Close to 30 of us gathered at Mockingbird Elementary on a crisp, sunny February morning. After laboriously digging a hole 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep, we stood on its perimeter and respectfully watched as our friends scattered their son’s ashes on the roots of the tree we planted in his honor.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes that same village to support friends who have lost a child.

We are 18 families who met during our sons’ kindergarten year at Mockingbird Elementary in fall 2008. The boys have fanned off to make more friends in the 11 years since then, as have the moms and dads. But all of us, despite going to different schools or moving away, still actively weave in and out of each other’s lives. We moms get together at least twice a year, which may not seem like a great feat, but with lives so busy, coordinating everyone’s schedules is a challenge.

We need our villages to support us. Mine sustains me multiple times a week, especially now that I’ve gone back to work full time. From helping with school pickups to answering my cries for help, life would be even more chaotic if my merry band of girlfriends wasn’t around.

We rely on this mutual beneficence to get us through the day to day, but friendships like these also provide a much deeper sustenance when life’s tragedies break through the trivialities and bring us crashing down to reality.

In mid-August, on the precipice of a new school year, we found ourselves consoling one of our 18 families. A husband and father died suddenly. The day before, he and his wife had dropped off their oldest child at the University of Texas for her freshman year. Their son was about to start his junior year at Woodrow Wilson High School.

Just three days later, while struggling to comprehend the situation, we heard news that elicits only one response: 

“No, this can’t be true.”

But it was true. A former kindergarten classmate of our boys had died by suicide. Only 16 years old, he was a kind, handsome, sweet, smart, athletic and fun young man.

Our busy lives came to a halt. Disbelief was quickly replaced by heartache, tears and a need to comfort the family.

We called, stopped by and delivered meals. During the reception, which immediately followed the funeral, a mom suggested planting a tree in his honor at the place where we all first met in 2008.

Fast forward five months to February. With the support of principal Melanie Mans and parent leaders at the school, we had the privilege of planting a Chinese pistache near the corner of Delmar and Mockingbird to memorialize our sons’ friend.

It was an emotional day. It was even more so when we dedicated the tree in his memory Feb. 21, which would have been his 17th birthday. We said goodbye at the place where we all first said hello. 

It seems crazy that our boys met more than 11 years ago. Many of us were first-time school parents, and the anxiety of sending our babies off to start their educational journey was evident. 

Looking back, what seemed monumental and worrisome at the time turned out to be the opposite — kindergarten was a magical year.

In the hearts of 18 families, Mockingbird Elementary will always be a magical place.

We all shine on

Like the moon and the stars and the sun

In loving memory of our friend

Kaden Gutierrez

We love you, Kaden … 

you will always be with us

SJE 2008-2009 Kindergarten

Family and Friends

If you are in crisis or have suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas hotline at 214.828.1000. The organization has a “Teens Can Survive” program. You can also text “CONNECT” to 741741 anytime to reach trained, caring volunteers at the National Crisis Text Line.

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