To A Former Student

Trigger Warning- this post deals with sensitive topics.

Dear X,

Just a few weeks ago we had messaged back and forth about a place I was visiting that you had a connection to and your future seemed bright. You were working, going to school, adventuring and then (as it always seems from the outside) out of nowhere you ended your life. X, I am not sure why you did this and I will make assumptions in this letter, something I know I warned your class about not doing. I have gone back and forth about publishing this, so I hope that you are ok with it. It is my aim to redact any and all identifying information. This may be self serving, and I apologize but something keeps telling me to write this.

When I was about your age my dad and I took a trip down to Maryland to visit the college I would attend. We were at a meeting with the college president, everyone dressed nicely and behaving properly. There was a young woman with special needs who kept asking for another donut, loudly. Her desire for a donut was palatable. Her family was very short with her, snapping no and shushing her. My dad and I still talk about this moment, how badly we wanted to give her a donut. He and I are “soft hearted,” “emotional,” “feely” people. I know you were too. You came into my classroom with a green soul, somehow more mature and yet more innocent than your peers. You were kind, compassionate and empathetic. It surprises me that I can still hear your voice in my head, something I can say for only one other student in your class. You stood out.

The world is cruel to vulnerable people. Without walls we allow people to emotionally connect with us, and sometimes they hurt us. That is what makes the vulnerable people brave. You were brave. Anyone who couldn’t recognize that lives half a life behind an imaginary wall. It took me nearly 40 years to realize this. I’ve been called a “bleeding heart,” and been told that I am “too emotional.” I’ve been accused of trying to make my kids think they have problems when I talk to them about what’s going on in their lives and they open up to me. When you were my student I was walled up. I was unhappy and while that secret was banging at my chest, I thought it would go away if I ignored it. I think you recognized that, especially in the years between when I taught you and your death when you were my cashier. You knew I was emotionally hurt. You connected with the other empathetic teachers from the school and we are so sad your soul is no longer on this earth.

In a futile search for why I came across an essay you wrote about Of Mice and Men. The first line was “It is everyone’s fear to die alone.” Oh X, I am so sorry you were alone. You commented a few times on social media how much happier I am, how it’s great to see me enjoying life. I could not have been open with my students about what was going on in my personal life, but I regret not being able to teach my truth. I cannot be as content as I am, I cannot appreciate the highs that life offers without being vulnérable and that means allowing myself to take risks, fail, be rejected and hurt by others, feeling the shame, guilt and loneliness that weaves its way in and out of my life.

I hope you will allow me to keep you in my heart and mind while I backpack, teach and especially as I raise my children.

In honor of X, please consider making a donation to a cause that was important to them :


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