Sharing my mourning journey as my family learns to live a new normal after the death of my 19 y.o. son in an auto accident on 10/12/08.

Posts tagged ‘guilt’

Thinking of You

“I’ll be thinking of you, thinking of you

Though we’re far apart, you’re in my heart

And there you’ll always stay

Till we meet again someday

I’ll be thinking of you”

Andrae Crouch

Jordan is always on my mind, always. Some days the comfort I get from feeling his presence in my heart and surroundings is like light and warmth all at the same time. I freely talk to him telling him about my days and asking him to watch over and encourage his siblings. I remember silly things he’s done and am able to laugh, feeling his laughter too.

On other days, thinking of him makes me wish that there were some way that he could come back, that a horrible mistake has been made and he’ll find a way to return. I’ve even gone so far as to chastise myself for having him cremated. “He doesn’t have a body to come back to, what were we thinking?”

Still more, are the days when I’m so angry not only at the accident that caused his death or at his friends who lived, but at Jordan. A litany of  “Why” outbursts cascade through my mind as I lash out at him for not surviving.

  • Why were you sitting in the rear passenger seat?
  • Why did you fall asleep?
  • Why didn’t you stay in NY instead of tagging along to Baltimore?
  • Why didn’t you stick with friends your own age?
  • Why didn’t you listen to your dad and I and stay vigilant when you’re riding in the car on long trips?
  • Why didn’t you tell me how tired everyone was on the day you were going back to school?

And then the anger fixed on Jordan turns to me.

  • Why didn’t I listen to my gut and call you to check-in while you were on the road?
  • Why didn’t I buy you a bus ticket for NY instead of allowing you to drive with your friends?
  • Why didn’t I get angry when you changed plans and off-handedly told me about it in a text message?
  • Why did I let you make your own choices and decisions?

The last why is the conundrum that threatens me most. I’m raising my surviving children to be just as independent and to live fully the way Mark and I taught their brother. Am I doing right by them? I pray they will live long, happy lives. I’m proud of them for their resilience and that they continue to embrace life with exuberance and hope. The love and pride I have for my children doesn’t change the nagging thoughts that undermine my beliefs in what being a good mother means.  It still stings when people tell me I’m a good mom. Sometimes all I can give in response is a nod as I lower my head. They’re saying, “Good mom.” I’m thinking, “Cautionary tale.”

My oldest boy is gone and as hard as I try I can’t completely shake the feeling that I should have been able to save him. Yes, it was an accident that took his life but there are so many intersections of time where things could have been different. A bus ticket, a phone call, saying, “No, you can’t go,” would have changed the trajectory of my family’s life. I know his death can’t be undone and facing that reality is a part of who I am now. Yes, I think about my son everyday and today happens to be a “Why” day.

Always Mom of 4

Should I have been a helicopter parent?

Helicopter parent: a mother or father that hovers over a child; an overprotective parent.

There are days when I try to change the events of October 12th, 2008 by turning myself into a helicopter parent. I wonder if hovering and being a parental GPS would have saved Jordan’s life. I know it’s useless. “What ifs,” at this point change nothing but I’m still haunted.

I found the writing below on Jordan’s laptop after he died. He gave me another purview into the world of parenting:

“My mother would tell me I had the soul of a poet. She would take my grade school musings, read from the crumpled pieces of yellow lined paper, and tell me how wonderful they were. Her unwavering praise for my puerile prose had the perhaps unintended side effect of imbuing me with an aura of unwarranted confidence.”

The words above are the beginning of a file, which he entitled, “Jordan’s musings.” The story goes on to talk of him bent over a commode as he vomits to the point of dry heaving as his friend chastises him for trying to drink a much larger, more experienced drinker under the table. The friend’s disgust stemmed from the fact that they’d come to the party with a group of girls and Jordan had ruined their chances for the night.

When I first read this story I sat with my hand over my mouth. Not because of the drinking, I knew Jordan was drinking while away at college. I’d told him to be careful. I told him of the history of alcoholism in our family. He always nodded, saying, “I know Mom,” uncomfortable with the conversation. But I persisted wanting to make sure that he knew I’d had a college experience as well and things hadn’t changed that much in 25 years.

My hand gripped my mouth because my son seemed to blame me for making him feel too special. Had I really gone too far in my praise and pride in my child? How much had I contributed to his air of invincibility?

When I was growing up my father’s biggest mandate to my sister and me was, “No matter what, you have to be able to take care of yourselves.” That one sentence meant being able to cook, do laundry, live independently and make choices that enhanced not hindered our lives. I say the same things to my children. Jordan starting doing his laundry at 14 and could cook simple meals before he went away to college. He ran errands, picked his sisters up from school and did his schoolwork without any prodding. He hated that he was the only one of his friends that had a curfew. My only response was, “Every family has their own rules. A curfew is one of ours.” He was a good boy, with good friends. Even though I know from looking at pictures on his cell phone that he experimented with alcohol and pot with his high school friends. I should have asked more questions. Why wasn’t I a helicopter parent?

The events of the weekend that Jordan died replay in my head with an on/off switch that I don’t control. I never know when an image will pop into my head or when I’ll think of what Jordan told me he was going to do that weekend, and what he really ended up doing. His plan was to go to New York, spend the first night with a friend from college who was taking a semester at Columbia, and then spend the rest of the weekend with his childhood friends one of whom attended NYU and another who had taken the train in from Boston. It wasn’t until Saturday when he texted me that he was on his way to Baltimore did I know the plan had changed.

Many months after he died, one of his friends from the car emailed me after much pleading on my behalf to please tell me about their weekend. He told me that they’d gone to Baltimore to go clubbing and attend a concert. The lure of a concert and hanging out with his older college friends pulled Jordan from a weekend that would have kept him safe. I didn’t try to stop him. I wanted to and even thought about telling him to take the bus back to NY and stick to the plan we’d agreed upon. But he was 19 away at college and Mark kept reminding me that we needed to let him make his own decisions. I finally relented hearing the words I’d spoken to Jordan before he went off to school. “I’m not going to be one of those helicopter moms, swooping in and tracking your every move. We’re raising you to be able to take care of yourself and that’s what I expect you to do.”

That’s what I thought was the right thing to do. Now I don’t know anymore. I wish I could find an article that would tell me if helicopter parents children survive in greater numbers than those of us who send our children out into the world hoping and praying that we’ve done right by them.

I’ve had so many arguments in my head with Jordan since he died. “Why didn’t you stay in NY? October 11th was one of your best friends birthdays. You were supposed to celebrate with him. Why did you choose partying with your college friends all 21 and legally able to go to clubs when you had to show your fake ID that I found amongst your things to get into the club?”

I always hear him say back, “But Ma it was a once in a lifetime concert. My friend got the tickets we all wanted to go.”

“How could you leave your friend, especially when it was his birthday. I don’t think I’ll ever understand that. I’m so disappointed that you made that choice. His birthday will never be the same because the next day is the day you died.”

I don’t think I was blind to Jordan’s shortcomings, he was impatient, at times selfish and quick to anger, and sometimes he didn’t think he just did. Jordan knew his shortcomings and was just entering adulthood in a way that we could start the conversations about triumphs and mistakes, both from me as his mother and from him as my son. I’m now left here working through the anger and disappointment that leap out of my grief, putting a chokehold on sorrow and replacing it with shame. Did I do right by my son? Could I have protected him from death? The prisms of grief have so many facets and can be blinding at times. Sorrow, lost, longing, anger, disappointment, shame and love. No matter what, there is never ending love for the boy who seemed to have a perspective on parenting that is now added to my rule book.

Jordan in his own way probably said it best further down in his, “musings”:

“Perhaps it’s a parent’s responsibility to be intensely optimistic when it comes to their children, their legacy. Its natural to hope that what’s left of you once you’re gone is a good representation. It’s even more natural to allow your hope for immortality through the greatness of your children to blind you to their shortcomings.”

Jordan didn’t get to be my legacy and that is the biggest shortcoming of this cautionary tale.

 

 

Getting The Boot

My ankle is officially out of commission for a while. I went to my family physician on Wednesday who took one look at my ankle and said, “I want someone from ortho to take a look at this.” Performing her unique magic, after a phone call she was able to get me in for an appointment an hour later. The ortho doc took x-rays, examined my ankle and prescribed a compression sock to relieve the swelling and one of those boots to keep it immobile. He also scheduled an MRI and wants to see me in 2 weeks. I was a fairly agreeable patient but did tell him, “March 24th is my birthday and my family is headed to Florida for Spring Break. I can’t disappoint them, and we all really need the break.”

He responded with kindness saying, I don’t think that will be a problem, but if it turns out you can’t go, I’m happy to have a little break in Florida.”

We both laughed and then he reassured me that he thought everything would work out fine. I left the hospital trying to learn how to walk in the black clunky boot and remember to, “roll from heel to toe,” as the technician had advised me, even though every step sent daggers through my ankle. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in so much physical pain. I thought back to the first time I had the same problem with my ankle although in a less serious form. It was August of 2008 and Jordan had driven me to the doctor, letting me lean on him as we made our way from the car to the office.

Last night the swirl of Jordan taking me to the doctor back in ’08, having a recurrence of the same ailment and just a few days earlier planning a scholarship fund in his memory became too much. When we sat with the representative from Amherst College talking of our plans for the scholarship we ventured into talk about some of Jordan’s friends and their after college plans. As we talked my discomfort grew. I let Mark engage in conversation and I kept looking at a picture we have in the living room from Jordan’s high school newspaper days taken by his friend Clare. In the photo he’s looking over his shoulder as if someone just called his name and he has that trademark smile on his face.  I kept looking at the picture talking to him in my mind. “Why aren’t you here? I want to tell people what you’ll be doing next year. We’re sitting here planning your memorial fund. Why aren’t you here?”

I made it through the meeting and the kind, young woman who came to meet with us begged me not to get up as she prepared to leave. “Please rest your leg. I hope you feel better soon.” I want to feel better too. Some days I wonder how that will happen. I’m feeling excruciating pain in my ankle and my main thought is, “How can this be? How can I be here hurting, being assured I’ll recover fully and my son didn’t get to live? Jordan took ME to the doctor before and that image is colliding with the sight of this boot on my foot. The physical and emotional pain are so intertwined that they’ve become one.

I continue practicing with the boot, trying to figure the best way to walk with the least amount of pain.

Picture of Jordan we have framed in our living room

Amherst, Massachusetts

I’m sitting on the couch, my right ankle propped up on a pillow with a bag of ice underneath and one to the side of my ankle. I have to check in with my doctor tomorrow to let her know if the antibiotics are working and the swelling in my ankle has subsided or at least not gotten worse. Being forced to be off my feet is not something I do well. Pain is ruling however and I’m listening to my body even though I’ve told it that I have a meeting today at 12:15 that I plan on attending. For me, idle body means overactive mind, taking me to places I’m not sure I’m ready to go. Thinking of the things yet to be done that I desperately want to do. Spreading Jordan’s ashes, turning “Jordan’s Fund,” into an official non-profit and most importantly helping my daughters as the awareness that their brother Merrick will be going off to college soon. None of these thoughts happen in any organized fashion but rather like a racquetball bouncing off of any available wall. I’m still learning how to quiet my mind.

Later today Mark and I are meeting with an alum from Amherst College to officially set up a scholarship fund in Jordan’s memory. I’ve stopped myself from saying, “finally,” set up a scholarship fund because I have felt that after 2 1/2 years we should have already had a scholarship in place. I decided that guilt wasn’t helping the process at all and that my goal of having a scholarship in place by what should be his graduating year has to be good enough.

Jordan’s Fund has been in existence since the week he died. My friend Michele went with me to the bank to set it up so that in lieu of flowers, people would have a resource to honor Jordan and his love of learning. I’ll never forget sitting in that bank officer’s cubicle filling out paperwork and being prompted by Michele to answer questions when my mind would wander to, “What am I doing here? Where’s Jordan?” But we did it and every year since his death we have had a celebration of Jordan’s life where we’ve welcomed donations to Jordan’s Fund. There will be scholarship funds at his high school and his college.

I subscribe online to  the Writer’s Almanac because I like starting my day with a poem. When I opened the email this morning the title of the poem was, “Amherst Massachusetts,” by Jaimee Kuperman. Just seeing the title felt like another validation that we are doing right by our son. In May, my family won’t get to see Jordan receive the college diploma from the school he loved. There will however be scholarships for years to come for incoming students with a love of learning and a thirst for social justice. Jordan will live on through the learning of others.

Jordan just learning of his acceptance to Amherst College

Time for, “The Talk”

I frequently read other parenting blogs and have a couple of my favorites on my blogroll. Katie Granju is a mom who has several blogs. I became acquainted with her Mamapundit blog after the death of her oldest son Henry. Yesterday I commented on her Babble blog about what to tell your kids when they ask questions usually out of the blue that don’t always have comforting answers. Questions like, “Can we visit heaven?” I commented as a parent and as a person with a background in developmental psychology. Part of my answer to her regarding her preschooler was, “Answer only what question they ask in the simplest way possible. You don’t want to overwhelm them.” I’ve found that kids want the truth and usually find a way to ask for it. Usually.

I’m stuck right now because Mark and I are faced with bringing our children to another level of awareness about loss and grief. I keep waiting for them to ask a question about Jordan’s ashes, any opening that will lead to a discussion of our plans to keep some of his ashes in an urn at home. They know we plan to spread some of his ashes as we travel but even this is an abstract concept. I don’t want them to be afraid of Jordan’s urn, especially when Mark and I need to have part of Jordan stay at home with us. What will we do if any one of our kids can’t handle an urn at home when it is something that will give Mark and I solace?

I’m afraid of scaring and scarring my kids by even bringing up the subject of the urn to them. And I’m afraid of them hurting in a way that I can’t help them. But I have to admit I’m also feeling a little selfish too. Jordan is also my child  and I want part of him at home with me.

I’ll get the perspecitve and suggestions from therapists and counselors. I’d like to know though how others in my situation have dealt with this issue. I’m asking for help from anyone who has experience talking with their kids or knows someone who has. How do you prepare your child/children to accept that the sibling that once laughed and played with them is partially, yet symbolically represented as ashes in an urn? It is a conversation quite frankly I’m dreading. I don’t want them to hurt anymore than they already do and yet it’s a conversation that must be had.

Jordan and his siblings on his 19th birthday. The last picture taken of all of them together.

Mind Over Matter

I’m downstairs, listening to my daughters who are upstairs simultaneously practicing flute and clarinet. They’re in separate rooms but I have no idea how they can practice without messing up the other’s timing. Tomorrow is a snow day! It is the first my daughters have ever had since being in school. They are beyond excited. Merrick found out his high school is closed tomorrow as well, the first time since the mid 1970’s. Before he could fully relax he asked me, “Mom, they really said school is closed. You’re sure?” So we’re all hunkered down for the storm. Mark is home and aside from the howling winds our house feels safe.

I’m working to bring safety back to my spirit. When I emailed Edward to ask about the accident I did so without letting anyone know. Mark wishes I’d stop, not wanting me to hurt anymore than I do now. He thinks we know enough and that any additional details will only hurt me more. He may be right. The mother in me, Jordan’s mother, can’t rest without understanding the whole of the truth of that night. Mark’s afraid I’ll be haunted by what I find out. I’m afraid I’ll be haunted if I don’t. I check my email as usual everyday, not expecting to see a response from Edward but bracing myself just in case there is one. So far he has not responded or acknowledged my query of him. There may never be a response.

I did fantasize when I saw the mailman across the street today that perhaps Edward was writing a real letter and that was why I hadn’t heard from him yet. I know I’ve asked a lot of him. What I’m learning from my own experience about trauma and PTSD are that the things the mind does to protect the heart are astounding. Edward may be in full protection mode and unable to even go back to that night.

Mark reminded me when I told him about finally realizing that Edward put his t-shirt to the back of Jordan’s head not to his forehead, that I’d know that all along. So gently he said to me, “Remember, the coroner and James (a family friend who is an ER doc) told us that he couldn’t survive an impact like that to the back of the head.”

I remember that Mark talked to the coroner in MA by phone and James was also on the line. He told me afterwards what they said. What I remember from that conversation is him saying, “Jordan was asleep. He didn’t feel any pain.” That’s what my mind took in and that’s what my heart could handle. Almost 2 1/2 years later the shock and blur of Jordan’s accident are not as constant and I can’t explain to anyone why I crave details now.

I read a short story a while ago entitled, “The Girlfriend.” It is in a book by Maile Meloy called,Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It. In the story a father seeks out the girlfriend of the man who murdered his daughter after the trial where the man is found guilty. He wants to know every detail of that night that he can find. What the father ultimately finds out makes him feel worse, almost a party to the crime instead of somehow more settled. I’ve thought about that story  a lot wondering if I’ll end up like the father having too much information that will have to somehow keep house with my pain not ease it. I just don’t know.

I found an entry in one of my journals from 11/10. The entry is entitled, “Why Do This.” Meaning why write a blog, why am I writing a book? I had a long list of reasons some of which are:

  1. To feel closer to Jordan
  2. To stop being afraid of being happy
  3. To accept that my boy is gone
  4. To figure out how to diffuse some of this pain

The last item on my list was:

5.To ask all the questions that I want answers to, even if there aren’t any answers.

Circling, Orbiting and Making His Presence Known

For much of my day, Jordan stands in the distance. He is far off and a bit hazy but I know it’s him. His stubbornness shows even in death. He doesn’t come closer when I beckon him, only when he feels it is the right time.

I’m learning how to listen to the laughter of his siblings and embrace its authenticity without always thinking, and wishing Jordan should be here. My children are circling each other, finding ways to be together that has Jordan as their outer orbit with his arms stretched wide encircling them all. They’re laughing more, teasing each other and having private brother sister jokes that tickle them to no end. I watch them and see how they’re moving on, grateful but always a little afraid that their joy means Jordan has been relegated to the past.

I don’t want any of us crippled by grief. All of us must plan and enjoy life. Moving forward with joy must not feel like a sting against Jordan’s memory. We’re planning a trip for spring break, to feel sun and warmth.

Yet again the, “How many” question will be asked? I’m getting better at saying 5 without adding caveats of, “We’ll always be 6.” I feel all of us moving forward and I feel Jordan near even when I can’t make out his face.

Jordan's forever beach chair

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