How do you explain the unexplainable? How do you counsel a community of children through grief, only to experience it again and again and again?
Those are the questions facing the faculty at Buford City Schools once more in the wake of the death of 12-year-old Jeremy Nelson. A middle school student, Nelson died on Saturday during a Gwinnett Basketball League all-star game. Officials say the cause of death was "marked pulmonary edema" -- or fluid on the lungs.
The seventh-grader's death is yet another tragedy to befall the Buford community, which has known all too many over the past calendar year. Nelson is the fourth beloved sports figure to pass away during that time, starting with Buford grad and Wolves football coach Ryan Daniel, who collapsed during a pickup basketball game in January 2012 and died. Buford student Adam Smith died in similar fashion during a September basketball workout. And former Wolves football player Devin Durden, son of Buford girls basketball coach Gene Durden, was in a motorcycle accident and passed away in October.
All of these deaths have been devastating to the close-knit community, and Buford High School athletic director Dexter Wood said there's been so much tragedy that it's been tough for the students, teachers and families to fully heal.
"It's my 39th year (in education) and nothing has ever come close," Wood said of the string of tragedies that have hit Buford City Schools over the past year. "Nothing has ever come close to the emotions, the sadness and the questions that have gone on with our staff, our parents, our kids and our community.
"You think after a couple of blows you can regain your footing, and then another comes along."
Nelson's death brings the same questions -- unanswerable as they are -- from students. And Wood said that's the toughest thing for him and fellow staff members.
"Because it can't be explained," he said. "One of those questions our young people are asking is: Why does this keep happening to us?
"How can you explain it? How can you explain a 16-year-old like Adam Smith dying? A 12-year-old dying? A young coach (like Ryan Daniel) is not supposed to die of a massive heart attack. You can't explain it.
"So our job is to love (the students), be there for them and let them vent. It's about all you can do."
Through each of the tragedies, Wood said he's been impressed by the way the families have reacted and how the community has rallied to lift them up. He said the three F's -- family, friends and faith -- have been integral in helping everyone cope.
"It's been amazing, the strength of the families, and how they've grabbed on to each other," Wood said. "It's a small town, and in times like this its colors really come through.
"It's really been inspiring. We're just trusting God that there's a greater meaning to this, even if we don't understand."
There's no making sense of this string of heartbreaking deaths, as Wood can attest. Best to follow his lead with a hug or a prayer. Now more than ever, Buford could use both.
Email Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays.