Teaching Through Tragedy

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How do we cope with a bereavement?

The 22nd of December 2017 is a day that will haunt me forever. It is the day my world became a lot less bright when my mum passed away.

In this blog I will discuss how I dealt with teaching while dealing with the loss of my mother. I will document the circumstances leading up to that fated day, and what has happened since, with the hope that it may help somebody else facing loss.

The Build Up

I still remember the day my mum told me she had cancer.

I had just got home from school and she’d left me a voice message to call her. I could instantly tell that something was wrong from the tone of her voice. It was lung cancer, something one would expect for a woman who had been smoking since she was 15.

I took the next day off work sick to go home and check on her. Over the coming months there was much cause for optimism: numerous treatment options were on the table. It was going to be a tough time, but we would get through it together.

The End

Fast forward a year or so, the treatments hadn’t worked. The radiotherapy had obliterated my mum and she was now too weak to attempt another gruelling round of chemotherapy.

I remember saying to a colleague in October that I would be surprised if my mum made it to Christmas. However the closer it got, the more I let my hopes get the best of me.

She had been in and out of hospital for months but she was strong and resilient. She wanted to get to Christmas and see the joy on her grandchildren’s faces as they opened their presents. They meant the world to her, in fact the only time I saw her smile in the last few months was when they came to visit.

Then it came, I was getting ready to go to an Ultimate Frisbee training session and the phone rang. I picked it up. We rushed to hospital. She passed away at 01.53 hours.

The Beginning

Christmas day was a somber affair, but we tried to keep up appearances for the kids.

The funeral came and went, I took a few days off of work to try to get my head on straight. Then I got back to work. The students knew something was different about me, but I chose not to tell them for the time being. They had many other things to focus on and their smiling faces were often the highlight of my week.

By being honest with the people around me, and feeding off of students’ positivity I slowly began to regain that enthusiasm and energy that is characteristic of my teaching. They really did save me in those months.

My year eleven rallied around each other building up to their exams and the sense of camaraderie secured their bonds. In turn, this gave me purpose and something to focus on. When I told them I was leaving they understood my reasons and their leaving messages brought me to tears.

Coping

I coped with this the best way I knew how. I rolled up my sleeves and threw myself into my work.

Around this time I decided to leave my school and move to one closer to home so that I can see my family more. The guilt of not being there enough to support them when they needed me most will certainly stay with me forever.

So I applied for a job and fortunately for me, I got it! When I got home from the interview I burst into tears: My mum was always the one who I gave good news to first. My school was incredibly supportive throughout this entire process and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to start my teaching career.

I truly believe it is a unique experience to every person. But there are some constants which I recommend to help coping

  • Spend time with loved ones and friends.
  • Keep yourself busy and active.
  • Allow yourself time to digest what’s happened.
  • Seek help if you need it.

There are numerous resources out there for how to cope with bereavement. Do get in touch if you want to share a similar story or are looking for support.

Hayden Reynolds

Hayden is in his second year of teaching and is a science teacher and Director of Houses at Sandringham School in St Albans. He has a keen interest in SEN education having spent time as a TA and is passionate about all things Science! He is also a regular Ultimate Frisbee player and have played at the European Club Championships.

2 thoughts on “Teaching Through Tragedy

  • 21st July 2018 at 10:14 am
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    Your post bought me to tears. My mum also had cancer but made it through. What you have suggested to do does help and work. I’m glad you h e found a new job and are content. The children make it worthwhile! Xx

    Reply
  • 24th July 2018 at 11:46 am
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    Thank you for posting this, and please do accept my condolences.

    My mum passed away in March 2018, also from cancer. I was in the middle of show week and it was the day after Ofsted – horrendous!

    I echo many of the sentiments you have written here, but would also ask colleagues to talk to your head and see if counselling can be organised. My head was really supportive and I needed that counselling when I realised I needed to tap into it!

    I also had stints of counselling from the NUT helpline – they’re also worth a call to any colleagues going through this.

    And finally, yes please throw yourself into your work if you are ready to, but if you need more time, always remember it’s there for you to take. Everyone is individual and although I returned after 5 days, I really wish I’d taken more time for myself to be with my family and to process what had happened.

    Reply

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