Mourning the Loss of a Student

I'll do my crying in the rain (taken from classroom window)
I’ll do my crying in the rain
(taken from classroom window)

On the first day of the new school year, last year, he walked in and examined the name I had written on his classroom folder. Then he flashed me that incredible smile of his and said: “I’ll be perfectly happy if you want to treat me like a famous Italian artist, but I spell my name Rafael”.

His friends called him Rafa.

Rafael did get celebrity treatment. When he opened the classroom door he would pause a minute, so the students and I could all celebrate his arrival for a moment. He would flash that smile of his and everyone wanted him to sit next to them. It would take him a few minutes to settle down because he had to joke with everyone first.

Because you never knew when he would come to class. The days (or weeks) when he was absent were spent in the hospital, undergoing cancer therapy. Or spent at home, being too weak to school. Or perhaps being protected from all those germs floating around a school.

The amazing thing was that Rafael easily made up material he had missed. He was one of those rare students you only encounter once every few years, who are intellectually in a class of their own. He was doing extremely well studying with hearing students, despite his hearing problem. The only reason he transferred to the special classes such as mine, in the 12 grade, was his need for flexible support, caused by his absences. In my EFL class he was studying at the highest level.

Rafael was a high-achiever and a perfectionist. During the last few months of school the frequency of his absences grew, but he continued to study at home. We corresponded a lot by email and he sent me his work for comments. He refused to skip anything, he wanted the highest grades. Rafael sat for all of his exams (some were administered at home by an examiner) and the results were spectacular.

I was told that all he talked about during his last days were how to calculate his grade average and which university choices were now open to him.

Rafael passed away this week at the age of 19.

It is difficult to comprehend.


12 thoughts on “Mourning the Loss of a Student”

  1. Despite his short life, it seems this kid was one that the world was definitely enriched by while he was here. So sorry for your loss.

    1. I’m trying to focus on that exactly, Adele. I was fortunate to have been his teacher.
      Thanks for writing.

  2. Rafael’s determination to participate, achieve and aspire to go to university, despite his cancer, is inspirational.

    My deepest condolences to Rafa’s family, friends and to you.

  3. So sorry for your loss, but glad you are able to focus on the joy, the smiles and the goodness that he brought into the world.

  4. Sometimes it is the most extraordinary people we know who are taken from us much too early. Then we have to consider that we were blessed to have known them and hope that they also felt blessed knowing us. It certainly seems that was the case here.

  5. My dear Naomi,

    I am totally heartbroken after reading this. As everyone else said, his determination and will to live were amazing. I know very well unfortunately how that is, as I have lost two of my kids (22 and 17) in car accidents.

    It is hard to fathom at first and it does take some time, but we always remember them and keep them in our hearts.

    Sending you big hugs and my condolences to Rafa’s family.


    1. Thank you for your kinds words, Vicky! So sorry to hear of the students you lost in car accidents. They are so sudden, one is totally unprepared. In this case there was hope for a better outcome, but not surprise.

  6. Hi Naomi

    Knowing the pupils you have been working with, some of whom I have, at times, shared with you, i am sure of one thing – you have certainly been a teacher who has made a difference in their lives. Rafa was a lucky boy to have you as his teacher and supporter both educationally and mentally. Most of our students, or at least mine, go straight into our hearts and losing one at such a young age is indeed something one cannot and would not comprehend.
    i hope you can find new light with the excellent work you are doing with your other students
    shabbat shalom

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