Dying headteacher breaks news to pupils in heartbreaking letter

A dying headteacher wrote a heartbreaking letter to tell her pupils she was "going to die" after her condition became terminal.

Sue East, who was headteacher at St Andrew’s Primary in Bath, Somerset for 10 years, died on December 19, 2018.

In a moving letter sent to pupils and parents on the day she died, the mum-of-three alluded to her favourite literature to break the news.

Describing her pupils as "wonderful creatures" she says: "I have loved my time at St Andrew’s. It’s an amazing school and you are all amazing children. I never thought that I could find so much joy in my work."

"Thank you all for sharing your joy and friendship with me. Now it will soon be time for me to move on to new adventures."

Teachers discussed the letter with pupils in December and the school has offered support to children and familes.

Mrs East died at Dorothy House Hospice, which its website says "provides compassionate care and support for people in our community with a life-limiting illness".

The letter has been posted on the school’s website and is reproduced in full here, with the school’s permission.

Dear Children

I am so sorry that I can’t be with you this Christmas time. I want you all to know that I am resting in a comfortable room with a lovely view and I feel very peaceful.

But my illness has made me very tired and I believe that I am going to die soon. So this message is my way of saying goodbye to all of you wonderful creatures.

I have loved my time at St Andrew’s. It’s an amazing school and you are all amazing children. I never thought that I could find so much joy in my work. Thank you all for sharing your joy and friendship with me.

Now it will soon be time for me to move on to new adventures. I have a picture in my mind of a little boat – a coracle – carrying me home to the land of angels.

There is a beautiful passage at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (a book by CS Lewis) which describes what I can see in my mind. At that moment, with a crunch, the boat ran aground.

The water was too shallow now for it. ‘This’ said Reepicheep, ‘is where I go on alone’. They did not even try to stop him, for everything now felt as if it had been fated or had happened before.

They helped him to lower his little coracle. Then he took off his sword (‘I shall need it no more’ he said) and flung it far away across the lilied sea.

Where it fell it stood upright with the hilt above the surface. Then he bade them goodbye, trying to be sad for their sakes, but he was quivering with happiness. ……

Then hastily he got into his coracle and took the paddle, and the current caught it and away he went, very black against the lilies. But no lilies grew on the wave; it was a smooth green slope. The coracle went more and more quickly, and beautifully it rushed up the wave’s side.

For one split second they saw its shape and Reepicheep’s on the very top. Then it vanished, and since that moment no one can truly claim to have seen Reepicheep the Mouse. But my belief is that he came safe to Aslan’s country and is alive there to this day.

Maybe you would like to draw a picture of Reepicheep in his little coracle. Or you might like to think about this extract from a poem called The Guardian Angel I am tired and I a stranger, Lead thou me to the land of angels;

For me it is time to go home To the court of Christ, to the peace of Heaven Goodbye to you all, dear St Andrew’s families, and never forget there is fairy dust to be found in every situation, no matter how difficult.

Love Mrs East

How pupils were told

Teachers discussed the letter with pupils in class – a letter from the school sent to parents said:

Dear Parents and Carers,

As you know, Mrs East has been very unwell for the last few weeks. When we wrote to you last month we were hopeful that her condition would respond to treatment so that she would be able to return to work.

It’s with great sadness that we have to tell you that these hopes have not been realised. Her condition has deteriorated very rapidly and continues to deteriorate. She and her family have decided not to seek further treatment.

Until now, she has wanted to keep the details of her illness out of the public domain and shared only among her family and closest friends. However she now feels that the time is right to explain the position to the St Andrew’s community.

It’s important that you should know that she is deeply at peace with her situation, sad though it is. She is in positive spirits, surrounded by her family and close friends, and is in the best possible medical hands.

She has written the attached letter to the children explaining that she expects to die soon, and the class teachers have discussed the letter with the children today.

We recognise that many of you will be deeply saddened by this news, and you may have concerns or questions that you would like to raise with the school. The Hall will be open for parents tomorrow morning (Thursday 20th) and a number of governors and members of the senior leadership team will be available to talk to you, and to pray with you if you wish.

The Christmas service at St Swithin’s church will take place as scheduled at 13.45 tomorrow, and there will be a further opportunity to talk or to pray after the service. We will provide a further update at the beginning of Term 3 (8 January).

On a happier note, Mrs East was thrilled and delighted by the amazing blanket which you made for her. She has been feeling cold, so you could not have chosen a better gift for her! And the knowledge that so many of you contributed to making it means a great deal to her.

She has asked us to pass on her heartfelt thanks, both for the blanket and for all the cards and gifts you have sent her.

We wish you and your families a peaceful and blessed Christmas.

Louise Leach and Pete Rogers Chair and Vice Chair Governing Body of St Andrew’s Church School

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