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.

Archive for September, 2009

Say His Name

Jordan with his Pop-High School graduation 2007

Jordan with his Pop-High School graduation 2007

I’ve never seen a picture of my father as a boy, yet I’ve heard so many of the stories of him growing up in a coal mining community in West Virginia, third youngest of thirteen children, that I have a distinct picture of him in my mind. My father is quite the storyteller and I’ve sat in rapt attention as he’s told me of his boyhood antics as well as those of his siblings. I’ve also listened as he’s shared the sorrow his family endured. As a young man in college, Daddy in less than 14 months, lost a sister to illness, a brother to murder, and his mother after making the statement to my father as they sat on their front porch following the death of her son-“I will not live to bury another one of my children.” She died a few months later.

Every time Daddy shared the story of losing so many loved ones in such a short span of time, I looked at him with compassion and awe. How do you keep going when you lose so much in such a short amount of time? Daddy had survived unimaginable loss and yet didn’t seem haunted by what he endured. His life had gone on with a college degree, marriage, work and family. He spoke lovingly of his family. He told funny and poignant stories of relatives that were long gone by the time I was born. Because of him I felt I knew them. Their deaths did not erase them from Daddy’s heart. He talked about them all the time. I watched him because as untouched as I was by the death of someone close to me, I knew it would happen eventually. Daddy provided my first road map on mourning loved ones.

My “eventually” came with the unexpected, shocking news of Jordan’s death. When I made the call to my parents in the middle of the night to tell them that Jordan their oldest grandchild had been killed in a car accident my mother screamed and cried, and then my father was on the phone. He told me they would be there as soon as they could and they were. By Monday afternoon they were sitting at our kitchen table. The friends who had held watch over us since early that morning quietly left once our family arrived. We sat, cried and talked. Daddy’s words to me were simple and direct, “Don’t stop talking about him. You say his name everyday.” I’m not sure if I would have taken such direct advice from just anyone, but I knew my father’s experiences with loss. Daddy’s advice was him speaking what he had lived. The way I knew about my aunts, uncles and paternal grandparents was because Daddy didn’t stop talking about them. He said their names and his eyes lit up with the memories they invoked.

Every time I called him in the weeks and months after Jordan died sometimes barely able to speak because I couldn’t catch my breath from crying he would calm me, soothe me, always telling me he wished he could take some of the pain away. He never failed to remind me of his feeling that holding in my grief would make me sick.  Then he would ask, “Are you talking about Jordan? You make sure you keep talking about him.” I always told him, “yes we talk about him everyday.”

My children know by the example of their father and I that it’s okay to cry and miss Jordan, but it is also okay to remember all the funny Jordan stories and talk about him as much as they want and need to. We sit at the dinner table and one of my daughters will say “remember the time Jordan raced into the bathroom right before I was going in to take a shower and jumped in the tub with all his clothes on and starting singing in that high voice “I’m taking a shower” as he pretended he was really taking a shower. We would all nod in remembrance and laugh. That story would remind another one of us of some other Jordan story and the love in remembering would grow. There would be other times when something happened at school and one of them would ask Mark or I “did that ever happen to Jordan?” We never turned away from an opportunity to talk about our son/their brother. He always will have a seat at the table.

Even almost a year after Jordan’s death my father still reminds me to “Say his name.” Now with the clarity of my own experience I know what he means. His philosophy about loss has become my own. The person we lose cannot become a taboo subject. Holding in our pain is also holding in our memories and ultimately the joy that person brought us. I knew about my aunt, uncle and grandparents long gone before I came along because of Daddy. They are etched in my heart as though they told me their stories themselves.

My children freely talk about their brother. They laugh together, imitating him and remembering. The way my children talk about their brother assures me that their children will know their Uncle Jordan. And one day in the distant future I pray that I’ll live to have my grandchildren sitting at my knee as I sat at my father’s and have them ask to hear about their uncle, my son. Without hesitation I will openly, wistfully, freely “Say his Name.”

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Leaves

Fall is here and I’m not ready. This year as opposed to years past I’m forced to live, breathe, act differently as I struggle to discover a new normal and make it tangible. In the midst of my search life goes on and the seasons continue to change. Ready or not fall is here again, proof that the world keeps turning no matter how hard I want to go back and make things as they were.

I always loved fall. The changing seasons is one of the main reasons I knew I didn’t want to continue living in Southern California. Every January however, when the skies are perpetually gray and the meteorologists feel the need to qualify the cold with harsh adjectives like bitter, raw, and icy; Chicago doesn’t seem like the place for me. But fall has always felt good to me. I like the crispness in the air. I’m a sweateraholic so I love being able to pull a sweater from my collection and put it on feeling warm and cozy but unencumbered by coats, hats and scarves. Fall felt good to me most of all because of the vibrancy of the sky and all the brilliant colors that the trees hand us as gifts. There is something about the brilliance of fall leaves that awes me every year. Walking in my neighborhood looking at the awning of brilliance only fall trees bring made me believe in miracles. It has always felt like a miracle I was allowed to watch. My daughters know how much I love the beautiful colors and since they were small would bring me leaves of varied hues and type that they collected when they were out playing.

My daughters and I had already started our collection last fall. We were keeping them in a folder and I was showing them how to press leaves so that we could display them throughout our house. We took the leaves, put them between sheets of newspaper and then placed the heaviest books we could find on top of them for a few days. When we removed the books and looked at the leaves they were perfect specimens. They were dry without being crumbly and they had a resilience to them that allowed them to bend without breaking apart. We had started our collection.

After October 12th, 2008 the day of Jordan’s death everything was viewed through a haze. Colors, shapes, the brilliance of fall were a backdrop for shock and pain. In the days after Jordan died Mark and I took many long walks together. The only thing we knew for sure was that we couldn’t be far from each other. Neither of us felt able to drive but staying in the house all day amidst our well- meaning families was at times overwhelming. Sometimes we needed it to be just the two of us. The two people who knew and felt like no one else what it was like to lose Jordan, our oldest child. We walked, sometimes in silence, sometimes talking about our beloved son, and sometimes quietly weeping. We would find a park bench sit and allow ourselves to feel the exhaustion and weariness that had taken hold of our bodies and souls. Our boy was gone. We were in shock, and numbness surrounded us.

During our walks I continued my leaf collecting. Even in my haze, I felt purpose. The leaves I collected would be part of a scrapbook I would make. The leaves would sit amongst the many cards and letters we received from family and friends.  So many of the cards and letters detailed special memories that were new to me of Jordan from those that knew, loved and admired him. I cherished every note that we received. I kept them to reread on those days when my worse fears surged and it felt that I was the only one who longed for Jordan and remembered him. Those fall days were the backdrop for my “mother loss” pain.  It seemed only fitting that the earth should say goodbye as well. The leaves were the Earth’s notes to my son.

I couldn’t give up on life as much as I missed my child and wanted to be with him. I needed to touch and feel the good things the world had to offer. Those fall leaves were a symbol of that beauty.  The leaves I collected on those walks were treated the same as the ones my daughters and I collected. I pressed them and then displayed them on the table in my entryway. I happened to look down at one of the leaves and saw that unlike the others that were golden yellows, maroons and reds, there was one that at the center had a

Jordan's leaf

Jordan's leaf

circle of green. It was my Jordan leaf. It still held green. How had I not noticed the green center when I picked it? When I got this leaf home and examined it all I could do was cry. Here was this leaf that had gone against the cycle of nature. The green center the heart of the leaf showed me what I was feeling about my child. The leaf like Jordan fell too soon.

Anniversaries

Jordan and his beautiful smile. The way we remember him.

Jordan and his beautiful smile. The way we remember him.

The word anniversary has become a charged word at my house. My husband and I sat on our porch last week talking about the fact that the 1-year anniversary of Jordan’s death is approaching and how we’ll prepare our children and ourselves for this day. As we sat and talked I looked up at him with a sudden memory and said, “We’re skipping September and going straight to October. It’s only September 9th. We’ve forgotten about our wedding anniversary.” We both stopped and looked at each other. Our wedding anniversary is September 17th and we had both forgotten about it. Anniversaries have different meanings now, those to celebrate, and those to endure.

I’m struggling now to figure out how October 12th, the day of Jordan’s death will be spent. I say spent, not remembered or commemorated because it is a day I just want to get through. His birthday was the day we honored and celebrated his life. What do you do on the day your child died? October 12th this year is Columbus Day. All of my children have the day off from school. The fantasy I had was that I’d take the kids to school, and that Mark and I would be home and just be still and let whatever emotions were inside wash over us and spill forth. No, to be honest that scenario is my second choice. My first choice is to find a way to make 10/12 disappear. I don’t want to relive it again even though I relive it regularly. It has become more than a memory it is part of my fiber. As the day approaches my resistance to reliving this day grows fiercer.

I don’t want to remember the phone ringing at 1:33 am with a call from our local police telling us two officers were on their way. The call came because the police showed up at our old address, the address on Jordan’s license. When the dispatcher called she said, “Two officers are at your door.  My husband replied, “No, I’m sorry you’re mistaken.” Then the banter back and forth about addresses and finally the mix-up is fixed and the dispatcher says, “The officers are on their way.” Then she hangs up. Mark gets up throws on sweat pants and goes downstairs to wait for the officers. We have no idea why they’re coming. Had someone tried to vandalize or break into our old house that was currently on the market? Is that what they needed to tell us? A problem with the house was the only thing that entered my mind. Mark went downstairs to wait. I stayed in our bedroom, which is at the top of the stairs near the front door. I laid there thinking-“Why would they come here if it’s about the old house?” “ Wouldn’t they tell us to meet them there? “

The doorbell rang before I got any further into pondering the police. I heard them ask my husband his full name. Then the officer’s voice was so low, a murmur so quiet that I couldn’t make out words. I sat up because the quiet talking was making me nervous. I started to pull on sweat pants so that I could go downstairs. Whatever they were talking about I wasn’t going to stay upstairs. Just as I was pulling on the sweatpants I heard the word “Massachusetts”. Whatever they were talking about was about Jordan. He was our Massachusetts. Nothing else in Massachusetts mattered to us. Thoughts raced through my head, first concern, “had he been hurt in an accident?” The next second it was anger, “that damn boy if he got into trouble and is in jail for something stupid he did with his friends I’m going to kill him.” All of these thoughts raced through my mind but not once did the thought of Jordan being gone ever enter my brain. That thought even now seems impossible. Not Jordan. By the time I was heading down the stairs I heard the tail end of what the officers were saying and I heard Mark scream. Scream isn’t the right word; he let out a guttural moan that I had never heard before. I reached the bottom of the stairs and saw Mark sitting on the bench in our entry with the two officers standing nearby one with his hand on Mark’s shoulder. When Mark saw me he got up to tell me what I’d already heard from the top of the stairs. I put my hand up and in a shaky voice said, “No, they have to tell me.” I stood on the rug under the light in our entry and I looked up into their faces daring them to say it again. I already had my arguments ready to show them they were wrong and they didn’t know for sure. I let them talk.

“Ma’am at around 9:30 pm eastern time your son and three friends were travelling on I-91 in Holyoke MA about 20 minutes from their destination. The car veered off the road crashed through a guardrail, dropped 30 ft and landed on the road below. Your son didn’t make it.”

I challenged them, “How do you know he didn’t make it? How can they be sure it’s Jordan?”

They kept calling me Ma’am. “Ma’am he had identification on him and his friends at the scene identified him.”

I knew it was true when the officer said Jordan had identification on him. Jordan always had his wallet with him. He always had his wallet, Ipod and phone wherever he went. I couldn’t make what they said untrue. I was out of questions and out of stalling tactics. I had to let the news in-Jordan is gone. Somehow Mark was standing beside me. I looked at him as he cried. He told me the other boys were pretty banged up (I later found this to be untrue. All three of Jordan’s friends walked away from the accident) but that Jordan didn’t make it. Then we cried together. We held each other and cried even though all my brain was saying was NOT JORDAN. NOT JORDAN.

Our cries and moans woke our other children and in less than 10 minutes we were telling my son and daughters what happened to their brother. We all stood huddled together crying and comforting. My 16 yr. old son like me tried one last time to make the news untrue. “ He’s just hurt right, he’s not gone.” I had to tell him again, “No baby he died in the accident. He’s gone.” All we could do was cry.

October 12th, 2008 the day Jordan died. Now the anniversary of that day approaches and my mind won’t release me from that night. The day is coming no matter what I do. My husband and I are thinking, praying and consulting with others about how we’ll get through this day for our children and ourselves. I know that we’ll talk as a family about what we’re feeling and not hold anything inside. No matter how much I wish I could shield my children from the pain of this day I know I can’t. They will feel their pain and look to their parents for comfort, and we will absorb as much of their pain as we can. Right now it hurts as much as it did then. Not Jordan. Even as a year without him approaches I still say Not Jordan.

Minefields

Relationships are eternal

Relationships are eternal

Some days, courage is needed to leave my house. When you’re grieving the loss of a child, minefields are everywhere. I never know if I’ll run into an acquaintance I haven’t seen since Jordan died who needs to express their condolences on a day when I am doing okay and am not prepared to help them mourn my child. Other times it is memory triggers- one of Jordan’s favorite songs being played in a store or listening to talk radio and hearing a discussion of a movie he and I watched together and loved. I was in a bookstore a few months ago and Marvin Gaye’s \”Trouble Man\” came through the sound system. I stopped in my tracks and stood there remembering the first time Jordan came to me after listening to that song. You would have thought he was the first in the world to hear it. That became his anthem as he worked hard senior year and plowed his way through AP classes and college applications. There I was in this store listening, remembering Jordan singing and trying to remember to breathe. On that day I consciously decided that this song represented joyful memories of my boy. I kept walking into the store determined that I could bear to listen to the song and replay Jordan’s antics as he mimicked Marvin Gaye. It was a wonderful memory and the store was providing the soundtrack.

Other occasions the shock of how an image or a sound will hurtle me into grief feels like a punch. The wind is knocked out of me and I stop and again have to remember to breathe. On one occasion a few months after Jordan died I was in a stationery store determined to get thank you notes. I had not written a single one and people had been so generous with food for our family, their cards detailing memories of Jordan and donations to Jordan’s fund that guilt was why I’d left my house. As an aside, my guilt on the matter of thank you notes has eased but not been erased. Thanks to the help of my friends, sister and Emily Post I cut myself some slack and hope people know how grateful our family is for all that is done for us. I’ve written five thank you notes so far and still am determined to give a proper thank you to all.

As I perused the shelves in a stationery store I had been in dozens of times I happened to look up and see a family tree poster for sale. Just looking at it made me back away. My family history which I researched going all the way back to my great, great, great -grandfather and reported on at my 50th annual family reunion that prior summer now mocked me. My family tree was broken. A branch, Jordan’s branch that should have multiplied and spread had been cut short. I can never imagine filling a family tree out again. When I come to Jordan’s branch I can’t write date of birth and date of death for my child, it is too unnatural. Looking at a poster of a family tree was the minefield for that day. That poster sent me stumbling to my car to sit and weep.

There is no way to be prepared for all of the things out in the world that will come my way. I’m learning to steel myself against possible minefields but at the same time trying not to harden myself against new experiences. I’m determined for me, and the example I am to my family to remember the joy I know the world still has to give. For that day however I knew I was done. I went home to my grieving place to sit and be still and simply feel what I was feeling.

Out in the World

Relationships are eternal

Beautiful days hurt. The sky is so clear; the weather is warm but carries the vestiges of fall. So beautiful it’s almost perfect. The kind of day that makes you feel like you should be outside enjoying these last warm days, feeling the sun on your face. I try to get out everyday but I don’t always succeed. Sometimes, I don’t make it farther than my front porch but I know the sun on my face is a healing power. The warmth and light that will help keep depression at bay.

Everyday is not a bad day. There are days when I can leave the house feeling okay. I’ve put on clothes that make me feel good about myself, a little make-up and have a hopeful energy that propels me out the door.  On other days no matter how I feel I have to leave the house because of meetings with the kids’ teachers, going to the grocery store, doctor appointments, etc. Even on some of these days I’ll look put together. Nothing about my appearance suggests that inside there is sorrow bubbling under the surface. I met a friend for lunch on one of my put together days. She commented on my outfit and how nice I looked. My response to her was “smoke and mirrors”. I told her that I learned after battling for years with lupus that if you look okay people assume you are okay. Smoke and mirrors are my protective armor against the pitying looks accompanied by the singsong “How are you” you get in a small community when everyone knows your world has crumbled but some don’t want to get too close to the pain for fear it might be catching. Smoke and mirrors however only help for a little while. There comes a point when the sadness in my eyes and the way my mouth unbeknownst to me is downturned into a pout/grimace override any appearance tricks. I have the look of frailty and vulnerability.

I told a dear friend Tom , who has suffered tremendous loss -yet lives a life of hope that includes joy- about my dilemma. I told him I wish our society still allowed public mourning and was more comfortable with death. Joan Didion in her book,”The Year Of Magical Thinking quotes Geoffrey Gorer who in his 1965 book Death, Grief and Mourning describes our society’s rejection of public mourning and “gives social admiration to the bereaved who hide their grief so fully that no one would guess anything had happened.” This is the world we live in, wearing mourning clothes are no longer in vogue and yet there needs to be some way the world can know when they are dealing with a person fragile from the forces of losing a loved one. There are t-shirts and wristbands for everything else; mourning should get its own special dispensation. I need a way for the world to know on my truly frail days to please be gentle with me I’m grieving and my heart is so heavy. For me gentle means not staring if you know me and aren’t going to say hello, it means patiently allowing me the extra time it sometimes takes to find my wallet or give the correct amount of money because my hands are shaking, not taking offense if I don’t say hello, especially if I have a far off distant look. I’m learning that there is no timeline on grief and that what I ask of the world I have to respectfully ask of myself. Be gentle, don’t rush, someone precious has been lost. Jackie, be good to yourself.

The Chime Ache

Jackie with thoughts of Jordan always close.

Jackie with thoughts of Jordan always close.

I had coffee this morning with a new friend. It was our second time getting together and already we talk like old friends. We were introduced to each other through a mutual friend who thought we would be good for each other. Her family like mine is part of a fraternity whose members are not there by choice. Jordan was killed at 19 on October 12th 2008, her son died at 21 in December 2008. When we talk we share our mother sorrow and look towards the other knowing that understanding will be reflected back. I told her how hard the last two weeks have been. Watching all of Jordan’s friends returning to college circled me back to sorrow and anguish that I hadn’t felt since last October. Jordan’s birthday was August 9th. He would have been 20 years old. Watching his friends continue with their lives is so bittersweet. I love and applaud them and ache for me all at the same time.

I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes crying, sobbing the words “I want Jordan to be 20. I want him to be a junior. I want him to come home.” All three things are physically impossible but for now the only reality that is acceptable. The sorrow is so physically present in my body that it had to be named-the chime ache. The days when the pain of loss is weighted in my chest the chime ache is present. It’s an ache that acts like the chime of a clock. Each chime says and feels “Jordan’s gone”.

We have a dead son. In the middle of the night that is how the reality of losing Jordan comes out. It is matter of fact, short and to the point. Sometimes I sit straight up in bed and hold my knees and put my head down. “How can this be?” “ Jordan where are you?” “Please come home we need you.” Even after 11 months disbelief is so intertwined with my sorrow that sometimes just looking at his picture will make me think if I wait long enough I can make him come home. Acceptance that Jordan is gone cannot be fully embraced because that means not seeing him anymore, at least on this earth. It means that he is really gone. For those who have never lost a loved one I’m not even sure if I’m making sense.  All I know is that I have days when the force and reality of his death are so powerful that I can’t move from the chaise lounge portion of our sectional. I sit there and stare out the window for hours wondering what I am supposed to do now? The only thing that lifts me from this grief trance is the part of my brain that still knows that I have 3 living children who need me and rely on me. On my grief trance days my body stores my physical and emotional energy for them. I’m determined that they know that they are loved and I make myself present for them. I never want my children to feel that I’ve checked out emotionally to such a degree that they begin to wonder if they matter. I love all of my children. All of them are worthy of my time, love and attention. They know my grief also. They’ve seen me cry, they’ve asked me “what’s wrong” and I’ve been honest in saying to them “I miss Jordan and I’m having a bad day.” They understand because grief sometimes hits them in the same way. Having a “missing Jordan” time is well understood in our home. The chime ache can strike at any hour and needs no explanation beyond the words-“I miss Jordan.”

Waiting for the Mail

I will always be the mother of four. When people ask how many children I have I immediately say four and if they look at me with that “go on” look I tell them. I have a 16 year old son who is a junior in high school, I have 10 year old twin daughters who are in 5th grade and I have a son Jordan who was killed in a car crash on October 12, 2008 when he was 19. Since Jordan died I live breath by breath. I am learning that relationships are eternal. Jordan will always be my son and I will always be his mother. Grief is teaching me many things. This first posting is a glimpse into my mourning journey.

Waiting for the Mail

There is only one other time that I wanted to avoid the mail.

It was the day my oldest son, Jordan, was expecting his admissions letter from Amherst College– whether it would be the thick or thin envelope. If I even saw the mailbox I would know. If there was a bulging envelope, he was in. It was news that he should receive first. It was his experience and his news to share with others. I didn’t want to take that surprise or joy from him.

And, if it was the thin envelope I wanted to allow him the time to compose himself if he needed to before he had to tell anyone else that he hadn’t gotten into his first choice school. That day I made sure I didn’t drive by the front of our house. I didn’t want to see the mailbox, bulging or not. When I came home that day I drove through the alley and parked in the garage. It took everything in me not to peek; but I didn’t.

It was Jordan’s news to share and I wasn’t going to steal even a piece of his joy.

I busied myself while watching the clock. He would be home by 3:15. He would see the mail in the mailbox and he would know his future and soon after I would know. I waited in the den where I usually waited for him. I always sat in the same chair and he would sit at the computer. It was our way.

I had learned not to ask too much about his day, when I did the details were few and sketchy. But, somehow when I happened to be sitting in the chair in the den and he came in and sat at the computer checking his email and looking at ITunes, elements of his day flowed naturally and easily. He would talk about crazy things that happened at lunchtime, or something odd or wonderful that one of his teachers said. It was our time and it always felt like a sacred space.

As I waited that day for the Amherst letter, I heard the door open and then I heard him yell,“YES!” It was pure joy. I had the camera ready just in case and as he rounded the corner not having to call out or look for me because he knew where I’d be. I captured the joy as he held up the thick packet from Amherst with the most beautiful smile on his face. He was happy, relieved and on his way. It was a moment I’ll never forget. I told him how I’d come in the back way so he could get the mail. I wanted him to have his moment and he was awed my generosity. He thanked me as he hugged me in our sacred space.

April 6, 2009: I again knew what mail was coming. We knew the accident report detailing all the information of the October 12, 2008 car accident that killed Jordan would be in our mailbox today. I knew it would be here today. I knew I’d be home alone when it came. I promised my husband Mark I wouldn’t open it and I haven’t. But, I did get the mail and I saw the thick envelope from Massachusetts and knew what it was. I could have let the mail sit on the floor in the foyer.

But, I heard it drop through the slot and I knew it was here. We had waited 5 months for this report: the report that would give us all the information of that still unbelievable night that took our child away from us. Our attorney and the State Trooper told us the report would include the interviews of Jordan’s three friends who were also in the car and walked away without being seriously hurt, the interviews with witnesses to the accident and the report of the re-creation of the accident.

These would be the items contained in the big envelope that came today.

All I could think was, when we read it we’ll know what the last moments of our child’s life were like. The accident was a time that I wasn’t there waiting for him. It was the one time I’d give my life to hold him or to tell him to hold on. That night I couldn’t create a sacred space between my child and me. The first time I waited for mail for Jordan I was able to capture joy on his face.

This time I couldn’t be there to even say goodbye.

I’ll always wonder if he needed me. I hope he knew that just like the day he got into his dream school, with my heart I was as close as around the corner; always waiting and wanting to be there for my boy.

Two such different times, one where my heart almost burst with pride and now where my heart is ripped out and must mend in its own time. I have to figure a place to put this new pain. My relationship with Jordan is eternal. And as this pain eases, the sacred space that we shared will be renewed and I’ll find a way to share both the joy and the sorrow in that space.