The teacher: ‘Mylou’s mother was on her way to school, but had an accident and died’

Monday afternoon half past three. I’m free and I’m reading. The phone rings. My always sober colleague asks with a trembling voice if I want to come to school. An accident happened to a mother. “I’m coming,” I say. At school I meet a large group of parents and children in the square. Yet there is a strange silence. A mother cries softly.

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With a feeling of tightness I walk to the teachers’ lounge, where it turns out that all my colleagues have been summoned. In a corner sit Mylou from my class and her sisters. Mylou runs towards me. “Miss, where is my mommy?” she asks. Suddenly I feel nauseous with fear. The director takes me aside. I turn my back to the girls so they can’t see my reaction. He tells me that Joke died an hour before on his way to school. An oncoming vehicle collided head-on with her car. She died instantly. I feel all the blood drain from my face. Mylou’s eyes prick my back.

There appears to be a protocol

A father who saw it happen called the school so that the director could take care of Joke’s daughters. “We shouldn’t tell them what happened,” said the director. Specialized police officers will do that. Two women enter, they take the girls to take them home, where they will be gently briefed in the presence of their father. How do you bring something like that carefully, I wonder. I can’t imagine it. There appears to be a protocol for if parents die during school hours; luckily it hasn’t been used in a quarter of a century. As a class teacher I have to inform the parents of the other children in my class by telephone so that they can supervise their children. A nasty job. Everyone is devastated by the news. Joke was known and loved.

The next day I sit in a circle with the children. Mylou is not there. Everyone can say and ask what they want, I say. They all appear to be afraid that their own mother could also die. I tell them that such an accident happens very rarely, which is why we are extra shocked. A little boy asks: “What about Mother’s Day?” We think about how we can comfort Mylou. One girl says, “Maybe she just wants everyone to act like her.”

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‘Cool Funeral’

She is right about that, it turns out the next day. Mylou is back. With a pale face. Her father wants his daughters to be involved again, so that there is something normal in their lives. Mylou doesn’t say much, but in the break I see her playing along with her classmates. Children live in the now, sometimes want to forget what happened. At Joke’s cremation, a week later, the whole school is there. During the reception it is almost cozy. The three girls happily join in with tag. “Cool funeral,” says a boy.

‘She’s going to make it in life’

In the weeks that follow Mylou becomes more and more quiet. I am becoming aware of how often the word ‘mama’ is used in a class. Much more often than ‘daddy’. One day I take Mylou to a tea house. She wants to talk there. She tells how she misses her mother, how sad her father is, how afraid she is that something will happen to her father. But she also gets a dog. She beams for a moment. That’s when I close her in my heart forever. She’s going to make it in life, I think to myself. We take another hot chocolate.

This article was previously published in Kek Mama.

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