Now let me start by saying, Debby West was far more than just a teacher to me...She changed my life. In many ways, she saved my life. I had a pretty rotten childhood. I won't go into specifics about that, but let's just say I didn't have a lot of love or support at home. Like many teens in this situation do, I rebelled. I hung out with the wrong crowd, ran away from home, and did a lot of very reckless and self-destructive things. I am not proud of any of these things, but it was a cry for help. Mrs. West heard that cry, and she became a mother to me.
Mrs. West believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. She was my biggest supporter, and went above and beyond to be there for me when I had no real adult guidance or role models. She was always there to listen, and she allowed me to cry, scream, or just sit in silence, if that's what I needed at the time. She always had the right words to say and the best hugs, and she let me know that despite my awful home life, I was a worthwhile human being and deserved to be loved. (Even when I didn't love myself.)
She gave me rides to work when I had a job, she took me to lunch on a regular basis, even in the summer time, and she even welcomed me into her home on several occasions. Some of my best memories were going Christmas Caroling in her Alexandria, Virginia neighborhood. Students past and present came, and her husband made his amazing hot apple cider.
Debby West was there when I was an angry teen, and she has been there for me as an adult as well. She was so much more than a teacher....Sure, she taught me to read music. She taught me all about octaves and notes on a page, and perfect harmonization. She taught me about the greats like Mozart and Pachel Bell and Beethoven...She taught me about jazz and The Beatles and even Disney music throughout the years.
More importantly, she taught me about kindness. About empathy. About love. About the true meaning of friendship and of family. To me, Mrs. West was family, in the truest sense. No, she wasn't blood related. But, like any good Mama would, she held me when I cried...She lifted me up when I fell...She rejoiced in my successes...She never let me down. Through the years, Debby West has been my soft place to fall when the world felt cold. She was the one I'd turn to when I needed a mother's love. She was there to help celebrate everything, even if it was through e-mails or phone conversations...When I married my husband...When my babies were born...Their milestones and my own.
And now she's gone. Gone. My friend...My psuedo-mother....Gone. I am still trying to process this. It has been hard. I have been losing sleep. I can't believe that someone I love so very much is no longer here. I will never get to hug her again or hear her laughter. The trip to Delaware to see the ocean and spend time with her will never happen now. She won't build sand castles with my babies. She won't be able to watch them grow. Gone.
I have not had to deal with death much, thank God. This is not something I am dealing with very well. The pain of losing a loved one is raw and it cuts deep. I never knew how much it could hurt. Sure, I understand that death is a part of life. Yes, I am relieved that she is no longer suffering. But I feel like a part of me is gone. I feel like I lost a mother.
And then there's the regrets...I didn't get to thank her for making such a profound difference in my life...For being there when no one else was...For saving me. I didn't get to tell her how much I loved her. How lucky I felt to have her not only as a teacher, but as a friend. I didn't get to say goodbye. And now I never will...God, this is so hard. I hope that she knows these things. I hope I have made her proud.
Heaven has inherited one of the most beautiful souls ever to have existed. Debby was one of the kindest, most compassionate, most loving people I have ever met. She made me strive to rise above my circumstances and be a better person...A better wife...And to truly be present in my children's lives. I am a better mother because of her. I want to be to my own kids what she was to me, and so many others. While so many here are grieving, I know that there is a huge, joyous welcoming party on the other side. Heaven has a new choir director, and I just know that music has never sounded so sweet as it does now.
I love you, Mama Hen. I am, and forever will be, your biggest fan and your little Chicky-Boo. Thank you for loving me and for making me a better person. I miss you.