July 6, 2020
Finding Purpose When the Lights Go Out
When Andrew died, I was teaching at Citronelle Middle School (later became Lott Middle School). My world was shattered. Since the boys and I were in different school districts, our spring breaks were not the same. My plan had been to take the last day of their spring break off so I could be with them. They were to spend the night with Jamie & Donna Davis and their boys on Thursday night. I was to pick them up on Friday morning along with Donna and her boys. We were going to have a great day... None of that happened.
While I did want people to never forget Andrew, I never wanted pity from anyone. I was proud... no... let me rephrase... I am proud. I wanted everyone to think I was fine. So, much sooner than I probably should have (and because I was completely out of sick days), I returned to the classroom after a week of staying home with Ray and Gideon.
The first few days were numb for me. Then one of my students shook me. I remember her words to this very day, "Mrs. Odom, would you just yell at us or something?" I realized my students were suffering because they knew I was suffering. So... I smiled... perhaps yelled, "Y'all better get to work," and from that point I was determined to put my heart and soul into my work. And that I did.
Not long after the accident, our school was relocated to the Lott Middle School campus. John Adams was our principal, and I loved teaching. This man was a good leader! He encouraged me to start my masters - in administration, but I changed my degree. I do so appreciate all the opportunities he provided for me while at Lott.
And then there was Harriet Dettra Callahan and Lane Jones. Both of these people are competitive, and all I need for motivation is a little competition. But besides the friendly competition in the classroom, they were such good friends. But then, the entire staff at Lott Middle School was actually more than friends. They were my family away from home. Sometimes I felt guilty, because with this family I could laugh. When I got home, the laughter was missing because we all missed Andrew so much.
My Citronelle family will never know how much support and love I felt from them. In many ways this was the group of people who saved me. And the kids from this area... Oh my goodness! I certainly love them. (I can't believe how old they have gotten...) But I had so many great students during my 8 years there.
By the time I left Lott Middle to move to Choctaw County as a school improvement specialist, I had finished my masters in Instructional Design & Development (Sorry, Mr. Adams), and I was in the IDD doctoral program at USA. I had found a release for me - graduate work... and LOTS of it.
WARNING: Be careful in finding your purpose. I almost became too self-absorbed in finding my purpose. I almost forgot there were others who needed me back home. I found so much healing in my graduate work that I lost time I should have spent with Ray and Gideon. And if you know anything about time, you know you cannot steal back moments you lost.
So my grieving process was far from perfect, but it kept me alive.
My advice to others who grieve would be to find what gives you purpose in life and pursue it. But keep in mind the others who still need you and your time. Here's a little bit of my observation:
1. You deserve to find purpose. God has not taken you from this planet, therefore, there must be a reason you are left here. So do not feel like you do not deserve purpose.
2. You deserve to find happiness again. I know it hurts so very deeply, but the death of your loved one is not a noose about your neck or chains of bondage for you to bear. Grieve, but do not take upon yourself an unbearable yoke of grief.
3. You deserve to move forward. Again... I think I should rephrase... You must move forward... eventually. I know you may feel you are at a standstill at the moment. But you can plan. You can dream. You can put wheels into motion. And when the wheels do start to move, move with them.
Living a life without purpose, happiness, or progress is not a tribute to your loved one. Actually, it becomes a burden to them. And if your dead loved ones could switch places and live their lives in your absence, would you want to distress your loved ones with the same burden?
But purposefully live!
It truly is the best course of action for you and the memory of those you loved.
To Be Continued!