This is my 23rd year in education. To some, that may not be much of a milestone. However, the sheer number of students whom I’ve taught is enough to make my head spin! I’ve tried doing the math; I think it comes out to approximately 2500 students (give or take) over the course of those 23 years. I must be honest and say that I don’t remember every student. I’ll let you in on a secret: sometimes, when a former student sees me and says hello, it can go something like this:
“Hi, Mrs. G!” (usually said with enthusiasm and exuberance).
“Oh my gosh! How are you?” (usually said with that little voice in my head wondering who the student is).
“How are you? Do you remember me?” (usually said with anticipation and hope. The student will assume that I remember him or her because he or she was so incredibly brilliant, benevolent, beautiful . . .).
“Oh my goodness! Um, I’m trying! I’m sorry, dear, you’ll have to tell me your name” (I try and remember, really I do. I’ll ask what school and graduation year. I’ll even ask for a hint. Finally, I’ll just give up and give in. If I’m with my friends, they notice that I refer to some former students as “dear,” “honey,” “sweetie.” It’s not because I’m incredibly charming and I don’t mean to be condescending, but I just don’t remember).
But I do remember Shari.
Shari was in my English class during my second year of teaching. Shari was a freshman student with a brilliant mind, a benevolent heart and a beautiful smile.
Shari was killed in a tragic car accident with her husband, Bram, last month. They have two gorgeous children – a two year old son and a two-month old daughter.
I read the heartbreaking post on Facebook. I saw their story on the news. I cried. I cried so hard I couldn’t even introduce myself to her family at the wake. All I could say was, “I was Shari’s freshman English teacher. She was my senior mom. I am so sorry . . .”. That’s all that came out. I couldn’t make the words to explain how often I had thought of her over the years, how I kept track of her career and how I kept thinking that I needed to get in touch with her. I couldn’t say any of those things.
Shari and Bram’s dear friends are putting together a memory book for their children. I found a picture of Shari and I at her high school graduation. Big smiles and big dreams – for both of us. She was going to UW-Madison and I was becoming a professional educator. We were both on our way! I also found a letter Shari wrote to me, probably within the first couple of months of her freshman year at Madison. She had come back to the high school to say hello. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there at that particular time, so she wrote me a newsy letter, loaded with inside jokes and “Shari-isms.” In her letter, she referenced the “sweet” note I had written to her after graduation. She asked about our family’s hope for another child. She asked about our son, “tell him I say hi and that he can call me #14 forever!” (Shari played basketball). She gave me her phone number and email. She asked that we get together in March for dinner. She finished the letter by writing, “Promise to keep in touch! Love ya, Shari.”
And that was the last time I “talked” to Shari.
So, I scanned the picture of Shari and I and the letter she wrote to me nearly 15 years ago for the memory book. In my letter to her children, I explained how it’s important that they know their “high school Mom” and how incredibly awesome she was and how much I miss her.
I can’t pretend to know why these things happen. This isn’t one of those posts where I can say that I’m enlightened enough to understand. I don’t understand. I don’t understand at all.
I just know that one of my students, Shari Khaja, whom I remember so very well is gone.