. I'm not a wine drinker, but I was that night. Start early, start heavy.

Sunday, I took a quiet moment to tell the boy that his teacher had died. He had a puzzled look on his face, and all he said was "Really?" He didn't say anything else. On and off through the day, he asked quiet questions about how she died, and I told him I didn't know, but that if I found out, I would tell him.

To tell the truth, I wondered too. I hate to think that I am morbidly curious, but I just couldn't really imagine what could have happened. Did she have an accident? Stroke? I found her obituary online, and it really held no clues. It did say that she was 50, married, had 2 kids, had been a teacher for 22 years, and a member of the Baptist church. I began to think she might have just passed away in her sleep. I hoped so.

But, since I can never leave well enough alone, I called the room mother, and when she had even less information than I did, I called the next parent on the list, asking if they had any additional information about whether or not the class would send flowers to the family, etc. This family had somehow gotten some additional information from someone in the neighborhood that knew about the situation, and without much fanfare, the husband told me that the teacher had died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

I don't even know if I told him goodbye or not. I stood there, holding the receiver, and let that bounce around my head. The one thing that I kept going back to was the thought that I could have taken the time to speak to her. I could tell that she was struggling when I met her. I didn't know EXACTLY what her situation was, but I damn sure knew that she was a person that needed a little support. It wouldn't have cost me anything to, you know, reach out to her somehow, at least let her know how much she meant to my boy and all the other kids that she had helped for 22 years. But I was too busy, too preoccupied, stretched too thin.

Would it have made any difference? I don't know. Sometimes a little encouragement makes all the difference to someone that feels so defeated.

Giving a note to her family through the online guestbook seemed like too little, too late, but it was all I was left with. It was full of platitudes, like "I am so sorry for your loss" and other hackneyed phrases meant to convey something to the survivors. That note was for them. This one is for her:

Thank you, Mrs. M. You meant the world to my little boy. He doesn't understand what happened, and why he will never see you again, but he has cried over you, in his room when he was alone with the door closed. He never told you that he loved you, but he did. And I never told you thank you for helping him through a painful time. I never stopped long enough to get to know you and offer some friendship. I never took the time to give you a kind word, and for that, I am sorry. You might have taken some comfort in it. I promise to try to encourage people more, to be there for people if I can be. I swear.
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