By Shawn R. Jones
Eighth grade was emotionally difficult. I thought surgery was going to be the most challenging problem my daughter would face that school year. At the time, I could not imagine anything more traumatic.The alarming possibilities of what could happen before and after surgery frightened me whenever I thought about them, but they were not debilitating or long lasting thoughts. I was grateful that I had matured spiritually since her last surgery, but I was still fumbling with my faith from time to time. Well, you know there is always something else, and I was not quite prepared for a new challenge…
I am not sure if it was fall, spring, or a mild winter day. I just remember the sky was clear, and I was driving my daughter and her friend, Tanya, to middle school. My daughter and I were talking and laughing in the front seat. Tanya was quieter than usual in the back. She never talked that much around me anyway, but with this quiet came an eeriness. The air was unsettled by news my daughter and I were not yet aware of.
When we pulled up to the side of the school, Tanya asked, “Didn’t you hear about Maria?”
“No…” my daughter and I answered in unison.
“She killed herself over the weekend. She hung herself.”
“What?” I gasped as Tanya gave the rumored details.
“You mean, when I walk into homeroom she’s not going to be there?” My daughter asked.
I asked my daughter if she wanted to stay home from school that day. She decided to go, knowing she could call me anytime to pick her. I think she needed to be with her friends. I watched her lug her book bag to the side doors of the school. Her steps seemed heavier and devoid of innocence.
I don’t think my daughter believed Maria was gone until she saw her empty seat in homeroom and later another empty chair in science lab. I cannot imagine how she felt that day, walking in those classrooms, facing such a cruel truth at such a fragile age.
We try to prepare our children for life, but there are some things that never come to a parent’s mind, like the premature death of one of their friends. Sure we think of death, and we talk to them about death, but at that age we are more likely to be consoling them over the death of a pet or ailing grandparent. It was a difficult time for my daughter and her friends. However, it was more difficult than I imagined it would be. My daughter could not sleep at night. She had recurring nightmares of Maria hanging only to wake up to the same reality. Every time she went to homeroom or science lab, she would be reminded. And then there was the most difficult question I would have to try my best to answer, “Why did God let this happen?” I wondered if my daughter’s perception of God would be forever changed. I didn’t have an answer because, I too, was questioning God–questioning Him more often than I could have ever admitted to anyone during that time.