Monday Musings: When a Student Passes Away

Educators will agree that college doesn’t prepare you for all you will face once you enter the classroom. I did not realize how connected I would become to my students. I root for them when they are in my class, and I encourage them years later. I want the best for my students. I want to see them flourish, prosper, and grow. There is no preparation in college for how to cope when a student dies.

It does not matter how they die; it hurts all the same. Attending a memorial service or funeral with your students is hard. You don’t know if you should be the strong one or break down and cry. Once, I had to speak at a student’s memorial service. I hope to never have to do that again. Looking at parents one day with joy and then looking at them as you share memories of their child is heartwrenching.

Even if the student isn’t in your class anymore and is an adult living life, the pain comes the same. Yesterday, I saw RIP Asiha, and I wish it wasn’t true. Then, I learned she passed away unexpectedly in a car accident. As I scrolled on the social media, I saw my former students expressing their grief. What do you say? What do you do? I’ve experienced students passing away before, and I still don’t have the answer.

Asiha made me believe I might actually be a good teacher. I met her early in my career. She was sweet and upbeat. Asiha always helped and encouraged other students which made her a joy to have in class. When I was the yearbook sponsor, she was in the yearbook club as one of the journalists. She had big goals and dreams for herself. Over the years, we stayed in contact. In one email, she said:

Hi Mrs. Barnes,

Just writing you to let you know how school’s going. I have 4 Bs & you would be happy to know that one of the Bs is in English. I’m going to be in honors English next year. Write me back when you can because I know you’re busy.

Asiha

I was overjoyed when she told me she was going to be in honors English. I kept telling her she could do it, and I worked with her. I was a younger teacher then. I hoped I was doing a good job. Her email let me know that I did alright. Really, it was her. It was her drive for success that helped her accomplish her goals.

She eventually when on to attend Ball State University majoring in health education and promotion. She made the Dean’s List, and she was President of the Beta Phi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc at Ball State. Her goal was to improve the health and nutrition of people of color. She graduated from Ball State earlier this year and was ready to keep pursuing her dreams to keep helping others.

I have watched Asiha’s beautiful journey, and it is painful to know that it has concluded. I’m just glad I had the privilege to know her.

To my former students who may read this, Mrs. Barnes doesn’t know exactly what to say, but I know that it is okay to cry or not to cry, to be sad, to be numb, to angry, to be however it is you feel. Your feelings and your pain is valid, and it is okay to express your sadness.

We must lean on each other during this time and keep her memory alive in our hearts.

Sweet Asiha, Mrs. Barnes will forever miss you!

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