It was a tough scene at Gavin’s school this morning. Twice as many parents dropping off their kids. Students gathering around the empty parking spot of their friend. School administrators watching over crowds of mourning teenagers as they return to campus after losing not one but two students this weekend. Please keep their families in your prayers.
On Saturday, we received a robo-dial from the school district that one student lost her long battle with cancer. Another student died early Saturday morning, the cause still under investigation. The call hit me unexpectedly hard. It’s not unusual for me now to have a strong reaction to any story involving the death of a child. But the call from Gavin’s school was different. It hit home.
As Dan and I walked back to the car after our adventure in Tahoe, I said, “I wonder if they sent a robo-dial when Noah died.”
“They did,” he said. “There is so much you don’t remember about the hospital.” He’s right. I have absolutely blocked out large chunks of that week. “The principal called and checked in twice and I told him it was okay.”
I remember the principal calling. I remember talking to him myself at some point, asking him to help us control the flow of kids that wanted to make the four-hour drive to the hospital to say goodbye to Noah. I didn’t want his friends to see him like that. I didn’t want their last memory of Noah to be our last memory of him. And we needed our space as a family to mourn. I do remember that. I remember speaking to the principal later in the week, asking him to help us ensure kids drove with their parents to the memorial because the roads were so windy and it was such a long drive. I couldn’t fathom losing one of them on the way to the service, too. Everything happened so fast and in slow motion all at the same time. But robo-dial? It didn’t even register on my radar.
Saturday night, Gavin came home and immediately asked us if we had received a call or email from the school. We sat him down and asked if he knew the kids. One yes, one no. But the “yes” was someone he has been friends/acquaintances with since we arrived at Oakmont three years ago. He was a senior. He has a younger sister Gav knows from the track team. He and Gav have AP History together. Saturday night was not a good night in our house.
As wrong as it may sound, I was hoping that Gav didn’t know them at all, that he could look on from afar but not be intimately affected by yet another loss. But that’s only part of the worry. What will losing someone do to Gavin? How will he react to kids who, in our experience, will ALL be affected by this in some way–and it’s not always pretty. How will he manage his own emotion about losing a friend? What triggers will it spark in him? Will people lean on him? Or worse, will they bring up Noah (which he does NOT appreciate from other teenagers) as a way to “relate” to the situation? Today is going to suck for Gavin and apart from asking his teachers and counselors to keep a close eye on him and giving him an out to come home if he needs to, I can’t stop his pain. I can’t protect him from–life.
As I left the parking lot this morning, driving past the news crew with my death stare piercing through the camera man, I thought about the week we lost Noah and what it must have been like for his friends, near and far. We didn’t want a candle light vigil but they did. I don’t even know if they had one. I’ve never asked. We didn’t want any attention, news coverage, noise, people…anything. We just wanted space to say goodbye to our son.
I notice now, in a way I didn’t before, how parents grieve as part of a community. Some publicly, some privately. Some parents attend every memorial, every tribute. Us? We couldn’t even bring ourselves to go to the first band competition of the year. I still. can’t. listen. to a snare drum. We attended only the memorial in Shaver and the tribute at his high school a month or two later. I do know the band held a memorial at his North Carolina high school. A great friend was kind enough to record it. I have saved all the videos of his friends remembering him and watch them from time to time when I need to be reminded of his spirit. But there were no vigils to speak of. No flowers in a parking spot. No swarms of teens hugging it out over their fellow classmate, with the exception of his band friends who I am quite sure were there for each other. At least…not that we know of.
Did we deprive our community of a chance to mourn Noah by choosing to mourn in private? Did we do the right thing? I don’t know. It weighs on me sometimes, like we have some obligation to be public facing. But at the time, losing him was all we could handle. We couldn’t handle anyone else’s grief. Now, more than a year later, I’m more ready to let people in, but most people have moved on. Isn’t it funny how life can be so ironic? If I had one piece of advice to offer about what you can do to help someone who has lost a child, it’s this: be there in year two, after the shock wears off.
I see his friends now, on Facebook or in person, and I just want to hug all of them and welcome them into our lives. I want to stay in touch with every one of them. Always. They are my connection to Noah’s life outside of our family. Seeing them live their lives, which is still admittedly hard sometimes, also brings me tremendous peace. I hope they know they can always talk to me about Noah, now, in ten years, or a lifetime from now. They enrich our spirit, just like Noah did theirs.
I don’t know what this week or this experience will bring for our family, but I know we will face it together. For the two families that are just beginning this long journey, I pray that the Lord, and Noah, can help lift their hearts, surround them in love and support, and slowly guide them out of the darkness.