A family sharing a little bit of who they are… with me.
Sharing who we are and letting people in are so important to building trusting relationships with students, staff, family, and the community.
Yesterday, I was in my office gathering some things together after the bell had gone, when a kindergarten student, “K”, peered into my office and in the smallest,sweetest voice said, “Mr. Wejr, would you like to come and meet my dog?” My first thought was that this was a child excited about her new dog and wanted to share it with people so I immediately (and excitedly, as I love dogs) said, “Sure!”
When I walked to the front of the school, not only was there a dog there waiting to meet me… but a BULLMASTIFF waiting to meet me! Two years ago, we lost our beloved Ozzy to cancer. This was such a challenging time for my wife and I as Ozzy was our life for so many years. We still miss him every day and whenever I see a bullmastiff, my stomach fills with excitement and my mind fills with great memories of our big bear.
I said to K’s mom, “Oh my… a bullmastiff! My favourite breed in the world! Did you know this?” She then let me know that she had walked with her dog to school to pick up K and there was a group of parents at the other end of the school. When they saw the bullmastiff, they told her that she had to take her to meet Mr. Wejr!
When Ozzy was diagnosed with cancer, I was very emotional but I actually mentioned it at an assembly and shared much of his final months/days with people through social media. As hard as it was, I let people in. Staff reached out to me. Students continually asked how Ozzy was doing and always were there for hugs. When we lost Ozzy, inspired by words from my buddy George, I wrote a blog about losing our “little” guy and celebrating the life of Ozzy. Staff and families of Kent School, along with many people online whom I have never met, read the post and reached out to me with empathy and care.
I think too often we feel that we should hide our personal stuff from work. We hear (especially on social media), “keep the personal and professional separate”. I know that we need not share ALL our personal stuff but what if I had not shared any of the love and struggles we shared with Oz? What if I kept stories of who I am as a person outside of school completely private? Would I still get moments like the one that happened yesterday?
I strongly believe that, as educators, we need to share who we are. Put ourselves out there. Let people in. Be more vulnerable.
I don’t meant that we need to do this solely through social media and I don’t mean we need to just share our tough times. We need to be comfortable with sharing more of our personal side – the moments of joy, sadness, success and challenge. As a principal, there is nothing I love more that hanging out, playing and chatting with the students every recess and lunch. I get to share a little bit of who I am and I get to see a little more about who they are. My students check out photos of my family on Instagram and constantly ask how they are doing. I also really enjoy the informal dialogue with parents and staff at the end of the day. I love it when a parent or staff member comes to tell me something about an event or topic which they know I can relate (ex. dogs, toddlers, books, sports). When we do this, we humanize us. We move from Mr. Wejr: the principal – to Mr. Wejr (or Chris): the person, the teacher, the husband and father, the sports fan… and the guy who would love to meet my dog.
When staff, students, and families see us for who we truly are, the relationships change… the conversations change… and the moments change.
Thank you to K and her mom for taking some precious moments out of their time together to share a little bit of them in a moment with me… and their dog.
“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.” –Unknown
This letter is more for me than you as I need to do this to help me grieve and I know you struggled with your reading while you were here 😉 I will read this to Ellexis and Ella when they are older so they know how important you were to us.
I remember the first night I met you – it was the first date with mommy. Most people have to get approval of a parent or sibling; I had to get approval from you – a 140lb Bullmastiff. At first you scared the heck out of me; your head was twice the size of mine and you were bigger than any dog I had ever met. Mommy took us for a long walk along the ocean and I even got to walk you for a bit (mommy tried to get me to pick up after you but I don’t think I was ready yet). From that night on, not only was I head over heels for mommy, but I was also absolutely thrilled to have you in my life. You see, I was the boy that was allergic to everything growing up so I never had pets. Even though you gave me hives every time you licked me or cuddled me, it never stopped us – the hives were well worth the Ozzy love.
That summer mommy had to work at a summer camp which meant it was daddy’s big week. I was such a proud daddy as we went to the beach and went for walks every day. I was so excited to answer any questions that people had about you – “what kind of dog is that?” “Is he friendly?” “Is he like the dog from Turner and Hooch?” “How much does he weigh?”. That week I introduced you, much to mommy’s dismay, to McDonald’s drive thru – plain double burger was where it was at, hey Bear? Shortly after that, you started to see me as “daddy” and you became “my bear” – and we all knew who ran the show from then on, don’t we?
The next year, I needed some help bringing mommy a very special gift. You were a star in your role and you helped to make sure she said “yes” and that we experienced one of the happiest moments of our lives.
Memories of this time are camping trips, dog parks, you having mud baths and then daddy having to get you all cleaned up, and finding you “hanging out” with 3 coyotes in the back of our house. I like to think I saved the coyotes from you. You always liked a job – carrying mommy’s purse, carrying sticks, or carrying your stuffy (although I was a little embarrassed when you tried to do this on your walks).
In May 2007, mommy and I got extremely busy. Daddy was doing his masters classes as well as getting ready for a career change; Mommy was also making a career change and we had spent so much time looking at houses and planning the wedding that we may have spent too little of time with you. When you sustained your injury (stroke in the spine) and you had no movement in your hind legs, mommy and I dropped everything to be with you. You taught us how important it was to live in the moment and not get too caught up in the future. We made our home a fort in the living room and we lived there for weeks. We were told that you may never walk again but we believed that with love and determination and fight from you, you would walk down the aisle with us as our ring bearer in a few months. The way you pulled yourself to the door to greet me when I got home showed me that you were going to beat this injury. A few days later your tail moved ever so slightly. Then you kicked one night. Then you moved your right leg. We felt it was time for some physio for you so we took you to doggy hydrotherapy. A short time later, you were walking! Although you had a limp, you were doing it buddy! I will never forget the time that we were “walking” (I had to lift your back end) and mommy pulled up in the truck. You saw her and it was like Forrest Gump when the braces broke – you just started running! Daddy could not even keep up! There was no looking back after that – you had proved so many people wrong and DID walk down the aisle with your Uncle Vince at our wedding, holding a bag with 2 special rings for us.
The next 4 years seemed to fly by! You loved your new home with the big fenced in yard. You were a big reason we chose this house – it was so “Ozzy”. You loved going and seeing mommy’s dance studio and getting all the attention from the girls. We spent the summers camping, playing soccer, chasing the lawnmower, and hanging out in your puppy pool; if we were outside, you were with us. We spent the evenings by the fire; I will never forget when you crawled up between mommy and I as we were watching the meteor shower. You also loved the snow in the winters, catching the snowballs we threw to you. When you got cold you would curl up with us by the fire. Christmases were your favourite – you got to see all the family and rip open everyone’s gifts.
Last summer, our life was flipped upside down. Mommy felt a lump on your back leg so we got it checked out. The doc told us that it was one of the most aggressive forms of cancer and if we did not do something, we might only have you for a few more weeks. Unfortunately, we had no choice but to put you through surgery. You fought through this and within a week, you were back up playing hide and seek with mommy… but the lump had returned. You were not ready to go; we started chemotherapy. I cried so much when I had to give you your first dose; it felt so wrong to give you drugs that were going to kill so much of you. Just like all the other challenges you faced, you fought through this and even though you felt absolutely horrible, when I got home that night and saw you all excited at the top of the stairs with a stuffy in your mouth and I knew you were going to fight this cancer too. In a few months, 2 babies were going to arrive and we knew you were going to hold on to help mommy and daddy through this pregnancy.
As we neared the end of the pregnancy, mommy’s pain worsened and she was unable to work. You cuddled with her all day every day to make sure she got through it. In December, we welcomed 2 girls to the family. Everyone always warned us that you would not be good with the babies. You proved people wrong once again and showed everyone how loving and gentle you could be with our precious girls. Your snuggles near them and kisses on their heads were times we will never forget. We shared so many amazing moments as a family in this short time.
Around Christmas, you developed a bad limp (now in your front leg). Although, in our gut, we knew what that meant, we decided to end the chemo (as it was making you so sick) and just give you some pain meds. Even with your sore leg, every time I got home, you jumped up to give me kisses and to go and get your stuffy for me. Our walks became shorter and shorter and you needed more and more help. Two weeks ago, you could barely walk so we had some x-rays done; the vet confirmed that the cancer was now in your bone and you only had days/weeks with us. We had family sleepovers in the living room and tried to spoil you with all the yummy food you could imagine. Even up until your final few days, anytime someone came over to see us, you hopped up, ran around and greeted them with such excitement. Last Wednesday, you stopped eating. You got up for the final time to see Grandma and Grandpa. On Thursday, you gave everything you had to just lift your head and give daddy a kiss and mommy a shake of your paw.
We lost you on Friday. We told you that there would be no more pills and needles and that you no longer needed to fight. We told you that we would be ok now and that it was time to end your pain.
What we call “normal” in our lives is just not there. There is a huge hole in our lives and even with two newborn daughters, our house feels quiet and empty. I keep looking for you curled up by the fire or in the kitchen or outside playing in the yard. When I have a bit of leftover food, I want to pitch it to you. I keep hearing you snore at night. Mommy and I came home to the house for the first time without you and I need to tell you Mason (our cat) did just what you taught him; he was at the top of the stairs to greet us with a toy in his mouth. Mason is so confused on the whereabouts of his brother.
Bear, we will be ok; soon the amazing memories that we shared with you will fill that hole and the sadness will turn to smiles. People will say that you were “just a dog” but we all know that to be a lie. You were our first “baby”. We treated you like a member of our family. You were the centre of attention at our house and became part of us. People would always ask how you were doing because they knew you were our “baby”. You taught us unconditional love and how to live in the moment. Whenever I had a bad day, I knew that I would come home to you at the top of the stairs and my day would be happy. By the time mommy got home from work, I had nothing to complain about because you had lifted my spirits.
Oz, mommy and daddy need to get used to the fact that you are not here anymore. I hope that each day will bring less tears and more happy memories of you. I want to thank you for the journey you took us on. You were our best friend, our hero, our baby, our Bear. As mommy says, “we will love you forever… and a day”.
G’night Bear. Daddy loves you.
Thank you to George, Lyn, Pernille, Lisa, my beautiful wife and my family for the encouragement to use writing as a support at this difficult time.
Thank you to all my friends and family who have sent us supportive messages on Twitter, Facebook and through email. It has truly helped.