She died in a tragic car accident Saturday after school was released for Spring break. That would have been this week…last year. A little angel. I could hardly hear the words when my Vice Principal called me the following day to tell me that there has been a tragedy and that is was Elizabeth Nguyen, my lunch bunch group member, Girls on the Run member, and 6th grade student. As a school counselor, you never want to hear those words. You never want to lose a student to death.
I just saw her on Friday. I walked her to the front office to meet her father when he picked her up for their trip. I wanted to brag how amazing she was in Girls on the Run, how she ran fast and for long distances. I told him how she was a star and that we wanted her to do cross country in the fall. I told him how much we loved her. Afterward, I even walked into the lunch room and told the XC coach and her teacher how I had recruited her for the team. Less than 24 hours later she became an angel. Her dad did too. The car was out of control. And things were never the same.
It wasn’t the Spring break that I had imagined. Lizzie’s image was constantly on my mind. I woke up to her beautiful smile and shy eyes. I kept seeing the little stuffed bunny she carried with her throughout the day. Her soft face when she was using clay to make a pot in lunch bunch or her laughter when she was building a tower with blocks. I cried in angst for the pain that her mother and sister were feeling as they grieved for their father/husband and daughter/sister. I cried for those who were closest to her and for the life that would no longer be. I cried because I would no longer see her daily. There was so much heaviness.
Anxiety seeped into my whole being. What was Monday going to be like? How would the other students respond? Her classmates? Her friends? What was it going to be like for her teachers? How would I handle things? There was so much uncertainty.
And the grief was real. I felt the puncturing hearts as I observed students throughout the day process the loss of their classmate, as they answered questions in a processing circle and cried. I felt the angst as they tried to make sense of the “why” behind death and specifically the death of their friend. I observed students break down who knew her and those who did not, students who had experienced grief before and for those who were experiencing it for the first time.
And it was strange. While I was listening to grief, I was experiencing it. I was a model example of the grief cycle- wavering between shock, denial, and depression. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t understand it. And I simply didn’t want it to be.
Like you, I love all of my students. I have a special place in my heart for each and every one of them. But Lizzie made an even bigger impression than most. She was special to me because of the time I was so privileged to be able to spend with her as her school counselor. And I loved her presence in my life.
Its not going to be easy. Grief is lifelong. And I know that her death will always impact me. Lizzie, Im still here and I love you.
From, your grieving school counselor, Dr. Mitchell.
For more information on how to have a plan when a student death occurs please download a general copy of my school crisis plan.