Writing yesterday’s brief introduction to my daughter’s post about Azusa High School student Sandra Martinez brought back a flood of memories of the student I lost while teaching 8th grade beck in the mid nineties. Her name was Rosalynn Claudio, one of the sweetest students I’ve ever met. Although she was only with the class for half the year, I came to care for her a great deal. She was a very special young lady who touched my life and the lives of her classmates forever.
I met Rosalynn during my first year as an eighth grade teacher. I had actually begun the year teaching sixth grade, but because of a staffing problem I was asked to move up to the eighth. I had really mixed feelings about moving up. I was quite comfortable teaching sixth grade language arts and history, and really enjoyed working with sixth graders. I’d been toying with the idea of moving up for a couple of years but was nervous about making a change. I wasn’t sure I would like eighth graders and their teenage attitude. After thinking it over for a few days, I decided to forget my fears and give it a try anyway. As it turned out it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I thoroughly enjoyed my eighth graders.
I remember feeling extremely nervous that first morning, but as the students began arriving, I felt a sense of relief when I saw that several of my former sixth grade students made up a large part of the class. I knew they would help make my transition easier. Rosalynn came in early and sat near the front of the class. She was of medium height maybe 5-3 or 5-4, with soft brown hair and dark beautiful eyes that seemed to sparkle, yet looked somehow sad. She had high cheekbones and a warm smile. There was something fragile, almost delicate about her appearance and the way she carried herself. Her eyes, however, were her most striking feature. She seemed mature for her age and had a very quiet nature. When she spoke to others in the class, it was done in a quiet, non-disturbing way. She was a true master of the art of whispering, a technique few eighth graders ever practice. It’s difficult to imagine anything bad happening to anyone as nice as her.
As the weeks passed I learned a great deal about her. She was an extremely bright student with an inquiring mind who added much to our class discussions. She was also an extraordinary writer. Her spelling, like most of my eighth graders, needed a little work, but her writing was beautiful. Her journal entries were well thought out and quite interesting. At times she would tell me little things about her life, small clues that helped to explain just who she was. She enjoyed school and was well liked by her peers. All the things that spell success. Sadly, there was a black cloud following her around just waiting to rain on her world. None of us realized that when the rain came, it would be a full blown storm that would have devastating results for her and those who knew and loved her. Little did I realize that the girl with the tell tale eyes would have such a profound effect on me.
Parent Conferences were held in early November. At that time I had the opportunity to meet with Rosalynn’s mother. Our conference was extremely easy, as Rosalynn was doing a good job in all of her classes. In the time remaining we had a chance to visit. She told me all about Rosalynn. I learned that while in elementary school Rosalyn had been diagnosed with cancer. After much soul searching on her mother’s part Rosalynn had undergone treatment and the cancer had been stopped. With the cancer in remission her things had returned to normal and life was good. She told me that she truly believed that a miracle had occurred and God had spared her child. She referred to Rosalynn several times as her “miracle child.” She was very proud of her, that went without saying, her face radiated the love and pride she had for her daughter. She also told me that Rosalynn saw her doctor every three months to undergo tests to ensure that the cancer remained dormant. Her next appointment was scheduled during Winter break. “God willing, she told me, “everything will be fine.” I nodded and told her I was sure it would be.
For the next month and a half I had the opportunity to develop a unique relationship with Rosalynn. Knowing her back story, had made her very special to me. Knowing that as a child she had stood on deaths door and been given a reprieve by God moved me greatly. I’m not sure why, but during Christmas break I found myself thinking about Rosalynn and praying that her upcoming doctor’s appointment would go well. Little did I know that God had other plans.
Rosalynn wasn’t at school when we returned from break. She missed the entire first week. On Monday of that first week I received a call from her mom who was in tears as she gave me the news. The prognosis was not good. Rosalynn’s cancer had returned with a vengeance and was spreading quickly. She would soon begin receiving treatment and would probably be missing a lot of school. Mom went on to tell me how much Rosalynn enjoyed and wanted to come to school and how much she wanted to graduate with her class. I assured mom that we would make that happen and became Rosalynn’s liaison with her Foothill teachers. On the days she missed I would gather her work and her younger brother would come by and pick it up. I was determined to make it work out.
Over the next several weeks she came to school sparingly and by mid March could no longer attend. Our classroom was never the same without her. Mom would call or come by to let me know how Rosalynn was doing but the news was depressing as her condition continued to worsen. In early May the ‘Make A Wish Foundation sponsored Rosalynn’s quinceanera which I attended as did many of her classmates. It was such a bittersweet moment. She looked so beautiful yet so fragile. She smiled and went through the motions but her eyes said it all. The sadness in them melted my heart. It seemed so unfair. I could hardly hold back my tears.
The last time I saw Rosalynn was graduation night. I met her in front of the school. While some students pulled up in their fancy car and limos Rosalynn arrived in a handicap equipped van. She was in a wheelchair and had a hand-held morphine dispenser for pain. I remember rolling her off the lift and pushing her out to the quad. She sat in the aisle next to me and the rest of the class. I pushed her up to the stage where the superintendent came down the steps and awarded her her diploma. She was crying as was I. We returned to the audience and I sat back down. Not five minutes later she turned to me and asked if I would take her out so that she could go home. She was in pain and apparently the drugs weren’t helping.
I pushed her out of the quad to the front of the school and waited while her family brought the van up to the front. After they loaded the wheelchair onto the liftgate I gave Rosalynn a long hug and told her how proud I was of her. We were both crying. We said our goodbyes and they moved her into the van. I stood there a long time after the van drove off, I felt so sad. That was the last time I saw Rosalynn. She died two days later. She had said that she wanted to make it to graduation and she did. Her goal accomplished she was appeal to let go and return to her heavenly home.
I will never forget Rosalynn, she touched my life forever. Her courage and determination were and still are inspirational. She was an incredible young lady, truly a miracle child. I sometimes think about her and what great things she would have accomplished had she not left us so early. Like all of us I question why God calls home such sweet, young souls like Rosalynn and Sandra. But I know that although painful, their deaths serve a purpose and are part of His Grand Plan for us.
Rest in peace girls…