by Katie Julius

We all experience periods in our life when it seems like everything is upside down. It could be a major illness, the sale/purchase of a home and move, the addition of a new baby – anything that takes our normal routine and turns it on its head. In most of these circumstances, just making it through the day can be difficult – add in school and it can become overwhelming.

For my family, our “crisis” was the gradual decline of my father’s health due to the advancing cancer in his pancreas last summer and early fall. Despite the grim diagnosis a year and a half earlier, he had remained fairly healthy until then. However, as his health started to fail and he needed someone to sit with him while my mom was at work, we were blessed to have had a dear family friend come stay with him. There were a handful of days she wasn’t available, and those fell to me, as the one in the family who didn’t work outside of the home.

My daughter and I would pack up our school books and activities and head over to spend the day with my dad. We were able to accomplish quite a bit during the times we slept (which was often).

However, when I received the call from my mom the morning of November 16; the call that delivered the news that my dad had lost his battle to cancer and was welcomed into the arms of his Loving Savior, a change in my perspective on how our family would “do” school occurred.

Over the next few months, we had memorial service preparations in the midst of the holidays. We were also faced with planning a trip to scatter my dad’s ashes in the spring, per his wishes. Furthermore, we had to figure out how to grieve and process our loss, especially during the remaining weeks of 2017. School, in the more traditional sense, fell by the wayside.

Looking back on those months, as I prepare to start a new school year under very different circumstances, I am able to reflect and glean valuable lessons that I can not only apply when we are in a time of transition, but also in our normal, day-to-day routine.

Take Time
My dad died on November 16, a week before Thanksgiving. Much of the next six to eight weeks were a bit of a blur. We had Thanksgiving, a memorial service, Christmas, and New Years all packed into that short time period. Already a busy time of the year, we did some school activities here and there, trying to keep things relatively normal for our five-year-old. Ultimately, the Lord worked all things for good to include the timing of my dad’s death, allowing us to take the time we needed as a family.

About halfway through December, I remember thinking, “I just want to get through the holidays and into the new year when we could start over and start fresh.” And while I was eager to put those weeks behind me, I was also very thankful that I didn’t have to worry about lesson planning, math manipulatives, or phonics flashcards.

Don’t be afraid to take time away from traditional school activities to give your family the opportunity to be together in these trying situations. Feel free to take a week or two, or even five or six. When you are ready to return to school, it will be a welcome change.

Be Okay with Less Than
In the midst of a major life event, it’s important to give yourself grace. Be okay with “less than.” Even the best laid plans can go sideways when life is relatively calm, even more so when we are under stress. Don’t be critical of yourself because you didn’t get everything done you had planned – school, chores, or otherwise. Relish the time together as a family. We can only do so much. Perfectly planned lessons, gourmet meals, and folded laundry are not necessities in these circumstances. It’s okay to let them go for a season as you adjust to your “new normal.”

School is More Than Academics
I remember looking through our kindergarten health book as I was planning for the year and thinking how weird it was that one of the lessons was about death and how to cope with it. Knowing this was something we were going to encounter for the first time with our daughter, I was glad the message was that “school” is so much more than just our core academics.

As parents, we get to use the events in our lives to teach our children how to handle those situations. Granted, I think my daughter taught us a lot more with her insightful questions and statements about heaven, death, and her grandfather. That was because she was able to take the time and space away from her traditional academics to learn from this life circumstance instead.

Being a homeschool family allowed us the flexibility to cope with this major life change in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. It gave us time with my dad in his final days. It gave us time to be available for my mom as we planned his service. It gave us time to pause, grieve, and begin to heal. Losing a loved one is never easy, but I’m so grateful that our choice to homeschool allowed us to take the time we needed as a family.

Katie Julius spent much of her first year homeschooling in the midst of a major life change, the death of her father after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She currently serves at the Editor for CHEA and homeschools her daughter in Southern California.