Back to work today. It feels good to have a routine. I like my job--the students I teach, the curriculum I work with (which I get to pretty much design), my co-workers, etc.
Last Friday was a really tough day, though. On Thursday afternoon the principal got word that our head counselor, who had been out since last June on medical leave, had died that afternoon by suicide. Sad, sad, sad, sad, sad. He was only 31. He was married with a 3-year-old child and a baby on the way. He was wonderful with students, the master schedule, frustrated teachers, and he also coached JV basketball. It was the kind of death that makes you want to shake your fist at the heavens and...no, that wouldn't do any good. You have all these questions but no answers, at least not any satisfying ones.
His name was Scott Boxell. Scott collapsed at work in June. He was diagnosed with a thyroid problem, and treated for that, and it didn't do any good. Turns out the diagnosis was much more complicated than that. The medication actually made him worse. His adrenal glands were on the fritz, pumping adrenaline into his system 24-7 for months. He couldn't sleep, and suffered from emotional/mental problems related to the sleep deprivation. Who wouldn't? We heard he was getting a little better, but then had a relapse. And a gun. Damn.
You always worry when the principal comes on the P.A. system just after the last bell and says that the staff will have a "stand up meeting" in a few minutes. "Stand up meeting" meaning it's not going to be long and drawn out, but everyone needs to show up. Once in a while a stand up meeting is for outstanding happy news, but 90% of the time they are bad news, usually very bad news.
So we had a stand up meeting Thursday afternoon, and went home in a state of shock. Friday morning we show up and try to read the prepared statement to our students, but most of the teachers are struggling to get through it. Two neighboring school districts sent teams of counselors to the building for the entire day. The sheriff's department sent the victim's assistance team. A couple of dog handlers with trained therapy dogs came. People brought in comfort food for the staff. The entire library was turned into a "safe room" where students could go when it just got to be too hard to stay in class.
Deaths, especially sudden deaths, especially sudden deaths by suicide...especially by a popular young counselor...can trigger all kinds of reactions in students and staff. Old traumas are brought up, even for people who never even knew Scott. The safe room was swamped all day.
Then it was the end of the day, and all 2000+ of us went home to a goofy holiday weekend that somehow must have helped with healing, because we seem to be back into our routine in the building again. Not that we don't care about Scott. Not that we've forgotten him. But for so many adolescents today, school IS the safe place of routine. We try to maintain "normal" because sometimes that's the only normal kids have in their lives.
Scott's memorial service will be on Saturday. We'll have a number of students there; plenty of teachers will be going, too. And that's ok. Oregon City High School is bigger than a bunch of small towns in Oregon. A town of teenagers, with a few adults thrown in. Life happens a lot, and, unfortunately, the occasional funeral. Things generally work pretty well. I wish Scott could still be with us, helping us manage the ups and downs, figuring out the master schedule, orchestrating our routine in so many ways.