True life lessons
March 11, 2013
by Jenni Sebora

I had a heartfelt discussion (lesson) with my students recently about grieving the loss of a loved one. I am doing just that. My sister passed away just a few short weeks ago.

I had been gone a few days at the hospital with family, sitting by my sister’s bedside, hoping for the best, but in a short while realizing and dealing with what would be her passing. I returned to work and then missed a few days again for my sister’s funeral.

I shared my story with my students. They wanted to know where I had been and why I would be gone a few more days.

I work in a transition program with students/adults 18 to 21 years old with disabilities. They are not quite ready to leave the school world and need some continued practice, instruction, and mentoring before they enter either the world of work or some type of post-secondary training, or college or vocational school.

We work on life skills. Dealing with loss, whether it be a pet, friend, or family member, is definitely a part of life. Sharing my own process in general terms, my own story of grieving has been a valuable lesson for them and me.

A few of my students have lost a grandparent, but many have not experienced a personal loss yet. We talked about this. My students have been a support system for me, and they don’t even know it.

One of my students with Down Syndrome said, “I am sorry about your sister. I bet you miss her.”

What appropriate and endearing sentiments. She heartily passed on her condolences and acknowledged my feelings. She spoke from her heart.

We should all learn from people like her. She has this life skill down.

A few of my other female students with Asperger’s Syndrome, who can have a hard time with connecting and relaying emotions, passed on sincere words of sympathy, “I am so sorry you lost your sister.”

They meant it. I could see it in their eyes, in their facial expressions, and in their body language. I am so proud of them for this honest sharing of empathy.

Another female student who has Asperger’s Syndrome, who really does not like personal contact and needs her space, gave me a hug. A hug of empathy and sympathy.

I received two personal sympathy cards from two of my male students and their families with personal notes of sympathy. Thoughtful. Compassionate.

From the class, as a whole, and some staff members, I received a gift certificate in a larger amount to a local greenhouse to purchase a tree and/or other plants in memory of my sister.

I read their card, and tears trickled down my cheeks. I thanked them. My support system. Everyone needs a support system. We talked about that.

It is healthy to share and show your emotions as they come. Do not bury them. Sometimes we have to find a good time to share them, and sometimes we just need to have a little time to ourselves when processing our grief.

A journal can be a wonderful outlet of emotions, feelings, and memories.

I have started a journal – “My sister Kathy” journal. We talked about this. I wrote a poem about my sister, and I shared it with my students. Writing our feelings can be a wonderful source of emotion sharing and healing for people of all ages. True life lessons.

I shared with them that my sister loved yellow roses, and, in fact, years ago, she gave me three yellow rose bushes to plant on our empty lot after we just had built a new house.

Each year, my sister also gave my mother a large red geranium plant that sat in a pot right outside her door at our house.

I believe that I will continue this tradition. I will put a red geranium in the same pot in the same place and smile as I think of my sister and my mother, who has passed away, too.

A yellow rose bush will be added in my front yard by my front porch, where I sit in the summer in my white rocking chair enjoying coffee in the morning and iced tea in the evening.

My sister enjoyed coffee with milk (actually half coffee, half milk), too. This will be a good memory, as I look at the yellow rose bush – beautiful and bright, just as my sister.

I talked with my students about memories and how we cherish those memories that allow our loved ones to live on with us. I miss my sister dearly, but sharing memories of her and acknowledging my feelings is healing.

I gained just as much – if not more – from this lesson with my students.

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