Friday, January 18, 2013

A mom's legacy

Last week, I found out that one of the moms of two of my former students had passed away after a tough battle with cancer.  She was 41.  A mom of three.  An amazing mom whom I had the pleasure of getting to know during the two years I had her oldest daughter and only son.  The youngest daughter is just 5 years old.  My heart broke when I heard the news that she was facing malignant melanoma back in the fall of 2012, and she and her family have been in my prayers during our transition to Texas.  When another mom passed along the webpage her family used to inform family and friends, I spent a few hours reading over the posts  from the months since we'd moved, and sobbing.  At the point when I received the webpage link, the doctors were focusing on her quality of life, and suspending treatment.  I went into prayer overdrive for her, and of course her sweet children and husband.  When news came that she had passed away, although it was the anticipated outcome, it broke my heart into pieces.  I stood in my kitchen, staring out the window, every so often glancing down at the words written on the screen to see if maybe I had imagined it.  But every time I looked, the words 'passed away this evening' hit me like a ton of bricks.

I know that I didn't know her like so many of her friends and neighbors, and of course her family, but it doesn't mean her impact hasn't trickled all the way down to two of her children's former teacher.  When I met Kris, she had a giant smile and kind words about how excited her daughter was to be in my class.  Right away she told me she was happy to volunteer, and I quickly found out just how fortunate I was to have her volunteer in my classroom.

Kris had a calming presence, an encouraging heart, and a dedicated spirit.  I enjoyed the hour or two that I'd get to have her in class each week, whether it was grading papers at my desk, reading with the students, or helping with math activities.  Sometimes, the kids would be in the midst of a test and so she and I would sit at my desk and we'd grade and file together while the students worked.  We'd always end up chatting away, and in those whispered conversations (ok, every now and then we'd be a little louder and the kids would start glancing back at us, as if to say, "um...keep it down, wouldya?"), Kris would give me such inspiration as a mom.  It was a few years back, and Brynn had just come onto the scene, so advice on how to integrate another person into the family was appreciated, especially when it came from someone like Kris--a genuine and kind-hearted soul who dedicated her entire soul into being a mom.  Her energy was spirited, and her positive vibes were prevalent whenever you'd spend time with her.  She will be terribly, terribly missed in the community in which she lived, and I can't even imagine how great a loss is felt in the hearts of her loved ones--most especially her children.

In the past days I've spent praying for Kris and her family, my heart continually settles back to her kids.  Probably because they're the ones who gave me the great fortune of meeting her and having her occupy a piece of my heart.  I have taught and worked with so many children over the decade I spent as a teacher, and the lifetime I've spent preparing to be in a classroom.  I tell my students every year that it doesn't matter how old they get, they'll always be 'my kids'.  It's been 3 years since I had Kris's oldest daughter in class, and although I know she's matured and grown, in my eyes, she's the wide-eyed 3rd grader who was so enthusiastic and willing to try, even if she wasn't entirely sure of her herself.  Kris's son was the same in the following year.  Both had such a strong sense of self, and put forth great effort in class, regardless of their comfort level with their understanding.  Their confidence wasn't overdone, however, and it took some fostering along the way (doesn't it take you a little bit of time to warm up to new teachers and classmates before you start raising your hand?).  But, man...when they put effort into anything, they dedicated themselves fully.  They're both two students who I will always remember...and not ever because of what happened to their mom.

All of this got me thinking about the word legacy.  I wrote in a card that I sent the kids that they are their mother's legacy and because of the amazing woman she was, it is an honor for them to be able to say that.  It is apparent that Kris (and her husband) have instilled a strong set of morals for their children, knowing it will carry them far in life.  If only every child was that blessed.

Kris has given me reason to be more inspired as a parent, more present in every moment of parenting (yes, even at 3:00 a.m. when I'm being kicked by tiny feet who are just struggling to find some peaceful sleep), and to consider the morals that I am both purposely and inadvertently enforcing in my kids' lives.  It sounds like common sense stuff--the voice we use to talk to our children becomes their inner voice.  And, technically, it is common sense stuff.  I'm aware of the responsibilities of parenting, and that my children will grow up to become the individuals that I've had a strong hand in sculpting along the way.  It's heavy stuff.  And I'm up for the job, up for always improving on my impact, on my legacy.  Kris's life serves as a reminder of the importance of the influence you make on the world, even after you've left it.

Rest peacefully, Kris.  I'm honored to have shared even a few precious hours of life with you.

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