This winter has seen me, the caregiver, sick all too often. I have taken more days off from work than anticipated, had multiple doctor visits, blood work, and various testing. Some went well, some not so much…but I am basically fine. Like the Ever Ready bunny, I keep going. But sooner or later the pressures of juggling both home and work under the most taxing circumstances do catch up, and that is exactly what happened to me. So after a thoughtful examination of our changing lives now, I have decided to leave the stresses of teaching early. I had already planned on retiring the end of June, when school let out, but in light of my health scare and Art’s ever changing status with his LBD, it was time to make the hard decision. So as of April 13, I will be ending my teaching career with a family leave of absence (officially known as FMLA). When my students return to school after April vacation, someone else will be in charge of my classes. It feels strange to think of someone else taking over my desk, my room, my students. But that is exactly what will happen. It is time.
This week I began to tell my students, not wanting to alert them too early, and not wanting to leave it to the last day. Timing is everything. So Monday and Tuesday (rotating schedules, five different classes, grades five through eight), I cleverly put an idiom on the board for our opener: “Mixed emotions”. Students wrote out the opener, then brainstormed its potential meaning. Each class had at least one student who nailed the meaning, to which I followed up with my example. “It is with mixed emotions that I tell you this is my last week of teaching at the Medway Middle School.” Initially the kids looked down, began to put pencil to paper, and then suddenly they stopped short. Within about 30 seconds all my students looked up at me with shocked, confused, and stunned expressions; some with tears in their eyes, others pleading “What? Why?” Some simply stated, “NO! You can’t do this…who’s going to teach us? What if she is mean? What if she doesn’t like us, what if she doesn’t understand us? (having smaller groups of students allows me the privilege of getting to know my students on a more personal level, while building strong bonds with them)…” and the barrage of questions ensued!
To say this has been an emotional roller coaster week would be an understatement. All of my students understand about the need to be with my husband as he struggles with his illness as things progress, and his needs become more formidable and demanding. These middle school students were thoughtful and gentle in their queries about Lewy Body Dementia and its ultimate ramifications. I answered them honestly, but equally as tender and considerate of their ages as I could, and was blown away by the extent of their merciful compassion towards me and my family by their understanding comments. These are middle schoolers-you know, the kids that often get a bad rap. These middle school years are often tough ones, and to see these young, innocent faces rise to a more accepting, mature level of caring and empathy, gave me the courage to come back and deal with each nostalgic day this last week. I will miss the kids, I will miss my colleagues; but mostly, I will be content to be where I belong in this next, new chapter: at home, with my husband with LBD.