Last week, I finished and hand delivered a letter to the office of the superintendent of our school district. My letter described, in detail, the radically unhelpful response and support of C.T.'s school, in the months following Zachary's death. The refusal to acknowledge Zachary's death with a simple notification letter to classroom families. The robotic, sterile responses of everyone we dealt with, as we asked for the most basic support for C.T., in the loss of his beloved brother. The "waiting for C.T. to show or tell us" he needed support through some unlikely behavioral issue or a decline in his academics. The bouncing us around from teacher to social worker to principal, with no regard or empathy for our lack of emotional stamina, for our inability to formulate anything beyond a primal cry for help. The complete non-validation of C.T.'s loss and his grief.
When Zachary was born, C.T. was asked to share his good news in front of his classmates. But when he died, it was like C.T.'s brother had been mere mirage. No one asked. Beyond his teacher's attendance at the funeral and a couple of classmates who, according to C.T., showed interest in Zachary or who he felt comfortable sharing with, no one at school mentioned Zachary again. No one asked C.T. how he was doing, how he was feeling. And because the school refused to notify classroom families about our loss, even those who might have talked with their child about Zachary's death and C.T.'s loss, who might have encouraged their student to show sympathy and support, who might have demonstrated it for their child, were left unaware..., or paralyzed with inaction because of the hushed secrecy surrounding the something (?) that happened to the S family.
Zachary is here safely. How wonderful! Tell us all about him.
Zachary is dead. You say you watched him die. Shhh. Please keep that to yourself.
It hurt to be treated this way by his school, a place we assumed would envelope C.T. and us in compassion and support. With no fight in me at the time, not a lick of energy that I could feasibly devote to it, I gave up on asking the school for anything on behalf of C.T. on March 1, not even two months after Zachary died.
In my letter to the superintendent, I noted the positive aspects of C.T. returning to school after Zachary's death. The consistent schedule, the lessons, the familiar faces. Some normalcy, in what was an otherwise horrifically traumatic time. Yet, I struggled to balance my disgust and cynicism about the "community building" that is supposedly foundational to the values of the district - which completely failed us when we needed it - with some level of professionalism. I offered up examples of what would have been helpful and supportive in the aftermath of Zachary's death, and expressed my desire that no other bereaved students/families experience this kind of treatment, ever again, when an immediate family member dies.
Surprisingly, the superintendent, who we don't know at all, reached out to me by email, not even six hours after I dropped the letter. His response was compassionate and full of regret about our experience with the school. Fifteen years ago, his own son died.
The new school year begins this week, on the 20th, exactly seven months after Zachary's death. I am going to feign optimism about the school, its leaders, teachers and professionals, for C.T.'s sake. I will label each and every crayon and marker with his name, because unbelievably, THAT has been deemed important. I will talk to C.T.'s teacher about Zachary's death just seven months ago, about the fact that C.T. has two deceased siblings. I will share our story so that when he does his All About Me poster this year, his teacher can minimally be prepared for the questions that may arise when he talks about his family, about his two dead brothers.
And, we will walk to and from school, everyday, without Zachary.