Celebrating a Life: John Mitchell

November 11, 1941 - August 28, 2011

It’s been said death is only a loss for those left behind, a gaping hole for where a life existed in human form. For the deceased, it’s the beginning of a new journey into another world. People also often say that at the point of death, we should laugh as much as we cry to honor the happy times we had with our lost loved one.

I have never quite understood how this could be possible. How could I ever laugh when there’s this ache in my heart and this irreplaceable void in my life? To be happy would be a dishonor, an injustice, a simple act of inconsideration. No, to heal must mean to hurt first.

But today, I attended the funeral services for a man who epitomized the word teacher and caretaker. John Mitchell was my English teacher during my 11th and 12th grade years of high school. An intense, intimidating, and at times grouchy old man was my initial impression of his personality. How will I ever get through these years? How will I survive this torture? I used to wonder.

And now at his passing, I wonder how will I  ever get through the rest of them without him? John Mitchell not only had a special place in my heart for being my Grammar Guru and a great person who had personal interest in my life’s adventures, but he always let me know I held a special place in his. Affectionally known to many simply as “Mitchell,” his heart broke when he knew I was sick, and he squealed like a girl when he learned I had been published in a national magazine and was graduating from college. All my happiness and sorrow was reflected by his own, and his investment in my life was what always touched me the most, beyond anything else.

“My baby!” He would rejoice with a world of pride in his eyes whenever he saw me.

Mitchell’s antics and at times diva-like behavior somehow made his larger-than-life personality even more outstanding. No other man could change personalities and be a stern, academic advisor one minute and a whiney (sometimes scary) baby the next. Boy, was he a force to be reckoned with. Mess with his students or deny him a favorite sweet, and Mitchell’s wrath was not to be underestimated. The underlying force that propelled any of the passion he expelled, though, was always love: a love for his students, a love for food, etc.

One quality that may be underestimated for having importance in and around John Mitchell’s life is laughter. As intense as his lesson plans were, his supreme sense of humor may have been more substantial. The more he loved you, the more you were teased. The bigger lack of sense in a person, the more Mitchell fed off of it. Honest as a saint, Mr. Mitchell was a kid at heart and he was never too old to laugh at the silly things in life.

So, how could we then, the sorrowful, not spend a portion of this day to cry for the pain he experienced during his last days with a murderous disease and our pain for losing him, and then spend the rest of it to celebrate what we loved so immensely about him? How could we not sit around a table and laugh at how he made our lives a living hell, while simultaneously enriching it with lessons of life, literature, and so much laughter? John Mitchell found humor in the most sorrowful events, and those of us who knew him couldn’t help but laugh through tears of sorrow and cry through tears of joy while remembering him today.

So, today I understand what it means to celebrate a life on a day of death. Today, I understand honoring a loved one can be done through smiles and laughter as much as with bowed heads and endless tears. Today, I did both for one of my favorite people in the world, and my heart is a little lighter having mourned and celebrated Mr. Mitchell so honorably and with so many others who held him to the same regard.

John Mitchell, here is to you and for the years and memories we had with you. We’ll never hear you bark, “Children, please remember yourselves!” but don’t worry, we’ll make you incredibly proud up there. How could we not? We’re already part of the elite crowd having read Moby Dick – it’s an easy ride from here!

We’ll love you and miss you always…


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