*I’m not sure how she spelt her name, it would have been the Irish spelling probably, but there are so many versions so I’ve just picked a common one.
Growing up, the only visibly disabled person I knew was Edelle. She was a girl in my class in school. I don’t know what her disability was, but her legs were tiny and she used a wheelchair. As I had trouble making friends, I can’t call her my friend. I didn’t know her surname or where she lived and though I knew she had siblings, I knew nothing about them. I just knew she wore Doc Martin boots for the original purpose the good doctor intended them, she worked hard at school, and had lots of friends. I liked sitting beside her as I got to escort her to the bathroom, which meant a welcome change to the tedious classroom. She could be cranky at times, and she tried to chat with me a little too often, but I liked her fairly well. I especially remember the whole class cheering her on, when she took her first steps out of the wheelchair, using the desks to hold herself up. She was determined that one day she’d walk on her own.
One day, I got dropped off at the school gate as usual, and my mom sped off to work. To my horror, when I went to my classroom, there was nobody there. I finally found a teacher that informed me that Edelle has died at the weekend and the whole class and our teacher were at her funeral. Apparently it was kidney failure. Apparently my best friends mom had babysat Edelle’s siblings while her parents were with her at the hospital. Apparently nobody had thought of telling my mom, we were so far out of the loop, so far from anyone’s thoughts. Apparently the whole class had lined up outside the church and formed a Gaurd of Honour. Except me.
I got through that day somehow. I was put into another class for the day, as obviously my mother could not be reached in the era before mobile homes. I got through it. But the feeling of isolation, the feeling of big stuff happening without my knowledge, the feeling of being out of the loop, has never left me.
Edelle was very much loved by everybody. She had lots of friends. And due to her visible disability, a lot of accommodations were made for her. She was included in every aspect of school life. Which is brilliant.
But a part of me is very sad. Sad that my invisible disability meant that the same level of inclusion was not for me. Sad that my problems got missed for so long. Sad that there wasn’t the same level of understanding.
So, today, I grieve for that bewildered little girl, standing on her own in an empty classroom, not knowing what the hell is going on. Something inside her died that day, the day she realised that nobody in the school actually cared that much about her. Cared enough to think of her. And that, that is one memory that stands out from my primary school days.
[image of a kneeling, praying cherub statue. In the background is a coffin draped with roses. Behind that and out of focus, is part of a grieving lady in a dark suit.]