She noticed the paper in his truck, a picture of a smiling young face printed on the front. What's this? she asked.
And the whole world stopped for an instant as he considered the question.
What to say...how to answer. It is not the tragedy of Newtown, nor is it some newspaper account of someone far away.
It is the heartbreak that sits quietly in the halls at Jason's school. It's the heavy burden that the teachers carry daily. It's a memorial service program. It's a student in his class, an 8th grader. She killed herself.
Jason made an attempt to explain it to Sydney and Jules, and although they are no strangers to death--they have gone to more funerals than I attended in the first 30 years of my life--this kind of death is different. It's not cancer. It's not old age. It's not pneumonia or kidney failure or results of a diabetic coma.
It's a kid who didn't want to see tomorrow.
He tried. He chose his words carefully, and avoided the really awful ones. But Jules saw through it.
Tears in her eyes, "It doesn't make any sense. Why would that happen?"
Whether you are 6 or 36 or 96, the question is the same: Why would that happen?
Jason was saved from more discussion when they arrived at the birthday party Jules was attending. She ran off to jump on huge inflated bounce houses, and Sydney didn't continue the conversation because she avoids overly emotional topics.
What he didn't tell them was that the smiling girl on the program was the second student in his class to take her life. A week before Christmas vacation started, the police came to his school and delivered the news to the principal, who in turn had the teachers deliver the news to their students.
Jason read a statement to his class, the class that Isabelle was in, the class that her best friend was in. They heard the news from him, completely unaware of what had happened.
And a week later, while most of the country collectively gasped and sobbed upon hearing about Newtown, Jason was still trying to help his students cope with the memorial service they had just attended. I texted him the morning of Newtown: You heard about the Connecticut shooting?
Yeah. I'm trying to ignore it with the kids right now.
No matter how big a national tragedy is, it's not going to be as personal as the one that happens in your classroom, in your school, your community, your neighborhood.
The school's staff and faculty returned from Christmas vacation with lessons planned about suicide prevention. They gave clinics to parents and community members. Discussion, awareness, prevention.
Three weeks later, another student in his class. Another statement read to students.
Two days ago, teachers and students attended Anna's service, heard the words that were still echoing in their ears from Isabelle's service.
Three days ago, a 7th grader tried and failed to take his life.
Every day, the teachers follow up on students talking about suicide. Every single day. And the school year isn't even half over.
We wonder what is happening to these kids, what is happening in their lives that is making them see ending it as the best possible solution? While most of the nation is discussing guns and keeping schools safe from danger, this community can hardly keep up with the danger that is taking the students one by one. June 2011. January 2012. December 2012. January 2013.
Some people think it's because of bullying. Others say social media played a part (that link is specifically about Jason's students).
I think both those things only magnify a persistent lack of hope that these kids face. As a person of faith, I put my hope in the Jesus of the Bible. But as a person who has struggled with depression for 20 years--and had fleeting thoughts of suicide in my early 20s--I know that sometimes faith doesn't feel big enough for whatever you're going through.
It was big enough for me. And for that I'm thankful.
But faith isn't always an accessible discussion in public schools for reasons that I understand. So in its place, the teachers talk, the parents talk, the community talks, and everyone who believes in prayer prays.
And we hope that what we're doing is enough.