I knew that today was going to be tough. This morning one of my co-workers ran into me in the copy room, I had had her son. He's a Marine in Afghanistan. She talked to him this morning and told him that I had lost a student in Afghanistan. He told her that "Mrs. Mahlberg's heart must be breaking because she loves her students so much. Mom, you need to make sure she's alright". He told her to give me a hug from him. That made me cry this morning before school even started.
I have never experienced a military processional and I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I would most likely cry. What I didn't expect was that when we were asked to explain to our first period classes what we were going to do as a school to show our respect, that I was going to start to cry in front of my class... but I did. In my years of teaching, I have had several students die and it never gets any easier.
During my plan period, my friend Lauren and I were working on the computers in the office. Another teacher came in and started complaining about how what we were doing was taking away from the test that she was giving during that period. Lauren and I both were giving tests today, and we both had Drew as a student. We both held our tempers to the best of our abilities as we tried to explain that it was not an "inconvenience" when this former student gave his life for our country. She continued to complain, and both of our tempers continued to rise and a few choice words slipped out before Lauren and I walked out of the office to get away from it. I don't understand how someone could be that detached to not understand the purpose of honoring someone's sacrifice, when most of my students got it.
When the announcement was made to proceed outside, I found Lauren. We both held our flags and tried to make small talk as we waited for the processional. There were 6 helicopters flying around the school. We could see other adults lined up on the main road waiting to pay their respects. Then we saw the flashing lights of the motorcycles. I gave a little gasp as I saw all of the motorcycles. Later a student told me she counted 63 of them. My eyes teared up, and the student population fell silent- you could have heard a pin drop. Then I saw the hearse and I started to cry. Next to me I could hear Lauren crying too. We both tried to keep it quiet. A student standing next to me put her arm around me- I don't even know her name. They circled the school, and when they came to our side all the students held their American flags up, and I continued to cry.
After the procession left, everyone stood there for several minutes in silence just letting it soak in as the sound of the helicopters faded away. Lauren and I put our arms around each other and joined the population walking back into the school. We commented to each other about how difficult that was and how we never want to do that again. We also mentioned how good the students were and how respectful they were.
Tomorrow will be just as tough. Tomorrow is the wake. Tomorrow Lauren, myself, Mary Ellen and Bernadette will see Andrew's family and tell them how sorry we are for their loss, but that won't stop the hurt.
Andrew died a hero. He gave his life for others. Here is another link about him.