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 October, 2009

Sitting with Anger

Sitting With  Anger

A pic of Jordan I keep in my journal. The fortune reads,"Sorrow of parting will bring happiness of reunification."

There have been over 365 days without Jordan. Marking a year did nothing to ease my sadness. I had this fantasy that if I made it to a year without my son, then there would be relief, some acceptable change. I fantasized that someone would pop out and say, “Well, you’ve shown you can handle heartache, loss and pain. We know now you’re a strong person. Open that door over there, and see your son again. This past year has been a horrible dream, but you passed the test.” Even as I fantasized, I knew there was no test. It’s my life. The days without Jordan keep accumulating and I’m approaching another holiday season without him. Another year without him is here and the fury I feel has caught me off guard.

Sadness is with me always, but anger and sometimes rage have dropped by and are making time for me as well. I’ve never felt this kind of fury before. I never knew anger could hurt so much and be so debilitating. I’ve screamed, I’ve wanted to break things, punch, kick and physically hurt someone or something, just to release the swell of anger that threatens to sway me into instability. Even with the anger, the good girl that I’ve always been brings reason and I realize I’m too ladylike to  break something. I can’t even bring myself to pick up the Amherst college mug that Mark ordered for me when Jordan was a freshman. I want to break it. I want to hurl it against a wall and scream, “No, I want my son back.” I hate looking at it. For me it represents  the lost dreams of my child, the future we thought he had. Mark and my children still proudly wear their Amherst gear and it gives them comfort. My daughters drink cocoa from the mug. I see this mug that I used to drink out of every morning, feeling closer to Jordan as I imagined him in class and now I want it shattered into a million pieces. I have a mug and not my son.

Residual anger that leeches on and can’t be shaken is new to me. I’m comfortable with depression, sadness, and guilt; these are the emotions I’m willing to associate with grief and even expect. The strength and vitriol of my anger surprises me. It has shaken me to my core. My sense of control already weakened, threatens to bottom out completely making me question what kind of person I am?

I’ve started having nightmares where I’m a college student again and I wander the halls searching for my dorm room. I look around in my dream and see everyone going on their way seeming to know their destination and I struggle to remember where my room is. Everyone I ask points me in a different direction. I always wake up panicked and before that first real moment of consciousness I really believe I’m in college. Then, when I’m fully awake I realize that college is a goal I’ve already accomplished and the one I want in college is Jordan. When I have this dream I have to fight to get out of bed in the morning. I lay there thinking, wondering, “How did this happen?” and “Jordan you’re supposed to be in school” and my most plaintive plea, “Jordan please come home.” Sometimes I’ll drift off just to imagine if only for a moment that Jordan is in his junior year, preparing for class and even picture what his room looks like. It is such small comfort. No amount of fantasizing eases the aspects of grief that I’ve come to know and endure. Now, suddenly anger is a regular part of my grief.

My anger has presented itself in so many forms. Sometimes it’s the impatience I have for my children as they come home from school and clamor for my attention and to tell me about their day. Sometimes it’s the edginess I take with me when I’m out running errands and am so tightly wound that a part of me wishes a salesperson would be rude to me just so I’d have someone to unleash some of my pain and anger onto.

I’ve had anger for everyone. This weekend the rage I felt was directed at Jordan and me. I railed at myself for not being more vigilant. Why didn’t I follow my instincts and call him while he was on the road? Why didn’t I give him money for a bus ticket so he wouldn’t have driven with his friends?

I talked to Jordan too.I laid on my bed and out loud, through tears I expressed my anger towards him with so many questions, “Jordan, why did you change the plan without asking if it was okay? You texted me when your new plan to go to Baltimore was already underway. Why didn’t you stay in New York? You could have stayed with Malcolm or Matt. It was your friend’s birthday that weekend. You were supposed to hang out with him. Why did you have to go to Baltimore? Why were you talked into clubbing and concerts?  Why did you go? I want you back. I want you to come home.” After ranting and questioning my son, I’m spent and cry myself to sleep. I wake up later when Mark comes to check on me and I realize hours have past. Acting out my rage has exhausted me, but its release has also calmed me.

I have moments of fury for Jordan’s friends who were in the car with him during the accident. Jordan’s friends who walked away from the accident with nothing more than a bruise or a scratch. “Why didn’t the driver pull over if he was tired? Why didn’t one of the other boys act as co-pilot and insure their safe passage back to school? Why didn’t the other families whose sons were in that car have to share this unbearable pain and grief? Why just my son gone?”

I’ve received cards, calls and letters from the parents of these boys and as I read their expressions of condolence and prayer a part of me appreciates their generosity and another part thinks only, “You still have your son.” All four families experienced this horrible accident. Their sons have to live with the horrific memory of seeing their friend die, which I know will forever haunt them- but they’re still here. How do I make sense of having such horrible, conflicted feelings? I’ve prayed for these boys, who are Jordan’s friends. I wrote them a letter last winter as I worried over them and the guilt they must be feeling. I hadn’t heard from them since the accident but I needed to reach out to them. I wanted them to know Jordan, not only as their friend, but as my son. I sent them the following letter:

January 27, 2009

Dear E, M and C,

I know you all are in your last semester at Amherst. I think a lot about the three of you and wonder how you’re doing.  From what Jordan told me about you all I know that you have grand plans for your futures and are excited to be out in the “real world”. Jordan always had an adventurous spirit. I knew when he was a little boy that he would want to see the world. He had his first sleepover when he was three. It was born of necessity given that I was in labor with his younger brother three weeks earlier than expected. He stayed with his best friend’s family and wasn’t afraid only excited. He liked being with his friends.

As I’m sure you noticed Jordan’s friendships were varied. He never pigeonholed himself into one group or one type of friend. You guys were a couple of years older than he but you found common ground. He made friends with incoming freshmen as well as his fellow sophomores. Jordan understood and honored friendship. He didn’t betray trusts, he didn’t judge and he was loyal. I know about his friends through him. He and I talked a few times a week. He would call me on his way to his room after lunch, or on his way to the library in the evening. When I called him, he would at times be in the room of one of you guys. I could hear the chatter and the partying in the background on a Wednesday night and would tease him by telling him to put me on speaker so I could tell you all to “Go To The Library!”

I didn’t realize the impact Jordan had on so many or learn the depths of his friendships until his Memorial Service. There were elementary, high school and college friends in attendance as well as friends he made and stayed in touch with from a 6 – week summer internship program he did after his sophomore year in high school. We were saddened that you couldn’t be there to say goodbye, but I hope you’ve spoken to your friends who were there and gotten a sense of how deeply Jordan was loved by those he touched. We’ve received letters from those who couldn’t attend with their own wonderful memories of our Jordan. We’ve learned so much about his generous spirit, sense of fun, and as one friend put it-“If time travel were possible, we voted Jordan most likely to fit in no matter where he landed.”

Jordan could be quiet and reserved until he got to know you, and then could be as silly as anything you’ve ever seen. I hope you got to see that side of him. He also was never afraid of new challenges. I always tell people the story of his first day of kindergarten. When I dropped him off at his new school he said goodbye to me at the door and walked in. There were no backward glances or need for one more hug. That was how Jordan lived-if he was nervous he didn’t like letting it show. He was excited with all the possibilities and opportunities he saw before him. He was having a tremendous time at college and was looking forward to and planning his next adventures. He talked of travelling to South America, Africa, England-anywhere and everywhere.

I’m sure you know how much our family misses Jordan. He was our oldest child, an amazing son and big brother. I also know that all of your lives have been forever changed. Jordan’s death is a fact that can’t be denied or erased. That is a reality we all share. I ask one thing of all of you-make the choice to live full lives. Please push the words “what’s the point?” out of your minds. The point is simple- You are on this earth to live a life filled with meaning and purpose. Don’t squander such a gift and opportunity. I hope the memory of Jordan is in the fabric of your being. I hope his smile; wit, sense of fun and adventure, and his quiet charm are the aspects of him that you hold onto. You young men are just starting your lives. My hope is that you honor Jordan’s memory, not out of guilt, shame or obligation but because he was your friend.

With deep sincerity,

Jackie Moore

Mark and I met with Jordan’s friends and their parents in Boston in July for the first time. We had the boys in our home to honor Jordan on his birthday. But one year later, right now, I’m outraged that they can continue a life that my son will never see.  I pray through my tears and rage that these boys will understand that their days of feeling youthful arrogance and invincibility are over. They can never claim those traits again, maturity and responsibility must take their place. One of their friends died, my son died. It is a reality we all face in our own ways. We are bound together for the rest of our lives because of the loss of Jordan.

I’ve no choice but to face anger and make room for it in the same way I have for sorrow, guilt and despair.  It’s not going anywhere so clearly it needs to be acknowledged and expressed. I have to learn how to sit with my anger, just as I sit with the other expressions of grief. I have to accept that anger is a part of my mourning journey. For now, anger has come to call and as it courses through me I need to be still and let it have its say. All I have is time, and I pray to use it in a way that allows me to move on, learning about myself and  no matter the emotion or stage of grief I’m in, always trying to  honor the memory of my son.

Pet Therapy

Our Nessy

Our Nessy

Pet Therapy

On June 14th, 2009 our family became the proud, slightly anxious owners of a terrier mix puppy. My children had wanted a dog for years. They had used every argument imaginable as to why our family needed a dog as a pet. The timing was never right though. Jordan started asking for a dog when he was in elementary school. With his prepared list of rationales he would detail how a dog would enhance our lives. He of course promised to take care of the dog and his dad and I wouldn’t have to do anything. Of course he got his younger brother in on the begging. They made quite a convincing pair. The only drawback was Jordan’s allergies, which were so bad an allergist recommended in Jordan’s presence that we wait a year or two to see if the medication he was taking would stabilize his symptoms.

Not to be outdone, and as if he were checking the days off on a calendar, Jordan at around the one year mark came back again requesting/begging for a dog. This time he was armed with information. He had been on various websites and researched the best types of dogs for someone with allergies. He also reminded his dad and I yet again that we both had dogs growing up and “didn’t we want our children to have a pet too?” When Jordan set his mind to something and did his research I always thought, “future lawyer in the making” and imagined him before the Supreme Court. I had always taught him if he was going to have an opinion, have an informed one. He certainly took that message to heart and when it came to getting a pet, my direction to my son was coming back to bite me in the butt.

Just as Mark and I started researching breeds and giving serious consideration to adding a dog to our family, we were startled to find out that there would be a different sort of addition to our family. I learned the surprising news as I went in for my annual exam that I was pregnant! A few days later the news went from surprising to shocking as an ultrasound showed that I was having twins. I can still hear my husband’s voice when I called him after the ultrasound appointment to tell him the double news. All he said over and over was, “You are lying”, “You are lying”. I assured him that I saw the two beating hearts for myself so the news was true that I was pregnant with twins. Any thoughts we had of getting a dog were put on indefinite hold, and there was no argument that could sway me. I explained to Jordan and his brother that raising a puppy was like raising a baby and I couldn’t raise three at a time. I knew even though they didn’t believe that no matter how much they promised to do everything for the dog, I would be the one who would end up being the primary caretaker.

Luckily, twin sisters proved a great diversion for the boys and talk of dogs ended- until the girls started asking for one. My response to them was, “I’ve got four kids and that’s all I can handle right now.” They soothed themselves with every toy dog that was on the market. Whenever someone asked them what they wanted for a gift it was always some type of stuffed animal dog.

As the girls got older something shifted in my doubts about pet ownership. I saw how much the girls loved dogs. I also saw how responsible they were. They would ask people walking their dogs past our house if they could pet their dogs. They volunteered to walk our neighbors’ dogs. They also asked me if they could sign up as volunteers at the local animal shelter. They wore me down. Now that the girls were older and I wasn’t as exhausted as I had been in my first years as the mother of four, I was willing to consider getting a dog. Unfortunately, there were two problems: 1) Mark suddenly was totally against the idea. He thought our lives held enough chaos, noise and energy, and 2) Jordan was a senior in high school. When I told Jordan we might get a dog his response to me was simple and succinct, “You can’t”. He reminded me that he always wanted a dog and I said no, and now that he was about to go off to school it was unfair that we would even consider getting one. His guilt trip worked. I knew I could make Mark come around to the idea of pet ownership, but I didn’t want to make Jordan feel left out of such an important family experience.

Then suddenly everything was different, Jordan was gone and our family struggled everyday to redefine and feel our way into what family life meant for us without Jordan. After Jordan’s death, the girls continued asking for a dog and I hesitated, more because of my own physical and emotional state than any dislike of owning a dog. I felt that I spent most days crying or catatonic and knew I couldn’t care for anything else. Time moved on and Mark and I began to feel that a dog might offer a distraction to our family. The unconditional love a dog gives in the midst of all of our heartache and sorrow sounded comforting and right. We were pushed over into the yes column when our son Merrick spoke privately with Mark and asked in such a plaintive voice, “Dad can we please get a dog?” Clearly our family needed some pet therapy. On June 15th, 2008 we became the proud/anxious/slightly reluctant owners of a 3-month-old terrier mix puppy that we adopted from a shelter.

The name we decided on was Nessy. It was my Merrick’s idea. “Ness” was Merrick’s favorite character from a video game called “Earthbound.” A running joke in our family has been Merrick’s long time affinity for unusual names and when he hears one he likes proclaiming, “I like that name. I’m going to name one of my kids that.” So far he’s up to about 60 kids. “Ness” was the first name he liked so much that he bequeathed it to his firstborn. Jordan used to tease Merrick that no matter what he really named his first child, Uncle Jordan was coming to the hospital, picking up the baby, looking down on him or her and calling the baby “Ness”. We would all laugh as Jordan teased Merrick. I would sit watching my family and imagine the scene of brothers moving to a new stage and becoming uncles to each other’s children. What a beautiful image. Merrick never forgot the “Ness” exchanges with Jordan. He could no longer have the brother/uncle moment with Jordan. He had lost that day, that memory; Merrick would be given naming rights of our new dog.

Merrick wanted to call the dog Nessy and no explanation to Mark or me was needed. His sisters resisted at first. They had names they had chosen that leaned towards things like “Sporty” or “Fluffy”.  I explained to them that the name Nessy represented a special bond between Jordan and Merrick. I understood even if they didn’t that the memory of Uncle Jordan coming to the hospital would never happen. This was Merrick’s way of honoring that occasion that would never be realized. The girls understood Merrick’s need to honor Jordan and agreed to the name Nessy.

Nessy has been a godsend to our family. The girls are so happy and excited and our new pet is proving to be a wonderful diversion for them. They take their responsibility seriously and don’t have to be reminded to care for her, so far. She has also been a source of comfort to both of them. Nessy always finds her way into their laps when they are heartbroken and weeping and having a “missing Jordan” moment. As Mark and I sit holding and talking to them, Nessy sits quietly nuzzling their faces. I’ve watched Mark after a long day of work relax as he sits and is welcomed home not only by his children but by the tail wagging and nuzzle that our little dog offers.

For me Nessy has eliminated my ability to stay inside all day, even on the days when the world outside seems too much and all I want is to curl up and undo all the pain my family has suffered. There have been moments when I’m lying on the couch staring out the window with my chin on the armrest and I’ll suddenly feel a paw on my arm and see this little tail-wagging machine that will not be ignored. I know she needs to be walked. With her big brown eyes she speaks volumes, “I can pee outside or in here on the rug, it’s up to you.” She is persuasive, and I get up, put my shoes on, get her leash on and we’re off, out into the world. Suddenly the place I’d been peering out onto from my grieving spot, I’m now a part of and it feels okay. I walk; I look at the sky, the trees, nod at passersby and realize I have more energy than I thought. I always return home feeling better than when I left and I am renewed. I’ve been outside and taken a walk I would not have considered if it weren’t for my dog. Nessy makes sure that I connect to the world and nature everyday.

She has done so many things for our family but the thing I am most grateful for is how she has become a barometer of my teenage son’s mood. The days when he is too quiet and I can tell grief and sorrow are overtaking him, I can ask him if he’s okay and he’ll reply, “Yeah, I’m just tired”. I know it’s more than fatigue that keeps him in his room, lying in bed with his arm covering his eyes. Nessy however can jump onto his bed and he never turns her away. I’ll hear him quietly say “hey girl” and pet her as she snuggles next to him. Merrick has forged a bond with Nessy that calms him and gives him peace. This bond took awhile but it was certainly worth the wait.

When we first got Nessy, I noticed that Merrick unlike his sisters was hesitant to hold or pet her very much. After a couple of days of noticing his reluctance to get attached to our new pet, I asked him what was wrong. He said that Jordan wanted a dog more than any of us and it didn’t feel right that now we had one. I had to admit to him that I too experienced a similar sadness and regret the entire ride home after we picked up Nessy. Bringing our new dog home was the first family experience we had that didn’t include Jordan. I struggled with the fact that we were making new memories and moving forward and Jordan wasn’t a part of them. Merrick and I both experienced that “Jordan should be here” feeling.  Merrick was facing such ambivalence. I knew how much he wanted a dog. Watching him struggle with the guilt of feeling he was betraying his brother was so painful to watch. I offered him a story that I hoped would ease his guilt and allow him to love our new pet.

I relayed the conversation Jordan and I had last summer 2 months before he died. One afternoon as we stood in the kitchen, Jordan out of the blue pronounced that it didn’t matter to him anymore whether we got a dog or not because once he had his own place he was getting a dog. As I relayed my conversation with Jordan, Merrick looked at me surprised because he had no idea Jordan had made such a statement. I then told Merrick about the first dream/vision I had of Jordan after he died:

Jordan was standing in his blue sweater and jeans; hands in his pockets with a huge, beautiful smile on his face. Seated right next to him was a beautiful collie.

Through tears I said, “Jordan got his dog, Merrick.” Merrick just looked at me and said “Thanks Mom.”

Opening the Boxes

Jordan on his way to check out his new dorm room sophomore year.

Jordan on his way to check out his new dorm room sophomore year.

We knew they were coming. Jordan’s college dean had given us almost to the hour the time when FedEx would deliver the boxes that held all of Jordan’s belongings. His dean has told us that at some point between 10am and 12pm the boxes would arrive. The clothing, books, school supplies, all the things a 19-year-old needs to live away from home, were winding their way back to us separate from him. To ease the arrival of the boxes, the dean had told us how the Amherst staff that packed the boxes had labeled them. We had already made special arrangements to donate certain items. His refrigerator, rug, lamp, etc. would go to the A Better Chance (ABC) program. Jordan volunteered there his freshman year, mentoring and tutoring high school boys and had planned to do the same his sophomore year. We knew Jordan would want ABC to have things that would benefit the boys in that program.

Out of denial, bravado or plain shock, Mark and I decided we needed to be alone when the boxes came. We had gone back and forth as to whether we should have someone with us when the boxes were delivered. We knew it was going to rip our hearts out to stand and watch as the possessions of our 19-year-old son came home without him. Mark insisted that placing these boxes in our basement was something he needed to do. He cleared a space in the basement to make room for the boxes and then we waited. We had helped Jordan buy, pack and unpack all of his college things for the last two years.  In our grieving parental logic it made sense to us that we should bear the responsibility and the honor of putting them away.

Mark had taken Jordan back to school for his sophomore year. It had been just the two of them. The first time they had extended time together in such a long while without Jordan having the distractions of competing for his father’s attention from siblings or another parent. Once they got to Amherst, Mark took Jordan to Target to buy toiletries, school supplies, snacks for his refrigerator and anything else they could think of, or whatever I called to remind them to get.

Father and Son together.

Father and Son together.

The two of them also had time to just be together, hanging out as father and son. Mark let Jordan choose where they ate every night and came home gulping down Tums after all the junk food he forced down. They went to the movies together and as Mark said, “Talked for the first time man to man about anything and everything without reservation or embarrassment.” Mark glimpsed the adult friendship he would have with his son.

Jordan indulging his dad's need to capture every moment. Here he is about to open the door to his dorm room.

Jordan indulging his dad's need to capture every moment. Here he is about to open the door to his dorm room.

Mark was there with Jordan as he got to his new single room and unpacked the boxes that had been in storage. Jordan unpacked, Mark forever the photographer catalogued every moment, much to Jordan’s annoyance. When most of the boxes were unpacked they took a break and had lunch together before Mark made his way to the airport and back home. They hugged goodbye knowing Jordan would be home for Thanksgiving. We would all see him then.

At the beginning of October as Jordan’s sisters missed their brother more and more, I suggested they write him letters to help tide them over until they saw him in November. One sister wrote about how she couldn’t wait until Thanksgiving because she missed him so much and added a drawing of our family, complete with sunshine, flowers and a rainbow. Jordan’s other sister wrote him a song entitled, “Miss You”, called him and sang it to him before we mailed the letters. We all eagerly awaited Thanksgiving when our whole family would be together again. Thanksgiving held out a promise that would not be fulfilled. October 12th, 2008 forever changed our trust in events happening as we assume they will. Jordan wouldn’t be coming home for Thanksgiving. We wouldn’t sit at a table as family of 6 again.

Even though Mark and I decided that only the two of us would be home when the boxes came, I decided I couldn’t watch them being unloaded and stored. I didn’t want to see them. They represented remnants of a life, my child’s life that shouldn’t be packed away but should still be flourishing. I told Mark, I wasn’t ready to see the boxes and would busy myself in another part of the house until they were stacked in the basement. Fate had other plans. The doorbell rang with that double/triple ring of deliverymen as I was downstairs and Mark was finishing a call. I was willing to wait for Mark to open the door until I heard the thud of the first box on the front porch. I had to tell the FedEx deliveryman that we needed the boxes unloaded around back at our basement entrance not on our front porch. He looked at me with annoyance and I had to let him know this wasn’t an ordinary delivery and we needed gentleness. I explained, “Our son was killed in a car accident while he was away at school. These are all of his possessions. I know it’s extra work for you to take them around back, but if you wouldn’t mind we’d appreciate it. My husband is waiting for you back there.” Tears caught in my throat and compassion covered his face. He apologized, told me he was sorry for my loss and quickly started taking the boxes to the basement entrance. I looked out the kitchen window to make sure Mark was back there and I saw one of the boxes. There it was, labeled, “Jordan Moore-Fields ’11” on the first line and “Shoes” on the second line. Class of 2011 was how he was still known at Amherst, even though that dream was gone. The box marked shoes contained the shoes Jordan and I had bought at the beginning of the summer before he set off for DC for his internship. Once again glimpses of the man he would be as he chose styles appropriate for the workplace and extended his fashion beyond sneakers.  That memory flooded back by reading the word shoes on a box. I never made it upstairs. I sat at our kitchen table and wept as I heard box after box being loaded into the basement. Finally tears turned to screams as I called out Jordan’s name and just kept saying, “No!” Soon Mark was beside me and we wept together for all we had lost and the irony that these boxes labeled with Jordan’s name could never contain all that he had or was. The deliveryman finally called out to us and told us everything was unloaded. He left a note on the receipt again expressing his condolences.

My younger son came home the day the boxes arrived asking if he could go through them. I kept saying, “No your dad and I aren’t ready to go through them yet. Give us a little time.” He would let a day or so pass and then ask again. It took me days before I could look in the direction of the basement where the boxes were stored. I finally asked my son, “Is there something specific that you’re looking for?” All he said was, “I want his clothes. I want to wear them.” I realized that we were all grieving Jordan’s loss differently. What I wasn’t ready to face, my son need to have close to him as a symbol of comfort from his brother. The next day I went downstairs and opened one of the boxes marked clothes knowing that giving Merrick a few items until we went through all of the boxes was necessary. I found what I was looking for and took them up to his room and placed them on his bed. When he came home from school I told him as he ambled up the stairs, “I put a couple of Jordan’s shirts on your bed.” He looked at me and asked, “Is it the Malcolm X t-shirt?” I said, “Yes, and the Run DMC.” He gave me a grateful, relieved look and said, “Thanks mom.”

The weekend after I gave my son the t-shirts, Mark decided he would unpack some of the boxes. He wanted to make sure Jordan’s laptop, mpc and other electronic equipment were in working order. These items held the links to Jordan’s thoughts and creativity. Mark unpacked these things and then decided to keep going and open the box marked desk items. He was stopped short as he opened the desk items box and there on top laid the letters from Jordan’s sisters. The letters that talked about seeing him for Thanksgiving had been sitting on Jordan’s desk. Mark came upstairs weeping, needing to be held as we both sat, grateful that we’d raised a son who was not ashamed to display the letters of his younger sisters for all his friends to see.  Jordan loved his family, it is a truth that will always bring us comfort.

Weeks passed and one day I decided it was time to demystify the box corner and go through my son’s things. I went through box after box. Making piles of things I knew Merrick would want, books that we would keep because we knew they were special to Jordan, and a box of toiletries and cleaning supplies that brought me to tears. That box beyond all others showed just how little time Jordan got to be a sophomore in college. Most of the items were still unopened. An entire box filled with unopened bottles of lotion, deodorant, laundry detergent, tissues, soap, etc. We didn’t want him to run out of anything. He never got to use them.

Then I came to the box that made me laugh and talk out loud to my son. I opened a box labeled clothes that contained his dirty laundry.  That box brought back the running discussion Jordan and I had on a weekly basis, and all the wonderful talks we had. Jordan would typically call me during the day a few times a week as he walked back to his room after class. He would call me with his trademark deep-voiced, “what’s up”, telling me about his classes, his assignments and how nasty the lunch selections were in the cafeteria. I would listen and laugh then ask my trademark question of when he last did laundry. He always evaded the question or spoke of the amazing powers of Febreze. Now, here I sat in our basement with a box of his dirty laundry. I said out loud, “Boy I told you to do this before you went away for the weekend. I knew you weren’t going to finish it even when you said you would.”

I dragged the box into our laundry room, and started sorting it so I could wash his clothes. Mark called while I was starting this task to check in and see how I was doing. I told him I was going through Jordan’s boxes and was washing his clothes. He immediately became alarmed begging me to wait until he got home. I told him I was okay and I needed to go through the boxes, for me it was time. He still worried about me doing the laundry wanting to spare me any undue pain. He suggested that we get someone to do the laundry because it seemed like it would be too much for me. I took a breath and told Mark, “I have to do this. Don’t you realize this is the last time I’ll ever be able to do his laundry, to do something maternal like this for him? I can’t cook for him, or send him care packages or shop for him anymore. Doing these loads of laundry is the last thing I can do for Jordan.” I knew I would probably cry as I folded every piece, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing this job. It was my last maternal act of caring for my son.

We Keep Going

The way we'll always remember him.

The way we'll always remember Jordan.

The word anniversary with its festive context mocks all the pain, dread and heartache that enveloped me as I waited for the day that marked the death of my child. In the weeks preceding October 12th, 2009 I felt a foreboding as waves of grief rippled through me, forcing me to physically feel the sorrow that Jordan’s’ death brought. I was pulled back to the days before Jordan’s accident as though I was about to play a role in a re-enactment. The eeriness of remembering minute details about the day before and the day of the accident played on a reel in my mind. This year on 10/11 I touched my cell phone in the afternoon, remembering this time last year when Jordan texted me, telling me he was going to Baltimore from NY (why didn’t I stop him? Why didn’t I tell him he had to follow the original plan and stay in NY?). The night of 10/11 this year at 11:30, I wept standing in the kitchen as Mark held me, remembering Mark calling Jordan’s cell phone and leaving a message telling him to call us and let us know he was back at school safely; not realizing he was already gone when we called. Forcing myself to finally go upstairs to bed, afraid of what memories or nightmares would take hold. Sleep didn’t come, even with the help of sleep aids. I laid in bed searching out every sitcom I could find, wanting anything that would be mind numbing and just wash over me. Grief overruled my plan to deny its existence. At 1:30am the sobbing started as I remembered the doorbell ringing and innocence being snatched from my family forever. To this day every time I hear a siren my first thought is, “That is what it sounded like in Massachusetts the night Jordan died.”

We made it through October 12th, 2009;we survived. Now a new year begins. I’m determined that the anniversary of his death will not be treated as the measuring stick of our survival and moving on without him. The date of his death will not be the context in which he’s remembered.

Time has moved on and as much as I want to stay close to the days leading up to October 12th 2008 because those days contained my son, I am moving through each new day. There was such a pull to will the anniversary day away and somehow stay closer in time to when my boy was on this earth. Time doesn’t allow such wishes, even to grieving mothers. With each day I feel the stronghold of my grief loosening its grip for brief moments of time.  The lessening of the grief at times brings the fear that I’m moving farther away from my son who will eternally be 19.

The first anniversary of Jordan’s death meant the first year of many to come where there would be no new memories of my child. Different memories will come for our family now as we move forward and experience new things without him. As ridiculous as it seems to me, I’m starting to worry that I’m forgetting Jordan. I don’t mean the person he was or all the memories I’ll cherish forever, but the actual flesh and blood child that I bore. It’s getting harder for me to remember what his cheeks felt like when I’d quietly touch his face as I walked past him seated at the table eating a snack and reading the newspaper.  I’m starting to forget the texture and wave of his hair, when I would touch the back of his head as he leaned down to kiss me goodnight. I stare at pictures of him, I watch old videos, and I call his cell phone (which we haven’t had the heart to disconnect) to listen to his voicemail message, to hear his voice. Missing Jordan is a part of me now.

In the first weeks after Jordan died my grief was primal. I had moments where I felt I would go insane if I couldn’t be with him. I felt like all the mother animals you see on documentaries that root around, pace and become stressed when they can’t find their cub. I was that creature, that mother. The need to be near Jordan, to feel his physical presence, hear his voice, all threatened to make me fall apart. I paced like a lion, weeping, crying out my son’s name, wailing, willing him back.

The only thing that soothed me was to hold one of his pillows from his dorm bed. All of Jordan’s things had been mailed from his college and placed in a corner of our basement. I would sit in a rocking chair in our basement and hold the pillow the way I used to hold him. The pillow still held Jordan’s scent and I inhaled as deeply as my lungs would allow, just breathing in his scent. I wept, screamed, and I rocked as I breathed in, hoping to have a moment where I could feel and sense his essence. It was never enough, but it calmed me. I keep that pillow stored in a plastic bag hoping that it will keep Jordan’s scent forever. I still open the bag and pull out the pillow and inhale the essence of my child.  The need is not as frequent, but I can’t imagine it will ever fully go away.

A year ago this week I couldn’t fathom that the world would keep spinning and I would find strength to keep going and want to live. But, I’m here. I chose life with all of its doubts, pain, conflicts and yes even glimpses of joy. Those first weeks after Jordan died the very thought of this mourning journey easing did not seem possible. I read books on grief that offered advice on healing. I always came to the last page and would stare at the book feeling disappointed and angry. I always thought, “These words didn’t bring him back. They didn’t tell me how to get to the place where the pain doesn’t threaten to drive me insane.”

I realized what I was searching for didn’t exist. The best advice I was given was by those who had lost children and had lived longer without them. They told me, “In time you’ll feel better. In time your heart will feel real joy again.” There were no prescriptions on how long or the steps to take to ease the pain. The people who had lost their beloved children answered me honestly when I asked when does it get better. They simply said, “I don’t know. It’s different for everyone.” I was so glad to have that advice as the calendar came back around to October 12th this year. I knew not to expect any magical relief. It was a day of sorrow, but the day before was harder filled with “what ifs” and the day after was excruciating because it revealed in the starkest form that we keep going and we do it without Jordan. Birthdays, holidays, vacations will all continue to happen and now we’ll do them not for the first time but again and again.

We keep going, with Jordan always in our hearts.

Dear Jordan

Jordan standing atop a memorial during his first day at Amherst College.

Jordan standing atop a memorial during his first day at Amherst College.

Dear Jordan,

It has been a year since you died. It is still hard for me to say the word died and your name in the same sentence. Even as I struggle I feel your spirit near me. I felt it on Mother’s Day from the moment I woke up. It was a day that I approached with dread but all I felt was peace. You were with me the whole day. I had all four of my children with me. At the end of that day as I went to sleep I thanked you for always being my son and for letting your spirit so strongly be felt that day. Your spirit feels near so much even as I struggle to learn to live without you on this earth.

I know that it was no coincidence that on one cold, cloudy day last winter as I sat curled on the couch crying and screaming out your name that you had a hand in what finally calmed me. Receiving a letter that day from your freshman year roommate written on notebook paper with perfect penmanship, he apologizes for taking so long to check in on us. His letter so beautiful talked to me of all the things he felt he had learned from you. Studying hard, but also looking up from the books and his sport’s commitments to take in all that college life had to offer. You made him embrace the whole of his experience. His letter ended with a request that I cherish to this day. He asked if it would be okay if he wore your birth date as his football jersey number for the 2009 season. He sent me a picture recently and 89 is prominently and proudly displayed on his jersey. You my dear son made such an impact and I continue to be proud and amazed by all you did in your 19 years, 2 months and 3 days of life.

Your influence has been felt in mundane ways that I know that are not coincidence. I know you’ve played a role with your sisters and sports. You know how competitive your sisters are. During soccer season last year, the last game of the season, just weeks after you died, one of your sisters had made numerous goals, and one had none. All your sister wanted was to score a goal. There we were, the last game of the season and I’m asking you as I stood on the sideline, “Come on Jordan, your sister needs a little help. Please help her score a goal. She needs to feel that joy.” Minutes later, there she is in front of the goal and with ease kicks the ball in to score. Everyone cheered, no one louder than I, but I also looked away to compose myself and wipe away the tears. I knew you’d been there.

For softball season last year the last game arrived and once again we were faced with the situation of one sister with hits and one without. She had walks, strikeouts, foul balls too numerous to count, but no hits. All she said before the last game was, “I haven’t had a hit all season.” Her last time up to bat I walked away from the group and I talked to you. “Jordan, your sister needs a little help. She wants a hit, help her get one.” The next thing I hear is the crack of the bat and your sister racing to second base. I looked up and thanked you because I knew what you had done. Even without seeing you, I felt your presence.

We continue to think of ways to honor you and feel you near. Your dad and I have started a meditation garden in your honor. We pulled weeds, cut back ivy and planted a tree as a start to the garden. We plan to sprinkle some of your ashes in the garden to always have a part of you at home. At the front of the garden is a statue of a child hunched over a book reading.

Statue we found in antique shop for meditation garden.

Statue we found in antique shop for meditation garden.

You always loved to read and I always loved watching you read. You better than anyone I know seemed to have mastered the art of relaxation. Relaxing in a chair, iPod and noise cancelling headphones on playing your favorite music, and your book of choice. You always managed to look so peaceful and so cool at the same time.

Jordan always with a book handy.

Jordan always with a book handy.

It’s ridiculous really to imagine you in the meditation garden. If you were here, we wouldn’t be preparing such a space. If you were here, the sadness that lingers in every morning and evening would not be fathomable. If you were here, your brother would not have retreated so far into himself and work so hard to catalog every memory he made with you. His birthday just eight days after your death would not be a day that now ties him up with ambivalence. As much as your presence is felt, there is no denying how much you are missed. I can’t explain the longing that seeps into our house some days. It affects all of us. We’re missing your energy, your deep voice, your silly dances, the distinct teasing you had for each of your siblings.

Assigning the words random, senseless, untimely to your death will never feel right when I talk about you. Not a person like you, who I knew from the time you were 2 would bring wisdom, humor, compassion and light to the world. I’m still brought to my knees with the unfairness of losing you. I’ll never stop longing to have you back. Acceptance is a word that mocks parents who have lost a child. Why would I want to accept that my firstborn, my helper, my co-book club member, my emerging friend is gone from this earth for good? I’ll learn to tolerate your absence, to live through it, to survive. I’ll even come to a place where I hope I’ll be able to help others who’ve lost a child. To help them know that the pain lessens and we manage to keep going. There will never be a day however, that you don’t cross my mind, heart and soul. Never a day when I don’t long to conjure you up, make you reappear and turn all of these hurtful, mournful days into a nightmare that has finally ended.

On this day October 12th, 2009, the last of the firsts, I know we are slowly, carefully, forging our new normal. What will always be my truth is what has carried me since I learned of your death: You will always be my oldest child. I will always be your mother. For eternity you are my son. I love you. Eternally, I am the mother of four.

Love,

Mama

During one of our vacations, Jordan pointing to the vastness that lay ahead.

During one of our vacations, Jordan pointing to the vastness that lay ahead.

Learning From Each Other

My children sharing a moment together.

My children sharing a moment together.

“Mama on the day Jordan died can we go to Wendy’s?”

(What I’m thinking-No honey I’ll be curled up in a ball under the covers willing the day to go away).

What I say instead, “Why do you want to go to Wendy’s?”

“Because it was one of Jordan’s favorite places and they have good Frosties.”

“We’ll see baby, we’ll see.”

I realize that my daughter is remembering one of the last times she spent with her brother, where she was together with all of her siblings for an outing. Jordan had taken them to Target to buy the Mario Cart game for Wii and then they went to Wendy’s.  She wants to honor her brother by replaying a good memory on the day of his death. I want the day to vanish, to never arrive; if it has to come can’t I be sedated throughout?

There are no rules about grief and mourning. The last year has taught me that lesson repeatedly. My daughter and I are the perfect example. She wants Wendy’s and I want the fetal position. We both have a vision of that day and neither one of us is wrong in our choice or being disrespectful, it’s just how we feel. I realize as time goes on how much my family is learning from each other as we make our way through each day without Jordan.

There have been days when my husband or I have held one of our daughters as they wept because a movie or book at school reminded them of their loss. I’ve lain in bed with one of my daughters until she fell asleep or she’s climbed into my bed because she misses Jordan and can’t sleep. I’ve ached for my son feeling helpless as his grief overtakes him and he’s too overcome to go to school. A day when he’s facing a new experience and the only person he wants to talk to is his brother who was his mentor and guide. He says out loud, “Jordan would know.”  Or the time I held him as he wept because what used to be a typical experience of babysitting for his sisters was extraordinary and overwhelming because what he and Jordan used to do as a team he now does alone. Through his tears he kept saying, “If Jordan was here, If Jordan was here….” I’ve held and rocked all three of them.

I’ve acted as secretary to my daughters on days when their pain is so great that my only suggestion to them is to talk to their brother directly. I say to them, “Do you want to write Jordan a letter? I’ll be your secretary and write for you, you can just say whatever you need to say.” Their letters so poignant speak the thoughts of Jordan constantly on all of our minds-

  • Why did your friend fall asleep while he was driving?
  • Were you scared?
  • I miss you.
  • Why did it have to be you?

Questions without answers and the universal statement for all that loved Jordan-“I miss you.” I tell my kids I write to Jordan too. Whenever they need me to help them write I’ll do it. My statement to them always is, “We’ll miss him together.” They walk away feeling a little better. I sit exhausted and distraught. Is there a way to not worry about your children? I see their suffering and I absorb their pain.

Just as I’ve taken care of them they have soothed and comforted me. I’ve learned grace, patience and strength from my children. My son exemplifies all of the traits he admired in his brother. He insisted on speaking at the Memorial service for Jordan and spoke of all the things his brother had taught him, about being an individual, following your own dreams not those of others, and extending yourself in uncomfortable situations to make room for adventures. He told the audience gathered that he would live his life not doing the things Jordan did, but would live the way Jordan did. Before he sat down he did a rap he composed the night before which was an homage to his brother, then said simply, “I’m going to miss him.” As he sat down I looked over at him, touched his face and said to myself, “my son just spoke for our family.” At other times Merrick has helped me to temper my anger at our situation. I struggle with the fact that Jordan’s friends walked away from a car that was totaled without even having to be hospitalized and my son died without waking up. Merrick has said to me, “Mom, it was an accident. They were his friends.” On most days I remember these facts but it is good to have such caring reminders.

My daughters have also each been my teacher. About 6 months after Jordan died, they came to the car one day after school, hopped in and before I could pull from the curb said, “Mom we have some bad news.” I braced myself. In times past, bad news could be someone roofed all the playground balls during recess or someone got sick and had to go home, but now they, like the rest of our family’s definition of bad news is not taken lightly. I asked what happened and one of my daughters told me her first grade Book Buddy’s mother died the day before. I sat there trying to drive without crying thinking, “Why did it have to be my child’s little friend? Hasn’t she been through enough?” The next words were from her sister who said, “ I think it’s good that your Book Buddy has you. You know what it’s like to lose someone you love, you’ll be able to help her.” Of course she was right and so matter of fact in her generosity and grace towards another family.

The generosity our community showed us after Jordan’s death was immense. It was now time for us to pay our respects to another grieving family. My daughter made a beautiful card for her friend telling her you can talk to me at recess whenever you need to. We made plans that weekend to drop a card off to the family and flowers for my daughter’s little friend. The family of one of my daughters’ friends had specially given flowers to my girls and they were so proud to be thought of in such a distinct way. I remembered how they had cherished those flowers and wanted my daughter’s friend to feel the same. My husband, daughter and I made our way to this family’s home and paid our respects. My daughter walked in and made a beeline for her friend so that she could personally give her the card and flowers. As we handed the father a card we’d written to him, we explained to the father, and other family members present the connection between our respective daughters. We then briefly told them of our own loss and we all shared a knowing look about the pain grief brings that words have yet been invented to describe. We were there for maybe five minutes and we saw reflected back in their faces what we knew we must have looked like in the days following Jordan’s death. There was shock, numbness, sadness and a haunted disbelief embedded in each face. As hard as it was to go there we did. Generosity and compassion mean nothing if you don’t give some of what you’ve been given to others in their time of need.

Every day is different. My children have days when they are focused on the present and talk about the mundane things in their worlds. Their talk of getting together with friends, homework, soccer practice, Spoken Word Club help keep me in the present. There are those other days when missing Jordan is a force unto itself. One day my son and I were in the car and he started asking questions about Jordan and what types of classes he took when he was a sophomore in high school. We talked about that for a few minutes and then I gently asked him, “Are you okay? I know you miss your brother.” His reply, “I’m okay but it’s hard. It’s like everything that happened with Jordan and me, the good stuff and the fights; I’m trying to remember it all. It’s all good stuff now.” I sat and listened to him understanding exactly what he meant and missing Jordan too. As I drove I exhaled and said, “What are we going to do?” My son, still facing forward simply said, “We keep going.”  I patted his arm and with a catch in my throat replied, “That’s what we’ll do.”

Contortion

Jordan's Candle burning in remembrance

Jordan's Candle burning in remembrance

The death of your child twists your body, soul, life into an impossible shape and posture. People who have suffered the loss of a child can try to describe this pain to you. If you haven’t experienced the loss of someone dear then your typical responses are “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” or “I wouldn’t be able to make it, you are so strong”.  (Those responses were ones I felt and uttered out loud.) The truth is until you lose someone you love there is no way to understand how contorted your life becomes and just how much pain you can bear.

As impossible as it seems, there you are forced into pain, twisted into a body and mind-numbing position that you feel will last forever. Every time you try to untwist yourself it doesn’t work. All the sighing, the praying, the unconscious shaking of your head to clear your mind so you can figure out, “ How did I get to such an awful place, I’m in a nightmare? “ or “How could my child be gone?” No matter how hard you try, the questions of how and why don’t have acceptable answers.

The next step is to find a way to fix the situation. There has to be a way to relieve the pain. A way to get your life back the way it was before you felt shackled and twisted by pain and grief. You try, but nothing works. Busying yourself, pretending things are as they were doesn’t work. No mystical or magical tactics come to your aid that will unlock the secret to releasing the pain.  Denial fails every time. Avoidance of your new reality only leaves you at the end of the day with a racing mind and a heart so heavy that the ache threatens to push you over. “How did this happen?” “How can I get out of this awful position, this painful pose?”

Repeatedly you retrace, and don’t give up. You still keep trying because there has to be a way to undo what’s been done; even as a part of you whispers “there’s no going backwards” and further tries to reveal the energy you’re wasting on the impossible. You are stubborn and resolute. Going backwards has to be possible! Backwards is where the life you cherished is,and where all of your children lived safely. All you have to do is figure out how to turn back time and carefully free yourself of what has happened. That can’t be impossible. It has to be possible because you want things the way they were before your child’s death forced you into this awful, ugly, painful pose. You will figure it out. You have to make things right again.

Then, one day it happens; weariness sets in and you run out of ways of figuring out how to unclench, untangle, undo what has happened. There is the moment you realize that all the things you’ve tried don’t work because you’re trying to retrace your steps, go backward and somehow in reverse undo the torture that has contorted your life, your family, and your soul. A new strategy reveals itself. There is a way out of the pain and the numbness, but it means moving differently. It means believing that to untangle is not a backwards movement of retracing, but a forward movement of assuming a new design, a new normal. It is accepting that some parts will always feel a little twisted, will hurt and never be the same. Acknowledging that help will be needed to untwist and unclench what the contortion of death has imposed. As you slowly unclench and breathe, you recognize that this path is the way the pain will lessen.

You will always look back, but you begin to understand you can’t go back. All those days, months and yes sometimes years of being contorted have taken a toll. All the time spent trying to recapture and redo the past has changed you. Little by little the pain starts to subside. Almost against your will you unfold, stretch. You feel the laying on of hands that helps ease you out of your painful pose. You realize you’re still here and you have to say goodbye- As many times as you need to. You believe in the word eternal and you call out to your loved one everyday. I love you Jordan. You will always be my boy. I miss you. I love you.