Only had one student last night: a cute, exceedingly-intelligent little kid who is just finishing Grade 5. He was uncharacteristically un-bouncy when he arrived in my room. I, thinking he had contracted something vile and fatal, asked what was wrong.
One of the teachers in his school died yesterday. She’d had cancer for several years, he said, but he didn’t expect her to die because she had looked fine a couple of months ago. The school had had an assembly to talk to the kids about it, and they said she was in a much happier place.
He didn’t believe them.
He said he wouldn’t want to die, so he didn’t think she wanted to, either. And he wasn’t convinced heaven was really a happier place if it was full of dead people who weren’t happy about dying.
Coital words were the only thing in my head at that moment, so I was silent for several seconds. I think he thought I was sad about the teacher.
I was sad for him.
We forgot about English for almost half an hour. His family practices a particular religion, so we talked about what he could do in terms of prayer, etc. We also talked – rather, I let him talk – about what he believed. We say people are happier after they die because it makes us feel better, not because we know it as a certainty; he would have to make his own decision about what he believed. He believed several different things in the space of a few minutes. I reminded him that he was, indeed, allowed to change his mind about his own beliefs, as often as he liked.
We also had to talk about the process of dying, about pain and morphine, about what cancer does to the body and the soul. I love the way younger kids can flip between the physical and the spiritual as if the two were interconnected… oh, wait….
When he got that I think I’m overwhelmed look, I told him to get his English books out. He forgot all about the dead teacher for the rest of the session.
Before he left, I asked him what his mother had said when he told her. He didn’t think she’d heard him, because she’d been driving at the time and didn’t say anything.