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,
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.