Yesterday was a very tough day at the academy. I arrived at school to find out that one of the third grade students had passed away at 2 AM. She didn’t die from a car accident or some other fatal accident, as you would possibly assume of a 9 year old girl. The cause of death is still uncertain, although I first heard Malaria and then later heard that she died from tonsillitis. In the states we are not as familiar with death, especially in children and we always ask, “How?” or “What happened?” Here, this is not so much the case. There aren’t autopsies done, so we won’t ever truly know. What I do know is that she was at school with her classmates on Friday. She was out sick on Monday and Tuesday but still playing a bit and was even able to walk into the hospital and talk to the doctors and nurses on Tuesday. In just a matter of hours, she was no longer with us.
Due to the timing, it was too late to cancel school and so all of her classmates and the other students arrived and had to go through the grief and the questioning that accompanies loss. I found myself struggling as I watched students crying and as I thought about the fact that less than a week ago, she was at school with us, laughing and playing and learning. I also struggled because this is not something we would face in the states and I found myself upset that people die of something curable. My heart hurts especially for her mother who lost her husband two years ago and is now alone. The pain she must be feeling is unfathomable to me as she is now a childless widow.
School was cancelled for today so that people can attend the service. It is over a three-hour drive to the village where she will be buried. It is customary for families to leave the village where they grew up and move to a place where there is better work. However when there is a death, the family returns and the body is buried in the village. There was a memorial service closer to the academy where she lived yesterday and I heard there were an overwhelming number of people in attendance. In the morning before the service, there were many gathered at her home to mourn. Parents of the third graders were contacted and many students went to the home to present cards to her mother and show their support and give their condolences. I heard it was a powerful sight to see her fellow classmates in their uniforms in her house, there with her mother. The headmaster (principal) of our school as well as some of her former teachers also went by the house.
I struggled a bit on how to talk to my first graders about her death. I wasn’t sure how they would take the news or how much they would understand, being so young. It made me so sad that they would have to think of something like this at such a young age. I have also never taught at a Christian school and so this was a totally different experience, as I knew we could talk about God and about Heaven. I had my class sit on a circle on the carpet and told them I had some sad news to share with them. I told them that a third grade student had passed away. I said that death is always hard and we hurt when we have to say goodbye to someone. However I said that since she believed in God, she was now in Heaven with Him. As soon as I said this, my entire class started to clap. I can’t express the joy on their faces and was utterly shocked by this response. Then one student said, “Oh how wonderful, she’s now with her daddy!” I was struck by this childlike faith. It truly amazed me to see their confidence and certainty and to look at death this way. It reminded me that life truly goes by quickly for us all and that death ultimately will come to each of us. I left my classroom yesterday not wanting to take one single day for granted. I thought of everyone who loved that little girl who will now no longer see her. I hugged each of my students goodbye yesterday and then said a prayer of thanks for my family and friends.
I shared my students’ response with the acting director of the college. He shared this with a pastor who did the memorial service and I found out later that this was shared in his message at the service. It brings me great joy to know that others were able to experience the response of my students. I was truly amazed at them and I learn so much through them. I have loved seeing the way the community has responded and the joy that is so apparent. It is in times like these that faith shines through and causes me to stand in awe of God. This was such a difficult situation and one that I wish didn’t have to happen. However I am grateful to be surrounded by such wonderful people who have hope and faith in the midst of heartache and pain. Your thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated for the family and fellow classmates as they walk through this time of grief.