Victor A. Montemurro   
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Baby Cassie

 

 

 

 

Maya, big sister,
bereaved
sibling,
teacher,
actor,
wonderful
daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

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Personal Folio

"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 far.

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 great effort.

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 The 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 faith..."
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 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...

What is there left to enjoy in life?
Here's my short list:

bulletFamily
bulletReading
bulletTechnology
bulletTheater
bulletTraveling
bulletHumor
bulletMusic
bulletMemory

 

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"Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty."
   --Albert Einstein

 

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