Just as parents aren't supposed to outlive their children, teachers are not supposed to outlive their students. It's unnatural.
I taught in Alaska for 3 wonderful years. High school. In addition to teaching, I coached the swim team and I cannot tell you how many wonderful people I had on that team. I was blessed beyond measure. Thankfully I was able to stay in touch with many of my students and swimmers even after we left Alaska (thank goodness for email, MySpace, and Facebook!).
Shortly after we left Alaska, one of my former swimmers, B, got back in touch with me about swimming. He was swimming in college and was having pain in one of his arms and wanted to know what part of his stroke might be causing the pain. We discussed a few possibilities and how to rectify those problems, talked about having him film his stroke and send it to me so I could take a look, and planned to get back in touch in a few weeks to see if things had improved. I never got his video. Shortly after we talked, the pain got worse and he went to his doctor as it was apparent that it wasn't his swimming that was causing the pain. After many tests, he was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma in his humerus. Sadly it had already metastized and in his brain. He fought hard but died shortly after being diagnosed.
It broke my heart to follow his progress on CaringBridge and to pray for him and then to watch him slip away. There is very little in life beyond things like this that leave you feeling more helpless.
During my time in Alaska, another of my students, S, was diagnosed with the same disease - Ewing's Sarcoma - but it was diagnosed at an earlier stage. She fared much better and, after surgery and chemo, seemed to have gained the upper hand on the disease. She graduated, went to college (she majored in radiation therapy, "The career was chosen early on because she knew she had the empathy and understanding of what cancer patients were experiencing during treatment."), and seemed to be doing great. I managed to hook up with her on Facebook about a year ago and was thrilled to see pictures of her traveling, hanging out with friends, living the good life. It left me with a smile every time I looked at them or talked to her.
However, a few months ago, the cancer came back. She gave up her arm to it this time. But she was a fighter and took on the disease in the same manner she had taken it on ten years ago - that same determination, that same energy, that same smile. Her color faded but she still glowed, especially as she walked down the aisle. There was no reason to doubt that she wouldn't be able to defeat it this time around as well.
Wrongly, I assumed things were going well and therefore didn't check in with her for a while. A few weeks back, it dawned on me that I hadn't heard from her in a while so I popped over to her FB page and cried when I read her friends telling her how much the loved her and missed her. It broke my heart, yet again. Teachers are not supposed to outlive their students.
It's just not natural.
Today, when I logged in to Facebook, on the right-hand side, there was a reminder to "reconnect" with S.
Oh, how I wish I could.
I miss you, S. We hear so much from students about how a particular teacher touched their life in one way or another. From my position, you blessed mine more than you know.