(June 21, 2000)
One Sunday morning in May my husband read an item out loud from the newspaper. “A Palo Alto music teacher was murdered in her home.”
“Who?” I asked. Our nine-year-old looked up from her toast.”Kristine Fitzhugh.”
“Oh, my gosh,” Molly cried. “That’s my music teacher!”
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” I said, holding a sobbing Molly in my arms. Only two days earlier Molly had told us her favorite music teacher had chosen her as one of the soloists for the spring concert. Molly and I recalled meeting Mrs. Fitzhugh at Kinko’s one day last fall, where she and I talked about our children and how important music is in our lives.
And now her life was gone. It’s amazing, but she was the first person in Molly’s tiny universe to die. I shall never forget my first encounter with death. A sixth-grader was run over by the bus in front of our school one Friday morning. I saw the pool of blood. And I didn’t sleep at all that night. But on Monday none of the teachers even talked about Leslie Duff. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and I never got over her death.
I didn’t want Molly to be that traumatized, so I called the school psychologist. She invited me to come to school on Monday. While it was a long and tear-filled day, it was a day that was done right. Molly’s teacher explained to the children what we knew about Mrs. Fitzhugh’s death. She and the psychologist and the principal listened to the students’ questions and concerns. STAR testing was cancelled for the day so the children could write lovely remembrances. Their substitute music teacher led a recorder rehearsal. I read a book aloud to the class. And by the end of the day there was a letter ready to go home explaining the tragedy and how parents could help their children.
Molly and her classmates will never forget their music teacher. Yet I also believe they will remember the adults at their school who cared enough about their emotional well-being to get them through those difficult days after her death. And for that I will always be grateful to the staff at Nixon Elementary School and the Palo Alto Unified School District.
With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.