Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Wake

A three hour wait and a line around the block. That's exactly what I predicted for Matt's wake today, and exactly what it was.

There were beautiful pictures of him, and Frank Sinatra music playing, and so many flowers. His classmates were so loving and supportive of each other. While I was waiting in the picture room to get into the room where Matt and his family were, I saw a senior boy lead a younger boy in to see the pictures, arms around his shoulders, saying, "See? That's not Matt. THIS is Matt. He's right here. He's just how you knew him." It's kind of an amazing thing to be a witness to how teenagers grieve, especially these kids, who, I still maintain, are a cut above the average, all of them. They have their moment of breakdown, and then their arms are around the next one, comforting them. It's graceful. It's authentic.

I attended a workshop on Monday with this big-wig grief counselor who has helped teens through trauma and grief from 9/11 to Columbine and a million things in between. It was designed for parents and faculty to learn how we could best help support the kids. Here's what I learned:

1.) Never, ever say "I know how you feel, because such-and-such happened to me." Say, instead, "I wonder what this must feel like for you."

2.) Offer to talk or listen, but let them say no, I'd rather just bake a pie or watch a movie or chill online instead.

3.) Maintain habits and structure. Don't postpone all of life and let there be a "well of grief." Live - make sure they go to rehearsal, or practice, take their tests and text their friends as usual, and deal with the feelings as they come.

4.) Let them be with their friends, but be there when and if they call.

I watched that last one a number of times tonight. Kids would show up with their parents, and the parents would hang together, and send the kids to find their friends, because they knew that was what they needed.

I went alone to the wake, too late to join the faculty at their arrival. But that was okay. I waited patiently in the endless line, and the kids who needed me would come out, look for me, find me, cry, and then they leave to get ice cream and cheeseburgers. That was just as it should be.

Tomorrow we have rehearsal, and a bunch of these kids who were Matt's classmates and former alumni who knew him from the shows will come and hang out with us when the funeral is over and they are wondering what to do with themselves. They will have a place to go to hang out together, and I will be business as usual, staging scenes, with multitudes of hugs for anyone who needs them.

When I finally go to the front of the line, it was open casket, per Catholic tradition. I think it was strange for the kids, but important for the reality check to know that yes, he isn't there anymore. I reached his mom, and she remembered me right away. She wrapped her arms around me and said, "Matt considered Beauty and the Beast the highlight of his life."


I'm almost ready with my remarks for Matt's service on Friday. I'll publish them here after I speak. Meanwhile, I will teach about the Fertile Crescent and give quizzes on Latin roots and kiss my daughters goodnight and tuck them into bed with hugs and kisses and iloveyous.

Matt's Mom said on TV that there was the part of her that wasn't totally surprised that he was only here for such a short time, because as a person, "He was just too good to be true."

Oh, my god, my friends. Hug and kiss your children, and love them well. That is one of the many important lessons I will take from Matt.


  1. Wow. That made *me* cry. She gave you quite a gift.

  2. And it sounds like you gave him a great gift as well. Keep your chin up, you are doing great! {{{hugs}}}