Guns can kill more than those targeted

July 31, 2000|By Sandra Kelman

DEATH stays with some kids. Just ask Warren.

He lost his older cousin to gunfire. According to Warren's dad, his cousin, Charles, just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Warren used to hang out with Charles, looked up to him. Charles helped Warren do his homework.

His cousin died long before Warren entered fifth grade. But death stays with some kids and with it comes a profound sense of grief. Warren was a kid with an attitude. Acted like he didn't care about nothin'. Maybe it just hurt too much to care.

For most of us, mourning the death of a loved one is a natural process. No matter what the cause of death, our reaction ranges from profound sadness to anger that this person has left us. Eventually, we work through these feelings, we recover from our grief, and we move on.

There are a few of us who don't make it through this process.

It's one thing to be an adult coming to grips with death. But what happens when those trapped in the mire of mourning are our children, our grandchildren, our young nieces or nephews or cousins, or even our students? What happens then?

For Warren, every now and then there was a spark, as if he had reached the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. He'd raise his hand, answer questions, actually sit up in his seat, show signs of the intelligence he usually kept hidden beneath his I-don't-know-I'm-just-dumb faM-gade. But, mostly there was just despair and an overwhelming sense of sadness. The depression often manifested itself in outbursts.

This was especially evident when the class was reviewing how the colony of Maryland was founded after the Calvert family got a land grant from the king of England. At the mention of the name of King Charles I, Warren would hold his head and groan. He let us know he did not want to be reminded, in any way, of his cousin's name.

His inability to let go of his grief made that social studies lesson a chore for all of us. Nothing seemed to help. Any time the name Charles came up, Warren seethed.

His mom listened when the social worker and I told her he seemed to be depressed. She didn't say much, just listened and then went on her way.

Halfway through the school year, Warren got a new teacher -- a young man who was confident he could handle Warren.

Every now and then, I'd see Warren in the hallway and we'd nod at each other. I'd ask his new teacher how he was doing. "Warren is Warren," he'd say, or, "He's coming along."

The last face-to-face contact I had with Warren, he smiled at me, really smiled. Maybe death was losing its grip on him. Maybe the in-school counseling he was getting was helping. Maybe his teacher had gotten through to him. Maybe he was feeling better about himself.

Maybe he wouldn't be a casualty of the war on the streets, after all. Maybe he'd be OK.

Sandra Kelman teaches special education at Pimlico Elementary School in Baltimore.

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