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"Therefore we must call no man
happy while he waits to see his last day, not until he has
passed the border of life and death without suffering pain."
~Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
The most significant event of my life beyond childhood,
marriage, career, and education rivaling only the births of
my two children Maya and Cassie, is the death of our
youngest daughter Cassie at age fourteen, six years ago on
May 17, 1998. The excruciatingly difficult challenge of
adapting to this loss has fundamentally changed me in ways
that could never have been anticipated. Perhaps needless to
say, the learning curve has been sharp as I worked to build new
meaning in my life without my daughter. The knowledge
structure that I shared with my child Cassie simply does not
exist as shared knowledge except in memory and
imagination. Psychologists indicate that one must adapt and
integrate traumatic and tragic experiences into one's self
and life. That effort has been the challenge of my life thus
My worldview now includes a mental model of the terrible
fact that children do die unexpectedly. I've come to
understand that parents can
integrate the death of a child into the torn fabric of life
and still survive. I strive to share this vision with other
bereaved parents. My work as a teacher of teenagers,
however, is an
order of magnitude more complex psychologically as a result of the loss of
my daughter. After thirty years of classroom teaching and
great personal loss, I struggle as a teacher. I am not so
much burned out as worn down. I understand though, despite great pain,
that I can
continue to teach and learn as well as to serve and care.
The personal mastery that I must muster to carry on requires
Debbie, my wife and true friend for
thirty-five years, and I
serve on the steering committee and as newsletter editors of
a local chapter of
Compassionate Friends, a self-help support organization
for bereaved families. We attend national conferences yearly
and had the opportunity in 2002 to present a workshop on the
bereaved couple. When we met as teenagers years ago, we
could never have projected such lives for ourselves. As
teachers, we knew immediately following Cassie's death that
our bereavement was cause for new learning, new teaching and
service to others. Despite our sadness and pain, we work as
wounded leaders to support, teach, and encourage others.
"If, as the result of
some interior revolution, I were to lose in succession my
Pierre Teilhard de
Christianity and Evolution
(New York: Harcourt
Brace Jovanovich, 1971), p. 99.
This web site is dedicated to my daughters, Maya and
Cassie, who taught me patience and love and just how
remarkable a person can be. Thanks, girls!
Too many people tell me that they
don't know how I survive. They remark that they couldn't
survive, if such a terrible tragedy happened to them. I
find some of the responses to my parental bereavement
disconcerting as if I shouldn't be surviving. Perhaps
others imagine my capacity to survive tragedy means I
did not love my daughter as much as another parent who
might want to die, if their child died. I want to live
and I reflect on death. But, I often wonder...
there left to enjoy in life?
Here's my short list:
"Teaching should be such that what is offered is
perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty."