Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Time when Lucas Died

A little boy in Kiki's school died on the weekend. He was in an older class but there are only 40 kids in the school, so they all knew him well. It was an asthma attack. A total shock.

The Biggest Morning Tea was planned, and the whole school was filled with cakes when we arrived on Monday morning. A strange man ushered the kids outside, the parents into a small room. Faces were grim, I didn't know what was going on and my assumption was that we were being briefed on how to behave at the morning tea or something, that there was to be some sort of protocol. But he told us that he had sad news, that a little boy, Lucas, had passed away last night. We were stunned at first, attempting to register. I kept looking at the man, consciousness slowly pricking over my face. Then I looked around the room. Why did we look around the room at each other? To check on other faces if it was real? To see what faces they were making? I turned my self-conscious gaze back to the man. What?

Other parents were coming in to the room with the same curious faces we had and there were too many of us so the man asked the ones who knew to leave, and we formed a sort of progression past each other, eyes down, the newcomers heads bobbing around with what?

In the foyer my husband got annoyed. We can't just go on like nothing has happened! The grim man, who was a psychologist from the Department, said the procedure would be to continue with the morning tea as arranged, and the kids would be told after. We stood against the wall in shock. The young principal's face trembled. They say that's the best way to handle it. My husband shook his head. No! That's so wrong. The kids will know something's up. They're not stupid.

I agreed. What was wrong with our culture? Were we going to sweep this aside? Eat cake, sing songs, talk about curriculum? I thought back to when Gran died, how mum had gone and bought piles of cakes and got out the Whiskey bottle though we were underage. There are all these cakes. It's all set up for us to talk and eat and cry together. Are we seriously going to just ignore it?

We did. We talked and ate and tried not to meet each other's glances. There were red eyes and grey faces, but the kids didn't suspect a thing. And as time went on we found ourselves grateful for the time between the news and the telling - the shock had started to subside, we were less volatile, less shaky, more able to see things clearly. The choir sang. The cakes were eaten. And once the two hours were over, the kids were told. At first they said he'd passed away, then a teacher stepped in and said he'd died, so the kids understood. Maddie burst into sobs. He's my buddy! The little ones all had an older kid in the school as their 'buddy', to look out for them. Teachers cried. Principal cried. Kids looked around, wriggled. The little kids' teacher suggested they all go and sit around the circular desks and make cards for Lucas and his family about a happy memory they had of Lucas. I sat with them and listened to their conversation.

Lucas DIED. He's DEAD.

Maddie's sad. It was her buddy. (Maddie sniffles, she is sitting right next to the girl.)

Maddie's sad. She's crying.

Can you help me spell this? THE. TIME. WHEN. LUCAS. DIED.

The girl cuts out a picture of Lucas and paints a glitter necklace around his neck. He looks like a mayor or a hiphop king. She is pleased.

When you die your body goes and you turn into a ghost.

No, you don't turn into a ghost, your body stays here and you turn into an angel.

You go to heaven.

My Nanna's in heaven.

My dog's in heaven. He's dead too.

The kid next to Maddie wants to tell me a secret. My mum said Santa's not real. It's a game, and it's not true. But I still get presents. She told me not to tell the other kids.

No, please don't tell the other kids.

I won't.

Some kids at the other table are laughing about Lucas. They're teasing Lucas says one of the kids at my table.

That's not nice. Lucas is dead.

Yeah you shouldn't tease people that are died.

Maddie's sad. She's crying.

Yes, she might be sad for a bit. We all might be. We need to give Maddie lots of cuddles. And all of us - or any of us that are sad.

Was he a nice buddy Maddie?

Maddie nods, sniffs, draws a football.

They all keep cutting, pasting, drawing, smearing glitter glue. There is a Buddy Book with photos of all the little kids and their buddies in the middle of the table and the teacher has photocopied the page of Lucas and Maddie for the kids to cut out for their cards. Maddie is sitting with Lucas on a striped bean bag. Lucas is smiling wide, he is a sweet, chubby boy. Underneath the picture are the words.


Kiki has drawn a picture of herself holding hands with Lucas. Above his head is a shimmery line that goes up towards the top of the page. She goes over and over and over the line, giving it dynamic.

Is that Lucas?

Yep. He's going up to the sky.

I've drawn a red elephant, says Cara.