My daughters’ principal died unexpectedly this week.
He wasn’t a grey-haired, nearing-retirement, burned-out old guy. He was 32.
He was 32-years-old and he was a positive force in our close-knit school and in the community.
He was 32.
He. was. 32.
There’s no way that I could write properly about Luis. I only knew him in one capacity: as the kind-hearted professional who would meet with me, talk with me, and work with me whenever we saw an opportunity for improvement or growth. He always gave me a hug, too.
My girls saw another side. A silly side. The light-up-a-room smile that welcomed them into their school every morning. “Buenos dias, girls! Have a good day!”
And this post is about them. And him. And not about me.
First, you have to understand that schools in Cabo are different from schools where I grew up in Northwest Ohio. Aside from the obvious language differences, here in Mexico there’s no one central building, but instead a campus and many buildings. The cafeteria is outside, gym class – also outside. My girls also have a farm (llamas, horses, chickens, pigs, donkeys, turtles… I could go on) and ecology class and yoga and meditation, along with the regulars like math and science and reading and writing.
But here’s the clincher: schools in Cabo skew toward really family-oriented. Cabo is a small town and your neighbors and friends and your kids’ teachers are your family. As a hugger, I love that I can walk into the school and hug parents and kids every day. If Vivi falls down, I can guarantee that she’s been hugged 3 times before I pick her up from school that day. Why? Because hugging is still allowed here — it’s welcomed. There’s a closeness. A bond that comes from all being guests here in this town that very few people were born in.
That’s why the sudden passing of Luis is huge.
We talk about death in our house, it’s not taboo. My Dad died when I was 10, my Mom died when I was 34. I’m a griever. I’ll grieve with you, your cousin, your co-worker, your aunt and your kid sister. Without question. Tell me about your loss. I’ll cry and relate and pray for you.
But this time, I’m witnessing their loss.
And that’s different.
Lila said to me the other night, “Mommy, this is the first person – besides Little Grandma – who I’ve ever known to die.”
(I’ll be honest. That stung a little. They were too young to remember when my Mom died just 5 years ago.)
They went on with the statements and questions that we all consider:
“We see him everyday.
How does this happen.?
Wasn’t he too young?
How does his Mommy feel?
Isn’t it wrong that a child would die before a parent?
I wish I would have known this was going to happen, I would have given him a big hug; I would have said something really nice to him.
I’m going to miss his smile.
…but he was so nice.”
And the kicker, that brings it on home, “Why did this happen?”
Why does this happen?
I’m well aware of the tired cliches out there, but here’s what I do know:
Bad things, hard things… happen.
They just do.
And they hurt.
And we have to SIT in the hurt and FEEL the hurt in order to get to the other side. You probably don’t see the other side – or you may not want to get there yet– and that’s ok because this journey is all yours. It’s unique to you.
I can’t tell you how to grieve, but I can speak to the importance of grieving.
Tonight we went to the church in the downtown square for the service of Luis. The pre-k to high school-aged children of the school that he was the principal of wore their uniform shirts and stood in two lines outside of the church that reminded me of the same type of path that marathon runners pass through as they’re cheered on through their race by bystanders. The sea of vibrant reds, purples, blues, yellows and greens hushed their voices and held hands as the family of Luis, led by his Mom, carried the ashes and photo of his smiling face through the children into the church. What emotion.
The man who just a month ago was coordinating them, leading them and supporting them was now being honored by them. It was too much.
A visual reminder of his searing absence.
After the service, we came home. We got ready for bed. Then I saw it: the first tear rolling down the first small cheek.
Then more tears. Then both faces. Then mine, too.
There’s something so permanent about a funeral or a memorial service that really SLAMS reality on your heart.
“Oh, has your brain not realized that your person is gone? This should really solidify it.”
During the mass, the priest said, “Nada es siempre.”
Nothing is always.
Our pain, our lives, our joy, our sadness — none of it will last forever. Nothing is always. And he’s right. But I’d like to add to that: our job in life is to feel all of those things. LOVE the highs, GRIEVE the lows, CELEBRATE the wins, cry for the losses while keeping in mind that nothing lasts forever. And that is the BEAUTY of life.
Nothing is always.
After a storm, the sun will shine again.
After a loss, there will be a win.
After tears, there will be a smile.
It’s not a cliche, it’s the truth.
So, the girls and I hugged. And we prayed. And I reminded them that it’s ok to feel sad and to cry for Luis because he is so worth crying for.
Loss is loss, friends.
It doesn’t matter if the person is 32, 2 or 102 — that person mattered.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a loss of a pet or a job, a relationship or a marriage. The loss of anything shakes our foundation and makes us feel.
Feel your feelings. Open the door and let them in. Sit with them. Feel them.
So I held my almost eight- and ten-year-olds as they cried about Luis. As we cried about Luis. And we thanked God for Luis’ life and his legacy. And that he brought such love and positivity into their lives.
If they learn anything from me about death, I hope it’s that they know that we cry for the people we lose because they are worth our tears and that nada es siempre.
It will all be ok.
P.S. I wrote through the grieving process of my Mom here. It starts with the day I got that call.