A Letter from Bryan: We Are Traveling the Journey that as Yet has No Destination

The letter below was sent to members of the Sidwell Friends community on September 19, 2021.

Dear Friends,

Last Thursday we experienced the devastating loss of 11th grader Mikey Wood, a beloved friend who had a remarkable impact on the Upper School community. Friday morning we gathered in the Pearson Athletic Center to hold a Meeting for Worship in his honor. One of Mikey’s lacrosse jerseys hung from the north end of the building; his teammates draped another on a small table at center court. The foundation of our community, Meeting provided a space in which we could begin to process our grief and reflect on the impact Mikey had on our lives.

Students broke the silence to give loving, courageous, and powerful testimony to Mikey’s engaging sense of humor and kindness, to celebrate his steadfast friendship. His advisor and family friend, Darren Speece, explained that Mikey was “easy to like,” a characterization that resonated with everyone. Others remembered Mikey’s joyfulness and recognized his enduring importance to our community. Upper School Principal Mamadou Guèye spoke beautifully, noting that the grieving process is an “expression of love that can sometimes feel like a long journey without a destination.” He empathized deeply with Mikey’s parents, Jennifer and Mike ’93, urging students to continue to hold the Wood family and one another in the Light. Mamadou’s love for the students was palpable, his wisdom profound.

The faculty and staff too have risen to the occasion. Many teachers met with grief counselors early Friday morning, preparing themselves to serve the students to the best of their abilities. Teachers convened advisories, conducted classes as appropriate, and supported students and one another. Our counseling staff—Patrice Copeland, Kasaan Holmes, Angelina Nortey, Julia Porter, and Richard Griffith—tended attentively to students and adults alike. A staff member from the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing augmented their efforts. Crystal Matthews monitored the courtyard for students in need, delivering water and warmth as she did so. 

Photo provided by Coach Cummings

Enduring the death of a student is as close as we educators come to losing one of our own children. The experience empties our hearts; it disorients and devastates us because it seems unnatural for their death to precede our own, because we have sought to nurture their spirits, because the relationship we have with each and every student transforms and touches us. They become part of who we are and their successes and struggles become our own. Our sadness—and often our helplessness—deepens as their peers weep, as our tears fall, as we ineffably put ourselves in the shoes of bereft parents.

Mikey is the third student I have grieved in my 17 years at Sidwell Friends; may we be fortunate enough never to mourn another. These losses have delivered no great lessons, have revealed no epiphanies beyond what we already know but too easily forget. In the words of William Penn, we can do little more than seek solace “in the comfort of friends,” reminding ourselves about the preciousness of our relationships, the imperative to demonstrate our love and caring toward one another, the need to find joy and possibility in each fleeting moment. 

We cannot know the Light without experiencing darkness, and even in this time of sadness, the Light has begun to emerge ever so slightly. Sunshine brightened the gym at the end of Meeting, and it has been deeply moving to watch students care for one another, to see them offer physical and emotional support as they struggle to give meaning to this horribly sad event. Classmates lovingly decorated Mikey’s locker as a memorial. Students honored him by ordering lunch from Chick-fil-A, one of his favorites (“Mikey food” they called it).  Part of the order was placed in his locker. Athletic teams dedicated their games to his memory. Walking in the Light of love, our students have approached this tragedy with courage and compassion. They will never forget Mikey, nor will they forget how they cared for one another this past week.

Our grief will continue to ebb and flow for some time. On Friday, our counseling team wrote a thoughtful letter to provide extra resources and tools when talking to our students at home. If you are aware of anyone who is in need of extra support, please reach out to someone at the School. We are here to help. In the meantime, we will continue to travel the journey that as yet has no destination, loving and supporting one another and Mikey’s family with each and every step, no matter how painful those strides might now be. 

In peace and friendship,

Bryan Garman
Head of School

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