When Teachers Become True HeroesJessica Tholmer

As a writer, it is hard to focus on anything but such a widespread tragedy when it occurs, so out-of-the-blue, so horribly unexpected, so mindbogglingly traumatic. As a person, it is impossible to not walk by a group of children and wince or tear up thinking of the innocence shattered in Connecticut and across the globe last weekend. As a woman, it is hard not to consider remaining childless to avoid anything ever happening to my children one day. As a big sister, I cannot read the names of the children killed in their elementary school without blurring the words to form my own family members’ names. As a manager, it is hard not to imagine myself stepping in between a gun and another person in my care.

As a human being, it is hard to recover from an event such as the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. These weeks have been hard, and they will remain so, especially as we begin to turn against each other. Especially as it becomes about gun control versus mental health ignorance, as it becomes Mothers versus Non-Mothers, as it becomes controversy over the opinions of parents with mentally unhealthy children. It is so easy to point fingers, it is so easy to blame. The stages of grief, believe it or not, are what we are all coping with now. Let us try to have grace and humility and respect for everyone’s heartache.

There are no words, there are only memories. At such a difficult time, it is vital to recognize the lives of those lost.

In honor of the courageous employees of Sandy Hook Elementary, for I am too weak to speak on slain children, for that I apologize, but I am only human:

Rachel D’Avino, 29
Behavioral therapist. Passion for children, especially those who need a little more of it. Girlfriend. Daughter. Big sister.

D’Avino was killed as she shielded the body of a young child.

D’Avino’s boyfriend had asked her parents for permission to propose to his girlfriend days before she was killed. He planned on asking on Christmas Eve. The deepest of sympathies for the loss of his love. May he always remember what a beautiful soul she has.

Dawn Hochsprung, 47
Principal of Sandy Hook. Fun-loving. Hiker. Sailor. Student. Wife. Mother of five girls and a poodle.

Hochsprung was killed as she threw herself at the shooter in an attempt to overtake him. Many in the community admire her for “going down with the ship,” as a captain is wont to do.

To her daughter, whom she gave letters to on a regular basis, she once wrote: “Remember this in your darkest times. You are never alone.”

(Rings so true.)

Nancy Lanza, 52

Daughter. Mother.

Lanza was killed before she left her house that morning, by her son Adam who then forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary and continued his killing spree.

The controversy around Lanza’s character–her love of guns and slightly odd behavior has darkened the nation. The unfortunate reality of being the late mother of a person who murdered twenty children clearly is going to come with investigation, blame, bitter opinions, even posthumously.

It is important to remember that many stories are not as they seem. I will neither oppose or defend Lanza, I will simply remind the world that she deserves to be remembered.

Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Special Education teacher. Mother. Wife. Sister. Daughter. Spiritual being. Artist.

Murphy was killed in an attempt to shield one of her special-ed students. She passed away with her arms wrapped around Dylan Hockley, six years old, who was also murdered.

Hockley’s mother released a statement claiming that knowing Dylan died in the arms of his caregiver gave her solace. Across the board, I believe Murphy blessed those in her life with comfort, and joy.

Mary Sherlach, 56
School psychologist. Dolphins fan. Helper. Rockstar. Wife. Mother.

Sherlach, alongside principal Hochsprung, was killed while trying to stop the shooter.

I value the words Sherlach’s daughter has to say about her more than I value my own words. A courageous and beautiful person she certainly was.

Victoria Soto, 27
Teacher. Daughter. Sister. Cousin. Goofball. Light. Guardian. Hero.

Soto was shot and killed in her fifth year of teaching at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Soto, selfless and quick-witted, shoved her “angels” into the closet right before the shooter came into her classroom. She claimed the kids were in the gym, not in the classroom. Soto was killed, many of her children were not.

The one who will not think of herself in such a time is the one who will change a life. She changed many, far before she passed. The memory of Soto will undoubtedly ring strong and present in the lives of her loved ones forever.

Lauren Rousseau, 30
Substitute teacher. Musician. Daughter. Sister. Girlfriend. Starbucks partner.

Rousseau was killed along with almost her entire class of children.

Besides my wonderful position here at HelloGiggles.com, I work for Starbucks. Throughout my life, I have subconsciously only associated myself with “jobs” that impact my community, whichever community that may be. With HelloGiggles, I get to deliver words to people with huge hearts and big opinions and strength and humor in their bones. At Starbucks, in my tiny town of Bellingham, Washington, I get to make days through cups of coffee, through smiles, through ringing laughter and a wonderful soundtrack. I put on a green (or red during the holidays, of course) apron and I know the people I will interact with all day long are phenomenal characters.

At Starbucks, we call ourselves “partners,” not coworkers or employees. We are all partners–my barista is my partner, my boss is my partner, Howard Schultz is even our partner. Rousseau was my partner.

I came to work the day after the tragedy in Newton and upon arrival, I check the computer for important bits of information from corporate. There was a letter from Mr. Schultz concerning the passing of Rousseau, expressing his sadness at the loss of a fellow partner. I began to cry, I printed off the letter and placed it in our backroom so my partners could also recognize the partner who lost her life so prematurely, so bravely, so tragically.

I did not know Rousseau, but I know Starbucks partners. Rousseau, like myself, had been with Starbucks for four and a half years. Our partner numbers were probably similar. Our personality traits were almost certainly similar. I have very rarely met a Starbucks partner I did not immediately adore. We are cut from the same cloth: Rousseau and I, the partners at my store and I, the baristas I am watching work right now as I sit in a store I have never been to in downtown Seattle, Howard Schultz and I. Losing a Starbucks partner is like losing a family member. And I will remember her.

And we all will, all of them.

Rest in peace.

Image of Sandy Hook Elementary from facebook.com.
Chalkboard art image from Starbucks.com.

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