October is generally regarded as a lousy month to be a teacher. The novelty of the school year has definitely worn off by then, students start getting frustrated with the workload and then apathetic, and it is a long time until you or your students have any days off to look forward to. This year my October was pretty good, so good in fact, that it didn't even feel like October. Sure, there were bad days and frustrating students, but my classroom culture remained positive even though the hallways of the school certainly weren't.
Then November hit. Nothing really went wrong; I just got tired. There was a week where it felt like I was barely going through the motions. They were a lot of the right motions so kids mostly kept on learning, but it still wasn't a good feeling. Everyone I talked to agreed that it was just that point in the year and we'd all be better after resting up over Thanksgiving, enjoying a few days of seeing people who didn't think of us only as teachers, goofing off a bit, and ultimately returning to planning with renewed zest.
So I survived Tuesday, when I had the first really major discipline incident that took place in my room this year and had to discuss with the assistant principal whether I wanted them to pursue expelling the student. I'd initially planned on heading home that night, but after getting up a 3 a.m. to grade and then having that kind of day, I just wasn't up for a five hour drive at night. Instead I grabbed Mexican food with friends, ran into my TFA program director and her (boyfriend, partner, common-law husband? What's the best term for people who've been together since college and own a house together?), discussed whether the acts of wanton destruction in the hallways that day topped the previous year when the bathrooms were set afire (consensus: yes), laughed a lot and was reminded why I love my friends, and then passed out at home. Wednesday I packed up, made the drive, and then took the boy out for sushi. When I got home, there was no one there but the dogs so I headed to the bank to open a c.d. and take advantage of some nice rates.
My dad came out to meet me when I got back. That's often a harbinger of bad news, and Wednesday was no different. My grandfather had had a major hemorrhagic stroke and wasn't going to survive. He was unconscious and would remain so. The focus was on making sure he wasn't in pain.
He died late Thursday morning. It was, I think, a good death, mercifully quick after years of struggle, to slip away at ninety as your wife holds you and tells you how much she loves you and your daughters and granddaughter look on. I'm grateful for the hospital, the nurses especially, who always made time to talk with us, who scrambled to find cots for my grandmother and aunt, who showed compassion for my grandfather in his last hours. I'm grateful to the staff of the nursing home who made his last few years as pleasant as possible, who were never anything but completely warm and caring, especially the nurse's aid who adopted my grandparents as her own and was at the hospital the night before my grandfather died and at the funeral Monday.
So the next few days were a blur. We all knew this was coming eventually, but that didn't diminish the sadness. I was a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, a listener, a maker of tea, a mediator of disputes, quietly attempting to comfort my grandmother and keep my family from snapping, yelling at each other, and storming out as they are so prone to do.