Over 800 people showed up, and I’m sure many more came today. It was a true testament to the wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, and teacher that she was. While strolling past pictures of her with her children, it was obvious that they were her focus in life well before her illness. She never felt sorry for herself (and if she did, she didn’t show it). She approached this cancer with humor and without allowing it to define her. She was gracious in the years she fought it, and the community that supported her by supplying daily dinners, yard work, and more was blessed to be able to give back a little to her what she gave to all of us.
As I met the family, I had a very hard time holding my tears in. However, I truly believe the most important purpose of wakes is to support the family. I smiled as I told them that she was the reason I teach, majored in English, and loved Shakespeare enough to insist on seeing his birthplace and the replica of The Globe Theater. I told her kids about how excited she was to have them, as I was in her class when she was pregnant with her oldest son. I greeted him by telling him we had sort of met before, when I felt him kick her stomach in class. Her husband began growing out his hair when she lost hers, and I wish I could have expressed my gratitude that she had such a loving husband who supported her in every stage of her life — daring to live each day with passion and laughter. I did tell him how when we played a senior prank we blocked all the parking spots of the staff, but left one spot for her because we did not want to make her walk all that way. That she was a favorite among every class that graduated from our high school, and it showed.
In the whirl of packing for my move, I didn’t really get a chance to process everything. But now, as I read the comments on the wall of the facebook group (that has over 2,000 members) that kept alumnae informed of her condition, needs, and provided us with ways to wish her well — now I grieve. I grieve because not only have the people in her life lost an inspiration at far too early of an age, but because the world lost a teacher who inspired, allowed herself to be human, and noticed every individual that crossed her path.
In her class, I shined. Mrs. Neville encouraged my interests. She called me at home over the summer when the sub for her pregnancy leave gave me a grade lower than she thought I deserved (I was shocked that a teacher would do that). As a senior, she invited me to help with freshmen on understanding Romeo and Juliet and allowed me to get my teaching wheels wet.
Mrs. Neville told funny stories. Threw a shoe at a cantankerous co-worker once she left the room. Told us that some rules were meant to be broken, and encouraged us to be informed and speak out about different various social justice issues. She told us the time she felt most awkward — 5 years before she was my teacher a student had been excited to show her art work. Mrs. Neville was excited the student wanted to share… only to discover they were nude drawings of Mrs. Neville and she wasn’t sure how to respond because they were done in an artistic way. She told this story way better than I am, because that day I laughed so hard I cried.
It didn’t matter that I was awkward. That I didn’t always have a filter before I said things. That the first time I read a Shakespeare play I was in the 4th grade. I felt special in her class, I felt loved, and I can guarantee that each of my classmates did as well.
So, I am very sad that she is gone. But I am determined to be the kind of teacher she was. Loving. Fair. Going the extra mile. Positive. Hopeful. Persistent. Funny. Observant. Joyful. With a little sass.
Goodbye Mrs. Neville. We’ll take care of your family, the way you took care of us.