You Never Know: A Tribute to Melrita
Posted May 20, 2009on:
I first met Melrita about 7 years ago at a state-wide literacy training-of-trainers conference. She was so vibrant and energetic, with a smile that lit up the room! We would run into each other at various literacy conferences and meetings, and as often happens at such functions, we’d chat for a few minutes and go off on our separate ways. But I always left an encounter with Melrita with a warm feeling of happiness.
A few years ago we were both in Grand Rapids at the Michigan Reading Association (MRA) annual conference. I ran into Melrita outside of the ballroom where the Young Authors’ luncheon was to be held. Melrita’s granddaughter was being honored for her writing in MRA’s Kaleidoscope and she had an extra ticket so she asked me to join her as a member of her family for the event. I think that sealed a bond between us.
I remember another time I saw Melrita at the local Panera, and pulled up a chair to talk to her and her colleague about the course they were co-teaching for Saginaw Valley State University. It was so interesting to hear her talk about her students and I was so impressed by the effort and passion she put into her teaching. My friend had her as an instructor for a master’s class (late 1990s). Melrita taught the evening class in her own classroom, and showed the work of her students. In my friend’s words, “Melrita talked the talk and walked the walk of great literacy instruction.”
Melrita was a member of our literacy management team, a group of literacy leaders from districts around the county. She missed many of the monthly meetings early in the year due to a broken leg, but by February she was on the mend and her smiling face, and wealth of knowledge returned to management team. We spent some time talking after the meeting both in February and the last time I saw her, on March 20, 2009. I helped her carry her things out to her car, as she was still healing, and shouldn’t have been lifting heavy loads. Of course she thanked me, and told me how nice and thoughtful I was. But the truth is, I felt blessed by the opportunity to help her.
On May 1, I received an email which included the following sentence: “Melrita has been diagnosed with a very rare degenerative brain disease called Creutzfeld Jakob disease.” And yesterday, I learned she died on Saturday evening. I read that email just before a coaching appointment I had with a teacher. I explained to her I wasn’t myself. I couldn’t really understand why I was feeling that way. I mean, it’s not like we were best friends who went out to lunch or shopping together; and we weren’t colleagues who worked together every day… The teacher (who I was supposed to be coaching!) helped me to see that it was obvious Melrita had touched me and made a difference in my life. Then we got a little philosophical with each other, reflecting on the idea that we don’t always know the impact we have on others, and we should let others know when they have made a difference in our lives.
According to wikipedia, Creutzfeld-Jakob is “rare, occurring in about one out of every one million people every year.” Melrita was one in a million, and I don’t think I ever told her. So now I’m telling the world: Melrita was an amazing person, with a heart of gold. She loved teaching and learning, and she brightened the lives of all who knew her.