MLK Got Shot?! (and Other Epiphanies)

It was a rarely calm late Friday morning and unseasonably cloudy in my classroom. Usually sunshine pours through the half-wall of windows, but on that day it was quite dark. My students were working on a biography project that they were really enjoying (still not used to students enjoying anything about school). Sitting together and actually working quietly, one of the four eighth grade boys looked up in shock.

"Martin Luther King got shot?"

I had to pause and compose myself but my initial reaction was to burst out laughing. He said it so candidly like someone just posted it on Facebook and it had just happened. In his world, it was breaking news.

After thinking for a moment, I said, "Yes he was shot."

He looked horrified. "Why, what happened? Did they get the guy? That's so bad."

And so the rest of the boys chimed in on their projects.

"Adolf Hitler killed himself."

"I think Christopher Columbus just died like normal."

"My uncle died last year."

Before I had a chance to steer their conversation back to note-taking for their projects, the mood had changed with "my uncle died last year." The boys all looked at each other and started sharing their family death stories in quiet somber tones, saying their were sorry for each other's loss.
"It was really sad"
"I was there when he died"
I let it go as it seemed as though they were having a group therapy session. Very rarely serious, I'm glad I let them keep talking, as my shocked MLK JR. news alert student ended the conversation with,
"Sometimes I forget she's gone."

I felt a stirring in my stomach and blurted out, "Me too."
The boys looked at me curiously but eventually nodded in agreement and went back to work.

It was an absolutely amazing day in my teacher world.

I try really hard to remember my Grams. I wear her scarves, carry her bags, make sure I put on her ring before I leave in the morning. It always leads me to strange thoughts, like, "I should call her," and then realizing she's gone.

Through the turning of fall and on a particularly chilly morning, I rifled through my closet and stumbled upon one of her scarfs. I threw it on, whirling it around my neck like a swirly top of an ice cream cone and instantly felt just as fabulous as she looked. But inhaling twice, it shook me how much it still smelled like her. Before my eyes could fill up and before my bottom lip had a chance to even think about quivering, I immediately sprayed perfume on my neck to mask the smell. Pushed it back. Didn't have time. And instead of sitting with the sadness that one day I'll reach a moment where nothing else smells like her, I shook it off because I was scared of what it would do to me.

But it also prevented me from getting past the point of sadness and to the point of remembering.

Like the way she would always dress for an occasion with fancy outfits my grandfather carefully picked out for her and always looked so regal, even shopping for Womens World at Meijer.

Or that white cow creamer she would put out for cereal in the morning and how the milk would spill out of the cow's mouth and into my Raisin Bran like a cleverly sketched out cartoon. The rooster basket of biscuits at Thanksgiving that burst with bread when you lifted up either wing.

How there was always Pepsi and M&Ms coming out of the fridge at any moment.

The cautionary tales of getting worms if you eat cookie dough and getting sick if you stare into the microwave too long.

The way she would put her tongue in the side of her cheek if something was too hard to talk about, or if she was thinking in real deep about something.

How she swore that her pulse killed watches, even saving dead wrist clocks as a souvenirs.

Her need to do my laundry all the time when I was in college and always making sure I had quarters or nice linens.

I don't know where this notion of "ouch that hurts now you're fine forget about it be tough" comes from, but when applied to missing someone, it only makes it worse.

This pain, like any pain, can be forgotten, but it never gets better unless you sit with it for a while with faith that it will turn. If you don't, it'll come back with more, to remind you to deal with it, like a really mean snooze bar bossing you around and waking you up.

Because here's what: cry. It's fine. It's okay. It's actually pretty normal when you lose a Grams or a mom or a dad or a dog or a bird or a knee or someone you loved so much that the word "love" sounds way too small to how your heart feels. Dig in and be sad because that's the only way you get to the silly memories that make you smile and remember.

Maybe it's okay to forget that she's gone because that means I don't have to forget and she can stay with me a while longer.

It gets better when you're on that side. If you can make it through the hard part, your memories are the comfort that you need. Hang in there for that hug.