Saying Goodbye

March 01, 1998 1 min read

“There won’t be any breathing, and they won’t even move a muscle.”

“If you talk to the person, they won’t talk back.”

The answers demonstrated that the 3rd graders in Frederick’s class grasp some concepts of death. Soon, they will understand a lot more because their teacher is dying of cancer.

To help them deal with Frederick’s fate, school administrators and Frederick asked Sister Joyce Iten, a chaplain at St. Cloud Hospital, to meet with the students when school opened this year. Frederick and his co-teacher left the room so students would feel comfortable enough to ask any questions. Four students whose parents had said they didn’t want their children present for the discussion also left.

Iten then began to talk about cancer in terms children understand. “It’s not catchy, and it’s nobody’s fault someone gets cancer,” she told them. “We don’t know why some of the cells get sick.”

Iten explained it is OK to ask questions about Frederick’s illness and to feel different emotions. “When you think about Mr. Frederick, you might start feeling sad,” she said. “When you feel really sad about Mr. Frederick, I want you to tell somebody. Who could you tell?”

Students again blurted out answers.

“Your teacher.”

“Your mom or dad.”

“A friend.”

“A stuffed animal.”

Some people might feel like crying when they think about Frederick, she said. It’s good to cry.

“There might be times when you feel like this.” Iten wrote M-A-D on the chalkboard.

She told them they also might worry, and it would help to tell someone about that, too. “What can you do for Mr. Frederick while he’s with us,” she asked.

The students brainstormed.

“Help him clean the classroom.”

“Make a card.”

“Pray for a miracle.”

“Pray that the medicine will work.”

“Pray for his kids.”

“Bring him a dozen roses,” said 8-year-old Nicole Hartsworm.

—Patty Mattern

Reprinted from the St. Cloud Times.