2. Deaths are frequent, of children and adults, in the area where I serve.
3. Kids need to know it's okay to hurt like crazy, and to have questions about death.
4. I knew my hurt at Mari's loss wouldn't begin to heal until I did something about it.
5. Our world seems to minimize an event that is anything but small.
6. Writing is what I do to express strong emotions.
I'm so thankful to all those folks who chose to take a glimpse into how my bunny friends, Bobby and Bonnie, learned to adjust to the death of a friend. To tell you the truth, "Bobby and Bonnie's Lost and Found Friend" is my favorite story in my book, Life with Bobby and Bonnie. That story is what catapulted a collection of children's stories into our children's outreach ministry.
Writing about Mari's death was the hardest and easiest piece I've ever written. Tom and I were on the way to see Rachael, a couple hours drive time away. I knew the story wouldn't wait any longer. As tears poured down my face and my heart broke open again, her story nearly wrote itself. Tom drove, passed tissues, and prayed. The first draft was finished before we reached Rachael's.
Three years later, I still tear up thinking about the sweet, troubled child who loved to sit as close as she could to Mrs. Walters at the teaching table. Mari liked to sit on my right side so she could play with the bracelets I wore. From a frightened, angry little girl, Mari became one of my favorite and most affectionate students.
The life of horrible things I'd only read about was the life Mari went "home" to everyday. Every absence, every stray mark I saw on her were a cause for alarm. What kind of person violates a child, and what kind of person allows it to happen? Sorrow upon sorrow.
Then two years ago, two of my boys found one of their support teachers unconscious in his room. Coming back to our classroom, my dear Khadafe, nearly as tall as me, crumpled into my arms as he shook with sobs. Teachers were told after school that the much-loved teacher had died. All I could think of was my boys.
The two boys didn't come back to class for a few days, but in the meantime, the rest of the school had learned what happened. What could I say to my fragile third graders?
Being in a diverse school, I didn't want to undermine or offend how families had addressed the death. So, I read a story. I read "Bobby and Bonnie's Lost and Found Friend" to my students, and we cried together.
Thank you for letting me spill some of my grief all over the page. I pray mine and Mari's stories give you a reason to hope, hope in how loved ones live on in us. And if I may be so bold, would you pray for children like Mari, who long to be loved, and like Khadafe, who struggle to understand the loss of someone dear?