How Teaching Saved Me After My Husband’s Death

Why sometimes it’s good to get right back in the saddle.

Teaching Through Grief

Teaching saved me despite my world falling apart around me.

Walking into my classroom that first day back, I looked at the space where so many relationships have developed over the years between mentor and student; lives changed through learning how to read. Everything seemed to be just as I had left it two months before.  My rolling desk chair was pushed under the small work table and the tray of magnetic letters sat ordered in alphabetical order—all ready for service.

How could it be that outside these walls, my world, as I had known it for more than 36 years of marriage with a husband and a houseful of kids, had vanished? While here in my school world, I had control, order, and deep relationships?

Teaching saved me. Each week teachers and students seemed to be on high alert to my needs––vigilantly helping me get through each morning. It wasn’t all perfect. I was grieving, I still am. Sometimes I wallowed through deep sand. Life was heavy. Sometimes I emerged from the staff bathroom red-eyed. The ache always there. No way to hide my sorrow. There were times I needed a hug and moments when I needed some space––and at school, I got both unconditionally.

Day after day young children inquired about my husband. Most knew him. He was tall, strong, and with a burly blond mustache his friends called a squirrel tail. He was unforgettable.They knew he had cancer, you share things like this when you have close relationships.

“It will be good to get back to a routine doing what you love,” said my husband’s best friend.  There was no way to know if I was strong enough or ready to work until I tried.  A little more than a month after my husband’s death, I returned to teach reading part-time.  It has been nearly three months since I re-entered life and I am now working full-time.

Teaching saved me.

On Balancing Sudden Loss and the Responsibility of Teaching

  1. Feel. Face your feelings. Alert people that it is okay if you cry.  Let them know they are helping you process some tough stuff. Grief softens with time.
  2. Delegate responsibility when you can. Suspend extra responsibilities.  Be cautious about taking on any new responsibilities.  Accept help.
  3. Rest whenever you can.
  4. Exercise. Weave in movement through your day. Release those endorphins.

Teaching saved me. It has created hours of normalcy and respite from the swells of grief that come without warning. It has given me purpose. Everyday, I am fulfilling my life’s work: sparking a passion for reading. Everyday I teach, I am resisting isolation by connecting with others.

Barbara Keene

Posted by bkeene

A long time teacher, Barbara is currently the Reading Recovery/Title 1 Teacher in a small rural school on the coast of Maine. She lives on an island, near Acadia National Park where she likes to hike with her dog Rex and picnic near the sea. Newly widowed, Barbara is the mother of eight children. She has been blogging for ten years as Travelinma.