My favorite teacher killed herself.
She was depressed, they said when she took the life of her three-year-old son. Then . . . she committed suicide, leaving a note for her husband and the child’s father.
Oh, she wasn’t my teacher. She actually taught my 17-year-old son, Nicholas. She was an English teacher but also coordinated classes for those in something called IP classes, I’m not sure what it stands for, but it was for those kids needing more help in school. My son has ADHD, attention deficit (something) disorder. He needs more time to review things before putting down thoughts on paper.
Lord, I cannot remember her name; but only her angelic face! Something is blocking my mind. I can see her beautiful cherub-like appearance: the dimples, the red hair and the slightly chubby figure that reminded me of nothing like any skinny old school ‘marm I ever remember. Mrs. Engle is all that my son and his classmates called her.
Out of all the instructors at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School (near Conshohocken, and some 20 miles outside of Philadelphia, PA), she was the only one to see something in Nicholas, and more importantly, the only one to hold his feet to the fire. Other teachers have seen his potential but had been unable to kick-start an interest.
My son responded and worked hard for her, learning that if you set your mind to something, you can do it if you work at it.
What a smile she had. She’d light up the room with her enthusiasm. Her eyes would sparkle when discussing Nick and her assurance for his future was contagious. She really liked him, and I bet parents of others in her room would say the same. She was the kind of teacher that most of us look back on as the one who pushed us a little harder and the one of whom we later have become so enamored with as a true life guide.
But how does anyone deal with the suicide?
Yeah, she was depressed, she was in counseling, neighbors at the funeral said they thought she had gotten better, but whatever illness drove her to do the unspeakable, only she would know.
And she did not mention in her letter, other than to point out that her son was now in “heaven.”
What about her?
She committed the worse sin imaginable. At least, that is what I learned growing up in the Catholic faith. I think most Christians would agree that such an act deprives one of everlasting life in the Great Beyond. She took her own life, not to mention the life of an innocent child!
My God, how could this have happened?
How can this act be reconciled with the love and compassion I still feel for that young woman, barely 30 years old; we learned that she was once a champion skater, a good Catholic girl whose family was still on glorious speaking terms with the Church and the priests and ministers there.
One of those ministers performed a beautiful service for me, whether he knew it or not. Aging, the elder clergy did not say the Mass of Christian Burial. He spoke after all had said their piece about the young woman.
It was at the end of the service at St. Philip Neri Church, when I struggled with what was to become of her “immortal soul” that this man almost miraculously touched my heart, lifting my spirits and giving me hope which I lacked.
Cardinal Bevilacqua, the former archbishop of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, spoke eloquently about God and his mercy.
He said that a religious scholar once noted that we could never understand, nor imagine, the vastness of God’s mercy. That mercy stretches beyond time, beyond our earth, beyond our Universe, and no one could ever be able to place a number to how great and immense that love for us has been and always will be through infinity.
The cardinal then told us — the Church-going congregation seated on wooden benches, taking in the burning of incense and the old familiar hymns — about another theologian who, when asked if he believed in Hell, quickly said “yes.”
But he did not end with a one syllable answer. He continued:
“Do I believe in hell? Yes, I do,” he said.
“But I don’t believe anyone is in it,” he added.
“. . . because of the infinite mercy of God!”
Thanks be to the Wisdom of the Creator and his infinite mercy.
I believe now that my teacher friend has escaped that end. And I thank all that is holy that she may one day enter those golden gates, I heard tell of as a little boy.