Losing a student


Christopher J Hudson

Losing a student is one of the most difficult things any teacher will experience. If you teach long enough I suppose it is inevitable that you’ll run face first into this emotional wall. Our band (Lynchburg Christian Academy) experienced this loss in 1999 when we lost Chris.

Chris

Chris was a well loved baritone player. He was a hard worker with a great sense of humor. He was an encourager, but didn’t shy away from challenging others. And I’m not just talking about fellow students.

Chris said that he had concerns and wanted to address the school’s faculty. He stood in front of us and said that we weren’t holding the students to a high enough standard. LCA is a Christian school with a code of conduct for behavior and a dress code. He said that we needed to stop overlooking student offenses.

I talked to him after the meeting. “You know you just painted a target on your back, right? The teachers in there are going to be watching you like a hawk from now on. If you step out of line, they are going to go after you!”

Chris was unconcerned. He held himself to a high standard and expected the teachers to enforce what was in our school handbook.

Accident

In May of 1999 the students were preparing for their annual Junior/Senior event. I had my head in marching band mode as I thought about the next season and the upcoming summer practice schedule.

I was at home when I received a call saying that Chris had been in an accident and was in the hospital. He had struck his head and there was swelling on the brain. The doctors had placed him into a medically induced coma in order to give his body time to recover. I was concerned, but was certain that a young man as healthy as Chris would be back on his feet quickly.

On Sunday my phone rang again. I listened as our school’s chorus teacher told me that Chris was not going to make it. The doctors tried to relieve the pressure on Chris’s brain, but they had been unsuccessful and he was not going to recover. If I wanted to say goodbye, I needed to get to the hospital immediately.

Saying goodbye

When I arrived at the hospital, the first person I talked to was our school’s principal. He told me I needed to pull myself together before I saw Chris’s parents but I couldn’t guarantee from one moment to the next that I was going to remain composed. I didn’t know when the next wave of grief would crash over me.

Chris’s parents graciously allowed me to stand at his bedside and say goodbye. That was a precious gift and I’m deeply grateful.

A few students were at the hospital and we talked about what to do next. Many students wouldn’t know about Chris’s death before school. We didn’t have Facebook, Instagram or texting in ’99. We’d have to tell them that their friend was gone at the beginning of class. How were we going to do that and what were we going to do after that announcement?

Music as prayer and therapy

Chris had enjoyed playing Clair de Lune the year before. Since it was his favorite piece, we decided that we would play it during class as a tribute to Chris.

I got in early on Monday morning, pulled the sheet music and prepared for class. The students made their way in quietly. By this time many must have known what had happened. Our school counselor and administrator stood at the door to help with grieving students.

I have no idea exactly what I said. I know that we passed out the music and indicated that Chris loved this song and that we were going to play it for and to him.

Music as prayer

The music was exquisite. We didn’t need to talk about phrasing or intonation. That was irrelevant. There is an old saying, “God gave us music that we might pray without words.”. That’s what the band did that day. It was like a veil between the physical and spiritual had been torn open and the students were communicating with Chris and saying goodbye.

I looked down at one of our flute players. She had a river of tears streaming down her cheeks. This river was leaping from her cheeks and bouncing off her flute before coming to rest on her lap.

We played the piece again. What else were we going to do? When class time was over, we packed up our instruments and went to the next class. That’s what the living do. We have no choice. We pack up our grief and carry it with us as we move on.

The school counselor approached me after class and said, “I’ve never seen anything like that before. You could see the students working through their grief as they played.” We hadn’t needed the grief counselors.

Ceremony

Chris loved band and he loved the people in the band. We were a small group and very close. That’s one of the blessings of a small band.

Chris’s parents knew how much band meant to him and they felt that he would want to be buried in his uniform. I said yes without hesitation.

The church was packed on the day of his funeral. Chris was wearing his uniform and his Bands of America (BOA) Regional Champion medal that he had won in ’97. I took one look and came undone.

Our band was a military style group. You could call out a command and they’d respond. The drum major called the command for attention and they barked, “Hit!” in unison as they snapped to attention.

I will always remember the emotions of that ceremony. The experience was a mix of grief and pride. Grief over the loss of Chris and pride in the way the band rallied together and showed respect for their friend.

Finding something positive

Chris’s parents are some of the best people I have ever met. They are givers with great senses of humor. Because of the nature of Chris’s death, the doctors approached Chris’s parents about organ donation. They agreed.

The doctors successfully transplanted many of his organs. Chris’s parents were able to contact the recipient of the lung donation. She had gone into surgery fighting for breath and came out breathing clearly.

Our band did a lot of breathing exercises. Chris gave this lady some strong, low brass playing, deep breathing lungs!

It was just like Chris to still be serving and helping people many years after his death. Knowing this provided us with some comfort, but his presence was deeply missed.

Dedication

As you might guess, we didn’t and couldn’t just move on like nothing had happened. We decided to dedicate our 1999 marching season to Chris. We were going to BOA Grand Nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Chris would have loved it.


4 responses to “Losing a student”

  1. I remember Chris so well, he was a lot like his in dry humor but his own personality as well. He was always easy to talk to and was just a really good guy. I walked through this time with his family as his Dad and I were and still are really close friends. We laughed and cried together and we all hated the way life was changing for this family. Chris was fine we all knew but his family were hurting so badly. There is nothing worse than losing a child I have been told and the love I have for my two brings that home for me. LCA is a strong school an incident of this magnitude affects students, faculty and staff and all who knew Chris.

  2. Chris is always on my mind when school starts. It’s not something you ever forget. He was such a great guy. His memory lives on. Thank you, Eric, for this beautiful remembrance.

  3. There is so much I could say about Chris. He was one of my first friends at LCA and always had an open seat in lunch for me. If you were in our Bible class, you would remember our last project we were working on before his tragic accident. I was in his project group along with a few others. The details of the project are still so different because of how ominous they were but one of the things that really stays with me is how he worked with me so patiently during the “speech” I had to give for the video and how he really just understood how to gently challenge me during it. I will never forget just how much his kind encouragement made such a difference. I will also always remember the special video he made for us ending with the song from Third Day. He was truly one of a kind and was the first deeply impactful loss I had felt but mixed with the joy that he is with Jesus.

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