On Monday morning Miss Lagdon asked her third grade students to go to the front of the room and talk about what they had done over the weekend, as she had done every Monday. One by one they went up and spoke stiffly about the weekend's activities. Finally little Emily Finch came to the front, a comfortable smile on her face.
"On Sunday I went to a going-away party for my dad." She said, "He's going to be staying with father, so we won't be seeing him for awhile." Emily spoke with ease, talking freely and with delight about everyone in her family was there and said nothing but kind things about him. Miss Lagdon smiled as Emily concluded. "That was very nice Emily, you may have a seat. Now class, everyone open your grammar books to page 31…"
Later that evening Miss Lagdon saw Emily's mother sitting on a park bench, staring at nothing. She seemed very feeble and small sitting there alone so Miss Lagdon approached her, taking the empty seat. "Hello Mrs. Finch. My name is Miss Lagdon…" Before she could explain Mrs. Finch interjected. "Yeah, you're Emily's teacher, aren't you?" Miss Lagdon nodded.
Suddenly her eyes pooled with tears. "She talks about you all the time. She's so sweet…just like her father." She stifled a sob and pulled a crumpled tissue from her coat pocket, dabbing her eyes with it. "I heard about it from Emily in class today." She said this as cautiously as possible, as if the very words might deliver a blow to this fragile woman. How she wasn't sure.
Whatever the reason, the woman burst into sobs that racked her entire body. Miss Lagdon wasn't sure what she could do for the woman. She didn't even know what had made her cry. She awkwardly pat her on the back as she continued crying pitifully. "He was so kind and gentle..." she wept. "Was?" she asked meekly. Although deep down she already knew the answer she was going to give.
"Didn't she tell you? He's dead. He died last week of a heart attack. The funeral was Sunday. I would've known she wouldn't say anything about it, calm as she was during the funeral. They were so close... she must be in denial, the poor thing." She blew her nose into the crumpled tissue and stood. "I'm sorry but I must be going. Sorry to have bothered you with my problems." Miss Lagdon did not reply. All she could think about was the problem at hand.
Emily had always seemed like a calm, level-headed girl. Not one to dive into denial. But then again there is no telling what one's mind goes through during something so stressful. The only one who could tell her was Emily, so she decided that's who she needed to see.
It was at least fifteen minuets before the beginning of class and, as usual, Emily was the first in. "Good morning Miss Lagdon." She said with her normal cheeriness. Miss Lagdon nodded, her mind racking itself for a way to bring the subject up. She sat idly behind her desk for a little while, watching as she put her backpack away and placed her books in a neat stack on her desk. She didn't seem like anything was wrong, but looks so often could be deceiving.
It was the perfect opportunity to talk, she knew it, her voice was useless to her and her mind was on a blank. It was a numb, fallow feeling which she couldn't shake. Suddenly, without realizing it, she called her name. "Emily." She looked up. "Yes Miss Lagdon?" Could you come here for a moment, please?"
Obediently Emily rose from her seat and wandered to the front of her desk. There was no turning back now. The words came without her planning them. "Emily," she began, "I understand that your father has…passed away recently, and that you went to his funeral Sunday. Is this true?" "Yes ma'am" "But you also said you had gone to his going-away party that day." "Yes, I did that too." "But you couldn't have done both." "Miss Lagdon, what is a going away party?"
Miss Lagdon sat back in her seat, a thoughtful expression on her face. "Well," she began slowly, "A going-away party is when a group of people get together to tell a person that they will be missed, and that they're happy that they're going wherever it is they're going." Emily nodded, seemingly satisfied with her answer then added, "They're the same thing." Miss Lagdon looked perplexed. "I'm not quite sure I understand."
"A going-away party says that they will miss that person, and at a funeral everyone comes together and says nice things about that person to show they will be missed. And you show them your happy they're going where their going too. That's what the pastor there said. He said that once he leaves our arms he's going strait into God's. That's wonderful, isn't it?" Emily stopped and beamed proudly at her teacher. "All sorts of people getting together to wish someone good-bye and good-luck, that sounds like a going-away party, doesn't it?"
She turned from her astonished teacher and melded into the groups of children that already filled the room. She wasn't in denial at all, Miss Lagdon thought; she was accepting it in a way she would never expect from a child of the third grade. She realized as she walked away that she had never explained what she had meant by "he was going to stay with his father" and she almost called her back when she came upon the answer herself. He was going to stay with his father. And she certainly didn't mean Emily's grandfather.
The bell rang and all the students scrambled for their desks, looking to Miss Lagdon for instruction. Miss Lagdon smiled rising from her desk, and with renewed energy asked the class to turn in their grammar books to page 33.