April 11th, 2007

I See You!

Personal: A Darkened Easter

I spent the bulk of the Easter break with Jen, which in itself was largely a good and quiet stretch of time together. Good Friday we went out to the Trocadero for a second time for their quite outstanding fish fry, this time joined by her friends Ricky, Doug and Michael, all of whom I'd met earlier, other than Michael who'd been sick the night I met her friends for the first time. Sometime in those days I also stepped on her toes, figuratively speaking, hard, for the first time, and we managed to weather our first really hard moment. As always, honest and open talk was key, and that kind of experience was strengthening, as it is when you make it through. On Sunday, I met her sister Cynthia for the first time, and we spent an afternoon of easy talk that centered around her two boys, with the elder, the three year-old Lucas, being particularly taken with his Aunt Jen.

The weekend was bright with hope in keeping tabs on my sister, waiting to see when my new niece, Sophia Eileen, would be born. We were hoping Leslie would manage to hold out until Tuesday, which would have been our late Grandmother Eileen's 99th birthday, just for the fun symmetry of it all, but not only did she manage to hold out – she's still holding. I urged my brother-in-law tonight to take her over to the hospital for a quick c-section in order to make it in under the deadline, but he's much more sensible than I am. The weekend was also dark with the news that one of my former high school students, John, whose older brother and sister I had also taught, and whose family is to my mind one of true treasures of the South Bend area, had taken his own life. The daughter of the family is married to one of my good friends from my time at St. Joe, and the horror of what had happened was one I could feel reverberating through so many people I know. Jen had seen her own share of this sort of tragedy in earlier years, particularly during her work with teens with substance abuse issues, and was incredibly generous and compassionate as I took all this in. There was no question for her that she would accompany me to South Bend, and we drove down Monday for the visitation and prayer service.

I have never seen such a packed church, with a line that wound around and around so throughout the building that it was impossible for me to figure out where it began. It was in itself the testimony to the waste of what had happened, and the horrible mistake John had made in whatever had been going through his head. We sat with the DePauw family, another one of the hearts of my years teaching at St. Joe, whose daughter Beth had decided to befriend me when I was her teacher (and who is now finishing her Masters in Higher Education, to my astonishment, since it seems like yesterday that I remember her getting her driver's license and with her friend Leslie hauling me out after school for ice cream to celebrate my birthday). Her older brother Phil had taught at St. Joe with me, and her parents, psychologist and doctor, had welcomed me into their home a number of times. It was good to have that kind of old, "rooted" context and companionship as we entered into the prayer service lead by Fr. Dan Scheit. I spoke briefly or nodded to a number of old colleagues and students, and finally had to try to express my sorrow to John's parents and siblings. For hours they had greeted everyone and I cannot imagine the weariness they felt in the tug-of-war of enduring so much love while being so broken with grief. When I spoke to Miggie and introduced her to Jen, she still lit up with her normal enthusiasm at identifying her as a "Special Person" in my life, and she and P.J. were still somehow warm and enthusiastic in their desire for us to visit them in Chicago. I spoke with Rob briefly and heard his news, which I'm sure he'd had to share repeatedly, of his movement toward doctoral work, either in Medicine or Anatomy, and met Peter for the first time, who is actually a Philosophy undergraduate here at Marquette.

The weariness of the grief they felt must have been immense. Jen and I were both remarking how much even we were exhausted when we spoke on the phone tonight, having spent the day at our various tasks. My sutures were removed today, and my plastic surgeon was pleased to announce that the progress of the healing was even better than anticipated, and that I'd likely walk away with hardly a mark, which was nice to hear. After that, I've been laying low and just trying to focus on schoolwork and getting back into the rhythm of the academy when my classes resume on Wednesday.

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