My family includes two boys and myself. One of those family members, the baby pup Gus, who is a full grown adult dog, has suffered from quite a bit of separation anxiety.
He needed to be medicated when we first adopted him to keep him from injuring himself.
And the other boy in our family? He’s been quite vocal about going through his own version of separation anxiety.
Lest you think I’m using a difficult time for my husband as foder for a blog post, I want to first say that this post was Tyler’s suggestion. Apparently, he is interested in my written take on the last several weeks.
So here we go.
Tyler is a high school teacher. Every year, he watches as his students graduate and move on to college, work or elsewhere.
This year has been pretty difficult for him.
I sort of get it. He’s been at Spirit Lake for long enough that he’s been teaching all the students through their whole high school experience. And then they are gone. Despite the bonds you create with a student, you may never hear from that kid again. After seeing them five days a week for four years…in class, in rehearsals, in private lessons and on trips.
I certainly lose students. But it’s definitely not under the same circumstances as Tyler. I work with kids one on one, sometimes for years, and then one day their parents decide their kid needs to consolidate their activities…or they move to another town…and bam. Suddenly, the kid is gone. And you never hear from them again. Absolutely never. You work with some kids that are such hard-workers or are so talented or are so kind…and then you lose them to football or hockey or dance or their part-time job or whatever…it can really break your heart.
It’s probably a big part of what makes teaching difficult.
Do you let your heart break when you lose a student that is such a wonderful person? Or do you try to keep yourself at an emotional distance from your students so you never fully invest?
Well, I would argue that especially in a one-on-one teaching relationship, not investing often makes you a crap teacher.
But that’s not the point.
This year, Tyler has been worried that a student with a very bright future may leave for college and he will never hear from them again.
Why is he so worried this time? This year?
It’s different than my experiences. Tyler has an advantage I do not. He has the ability to become more invested because his time with his students is more stable.
We have different ideas of what constitutes loss because we lose students in different ways.
I wish he could see that he doesn’t lose these students. He graduates students. He ushers them into adulthood and shapes their lives. When students leave him, it’s because he has been successful at his job.
When I lose students it’s because I wasn’t enough of a force or guide or shape in their lives to merit making lessons a priority.
It makes me very sad and this causes us to have vastly different viewpoints about a student moving on. And it means we can’t really share the inner-experience of losing a student. In fact, I often feel it’s wrong for me to be sad or feel down about losing a student. Because it’s on me. I rarely share any sadness I have about losing students with Tyler. Maybe that has been a mistake on my part and made him feel more isolated in this instance, in this year.
Tyler being down about losing students who mean so much to him; that’s a direct measure of how impactful he is being as a teacher. How do I empathize with that?
I guess I try to empathize by understanding he loses more when he loses students, because they’ve had the opportunity to connect more.
Tyler equates it to empty nest syndrome. Which I could be led to believe, but we won’t have any type of empty nest. He’ll still have students and me and Gus and everything here at the homestead.
But, relationships are exceptionally special to him.
I wonder sometimes if those external relationships are so important because we are such a small family. With just three of us (one being a dog), Tyler has no one to take care of. But he can take care of his students. He can be a fatherly figure and give advice and be helpful.
Taking care of someone is a hugely rewarding part of life. Once you lose that responsibility, it can feel like a death.
So maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s grieving. Anticipatory grief, to use a medical term. And that is something I can understand.
What will help his anticipatory grief? In music therapy we would share stories, write music, talk through worst case scenarios, and prepare families for the changes once their loved one is gone. But it’s a long process.
Gus’s separation anxiety has been helped greatly by a schedule and time after the time for the pills was done.
I wish I could help Tyler the same way. Give him a pill so he wouldn’t hurt, or adjust his schedule so he felt more comfortable.
But people aren’t as easy as dogs.
Gus and I are here Tyler. I will always be here. Always and forever.