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.