One thing that I remember one of these friends sharing with me at the beginning of her loss journey was how hard it was to watch everyone else's lives moving on while her life had changed forever. She told me that every morning the sun comes up and starts a new day like nothing happened, and yet her life would never be the same life she had before. As I, too, go through an all-be-it much less-intense version of this journey, I am left to wonder why doesn't the sun understand? Why doesn't the sun see that D is gone and the world without him is just a little less bright?
Now, I know that these are just strong emotions that will dampen with time and that over the next few months I will learn to gain some perspective and place these emotions in a healthy place, for now I need to channel these raw emotions into something positive. So I have decided that to honor D's memory, I will do two things.
First, being a teacher, I really want to make sure that education is a legacy that D's loss leaves behind. Another family friend and I have set up a scholarship in his name that will go to students like D that are faced with challenges and continue to persevere. D spent his whole life climbing over obstacles in education and sports, and we want to honor students just like D as they move on to trade schools, city colleges, or four-year colleges. If you would like to donate to D's memorial scholarship, please message me so I can give you details.
In addition, I feel a deep obligation to ensure that no other family goes through what D's family is going through right now. I love this child and all the wonderful days I spent with him, but I do NOT love this decision he made. So I spent that last week running through my eulogy as I attempted to find the right words to get my message across while also respecting the family and not saying anything that would cause them further hurt. Below, find the words that I spoke. I hope these words will save at least one other child from thinking life is so rough that they need to end it. Life is too precious!
I have known D since he was six years old. I had the privilege of becoming his tutor at the end of kindergarten, and I worked with him one to two times a week for the last 11 years. One thing that never changed about D is that he has always been a sweet, kind, young man. He was quiet and reserved, but he had a great sense of humor. For example, D would often walk into our Bruin household with his USC colors shining bright. He would walk in with a smirk just daring me to say something. And yes, D, I am wearing your Fight On lanyard today for you and Sean is allowing it.
Because D was always quiet and reserved, sometimes in a classroom setting it might have appeared as if he was disinterested or not caring what was going on in the classroom—but I want his teachers to know that he did care, deeply—I know because of the conversations I had a chance to have with D about what he was learning once we had a chance to process it.
Another thing that people might not be aware about with D is that because of his learning disabilities school was always a struggle for him. Reading, writing, and math did not come easily to him, so he often had to work two or three times as hard and spend two or three times the amount of time as the typical student. The great thing about D was that he ALWAYS worked hard and last year I am proud to say that all his effort paid off in reading because he finally reached a proficient reading level. He even spent the summer reading books for pleasure. That's when I knew I had him where I wanted him with reading. School is sometimes like a marathon race where we only celebrate the elite athletes who finish the race in under three hours—but we don’t often celebrate the people who work just as hard to finish the race in 6, or 7 or 8 hours or more. They have to put in even more effort and time and perhaps courage to succeed, yet we may even mock their efforts because of how long it takes them to finish. I had so much admiration for the true grit D showed me by never giving up no matter how much he struggled. I wish we celebrated the perseverance that D and other students like him put forth as much as we did students for whom school came easy.
The last thing about D and school is that he never wanted to ask for help. His mom and I would always encourage him to ask the teachers questions if he didn't understand, but he often told us that he just didn't want to bother them. I find it very sad that this same characteristic seems to have carried over into his emotional life as well. I am heartbroken that D didn't ask us for help. As I look out on this audience filled with teenagers, I cannot miss this opportunity to convey to you what I wish I would have imparted more strongly to D.
First of all, if you are thinking that life is better without you, please understand that the hole you leave in our lives is so deep that it is going to be difficult for us to fill back in. You matter! You make a difference! And no world without you will be a better place!
The second thing I think you need to understand is that in life we are going to face obstacles, and sometimes these obstacles will seem insurmountable. But don't give up on yourself--learn to jump higher, find a way to move around the obstacles, or build a ladder to scale over them. D spent his life trying to climb over those educational obstacles, I just wish he had hung on a little longer because he was almost there.
Finally, it is important to understand that you need to reach out to others. If you are feeling sad, if you are feeling as if you do not measure up, if you feel as if you can't possibly go on, you need to talk to someone. It is not a weakness to ask for help! If you don’t, we are left wondering what we could have done, how we could've missed the signs, what we could have done to help. Please ask for help—you are absolutely, NEVER a bother! I spent two hours a week one-on-one with D all summer long, and he never once let me know that he was struggling.
We loved having D in our lives, as part of our family, and we will try to Fight On without him—he will always be in our hearts!