Grief as a Gateway to Education

November 12, 2020

This is a moment of profound loss in our country and world; the death toll from COVID-19 is overwhelming. At another time, dealing with another tragedy, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Four years ago my family and I dealt with an enormous loss. That situation put me on a path to advance my education and help others. I offer my story as a way to help us all understand how we can heal and the role education can play in that process.

My journey begins in the small town of Ironton, Missouri, in the southeastern part of the state. In my family, my job is to be the one everyone sort of leans on, and I’m proud to play that role. I’m the first one in my immediate family to graduate high school and I did so as a single mom.

When my sister had her son Titus, I was excited. During the first three months of his life, Titus lived with my family. Even after that point, I’d look after him — he was full of joy and we were so close; it’s as if he were my own son.

I had noticed that he wasn’t reaching intellectual and emotional milestones that I thought he should have at that point. He wasn’t speaking a lot; he made sounds but wasn’t verbalizing. I saw definite differences between him and my children.

On a cold February night when Titus was three years old, his mom tucked him safely into bed. Somehow Titus got out of the bed and wandered outside on his own, without any clothes. My sister and our family started looking everywhere for him. Eventually, the police found little Titus — he had frozen to death. My heart still breaks writing those words.

Over and over again in my head I thought about what more we could have done. Should I have spoken up when I noticed he wasn’t developing at the same rate as other kids? What gifts did I pick up raising my three children that I could share with my community to prevent similar tragedies?

I leaned on my faith and tried to make peace with the situation. It wasn’t enough. I knew I needed to do more.

After my nephew’s death I had this desire to help other children his age. I started by taking a position at a nearby early childhood education center. The director of the center saw my interest and e ncouraged me to pursue the Child Development Associate credential; it’s based on a core set of competency standards, which guide early care professionals as they work toward becoming qualified teachers of young children.

The process was challenging but worth it. Now, I’m on the path to earning my associate’s and then bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education.

Today my preschool has reopened after the COVID-19 shutdown. I look forward every day to seeing the boys and girls laugh and learn. Being so young, they really don’t know what’s going on, as it should be. They just experience caring adults, helping them learn.

Each educator has a story of how we arrived at our role. I trust my story helps you find hope and encouragement as we seek to make peace with today’s challenges.

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