"Margaret died last night" were the first words I read on my email a little before 5am last Wednesday -- a note typed out by her father who, in the midst of his pain, wanted to be sure we knew that his daughter would not be in to teach her Kindergarten class that morning...or ever again. As a father, the pain behind that email was palpable. Tears flowed as I imagined having to tell her precious Kindergarten students who loved her so much. After breaking the news to my wife, who almost physically buckled upon being told, we began making the phone calls -- first shock, then wailing, then, "oh no, the children." When we got to the school, our staff was gathered in the hall -- eyes red, dead silence. God, I am not prepared for this.
God blessed us with a counselor who rushed to the school to give guidance on how to address the staff and, more importantly, on how to tell the students and their parents. "She died, they need to hear you say that" "Don't say she died in her sleep or had been sick as we don't want the kids to be afraid of dying or getting sick." "They knew she had seizures, use that." "Do tell them it is ok to cry and ok not to cry -- and it is ok for you to cry" (as if I could have held back the tears). "Tell them about Ms. Wright's faith and the assurance we have that she is in heaven with Jesus whom she loved so dearly." "Pray for her family, her brothers, and her parents -- all of whom thankfully know Jesus." "Take questions."
"Ms. Wright died last night," I said as clearly as I could, sitting in one of those tiny Kindergarten chairs with the Kindergarten and First grade sitting on the floor in front of me. My tears welling up, my voice cracking. I don't really remember much beyond their scrunched up wet faces as I followed my script. The room was filled with parents and other staff modeling that it was ok to cry. At the end, I opened my arms and my shirt got soaked with tears and my neck bent from the grip of grieving five-year-old hugs. For the next two hours, I went room to room, "Ms. Wright died last night." Prayers, tears, hugs. God, I am not prepared for this.
Ms. Wright was loved throughout the school. She had shared her personal testimony in our High School women's ministry and had bonded closely with so many. She had invited two of our young ladies to her home to spend the night and to share a Chinese meal with her family -- the food of her heritage. She was a big part of our staff's social life, as they all liked to get together after work for sand volleyball, food, ice cream socials, and complaining about their principal (I assume). Cornerstone is a family in the truest sense of that word.
God showed up yesterday, in Margaret's absence. No, I was not prepared for this, but God was! Thank you, Jesus, for showing up for our amazing staff yesterday and please take care of our Kindergarten teacher, Margaret, until we get there.