Today was a bad day.
When Connor ran up to me after school and said, "Guess what really bad thing happened today?" I had a terrible feeling that I already knew.
"Mr. Jack died!"
The tears were a little slow in coming but once they started, they couldn't hardly be stopped. I had to cry, too. Mr. Jack had been missing from his customary place for the last 3 weeks, showing up for a day or two and then missing again. The kids have been asking about him, we've all been worrying about him. We knew he was sick and that something bad was going on. But I think we were all hoping for something else.
Mr. Jack is the crossing guard at my kids school. He's been there for several years, ever since the school opened. He was diligent in his job, never let the kids get away with anything. He was an old man, but not a crank, and never seemed to be anything but happy to be where he was.
The kids love him. He always has a high-five for every child who passes him. He always has a joke, a smile, a comment about something in your life that you couldn't even remember telling him. He never missed work. If it was raining, there he was - a small little man in his big yellow slicker. If it was cold, there he was in his big white hoodie.
He got tons of gifts from the kids at every holiday, a pile of them beside the fence that we would have to help him load into his car. This year, I didn't have time to bake the apple brownies that I always make for him at Christmas. The kids were upset, they wanted me to make them and take them to him. I said, 'No, he always gets tons of cookies and stuff. I'll make him some at the end of the year. That way, they'll be special."
Mr. Jack was more than a crossing guard. He was part of our community. He lived across the street from the first house my husband and I ever owned. My kids trick-or-treated at his house on Halloween. They have seen him virtually every school day of their lives. Connor has no memory of crossing the street from school without him and has been getting high-fives from him since he was in his stroller.
And now he is just gone. No last joke. No last high-five. No good-bye.
This is the first loss that the kids have really known. We've been fortunate that way. A couple of years ago, when my dad's cancer came back and was looking like it would be for the last time, I tried to imagine how I would tell the kids. What would I say? How could I comfort them?
And now I know.