Many of our kids have been deeply affected by the tragic passing of Erik Lemelbaum, a beloved lacrosse coach at the University School. I did not know Coach Lemelbaum, but I know many of his students and it is clear that he played a very important role in their lives. His death is, for many of them, the first significant tragedy that they have experienced. It is more than unsettling. Their whole world has been turned upside down.
It is at times like these that we need to be good listeners. We can’t tell our kids what to feel. They know too well what they are feeling. Many of them are experiencing a confusing mix of very intense emotions. Some of them are struggling with fear and uncertainty. Others are feeling the painful emptiness of the tornado described above by Sylvia Plath. Each of them is wrestling with something unique and upsetting. Our job needs to be to give them the safe space needed to process all of their feelings and anxieties. Hopefully, this processing will include talking about their loss – with us or other safe people. We can’t force them to talk. We can’t tell them we understand what they are feeling – because we each grieve differently. And we can’t rush the grieving process and fix this quickly. We must simply be present – as good listeners and, of course, as good huggers.
Many of the kids who are struggling with the Coach’s death are in middle and high school. They will undoubtedly have some powerful questions over the next few weeks – questions about death, their own mortality and why bad things happen to good people. I know that many of you will have the perfect answers. If you need any help answering these questions, I am always here to offer suggestions. You don’t have to do this alone.
For those of you who are watching your kids (or your students) grieve, don’t overlook the fact that you are most likely grieving too. Yes, the Coach inspired your kids, but, from what I hear, he had a tremendous impact on many of your lives. Give yourself time to mourn his passing – it will help you guide your kids through the grieving process. And if you need someone to talk to, just holler.
In closing, I want to share with you the words of Carol Blackman who, in her poem, Hope, reminds us that we are not alone in our hurt. She also reminds us that, while we might not hear it now, somewhere out there is the small, quiet whisper of hope. Listen for it. In time, you will hear it.
There are times when each of us is sick with the world
And life weighs upon us like a heavy boulder
We cannot imagine any good or happy thought
We sink further and deeper into the pit of our despairs.
There are times when each of us feels sorely hurt
The very thing we love the most has been taken away
We feel empty, we feel alone, we are afraid.
There are moments all human beings share
When their hearts sink and their minds entertain the worst
Fear assails us all, we tremble and shake at problems facing us.
At these times a little voice from within us rouses us
Often waiting until we reach the very brink of despair
At first nothing more than a whisper,
It tells us that we can indeed prevail.
This little voice abiding in each of us is – hope.
It is not logical or even reasonable.
It is our heart telling our head that we cannot surrender
For to give in to the trials of life is to let them win over us.
From a whisper hope grows slowly
First in a moderate tone and finally to a roar
It supersedes fear, sorrow, and even despair.
It gives us the courage to try again.
Hope abides in each of us giving us the energy to survive. It gives us the strength to turn to God and offer praise.
I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom – one where you can gather together with family and friends and take care of each other.