Dear William

This morning I was cleaning up my kitchen while Alice napped and Helen played at my mom’s house, and the phone rang. It was the mother of one of my tutoring students; she needed to reschedule our appointment for this afteroon because of William’s funeral.

William died?

She had assumed I would know, because she knew I had taught him. No one had called or emailed to let me know, so I had no idea.

I taught William Honors Algebra I for the first half of his 8th grade year. The second half, he was in a different class to separate him from his best friend. William had requested me as his advisor, and so I also spent extra time with him on Friday mornings every week, talking with him and 9 other students about any issues that they might be facing with parents, teachers, or friends. I also met with his mother twice that year to discuss issues that William was facing, his other classes, etc. And we cried together.

William was an artist and a comedian. He was always laughing. He walked with crutches, to keep the weight off of his right knee and tibia. William was in remission from a very aggressive form of cancer that had attacked the growth plate on his right leg when he was 12. He almost lost his leg from mid-thigh down as a result of this cancer, because his bones were starting to crumble. With several surgeries they were able to save his leg, but it was very obviously malformed and shorter than his left leg.

18 months after I left school to be home with Helen, William’s cancer was back. An inoperable tumor was found in his chest wall, so they treated him aggressively with chemo and radiation, and he pulled through it, even though he lost part of a lung in the process. This past January they found cancer again. Everywhere. This time they opted against aggressive treatment, and just encouraged William to live life the best he could in the time he had left.

Wednesday night, even with final exams the next morning and even though William had pneumonia, he and several of his best friends went to see a midnight showing of “Star Wars.” It was William’s idea to poke fun at the people who take all of this too seriously: they dressed in irrelevant costumes. William went as Harry Potter, another boy went as the Cat in the Hat, and another as Bart Simpson.

18 hours later, at dinnertime on Thursday, William was gone. He was 17 years old.

I went to the funeral today. It was packed — over 1000 people were there. I watched by closed-circuit in the parish hall. Most of these kids have more final exams tomorrow. It was so, so incredibly sad to see these teenagers gathered to say goodbye to a friend they had known since kindergarten.

If you pray, please pray for William’s family and classmates.

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