A Son’s Legacy

My favorite Panera order

My favorite Panera order

I entered our neighborhood Panera Bread Co. with a friend and was greeted with a bright smile and eyes that lit up his face.

“Michael!” (It helps when former students wear a name tag.)

Warm memories of this young man and his constant companions in 8th grade come rushing back. A group of smart boys who worked so well together!

Michael looks at me and grins, “Mrs. Souder”. I wasn’t Dr. Souder back in 2003 when Michael was an 8th grader.

MichaelWe visited a few minutes, and the cashier waited for me to order. “He is one the good ones,” I said to her.

“Oh, I know. We love Michael. He’s our baby,” she answered with a mother’s pride.

I love to run into former students, especially when they are doing well. But three weeks later a gathering of former students found young men with few words, shedding tears with no embarrassment.

Last week the teacher network spread the tragic newsMichael died with no warning!

When Michael didn’t come in to work.Thursday morning, someone called the family. One of his brothers went over to Michael’s apartment and found him in his bed, dead. A seizure in his sleep apparently caused this early death.

As a parent of a 21 year old who died unexpectedly, the scene at the funeral home is too familiar. Just being with the team of teachers who taught Michael gives me moral support and courage.. We no longer teach in the same schooll (or in my case, no longer teach) but are forever linked to those 8th graders we taught from 2000 to 2008.

Michael belonged to a group of 8th grade boys who rarely if ever displayed that 8th grade “jerk” persona. They were energetic, enthusiastic, eager students  I remember them sitting with desks pushed together, heads bent over paper and books as they researched some topic and usually completed the assignment first. They kept me on my toes, always ready for something new. They always had a good time but never at the expense of others or their learning.

As we visited parents and former students and told Michael stories, I thought, “How proud his parents must be”.

How would parents want their 23 year old son to be remembered?

With warm feelings of joy, knowing he gave a smile to friends and customers and strangers. To know that his 8th grade basketball coach valued him for his energy, encouragement, and sense of fair play.

Eighth grade boys are not known for these qualities. Most people shudder when I tell them I taught 8th grade for ten years, but I loved the age because of their potential. At some point during the school year most of the smart-aleck, defiant, or tough guy bravado disappears, and a more mature teenager emerges.

Twenty-three is too soon to gather friends and family to say good-by. But the stories told about Michael brought smiles and laughter to many faces yesterday. His legacy is not one of college degrees or a clear path for a career. His mom laughed as she told how close he came to completing a degree in accounting. She asked him, “Couldn’t you just finish it up?”

But he knew he would never use it, so why waste his time? She knew as we all did that Michael needed to be with people, serving, sharing his joy.

You only had to watch him at Panera to know that this young man was manager material. He wasn’t just a “put on a happy face for the customer” kind of guy. Michael was sincere and genuine.

I am so glad and thankful that I had Michael as a student.

I am thankful for his time on earth and his legacy of caring for others.

I am thankful for his joy — you just couldn’t be around Michael without smiling.



9 thoughts on “A Son’s Legacy

  1. Lynn Morrissey

    Thank you for sharing in writing about this beautiful young man. You have helped his legacy live on, and I appreciated reading about one so gifted and giving. My heart goes out to his parents and family. There are no words…..
    Bless you for commemorating his life.

      1. Lynn Morrissey

        I’m glad I found your post, Joy, via Ann V at InCourage. You are so right–his story deserves to be told. You have a real ministry here. We all have a story, and writing about it is so very important. I pray that one day his parents will feel strong enough to write out their memories of Michael. Writing has a permanency that brings great comfort. I have a feeling that your words here will bless them more than you know. And of course, it’s so important to write to those we love, now, while they can appreciate our love and care. I have a feeling that you have done that too for those whom you love.

  2. floyd

    As one of the “tough guy bravado” ones, I have to say it was teachers like you that made me drop that persona and be the real me with all the potential that someone like you with wisdom could see through anyway. I appreciate your heart and your tribute to a young man that this world will sorely miss. We need more Michael’s in this world…

  3. beegee10

    I’m so blessed to have found your website . . . what a precious tribute not only to Michael, but to his family as well.
    thank you for sharing his story and reminding me as a mom and a teacher, lives are touched. sometimes we have the privilege of seeing the growth of seeds planted . . . other times, we just trust, have Faith and give all the glory to God!

    1. JoyMartell Post author

      So glad you found your way here. You are so right about planting seeds. When our first group of 8th graders graduated from high school, our teaching team showed up. Talk about a joyful occasion. It became a tradition every spring. I’m sure that is not unusual for a small town, but we worked in a large metropolitan city. The kids would always ask, “Will you come to my graduation?” And we did.

  4. martha m

    As one of Michael’s 8th grade teachers, I ditto your words. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I am so honored to have been a part of Michael’s “village!” :o)

    “Just being with the team of teachers who taught Michael gives me moral support and courage. ”
    These words rang out to me. I am humbled to have encouraged you… I always looked to you for strength. I am blessed to have been a part of that team of teachers.

    1. JoyMartell Post author

      What a village we had! Do not discount the courage and support you have given me. You do it without a word and I don’t recognize it until later. What a good friend you are!


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