In Rememberance and Why Books Matter

This past Saturday a twelve-year-old boy in my Language Arts classes died unexpectedly. I’m heartbroken, I’m ripped apart, I’m still in shock. But I’m also comforted. I’m going to share this story to illustrate how fictional books CAN and DO make a difference, because I know what a lonely profession this can be sometimes.

My student drowned in a canal near his home. His brother and neighbor tried to save him but were unable to revive him. For those that know my novel, 18 Things, it’s about a girl who tries to save her best friend from drowning but can’t and the book is her dealing with the guilt over that experience. My student who died went through books like water, a rare thing for a middle school boy. In fact, the first day of school, after telling me to sit him in the front because he was very hyperactive and wouldn’t pay attention otherwise (HA! LOVED his honesty!) . . . when I introduced myself and told them I’m an author, he immediately asked where he could get my novel. Two days later, he proudly carried 18 Things with him to class and told me it was his new favorite book.

When 18 Truths came out a month ago, he quickly grabbed a copy to read. A couple of weeks later, he ran to class. I told him, “Slow down!” He apologized and explained he wanted to be the first one there because he wanted to ask me some questions about my new book. I said, Ask away! I expected an interrogation about the plot twist at the end (he was quite angry with me for not having book #2 out right away after the plot twist in book #1 . . . did I tell you this was a boy after my own heart?!). You can imagine my surprise when he started asking me all these questions about God. Book #2 takes place in the Underworld . . . a recent book reviewer called it the Christian version of Percy Jackson. My student wanted to know if I made all of it up or if it was in the Bible. I told him I made it up, that’s why it’s in the “Fiction” section in the bookstore.

B&N placement

But I told him I definitely focused on the goodness of God because I think of that as a universal truth. Yes, I know we’re not supposed to talk about God in public schools, but he brought up the subject and I can’t explain things any other way except that the conversation felt right. We talked about how a lot of books that take place in the Underworld don’t mention God at all. Or how many characters act like they don’t believe in God or don’t know if He exists, even ones that have angels and demons in the plot (City of Bones comes to mind, as that’s one of the 8 books our students are encouraged to read this year for school). It was a great discussion, and then the bell rang and that was the end of it.

Then two weeks ago I announced to my classes that we were going to study Romeo and Juliet. Of course I was instantly met with groaning and gnashing of teeth. But the discussion that followed about modern-day examples of groups of people not getting along got very heated.  My student mentioned the holocaust, and much to my surprise, not only did he know practically EVERYTHING about it, my other students knew virtually nothing. It was then that I realized he (the boy who died) is Jewish. The class was riveted listening to him. Anyway, at the end of class, he told me the lesson was epic, he’d never forget it, and that when he was older, he wanted to be one of those Jewish Christians but he didn’t want to tell his parents because he thought they might be mad. I told him I thought that already thinking about such things at age twelve was very impressive, and he said, “Well, I’m a very curious kid.” I laughed and agreed with him. Then he dropped this on me: “Actually, it was your books that got me thinking more and more about God.” Can you say tears? He thanked me for the lesson, told me to have a good afternoon, and was on his way. That was the type of boy he was. Well-mannered, kind, curious, generous, always a smile for everyone, an “underdog.” He classified himself as one since he was small for his age, but always said what he lacked in size he made up for with his big personality. I couldn’t agree more.

I’m honored to have been part of his journey, though I’m terribly sad tonight. When brainstorming ideas with his class about ways we can memorialize him, they mentioned naming one of my book characters after him in the last installment of my trilogy since he loved to read and loved my books. I thought the idea was perfect.

Today I attended his funeral. As I looked at the destroyed faces of his parents, I was humbled by how easily our babies can be taken from us at any time. Even though right now I’m still questioning God about why this happened, I’m comforted that in the midst of mourning, He comes to us. In the darkness, His spirit moves. At the point of our deepest despair, He is closest. If you pray, I’d ask that you keep his family, friends, classmates, and teachers in your thoughts this week as we figure out how to move on without him.

I will say I don’t question my purpose in being an author anymore. Yes, it’s tough work, but if the sole purpose of my books was to touch this young man’s life and draw him closer to God before he died, then that’s all the reason I need to know publishing this trilogy was the right decision.

34 comments on “In Rememberance and Why Books Matter

  1. What a sad day for his family and friends. How lucky are those who got the opportunity to know him and be his friend and teacher. Sorry for their loss. May God take his hand on his journey home to everlasting life.

  2. I’m very sorry for your loss. I know how inadequate that statement is, truly I do, but there’s really no other way to express it. My heart hurts for you, and this child and his family, and as I was reading the whole post I could feel the tears trying to get out. I’d like you to look at this situation another way too though. I’m agnostic so I don’t have the full faith that you do. I’ve seen things, one of which I’m going to describe, that keeps me from falling all the way to atheism. But I have a hard time believing in something I can’t see, feel, hear. Here’s my story, one of a few, that keeps me in the agnostic category. Fourteen years ago on Friday’s date, I was watching my cousin’s step-daughter while she worked and her husband was working on a car or something. The little girl stays with me a few fun filled hours, and during lunch when my whole family started to eat, she stopped us and asked weren’t we going to say grace first? I said ok, you say grace then. Oh no! She was too shy for that!! I think my grandma finally said a short prayer, but this little 5 year old girl was going to stop six grown adults, two of them old enough to be her grandparents, two others old enough to be her GREAT grandparents, from eating until we said thanks for our food!! When her dad came to get her, I told him about it and we chuckled about it. They were on their way to go fishing, but since it was already mid-afternoon and February, I offered to let her stay with me longer, she really was no trouble and I didn’t mind. I don’t know why but I offered about 20 times before they left. About 2 or 3 hours after they left, we got a call saying that the accident we’d heard about on the police scanner my mom has was them, and it was after dark. It was hours and hours before they were recovered and unfortunately it was not the good kind of recovery. But what I took from the time that I spent with that little girl was that her faith was strong, so strong that God wouldn’t even take her dad and leave her here by herself, even though there were tons of people that loved her and would have taken wonderful care of her. They truly were two sides of the same coin. So even this agnostic could see that that baby girl’s faith took not just her, but her daddy to heaven on that fateful day 14 years ago. And now I really am crying!! A few months later, in September, one of my cousins who was ten, told his mom he’d been having dreams about that little girl, they’d been friends ever since she’d moved to town, and she was in heaven and having a great time. Because she had gone to heaven right mom? Yeah Bud, that’s where she’s at. She and her dad are living in heaven now, never to be separated. Just a few weeks later, he was hit by a car and killed. I can’t imagine that he would have gone anywhere other than where his friend was, where he most likely met up with his own father, that he didn’t even remember because he’d passed away when the boy was only 2 years old or so. So, at times like that, I HAVE to believe or else I’d go crazy!!

  3. I am so heartbroken reading this. How could such a beautiful, wonderful life vanish from this world and in such a vicious way.

    I attended the funeral of a little girl in my oldest son’s kindergarten class. She was 5 years old and her coffin was so small. It was a sudden death, too, and my heart ached for her family. I can’t even imagine losing my child.

    You are blessed to have known this young man in his short time here, and he was blessed to have you in his life in the end. This is such a tragedy. My heart weeps for the family. It weeps for you. God bless you, Jamie. Your heart and soul are amazing and I’m so glad you are in my life.

  4. Jamie, I’m sorry! Prayers for his family and all who knew him. Sounds like he was a remarkable lad.
    We don’t know why death happens when it does. But God does, and he knew to place that boy in your life. He used your talent of writing to reach the boy.
    We just don’t know how far the reach of what we do and how it can really influence others.

  5. How terribly sad for your class and the boy’s family, yet very awesome that your writing led him to want to get to know God in a new way. Losing kids is the absolute worst, saddest thing, and it always seems to be those special kids that go young. I love the idea of basing a character on him in your next book. Take care, Jamie. You obviously understand grief as your 18 Truths shows, but it is never an easy road.

  6. As I sit at my desk at work the tears are rolling down my face. What an amazing young man. I will be praying for his family, teachers and friends. May God grant you all the strength to carry on!

  7. What a sad, and yet beautiful story. Jamie, your words are so moving and so honest, your post gives me chills up and down my spine–as well as tears in my eyes.
    In all the sorrow and the chaos, when things seem to make no sense at all, you find words and faith to carry you through. Knowing that your words have changed lives is so powerful.
    My heart goes out to the family of that young boy.

  8. Oh, Jamie. I’m so, so sorry. What an amazing boy. This post is beautiful, and you played such a huge role in your student’s life. You’re the kind of teacher I pray my son will have one day–one who will truly listen and have his best interests at heart.

  9. Jamie,
    what a beautiful tribute to a wonderful little boy. I have no doubt that you are doing exactly what you are meant to do ….teach and write. God keep that little soul in his arms. What a terrible loss.

  10. Oh, Jamie, I’m so sorry to hear about this. It must be devastating to his classmates, too. What a wonderful thing that you were able to be a part of his life, even if only for a short time.

  11. I am so very sorry about your student. I am, unfortunately, very familiar with the death of children because of my younger son’s diagnosis. It is something I never get used to, and probably never will. Prayers for his family (and for you) going forward.

  12. So sorry for the loss of your student. It’s terrible that a young life with such a zest for living was taken away. Your post is inspiring and a reminder that our lives do have influences on others without our knowing it. Keeping you and the student’s family in my thoughts and prayers.

  13. Jamie, I’m so sorry for your loss. Your post had me crying. I’m glad you were able to connect with this young man before he died.

  14. It was very sad to hear about your student. I’m certain he will never be forgotten. He was, indeed, quite a character. My prayers will be for you and his parents tonight. Thankfully when my son died I had already established a deep faith, and this helped me through the depths. Being Jewish I’m certain his parents will find some consolation in the scriptures. Verses from the Bible that I’d never learned kept filling my mind all the time. It was, and still is, very comforting.

  15. ugh…so hard to lose a student…i lost several at high school last year…one of which i brought a little extra lunch to every day…smiles on your books being a vehicle for talking with them about god…its funny…even in high school my kids love story time…if they do well i reserve the last 5 minutes of class to tell them a story from my life…and that gets lots of them asking questions.

  16. Jamie, you often touch my heart with your posts, but this one truly resonates. It is sad when a young person dies. We think they should have had more time. There must be a reason why some of us have so little time to spend with us. What I know is that remembering someone is the best type of immortality 🙂

  17. This is both heartbreaking and wonderful. I’m thankful the Lord brought that boy into your life (or you into his). You may never know the seeds you’ve planted, or how far-reaching your talks truly were…he may have shared his thoughts with others after picking your brain, and caused someone else to wonder what God is all about. Thank you for being faithful to answer his questions honestly.

  18. I know and understand how debilitating grief can be, but my first thought was I hope these parents learn of your kind and generous heart, Jamie, and how you’ve written such sweet words about their son, giving his life a place in time that will never go away. Because while they may not be able to read your post now, one day it will bring such comfort to them, you have no idea. To love a child, as you know is all consuming. But to lose one, and then realize how that sweet being touched others… there are no words. I don’t know these people, yet I’m so grateful to you for taking the time to share him with us.

  19. Pingback: Criticism or Encouragement–Which One Will You Believe? | Jamie Ayres

  20. Oh Jamie, I can so feel for you on this. When I was teaching I got a phone call to tell me one of my students had died overnight. All I could think in my head was, “Please don’t let it be Katy. Please don’t let it be Katy.”

    The response was, “It’s Katy.”

    In hindsight, it’s terrible that I was pleading for one child out of some many I’ve taught. But that girl was amazing. She was so loved by everyone. Popular doesn’t even begin to describe it, but she lifted others up no matter who they were. Her dream in life was to be a teacher. Katy always talked about how she wanted to help people.

    And an asthma attack took her.

    I don’t know why I knew it was her, but it broke my heart. I was so sure she was meant to do great things on this earth. To be taken at 14 was just unimaginable.

    When I told my sister (another teacher) about what had happened and how I couldn’t get my head around it, she said, “Maybe she had done all she needed to do here. Maybe going on to a better place was how she was meant to help people.”

    For some reason that helped me. I hope it will help you to think that about your student.

    Leanne Ross ( & @LeanneRossRF )

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