I know that someday you'll find better things.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

They Didn't #SingForNicole

"Today's the day, Mom! Do you think they'll change around the words to really make it the story of Nicole's life?"

For a seven-year-old, Mia had been unusually consumed with the idea of the band One Direction acknowledging the passing of my former student Nicole at their Dallas concert.

"That's not usually how it works, Honey. Usually they'll say, 'This next song is dedicated to memory of one of our biggest fans' and then everyone cheers and the band sings, and the audience sings, and everyone's hearts are bursting with emotion."

It was a total mommy bluff. I don't really know how it is supposed to work, but my version seemed more logical. 

It turns out that neither of our notions came to fruition.
One Direction did not #singfornicole.


In May, shortly after Nicole's passing, her sister Kelly posted a message on twitter to the band.

Friends, friends-of-friends, and even strangers were touched by Kelly's message and the story of Nicole's life, and within hours, her message went viral. Social media was flooded with the positive energy of #singfornicole.

Nicole was one of my dearest students in my final year of teaching sixth grade before becoming a stay-at-home mom. After learning of her death, nearly every moment of my every day was spent worrying and wondering about how her classmates-- my sweeties-- and Nicole's family were coping with this devastating loss.

Grief, though inevitable and inescapable, never gets easier with practice. Not really. Is it easier when there's a warning, as with a terminal illness? Probably not.

Yet the unexpected death of an adolescent seems particularly cruel. 

How would they weather this ache? How would they summon the strength to put one foot in front of the other and walk through each future day?

"Sing for Nicole" sprouted wings, helping everyone carry those heavy hearts forward. It was a merciful distraction in the finest sense, channeling--no, converting-- pain into purpose-driven productivity.

Awareness of Type 1 diabetes was promoted.
Donations--tens of thousands of dollars, eventually--poured in to help sponsor children to attend Camp Sweeney, a local summer camp for kids with diabetes.

The cherry on the sundae, the victory sign, would be an acknowledgement at the concert, which was to be held the night before school started.

You can see a brief local news report on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzpP_xVMIFI


"I don't understand, Mom. Why didn't the band sing for Nicole at the concert? It doesn't seem like it would have been so very hard."

No, in theory, it doesn't seem like it should have been so very hard, yet there are blurry reasons at the edges of our understanding. How do you explain to a second grader things like "slippery slope" and "setting a precedent" and contracts and legalities which limit the humanity of the humans in the band?

"Maybe they're not nice people. Or maybe they didn't know," she hypothesized.

I suspect their niceness had very little to do with the decision, and there's no way they didn't know, but I held my tongue.


From what I understand, the concert started later than planned.

Monday was the first day of school, and I am certain there were lots of tired ninth graders roaming the halls of their new school, acutely aware of the absence of their old friend.

Tired and disappointed.
Tired and angry.

For months, hope had numbed the grieving process. The wound that had just begun to heal has been torn open again, bleeding the fresh pain of disappointment.

And the song

Up until now, the song has been the auditory equivalent of the butterfly hovering outside the window or the sunbeams streaking a spotlight through the clouds. 

Hearing the song on the radio was an opportunity to reflect on a beautiful life. It was a sign. A smile from above.

My fear is that those positive feelings might be replaced with betrayal and resentment. I worry that the song will come on the radio, and hands will reach out to change the station or turn it off entirely.

While I don't want to give too much power to the decision-makers who chose to forgo an acknowledgement, I don't think they gave adequate consideration to the potential emotional damage of replacing solace with disappointment. I also think they underestimated just how many people would be impacted by their decision.

For heaven's sake, I'm a 35-year-old suburban housewife and mother who didn't particularly know or care about these One Direction fellows, yet this situation is all I can think about as I move through the day.


It would have been cool if they'd dedicated the song to her, but life's not fair.

At least not down here at eye-level.
At least not what we're capable of seeing and understanding in each present moment.

If life were fair, we'd still have our friend-daughter-sister-student.
We can't allow the actions of someone (or several someones) who didn't know her tarnish our memories or limit our opportunities to reflect on her spirit.

We can choose to separate the decision from the band from the song from the girl.
It can still be Nicole's song.
We can be the singers. 
We can #singfornicole.

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