This morning, I learned that a friend and colleague died last night. She was an incredible woman, a noble spirit. At the beginning of last year, she taught seminars on different teaching techniques including one called the Think-Pair-Share. In this exercise, students walked around the room and randomly selected a partner. They discussed for one to two minutes information related to the topic. Then, they present the information to the group. My colleague, Angelique, even had ways to make the sharing more random including whomever had the earliest birthday or the darkest hair or the longest hair would be the speaker.
It was brilliant and amazing. I stole her idea and used this to create an exercise I called “Speed Dating.” Additionally, her idea of getting the students up and moving around the classroom was what led me to doing my teaching technique called “Train Wreck.” These are the techniques that I feel are what led me to earning my nomination for Teacher of the Year. Angelique was an inspiration, a role model.
As I read the different Facebook posts about her, I see person after person write about how she was incredibly caring. One of my colleagues has written multiple times that Angelique never had a cruel word for any person. And as I read former students’ posts, I see how the power of her compassion and love for people, regardless of characterizing traits, gave so many people hope.
I didn’t know Angelique like I wanted to. In our school, the ninth graders are generally housed in a specific section of the building to assist with the transition and to keep them from being over-whelmed by the upper classmen. Angelique was a ninth grade history teacher. I teach English twelve. We were in completely different sections of the building and we rarely had opportunity or necessity to meet up and chat, talk about life, or just “hang out.”
But in the times that I did talk with her, or even in random Facebook conversations, she always sought to find a way to build up and construct people, including myself. When I won Teacher of the Year, she sent me a lovely message, a heart-warming statement of good wishes. She was horribly ill with cancer and I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear anything from her. But she still took the time to contact me and write me a message that was truly personal and personable.
My husband, as well, learned today that his “second-mom,” Nancy died about a month ago. I have known Nancy for a long time; her son was my beloved Pat’s best friend. I didn’t spend huge amounts of time with Nancy, but every time I was with her, it was much like how I would describe being with Angelique: compassion, immediate acceptance, love regardless of the person.
My favorite and strongest memory of Nancy was immediately after the Boy was born. She worked in the hospital where we were located, and Pat went up to the cancer ward where Nancy worked to tell her about our son. Next thing I know, Nancy was in our room, standing over the Boy and looking at my seven pound, one ounce beautiful baby. She glanced at the Boy and then looked over at Pat, saying, “You done good, Pat. You done good.”
Even as I type this, I can still see her in her beautiful professional attire. I can still hear the warmth in her voice. This was my husband’s first time playing “Proud Papa” to someone other than immediate family. And the joy that suffused his face, the pride that beamed from him…..it was beautiful to behold.
Nancy was incredibly patient. My husband and her son loved to play practical jokes on one another and, often, she and my in-laws became secondary victims of the practical jokes. One Christmas, my husband snuck over to Nancy’s house; she had a huge wreath hanging on an exterior shed with a spotlight illuminating it. He took down the wreath, leaned it against the side of the shed, and hung something in its place.
The next morning, Nancy was apparently drinking a cup of coffee when she noticed that the wreath was on the ground. Originally, she figured that the wind had knocked it off…until she looked at the new decoration that was in its original place.
A huge, plywood, toilet seat. Yup….that’s my husband.
As I type these words, I can feel the tears threaten the edges of my eyes. This morning, I mourned for Angelique, mourned for the loss of a powerful role model, mourned that she died due to cancer which meant that she died a death that was likely painful.
And with Nancy’s death, I am reminded once more that the time I have with my parents is incredibly limited. They are in the autumn of their lives; and though I am truly not trying to be morbid or depressing, I think it’s important to acknowledge the temporality of life.
As the days elapse, I feel, recently, like I am watching more and more of the world I have always known quietly slip away. And as these changes unfurl and present themselves with their indifferent inevitability, I see again and again that the progression of life is both lovely and painfully saddening. I know this is normal. I know that I am saying nothing deep or original or philosophical or even enlightening.
But I am exorcising the sadness that women I have known and have cared for have left. Nancy was the second person to buy the Fight Breast Cancer license plate as a way to ensure that it would eventually be issued. Angelique was a woman who truly demonstrated humility. She won prestigious awards, yet, if you talked to her, you would never know.
I sit here in the middle of my life looking at a past that doesn’t seem very far away or a present that still seems to stretch into infinity. I am not afraid of my mortality. I believe in Jesus and His sacrifice. I believe in Heaven. I believe in God’s love and His incredible forgiveness. And this creates a sense of apathy towards being afraid of dying. I am afraid of how I would die. I am afraid of dying after my children. But I am not afraid of the act of death. It is a part of my destiny. I accept it.
But my apathy or indifference does not extend past the muscular walls of my heart which is weary, right now. Love is wonderful. Love is healing. But, right now, my love for these women is a bit painful as I acknowledge that they have gone gently “into that good night.”
Rest well ladies. I will see you….later….
Love you. Mean it.