MONTVILLE, NJ - An army of speakers and celebrities came to Montville and visited classrooms of Robert R. Lazar Middle School on May 16. These individuals came from all walks of life and endured all kinds of adversity.
From school shooting victims, to Holocaust survivors, anti-drug and anti-bullying advocates, 9/11 survivors, authors, journalists, former Sudanese slaves, texting-related accident victims, life coaches, war veterans, Rwandan survivors, athletes, and firefighters, it was definitely not boring in class that day!
This event was part of a program known as Living Lessons: Voice, Vision and Values. This program has been held every other year since 2005 for students of sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, and brings in around 50 special guests who teach lessons of strength and will. More importantly, this was meant to inspire young folks to pursue their dreams against all odds.
“It’s marvelous that the school does this, bringing all these people together and getting their stories out to the young public,” said Deborah Doppelt, a physical education and health teacher from Livingston.
Doppelt herself was one of those speakers who visited the school and had her own extraordinary, if not emotional story to tell.
For the past 19 years, Doppelt has taught her own classes. But aside from P.E. and health, she came to talk about overcoming tragedy and preventing others from experiencing it. She is known for her memoir “A Mother’s Journey: A Story of Drugs, Suicide, and Survival” (2012), which chronicles her son Joshua’s struggle with drug addiction and his eventual suicide in 2008 at the age of 23.
“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” said Doppelt. “You don’t realize how destructive it can be. You can bury your parents and grandparents, but not your children.”
Doppelt related how following her son’s death, she underwent a divorce, sold her house and even experienced panic attacks on her worse days. But if it hadn’t been for her friends and relatives, and her second family at school, she would not have made it to this point. Sometimes, even during presentations, Doppelt couldn’t help but get emotional.
“I kept calling them back, ‘What is wrong,’” said Doppelt as she describes the day of the tragic news. “A police car pulls up. I see my husband hysterical and he’s crying. I say, ‘Please tell me he was in an accident. Please tell me he’s not gone.’ And through his tears, he told me that he was gone. So I had to collect myself. I already dismissed my class and now I had to go home and make funeral arrangements for my son.”
“A Mother’s Journey” features a number of journal entries and stages of grief Doppelt went through following her loss. The book, as well as Doppelt’s lectures, are meant to teach students and their parents the effects of drug addiction and suicide on the victim’s loved ones.
“Things are going to happen to you,” said Doppelt. “I teach health and physical education. You get one body. Take care of it. Again, things are going to happen to you. You’re going to get in accidents. You’re going to get hurt. You’re going to fall. But don’t look for trouble. You go to a party and your friends says to you ‘Here, try this,’ they’re not your friend. And leave that place immediately.”
Doppelt showed family pictures of Joshua from when he was a child, a teenager and a young adult, looking like he still had his whole life ahead of him. There were no videos, as Doppelt said she still couldn’t bring herself to watching them. However, she did say that doing such talks at schools helps her get through and gives her hope in instilling that kind of endurance to everyone she meets in her new journeys.
“There’s still a hole in my heart, but being here helps me,” said Doppelt. “If I can keep one of you from doing what Joshua did, that’s my goal.”
Doppelt’s memoir is available at bookstores or online.
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