York Community High School
Connections, Loss, and Silver Linings
I lost a student this summer. I have to admit, I’m still struggling with it. It gets packed away most of the time but it isn’t REALLY packed away. It’s there, lurking. I’m distracted, scattered, and kind of a mess sometimes. Even so, I’m doing my job – pretty well even. I’m still enjoying my family and have been able to fit in some fun events with them and some friends. I’m ALMOST keeping up with everything regarding IACAC. But in the quiet, the feelings are right there.
This student was pretty special. I’ve known them for two years as they were an active member of the club I co-sponsor, our school’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance. They came out to their parents as transgender this past year and the parents came together and supported their child. This student was known as Lillian to their closest confidants. They were elected Vice President of our club and had natural leadership ability. Kids were drawn to their charismatic and hilarious persona. Their brother was killed too. He graduated from our school and was planning to return to a college here in Illinois for his sophomore year this fall. Their deaths were tragic and traumatic. I have a few students who are working through panic attacks and can’t eat together at lunch anymore because they can only think of Lillian and all the laughs they shared. It’s too hard.
To add to that mess, my mother is battling cancer and a good friend is too. It’s just not been the best summer. That said, it could definitely be worse. So, when it feels too hard, I try to find the silver linings.
There have honestly been so many silver linings through all of these trials. When my student and their brother were killed, I reached out to my friend and IACAC colleague to make sure that mailings and bills wouldn’t be sent home to their dad, the only member of their family that remains. This friend also made sure the news was delivered through appropriate channels on campus. I’m told the brother was well-liked and one of only two freshman computer science students to earn a research assistantship with a notoriously demanding professor. What a silver lining to be able to contact someone I knew and feel their comfort through our communications.
When a large group of friends and close family gathered for the memorial service for Lillian and their brother, it was devastating but it was also an amazing time of bonding and support. All the students, current and former, supported each other, shared memories, and wanted to stay there together. They have each other. We all have each other. The Dad gave the kids time to share anything they wanted to share or say and they were so eloquent. But the young woman who blew me away was a graduate and former member of our club. This poised young woman, looking healthy and strong, used to rock back-and-forth in her seat and wore a stocking cap for comfort through most of high school. And there she was, after finishing her first year of college, speaking of how thankful she was to Lillian for bringing joy into her life. We were all thankful.
The timing of my mother’s diagnosis meant I could spend a bit of time with her this summer. I was able to buy her a new lounge chair so she could rest comfortably between treatments. How lucky am I to have the resources to do that? And she’s doing really well. She’s tough.
And my friend? She’s out-of-state now but I keep up as best I can and really loved when she shared a picture of herself smiling widely with newly buzzed hair! She is looking SASSY! What a joy to be able to keep in touch with someone who is far away and be able to send my well-wishes and hugs virtually.
Life is so full and can be so demanding and difficult and hard. But life is also full of connections to others – it’s what makes life such a roller coaster and so worthwhile. So, I’m committing to find a way to appreciate those connections every day, in some small way. It’s my way of honoring Lillian and holding up those who are battling illness and sadness. If these people weren’t in my life, I wouldn’t experience the sadness and struggle but I also wouldn’t have such a full life.
May the year ahead be good to you and even if it isn’t all good, I hope you find the silver linings. Here’s to full lives and staying connected!