Painful goodbyes

7th June 2013 at 01:00

People are always leaving me. My mum, my dad, my best friend Sandra and my first boyfriend all went and died just when I needed them most. Even my husband followed suit, walking out when my eldest son left home. I ended up sleeping next to his T-shirt for comfort, snuffling hopefully into its armpits like Bambi nudging his dead mother.

In fact, my life has been so dogged by loss that when I was younger I wrote a poem about what it feels like to be left behind: "Things here stand still with mein this still stranger ocean, where wordslike nets or loverssift this too much saltnessthrough too slow a spaceand meanings melt around melike ice cream in the sun." I thought it successfully communicated, in a naive imagist style, the unreliability of words when it comes to expressing grief. Reading it now, it suggests that I needed to eat more bacon sandwiches and watch some prime-time television.

The poem was inspired by the death of my first boyfriend, Dave, who died of heart failure aged 17. Dave was a seminal figure in my life for two reasons: he was the first boy I ever kissed and, after four months of courtship, he was given unlimited access to the inside of my bra. The latter was a brave act on my part as it was then a truth universally acknowledged that a single boy in possession of a good Saturday job must be in want of a girl with symmetrical breasts. So snaring him with my uneven ones was a bit of a coup. After his tragic death, it took three years and a breast augmentation before I risked another embrace.

Unfortunately, loss is a major part of a teacher's lot and this is the time of year that we feel it most. Our young charges are getting ready to fly the nest, their absence - inconsequential on the face of it - leaving us with a disproportionate sense of loss. I usually manage to hold it together until the annual leavers' ceremony, where, prompted by pride, sadness and inspirational homilies that would have Vlad the Impaler snivelling into his tissues, I end up in floods of tears. Suddenly, all the day-to-day trivialities of school life are dwarfed by this shared success. We've taught our students the ways of the Jedi and now they are ready to join the Rebel Alliance, fight the Empire and heat up their own baked beans.

In teaching we occasionally do things that we're not proud of, but leading students into adulthood has to be the joy of the job. And the cards that say "You're my inspiration" or "Thank you for believing in me" or "You are a wonderful teacher" are the reasons we don't quit.

Nevertheless, I hate watching the students go. William Blake's recommendation that we should kiss "joy as it flies" has never worked for me. I want to put my joy in a metal box, wrap it in barbed wire and shove it in an underground bunker guarded by a rabid, three-headed dog.

But since that's not possible, I'm going to watch some ice cream melting in the sun.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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