You know, there's nothing inherently wrong with being cliche. It's more about the execution of the cliche than the label.
I don't see anything wrong with the premise you gave. Best I can offer in advice is:
For his teachers to react negatively, there needs to have a reason for it. Do they not like law enforcement, or his mother specifically? Do they even know of her death? If they do, do they know how she died?
Does the protagonist live in an area that desensitizes people to killings? Exactly how long has it been since it happened? Is he -- or his mother -- well known in the area, or did he relocate afterward?
For keeping it fresh, my advice would be:
Don't make this tragedy the entire focus of the story. It can be the primary focus, sure. But there has to be something other than the message to look at.
What are Fenghuang's aspirations? What does he want to do in his life, and how far along is he in doing it? What is he skilled in? Are people aware of it? How do they respond to it? How does Fenghuang respond to the response? Does the college teacher specialize in the same skill? Does he teach that same skill? And while I'm on that character...
There needs to be a reason for the college teacher's wisdom, so the first thing I'd do is find them. He would need to have some sort of experience with the world that would justify his wisdom, and Fenghuang's decision to listen to it. It doesn't have to be the exact same thing, but there needs to be some sort of parallel for Fenghuang's and Lukianos' experiences. If it doesn't exist, it might look like the teacher is just talking out of his ass.
And this is just my opinion, but...you will never be able to control someone else's response to your story. Trying to will not only make writing it take longer than it otherwise would have, but it might also make the negative reaction to the trope or whatever more extreme than it would've been if you didn't worry about it. It's up to you whether not you want to focus on your story not carrying the "disposable woman" or the "fridging" trope, but with the way you've structured the premise?
It won't matter what you do. Someone somewhere is going to see these tropes.
I would think with an early death of a mother, is like she was not around his whole life, and he would be raised by the father, and always want him to be a man. To be tough, and strong, and do things his father could not do because he was afraid or too weak.
This forms the person he becomes, and it is not the story of where he ends up in the end, it is the journey getting there, cliche or not, the story would be unique if you are creative enough.
If you think a character has a type, like a gold digger, a person fearful of anything in life, a hyperactive person, or a sheep that follows mindlessly. These can be have changes from a trauma in their life. Like a person who is always afraid, suffered so much harassment that he is not afraid to stand up to a bully but still be afraid of everything else.
Everyone goes through some kind of trauma for just being themselves, when they seem different or people get tired of them always being that way, or something that has nothing to do with that, like after being raped, or in jail for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or be set up. Someone cons them too many times and feel they need to never fall for what people say again. Everyone lies, and nobody can be trusted.
You can create a more unique person by type, experiences, and traumas.
If they are always asked how do you feel, then they become more emotional and feels free to express emotions. If the father says stop crying or I will give you a reason to cry, then they keep their emotions bottled up, and can get angry easy, because they can't express their emotions. How people grow up, what beliefs they grew up with, where they grew up, and so many things makes them who they are in a unique way. Someone that grew up believing anything is possible, can grow up to defy the known laws of nature, just because nothing can stop them from doing the impossible. The impossible is defined by people who gave up, and didn't keep at it to make it possible.
I don't know if you get this far into character creation, but it helps to make a short or long story of what type of person they are and express their way of thinking, attitude, common phrases, their past and goals for the future, and how you want them to look.
What happens at the moment the mother dies, like the kid being too young to remember, or fighting with his mom, and walks in front of a car, and she pulls him out of the way, but her head gets hit when she is off balanced and falling with pushing him out of the road, because he yanked his hand when she grabbed it. She could have fighting thieves in their home, when her son was paying with her cell phone and took their picture when jumped in the way to make him run.
I am a little unclear on how she died during her police duties while protecting her minor son. What was he doing there?
To avoid a cliche I would suggest having her die of something that is a common cause of death for police officers in that time and place. Or even have her die at work on a more dangerous job--in the US that could be something like being a delivery driver or farmer.
I think the stereotype comes in when you add too many 'heroic' elements like being a police officer and sacrificing herself for her child. Most people get dead for very mundane reasons which is part of what makes people lose interest and get impatient that you aren't "over it" yet.
You could then reveal that the accidental death was actual contrived by the clever villain later in the story
I’m sorry, i was just trying to answer but not sound patronizing. Trying to say that the death of one’s parent not affecting them greatly or motivating them to become better as a cliche really degrades the role a parent has on someone’s life.
Everyone is different, and if you can successfully justify it, you can use any motive to make a character do something. As you described your character having some baggage from his mom’s death, but at the same time, my best friend woke up one day to find his mother had passed in her sleep and it definitely had a major impact on his life to take things more seriously.
I suppose that thinking the death of one’s parent as a catalyst to make them a better person is a cliche may not be the right way to think about it.
The motive of this is that I am afraid that it could become the "Disposable Woman" trope, where a female character's only purpose is to get killed in order to give more character development to a male character.
By having the character's mother be a cop and killed in the line of duty, you're already circumventing gendered assumptions, since presumably she plays a more active role. The only other thing I can think you'd need to do is give her a motive and try to flesh the character out more. She may be absent through much of the story, but you could easily have the character remember his relationship with her or have the circumstances of her death tell us something more about her.
That might be a good thing to build on. What did he see when he visited her workplace? Seeing how she was around co-workers gives us a fuller picture beyond childish idolatry.
You might also flesh out his feelings about her death. It's believable that it might shock him or seem sudden, but fears of death on the job is pretty normalized in police work. He might've been shielded from that because he was a child, but it would realistically be there in her mind and perhaps his father's. He's going to college, so I could imagine you tying that into a "coming of age" theme, where he has to come to terms with the dangers of the job she worked. Just another thing to consider.
In FFXIII Hope's mother died in an accident (she let go off her savior's (name is Snow) hand so he could take care of her son instead). That caused Hope to hold deadly grudge against Snow. The boy kept building up the hate until attempted a murder. Hope ended up getting to understand what happened was an accident, and he forgave Snow.
But eventually, as the story progressed, Hope began going more and more insane, turning into a mad scientist obssessed with rebirth and eternal life, and eventually became a puppet of a no less insane god Bhunivelze.
Eventually both were destroyed.
So this is a story of a young man who did not become stronger because of a female's death. He became crazier.
plus, if Fenghuang was too young, he wouldn't have too many memories about this situation. Reality is usually rather cliche. Young man will bear guilt or hatred. It is in human's nature. So your idea is not really cliche.
PS To make this less cliché I imagine that Fenghuang heals thanks to the patience and the wisdom of his college teacher, the caring and fatherly Lukianos Kristakos.
Fenghuang is also a bit of a "bad boy" (Short-tempered, aggressive, a bit grouchy...), but I would like to make an effort to make him a more multidimensional character instead of reducing him to a cliché: he is an excellent student who often (if not always) gets the best grades, is very respectful towards Mr Kristakos because of his kind, wise, humble and generous nature and is an absolute sweetheart towards his love interest, a shy, artistic Hawaiian young man named Lopaka Kawai and would never dream of hurting him like more stereotypical, one-dimensional bad boys.
In a forum, you should always feel free to ask for clarification. If they're rude about it, that's on them.
If you write well - if you characterize everyone with depth, people aren't going to pick apart the bones
The thing about "fridging", which is the cliche you're describing, is that it generally involves the woman being killed in a way that makes it seem like her character only exists to be helpless. The fact that Fenghuang's mother is already a police officer, and would routinely be putting herself in harm's way, then leads logically to her being shot to protect him, so it's not as absurd and reductionist as it could be.
As to the rest, it's a little weird that people think he wouldn't be depressed over literally watching his mom get shot in front of him?? So again if this is the behavior you want to portray, then make sure the motivation for them is there and they're not just acting htis way to be dramatic. Maybe Fenghuang hides it, IDK.
Fenghuang only confesses it to his father, a sweet, caring and sensitive florist, because his elementaly school, middle school and high school teachers always said to him that he was "whiny", "self-centered", "spoiled", "was not making an effort to be more positive" or, often said by the more close-minded and intolerant ones, just needed to "man up".
Everything went like this, until when Fenghuang started college and met a compassionate and empathetic teacher named Lukianos Kristakos who helped him with patience, kindness and wisdom and never made fun of/criticized him for his feelings.
So do none of these teachers know that his mother was literally shot in front of him? Because I'm gonna say now, even if she'd died of cancer or something, teachers generally know that the death of a parent at that age is intensely traumatic, and presumably he would be sent for counselling. Unless this is set like 100 years ago or something?
Why is this teacher so much more understanding than other teachers?
It was caused because one teacher insulted a very young Fenghuang for expressing his feelings and because of this he is ashamed of going to counselling with either keeping it all for himself or with talking about this with his father.
PS An alternative idea can be that Mr Kristakos could have been his counselling therapist since when Feng was a child, thus earning all of his respect.