by Katie Raher, PhD
This week, I've continued to notice the sadness that seems to be everywhere as we wrap up this very unique school year. I share some stories from my world and some lovely lessons from a new children's book that have helped me. I hope they help you find some relief as well.
My little boy, who is 6.5 and wrapping up first grade, has been having a much harder time going to sleep the last several days. (For the record, he gave me permission to share this story.) Last night, he finally opened up about what’s been bothering him. His first grade teacher is leaving the school, because her husband’s job is moving and they are relocating. His kindergarten teacher had moved to another job after his year with her too. One of his best friends from his class is also moving. Not to mention the other losses that have come with this whole situation we’re in.
Once he finally opened up, he just sobbed and sobbed in my arms for at least 30 minutes until he fell asleep. Then, this morning, as soon as he finished his last Zoom call of the year, he sobbed in my arms some more. Until there was no more. And he went off and played.
Through all of his sadness, as I just held his little body with tears rolling down his face and onto my arms that were wrapped around him, I reflected on how hard it is to not say goodbye in the way we are used to. This is not to say that he wouldn’t still be sad to lose his teacher and friend even if school was “regular,” but I’m also certain that the many challenges of "social distancing" are adding to the size of his sadness.
I know I’m having a hard time myself. Because of budget cuts in the district I’ve worked with as a School Psychologist for over 10 years, my unique prevention-focused role was unlikely to be funded again before the pandemic, so once the pandemic hit and cemented those budget cuts, I secured another School Psych job that will still allow me to do the MTSS, SEL, and prevention-focused work I love so much. Even though I’m excited about my new job – just as my son is excited to finally get a break from distance learning – my sadness is still very real. I’m sad that my farewell to my students and colleagues is not near what I wish it could be.
Now, one of my favorite books to read to wrap up the school year has always been The Invisible String by Patrice Karst. It tells the story of twins who get scared during a storm in the middle of the night. The mom teaches them about the Invisible String – a string that we cannot see but that exists between our hearts and those we care about. When we are missing someone, we can always give the string a tug and feel the love that we share. It’s a reminder that we are never alone, and we will forever be connected to the loved ones in our lives.
Though I did recently read this book to the kids I serve, the virtual nature of this read aloud didn't leave me with the same magical feelings I've experienced in the past. I couldn't see a whole class sitting on a carpet sharing their smiles with me and each other. There were not the usual hugs that come after reading this book and me saying my goodbyes – no hugs from kids or colleagues, for that matter. There was certainly not the sense of closure I normally feel.
When I recently found out that Patrice Karst had just released her new book called The Invisible Web, I ran to my Amazon app and made a 1-click purchase. And I’ve got to admit I had tears in my eyes as I first read this beauty of a book. I definitely needed its message, and I hope it resonates with you too. As the title suggests, this book is also about the Invisible Strings that connect every one of us to those we love. The beautiful thing is that all of our Strings are intertwined and linked in an Invisible Web. Check out this beautiful page from the book…
Unfortunately, though, we sometimes forget about the Web. We feel disconnected. We feel sad, and we worry that things might not ever get better. The weight of our sadness and our worries feels so very heavy. And while all those feelings are normal and valid, there are so many people who care to help us and who can help keep the Web strong for us.
Karst writes, “The Web feels like every parent since the beginning of time, holding and protecting each one of us in millions of gentle arms. What could be stronger than all those hands holding us close? So many supportive fingers can always find a way to untangle Strings so that love can flow again.”
Though I’m certainly far from a perfect parent, I am proud of how I held space for my little guy in the past 24 hours. I believe it was my holding him close that helped him feel the strings untangle, that helped him feel the power of love, that helped him feel deeply connected even as he was saddened by the physical loss of some connections.
And when I shared my sadness with some wonderful women in my life recently, they held space for me. They weren’t physically holding me, but they were certainly holding me in this Invisible Web. I too felt the power of love that helps remind me of the deep intertwined connections that will live inside me even though I won't be physically as connected to some as I move to my new job.
So, as you close out your school year, I’m certain there will be sadness in some form or another - for you and your students. Our sadness waves may originate from different places, yet we will all be riding some of these waves. It's inevitable in a time of pandemic.
Even though one of these sadness waves is likely to come from not seeing your students this summer or ever again, I know that you have built such a strong Invisible String between you and them that will always remain. Remind your students, and your own children if you have them, of these Invisible Strings and the Invisible Web that are very real even if you can't see them.
And I encourage you to reach out to someone who is on the end of one of your Invisible Strings. Tell them what’s real for you. Allow them to be there for you as your tears flow. Allow them to hold space for you like a mother or father who unconditionally holds space for their precious children.
I know that you will be part of the Invisible Web for those who need to share their truth, their sadness with you too.
I know I’m so grateful that I will forever be connected to my family, my friends, my students and colleagues, old and new, and to all of you, who are part of my very big family, my Invisible Web.
Sending so much love as I tug on all these Invisible Strings!
Affiliate links to the Invisible Web book and Invisible String Book are included in this page. Purchases made through these links send a little change to Constant Love and Learning at no extra cost to you. Thanks for helping me do this work and create a kindness ripple!
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