Gone Too Soon

In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years. ~Jacques Barzun, French-American historian and writer

I just learned that one of my former teachers died last year … from COVID-19.

And if you don’t personally know anybody who has contracted or died from that dreaded virus, count yourself lucky.

The news of Mr. D.’s death took me way back to high school.

It was the first day of my senior year, and I was sitting in English class. In walked this tiny, wee man with high-pitched voice, thinning hair, and glasses.

He immediately took charge.

It must’ve been hard for him. Most of the boys and nearly all the girls were taller than he, it was his first year teaching, and we weren’t known for our obedience.

As the old saying goes, We’d pick a fight at the drop of a hat, and we’d drop it ourselves.

But Mr. D. made class FUN. We listened to popular music and dissected the lyrics; we had fascinating discussions of world events and philosophy. We learned to be open to new ideas and to appreciate the English language.

I imagine none of us properly thanked him.

Fast-forward a few years.

I’d moved back to Illinois and was outside walking when our paths crossed again.

He was an avid walker, too, and we spent lots of time walking and chatting — catching up on former classmates, discussing my career, bending Dallas’s ear with small talk. Even someone who wasn’t particularly enamored of dogs liked Dallas.

When my son was in high school, he, too, met Mr. D., only this time, the latter had retired from active teaching and was working as a teachers’ mentor. Mr. D. took an avid interest in Domer’s education and career path, never failing to inquire how he was doing.

Sadly, by the time I needed Beta readers for my first novel, Mr. D. had developed eye issues and wasn’t able to help; however, he did recommend another wonderful educator, who provided much-needed real-world advice for me.

More time passed, and Mr. D. was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. His family placed him in a nursing facility a half-hour away from here.

Nobody counted on COVID rearing its ugly head. Mr. D. caught it and succumbed.

There was no announcement in the newspaper. No public visitation or services were held, to my knowledge.

And it makes me genuinely sad to think a man can live, positively impact entire generations, then die with nobody to take notice.

Perhaps now, when the Delta variant is circulating, we should remember the basics:

  • Wash your hands … often
  • Stay 6 feet from others not living under your roof
  • Avid crowds and spaces that aren’t well ventilated
  • Wear a mask to protect yourself and others
  • And get vaccinated as soon as you can


20 thoughts on “Gone Too Soon

  1. I am SO sorry. Covid is a terrible way to die. And he was likely alone. The whole thing is tragic.

    Maybe next summer you could organize a celebration of his life for alum to attend and share their stories of what sounds like a very special man.

    I’m glad you had time together as an adult, and that he knew you too that way.


    • The “alone” part is what gets to me most, I think. Yes, he was a more introverted man, but nobody should have to die without the company of family/friends. Your idea of a celebration of his life is an excellent one, Dawn — thank you! I hadn’t thought of that. I know mine isn’t the only life he touched.

  2. Very, very sorry! Unfortunately, I think that most of us personally know someone who has died from COVID-19. I do. Sigh. Anyway… you have written a vivid tribute of an extraordinary teacher. A lovely way to honor him.

    • Thanks very much, Laurie. In my younger years, I wanted to be a teacher. I expect everybody would like to know — while they’re still living — that they’ve had a positive influence on others.

  3. Your post has reminded me of a lesson I learned a few years ago, to my chagrin. If someone has made your life better, tell them so: now. I once called a favorite professor to thank him for all he’d done for me and my classmates, and I ended up calling on the very day that he died. It was a terrible experience: embarassing, heart-rending, grief-filled. I try to be more proactive in expressing gratitude and thanks, now.

    • Ouch, talk about bad timing. Sorry you missed, probably by mere hours, telling your professor ‘Thank you’, but I imagine his loved ones were grateful you called. That’s a good lesson for all of us … telling folks important to us how much they mean. After all, none of us is guaranteed a single day. Thanks for your comment, Linda!

  4. Debbie, I am so sorry to hear about your teacher, Mr. D., he sounded like a very special person that not only blessed your life, but so many around him. Isn’t it something how a person can touch our lives on such a deep, deep level?

    Beautiful tribute.

    Sending you love and a hug, my friend!

    (((((((( X )))))))))

    • Thank you, Ron. Looking back, I think I appreciated Mr. D. more as an adult than as a high schooler. Maybe that’s true across the board, but many of us at that age were more focused on getting out of school and town and heading off to college and Life, rather than offering gratitude to those who helped us along the way. Selfish, I suppose.

      I can only hope that now, Mr. D. knows how much he was appreciated, even if it comes too late for his earthly existence. Hope your Sunday is going well and that you have a wonderful week to enjoy! xo

  5. What a touching tribute, Debbie, to the teacher who was such a positive influence in your life. Some teachers are extra-special and stand out in our recollections. He must have enjoyed those long walks and chats with you in later years. I am so sorry for your loss and for the awful way his life ended. COVID is such a cruel disease. May your memories bring you some comfort during these difficult times.

    • Thanks very much, Barbara. As to be expected, I grew to appreciate him more as an adult than as a student. However, in these times of COVID, perhaps we all need to realize that life and health can be fleeting, and we shouldn’t wait to show appreciation to others while we still can.

  6. I’m so sorry! I think one of the worst things about Covid is that people have to die alone, and for so long, funerals weren’t even allowed. That made the grief even harder to bear.

    • It is sad, Ann. In a healthier time, the teachers at least would’ve gotten together and sent him off as befitted one of their mentors. I understand he didn’t leave a big family, but you’d hate to have to go alone.

  7. Debbie, so sorry for the loss of your teacher. He sounds like an amazing educator who touched so many lives. COVID has taken too too many amazing people from us! Please be safe. The Delta variant is aggressive & deadly! Hang in there! Virginia

    • Thanks, Virginia. This world isn’t out of danger yet from that virus. We all need to take precautions so we don’t get it … or spread it to others. Hugs!

  8. So very sad to hear about your teacher (and friend) who died of COVID. I am sure his spirit has read your words and is appreciating this tribute to his life…

    • Oh, I do hope so! I’d hate to think he died not knowing how much he was appreciated. We really should tell people that while they’re still here, shouldn’t we?

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