I got a text message from my friend Ted around lunch time today. It said that a teacher at Independence Junior High had passed away.
It didn’t really register right away. Then he typed the name in: Maureen Oleskiewicz.
I wrote back that I thought she might be one of Carson’s teachers. Ted told me she had choked on something at a Cub’s game on the weekend and that she had been hospitalized since then.
I texted my wife, who immediately called me back, breathless from her run. She had been informed earlier that morning that Oleskiewicz was on life-support, and that they were bringing counselors into the school to talk to the children. She died Tuesday morning.
Palos Heights is a small area, 4.6 square miles to be exact. Oleskiewicz not only grew up in the town, she attended all the schools my kids went to, graduating a year ahead of my friend Ted.
She was Carson’s language arts teacher, and though she and Carson did not have the greatest relationship, she was beloved by many in the school and in the community. My daughter Gabrielle, who attends a different school, told us that her teacher cried today in class.
My oldest son, who is in high school, said that news of Oleskiewicz’s death reverberated through his school too. Like I said, Palos Heights is a small place.
I lost friends in school. I remember the strange days walking around campus talking in hushed tones and wondering if I should go talk to the grief counselors the school brought in.
But I never lost a teacher.
When I got home, Carson had already gone to a memorial service for Oleskiewicz, which started at Incarnation Catholic Church and ended with the students placing candles at the school.
When he came home, he was sad and kept repeating that she was only 28. Carson is 11, and death can be a difficult thing to process even when you’re nearing 40.
I’m not a grief counselor, so I just hugged him and asked him how he was doing.
“I’m sad, I just saw her on Friday,” he told me.
Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day. Which makes this that much tougher.
I’m grateful for all the teachers in my life and especially for those who spend their time with my children every day.
I only met Oleskiewicz once, during parent-teacher conferences. She was pretty honest about Carson’s lack of diligence in language arts, which is a hard little pill to swallow for someone like me.
If I could have, I would have told her thanks for being hard on the kid. He needs it, and if you know him well, you know that’s how you love him.
I think she understood that.