Lots of questions to address, this week, on death and bereavement. I want to begin this thread with a friends personal story (which is a response to one of the questions for this week’s post):
Many years ago, I was suddenly transferred to another school (elementary) to cover for a teacher who was diagnosed with colon cancer as she was missing quite a few days of work because she was in treatment. Long story cut short, she opted to continue teaching (yes, with me there which was awkward); she would go to chemo and then come to work. She was sick (many side effects with her treatment which was aggressive), she had trouble sitting, she had trouble staying awake during group teaching, she was short tempered with the kids (and me), and made it clear that this was her classroom, not mine and I was expected to work with the kids elsewhere (special ed program). I also felt like a 5th wheel in that this wasn’t my home school and I was only there to help (I think the principal was worried something would happen so wanted another teacher in the room). Wow – I was so torn. I knew she had end stage cancer; I knew she would probably not survive the school year but the principal wasn’t about to send her home so I was in this really strange situation. And, I felt incredibly guilty getting angry with her. Not being experienced with anything like this before, I had to do some serious soul searching with my own feelings since I was miserable. So…I gave her situation some thought and decided to ‘suck it up,’ and just come in, every day, cheery, takes my kids, go somewhere else and leave the minute I could. I didn’t even interact with her, not really. She only spoke to me if she had to. It was if I was her reminder of how sick she was (her family really wanted her home). Then, suddenly, I was sent back to my other school. This teacher died about 2 months later. So, then,I stepped in for another teacher (yes, same year but at my school) who had breast cancer and she had recently discovered that she was out of remission. But, in this situation, she wanted me to work with her kids, visit her (she took a leave), and keep her updated on teacher gossip. She also was upbeat, lots of family support, but, just a different person and handled her cancer differently. She eventually came back to work, the next year, hopeful. She made it half way through the school year before she had to stop and then shortly after, died.
Between the 2 situations, I was grateful, I had experienced the angry teacher, first, as she forced me to evaluate my own feelings and how to cope and respond. By the time I was stepping in for the other teacher, I had a much better handle on how I should approach the situation (letting her call the shots). Since then, I have had other colleagues with cancer and I approach each situation on an individual basis but have a much better understanding of my own feelings.
So…this week, I am asking you about your own feelings, not to pry, but allow for you to think about these kinds of situations, for yourself; and differentiate between family and work situations, specifically colleagues.
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