Monday, October 17, 2011

Tugged Heartstrings

Sometimes my job leaves me speechless - which is saying something, as I am rather the talkative type.  This last month I have been stopped in my tracks by at least two students whose stories just break my heart, so much so that I had to work really hard to keep from crying as they spoke to me (separate days, hallelujah).  Both are enduring family tragedies (dying grandparents) and having difficulty dealing with it...from the sounds of it the parents aren't dealing with these situations well either, and the kiddos are left rudderless because their parents are not able to help them cope because they can't cope either.  On the one hand, this is a situation that we all face at some point.  We all lose loved ones that we are close to.  On the other hand, it is heart-wrenching to watch children suffer emotionally and feel cut off from the very people who can help them the most - their parents.  After all, who would better understand how the children feel?  Looking in from the outside, it makes me understand a number of cultural traditions about death a bit better.  Several cultures advocate toasting to the memory of the loved one and sharing favorite stories- remembering not the death but the love and life of the one who passed.  It's an activity that brings people together, allows them to find comfort and happy memories (even if made bittersweet in the moment), and works through the shock and grief.  Both my family, and my husband's family, do this sort of thing...of course, we come from families full of storytellers also, which might have something to do with it.  I can see how it helps us, and helps maintain the bonds of kinship.  We know that we are never alone, when the world feels like it is ending, we have the sure knowledge of the strength and love of family.  I suppose not everyone is so blessed - which is a sad thought in and of itself.  I feel blessed, but I wish everyone had what I have with their families.

I really didn't know what to say, to either of these students.  There's a great deal that I can't say professionally.  I'm not a professional counselor.  What do you say to a 3rd grader who decides that for whatever reason it's YOU that they want to tell how sad they are, and how torn up their parents are over it all?  When you only have a few minutes, or a few seconds, before the next class comes in?  So I ended up with giving simple general condolences in both cases...because I just couldn't think of anything else, even though I knew it wasn't really what they needed.  How do you explain in a sentence or two that life goes on, we honor those we love even after they go and enjoy the memories we have, and that it will all be okay...without sounding either callous, or full of platitudes? 

I wish I were wiser. :-(

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