Remembering Jake

Saturday, September 28, 2013

When people ask me what I do, and I tell them I am a high school English teacher, they often tell me that they could never do it... the working with teenagers part. Teenagers, as a whole, get such a bad reputation. And after a week like this one, I just know that the perception of teenagers is completely wrong. 

On Wednesday night, I received a phone call from my coworker. She could barely speak, and finally uttered that one of our students had died. To say I was stunned is an understatement. I went into complete shock. And, while I trust her with my life, I truly didn't believe it until a few hours later when a phone message came from our principal telling us that, in fact, Jake had passed. 

I knew Thursday was going to be a terrible day at school. Unfortunately, Jake is not the first student we've lost during the school year, so I braced myself for the reaction. Nothing can prepare you for walking in the day after a student death. The hallways are silent. The kids walk together, but no one speaks. They stare straight ahead, and they cry, and they hold hands, and they hug one another. And although this is not the first time our school has faced tragedy, going through it once or twice or ten times doesn't make it any easier. The loss of a young life is always tragic, but when the student dies during a school activity, it somehow pulls a little differently at your heart strings. 

Jake was a junior at our school, and I teach predominantly junior classes. Even if I didn't teach juniors, I don't think it would have mattered. Jake is one of those kids who knew everybody. And, if you've caught any of the news articles or reports about him, it's true -- he was truly the nicest, most wonderful kid everyone says he was. 

Thursday and Friday were tough, to say the least. Those who knew him are in different states of grieving. Those who didn't know him hurt for different reasons... because they see their friends hurting, or, maybe because this was a realization that life is fragile, and death can impact anyone. 

Over the past few days, I've had a lot of different opportunities to see our students in a new light. I've watched them help each other down the hallway. I've seen a pat on the back turn into an all our bear hug. I've seen tissues passed. I've heard some of the most eloquent, encouraging words I've ever heard before. And this all reminds me that teenagers are AWESOME. 

It's not even just our kids. The neighboring high school, often one of our biggest rivals, made a huge banner, signed it, and brought it to our school. Then, last night, they each wore an orange sock at their homecoming game. Other schools have had moments of silence or put Jake's football number on their helmets at their own games. They're all with us. They're all Slicers right now. They all feel this loss. 

More than that, I've seen so much love going toward Jake's family. The kids are clamoring to help. The community that has gathered to support them is unreal. I pray it's offering them some comfort through this terribly tragic time. 

My favorite thing that has come out of the teenagers are their observations. One of them told me, "You know what's kind of cool? Jake died of an enlarged heart. If he had to die, doesn't that seem fitting? That his heart was too big?" 

And people say teenagers aren't perceptive. I am honored to know these kids. 

Rest in peace, dear Jake. You will live in our hearts forever. 


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