This time last year I was preparing to return to work. I was preparing to face twenty-one little people that I was sure were going to have lots of questions and tears and concerns about what happened at Sandy Hook. That awful, awful tragedy had taken place the day we left for Christmas Break. I was trying to prepare answers. Trying to prepare reasons and comfort. Trying to prepare myself so that I didn't seem fearful or sad or overwhelmed. My principal sent all of us an email a few days prior to our return and asked us, if possible, to come a little early and to all wear our "Super Teacher" shirts.
Today, I am once again preparing to return to work. Once again I am preparing myself to face twenty-one little people that I know are going to have lots of questions and tears and concerns. And once again my principal has asked, if possible, that we all come a little early. Except, this time, a year later, I'm not so sure I won't seem fearful or sad or overwhelmed. Because I am. I am so, so sad and overwhelmed.
Just two days ago, very unexpectedly, we lost one of our own. It's something that I just can't seem to digest. And I don't know if I ever really will.
I met Melissa four years ago. It was my first year back at work and my first year at Oak Pointe. I needed to take a day off for a doctor's appointment or something like that and everyone said she was the substitute to get. She knew the school. She knew the children. She knew the teachers and administrators. And she was good. Awesome in fact. Over the next few years I would get to know her better and better. And I would continue to call her when I needed a substitute. Calling her a substitute just doesn't seem right. It doesn't seem enough. Don't get me wrong, substitutes are awesome, but she was so much more than that. She was literally at our school almost every single day. She subbed for the 5th grade, 1st grade, A Team, library - everywhere. She knew all of the kiddos. All of them.
I got to know her better this year. Her precious son is in 5th grade this year. She's been in my classroom a lot this year because I have a special group that really benefit from her love. She and I would spend my planning time chatting in my room. Sharing stories and life experiences. She was a supporter and encourager for me. We'd laugh and joke around. We were both obsessed with hashtags and often spoke to one another in hashtags. It makes me smile just thinking about some of our recent exchanges. She was my buddy.
She subbed across the hall from me the Friday before our break. We spent the afternoon talking about holiday plans and the Gamecocks playing in their bowl game. She was not only subbing that day, but sticking around to supervise and help out with our Lego Robotics Team that was meeting that afternoon. During the first week of our break, once I was on the mend from having the flu, I saw her and her precious boy in Target. We stopped to talk. I told her about how I was recovering from the flu. She was telling me about the Lego Robotics Team meeting that Friday afternoon. We were comparing who had done more of their Christmas shopping. We even threw in a few hashtags just for laughs. We said our goodbyes and all continued shopping. I didn't know then that it would be the last time I saw her in person.
Just a week later, this past Thursday night to be exact, she text me and asked how long it took for Tamiflu to start working. I knew then that she, too, had gotten the dreaded flu. We exchanged quite a few texts, again most of it through hashtags (#obsessed). She mentioned how she hoped to be as good as new by New Year's Eve. My last words were, "Feel better FAST!"
Yesterday morning my heart broke in half when I heard the news that she had collapsed at home and passed away. It still just doesn't seem real. It's like a bad dream and I can't wake up. My heart just breaks for her husband and son. Her family and friends. Her OPES family. She was so young. So full of life. So much life left to live.
I'll always remember her beautiful smile. Her cool nail polish. Her funky shoes. Her Pandora bracelets - she adored those things. Her love for children, animals, reading, the Gamecocks and Duck Dynasty. I'll always remember how much she loved her husband and son and how she always talked about them. I'll always remember how she always knew just the right thing to say. I always looked forward to seeing her in the hallways or having her in my classroom. She made coming to work fun.
So, tomorrow I will try my very best to put on my brave, strong face. I'll try my best to push back tears and swallow that lump that's in my throat. I probably won't be successful at any of it, but I'll try. I'll hug my students and maybe read them one of her favorite books.
I love you, sweet friend. You will be missed. A whole lot.