Sunday, August 28, 2016

Dear Stranger: Thank You For The Giant Heart

Like many parents after a long family holiday, I usually welcome the moment when my kids head back to school.- Jose Andres

The first day of school is a bitch.  As a teacher, I miss the old days when we would start school on a Wednesday.  You could spend the first three days getting all the beginning of the year paper work, get to know you, and other activities out of the way and then you came back Monday and started teaching.

As a parent who lost his son to suicide, it is a bitter reminder that my son is dead and will never have another first day of anything.  Yes, I have a step-son and daughter that still have a first day, but it does not replace seeing your first born on the first day.  I remember taking off half a day to take Peyton to kindergarten on the first day, and receiving a picture from his mother every year at their annual "First day of School Breakfast".  For the last two years, I have had to look on #Timehop to see his last first day.

Needless to say, I spent Monday in a sh*t mood.  I avoided Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the most part because I didn't want to see all of the pictures that people had posted of their smiling children heading back to school. I was exhausted by night time, went to bed early, and woke up Tuesday morning dreading another day of back to school activities, shortened classes, paperwork, schedule changes, figuring out where to out the students I had no desks for, and the other joys of the first week.  I went through my morning routine of a shower, getting dressed, putting on the accursed post surgery walking boot, grabbing my lunch from the fridge, pouring my vat of coffee and heading to work.  On the way to work, I had to deal with those that are blinker usage challenged, can't comprehend speed limits, and feel that traffic laws are for suckers.  I limped into the building and headed for the work room to check my box (The architects who designed the building are still laughing how they managed to put the teacher boxes in an area where two people walking in the opposite direction cannot pass without turning sideways or gaining intimate knowledge of each other) because you never know what last minute notices, bonus checks, or bite sized Hershey bars might be waiting for you.

On this day, I could see nothing peeking out, so I reached in.  I felt something soft and pulled out an enormous heart made from yarn.  The heart itself was a larger version of the ones that people make for the #PeytonHeartProject.  There was no tag or name on it, I even squatted among the throng of teachers trying to squeeze into the crowd to get a better look, but there was nothing.  I took the elevator up to my room, took the obligatory selfie with it, posted it to social media, found the perfect place to hang it above my desk, sat down and lost my sh*t.

People need to understand what it is like to lose a loved one to suicide.  Once the initial shock of Peyton's death was over, the world went on spinning for most people.  Yes, there were those that mourned along with me, but eventually they went back to their families and lives while I was left to try and make sense of my life.  I would drive down the freeway, walk through the mall, or sit in a restaurant and see people laughing, having fun and carrying on without a worry in the world, and I would want to shout, "What the f**k is wrong with you!  My son is killed himself and you don't care!"  I was feeling that way on Tuesday as adults and kids alike talked about the first day of school. I wanted nothing to do with happy people, but just wanted the day to end so I could go home.  Then I got your heart.

I don't think you realize how much a small gesture to a parent who has lost a child, or other loved one, to suicide means.  We feel forgotten or avoided.  Our loved one didn't fight the good fight against cancer or some other insidious disease.  They weren't taken from us by a thoughtless drunk or careless texter.  They weren't cut down on the battlefield or in the line of duty.  Our loved fought bravely against the demons in their heads, the bullies in the hall, the expectations they couldn't live up to, or the pressures of a life they had never achieved, and they took their own life in order to end the agonizing pain that they were living with.  Unfortunately, because of a lack of understanding and education, people brand them as cowards or crazy, and those of us that are left behind feel avoided, shunned, and forgotten.  Our friends no longer call, we are kept at a distance, or ignored.  Maybe it is because people don't know what to say, maybe it is because the subject of suicide is so taboo, or maybe, because of the lack of understanding, people are afraid that what ever caused our love one to take their lives might be contagious, and now we are infected, and they could be next.

On that day, you let me know that Peyton had not been forgotten, and you let me know that some one cared.  That heart will always occupy a special place in my classroom and in my heart.  You may be a a teacher, a student, a parent, or none of the afore mentioned.  I don't even know if you realized the effect that heart would have on me that day.  But I want you to know that some thing so simple meant so much to me on a day I needed it the most, and for that Dear Stranger, thank you.