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 November, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Our last Thanksgiving with Jordan. Mark is the photographer.

Every year since Jordan and Merrick were young, well before my daughters were born my parent’s home in Ohio has been the place we’ve spent Thanksgiving. The drive to my parents’ home was always a fun-filled time for our family. My greatest pleasure and comfort was looking back into the car as we started our journey and seeing my little family safely together and all within reach of me. I would always look at Mark and smile. He would always say to me, “I know, you love when we’re all together and have uninterrupted time like this.” He was right. Everything in my world felt right as long as I could look back and see my children, and reach over and touch my husband. All I really needed was in that car.

When we’re coming for Thanksgiving my parents start to prepare weeks in advance. My mom calls me from the grocery store asking what cereals the kids like, and what types of drinks to buy. She wants everything to be perfect down to the exact brand of items that we use at home. She wants us to walk in and leave worry outside. Mark and I used to joke when the kids were younger that going to my parents’ house was like going to a bed and breakfast. We could sleep as late as we wanted because when our kids woke up Oma and Pop were there to take care of them. When Mark and I finally roused ourselves from bed realizing how tired we had been, there was always breakfast waiting for us. Going home for Thanksgiving has always meant being cared for and nurtured and definitely fed. It’s not a Norman Rockwell painting by any means, there are spats, and people being short with each other, and never enough room for all the cooks in the kitchen, but it’s home.

Tradition holds a significant place in my family. My father always carves the turkey, I make the cranberry sauce, and a few other side dishes, and my sister always tries one new vegetable recipe and sets a beautiful table that could be photographed for any home magazine. My mother makes the dressing, cakes and potato salad. My sister has always been the potato salad taster until Jordan was old enough and realized how much he loved it. Then, he too was in on the tasting. One of the cakes Mama always made was a lemon pound cake. It was a recipe she got from my brother-in-law’s grandmother. She learned to make it because Jordan loved it so much and would take chunks that can’t be civilly called slices. Jordan had his siblings convinced that Oma made this cake for him alone and he always said it was “Jordan’s cake”.  I finally realized what he was doing and had to convince his siblings that they didn’t have to ask him before getting a piece of cake.

Jordan loved Thanksgiving. It was I think his favorite holiday. He loved Christmas too, but loved both holidays for the same reason. He loved having family together and he loved to eat. From his early teen years Jordan had the same Thanksgiving Day ritual. He would eat breakfast, but not too much, and then wait for dinner. No matter how my mother, sister or I tried to convince him that he might get sick if he waited all day and then gorged himself, he would not be moved. Year after year he applied the same strategy, and year after year we would all watch in amazement as this tall skinny kid put away food like 2 grown men. His strategy clearly worked for him. My parents love to cook and nothing gave them more pleasure than watching Jordan eat, and then as Merrick got older watching him try to keep up with Jordan.

When we sat down to eat each year Mark blessed the food and prayed in a way that would make any preacher proud. The rituals and traditions don’t stop there. Since the age of four my daughters have been our after dinner entertainment. It is always a pre-planned show that they practice before we arrive. We all gather in the living room and they make their entrance and treat us to their latest variety show. As they got older and learned to read and write they would make tickets and pass them out before the show. They acted as ushers as well as performers. The funniest memory of their performances is the year my father came into the living room and wearily sat down in a chair after cleaning the dishes from dinner (yes, that was another tradition-Daddy cleaned the kitchen every year). My sister was still sitting in the living room and Daddy asked her, “What time does the show start?” She told him, “Daddy you missed it Lindsay and Kendall already did their show while you were in the kitchen.” My father responded with indignation, “Shoot, I’ve got a ticket for a show and I expect a show.” My sister and I laughed so hard we were crying. These are the memories Thanksgivings of past years bring.

My daughters' after dinner show

Last year was our first without Jordan and all of my memories are filtered through numbness and grief. I can’t recall too many of the occurrences of that time. The one vivid memory I do have is willing myself into the car so that we could be on our way. The thought of driving to Ohio without all of my children, made me feel like a bad mother. My safe time with my little family had been shattered.  It felt like if we went we were leaving Jordan behind; I didn’t know how to do that. We’d never taken this trip without Jordan. I wasn’t sure I could do it.

The picture of Jordan I look at and talk too most often.

Before we left I went into Jordan’s room and looked at the poster we had made for the memorial service. It has the picture of Jordan when he received his acceptance letter from Amherst College. All around the picture are notes of love and remembrance to my son from family and friends. I looked deep into his eyes, touched his beautiful smile and then kissed the picture. Before I made my way to the car I went into the basement and picked up Jordan’s jacket that he usually took back with him to school when he came home for Thanksgiving. I picked it up hugged it and inhaled the hood which still held his scent. I wanted to bring as much of him with us as I could. After I completed these tasks, I made my way to the car.  Everyone was in the car, motor running and I finally was able to come out and join them. We were on our way, doing the best we could.

Thanksgiving dinner and the time we spent at my parents’ home last year resonated with all of us trying to bear our own grief and take care of each other at the same time. Last year there was no lemon pound cake, Mama couldn’t bear to make it. I don’t remember the girls doing a show. We were all somber and together for the first time since Jordan’s death. We made it through, but filled our time and busied ourselves differently than we had in years past. It was a quiet time.

This year as we prepare to go to my parent’s home, my childhood home, Mark has made the request of arriving before nightfall as we prepare for our journey. He wants to make sure we leave early enough in the day so that we arrive before dark. He had the same request last year. Since Jordan died driving on the highway at night has too many shadows and “what if” thoughts. We both look at the side rails and imagine the car our son was in falling over a guardrail 30 feet to the ground. Every time we cross bridges I imagine the car falling in slow motion 30 feet and landing on the right side, the side Jordan was on, before righting itself. I always physically shake my head to clear these images away.  The night Jordan and his friends were going back to school, it was a clear night, no fog, and no rain. It was dark but not late. The accident occurred around 9:30 pm. Fatigue caused the crash, it’s that simple and that difficult to grasp. We both wonder why they didn’t pull over or help each other stay awake. Nightfall on the highway stirs these questions and images; we travel during the day to outrun them.

This year there is still hesitation and wistfulness as the time draws near for us to make our road trip. Merrick has already admitted that he is having a harder time this year than he did last. He has repeated to me, “It’s not the same without Jordan.” I comfort him and share his loss and pain. There are, however, emerging signs of hope as well.  My daughters have started practicing for their show, and along with my sister are planning a Jackson 5 song complete with dance routine. When I talked to Mama the other day, she asked if I wanted to resume our annual Friday shopping trip which we have done for years, getting up at 6am and at the mall by 7am. I told her yes, this year it sounds like a good idea. She also reeled off the things she has prepared and said without hesitation, I’m making the chocolate and the lemon pound cake. We’re having “Jordan’s cake” on the menu again.

New traditions will have to be threaded in with the old as we keep going, learning to live without Jordan. As we sit down to our Thanksgiving meal with family this year, our prayer will be the same as last year. It will be a prayer filled with thanks, wistfulness and honor. We will thank God for his blessings and for providing us with his grace. We will ask for continued strength and say as we did last year, “There will always be a seat at the table for you Jordan. You will never be forgotten.”

Rest well my sweet boy. You are missed today and everyday. Happy Thanksgiving

My wonderful son with his beautiful smile

Advertisements

Brother Talk

Brothers and confidantes

Merrick stayed home from school the other day. He wasn’t sick, except with grief. I saw the signs that weariness was settling in on him as the week wore on and I told his dad, “I don’t know if he’s going to make it through this week. He looks like he’s barely making it.” After practicing and performing in the Spoken Word Showcase at school, doing a history project, studying and taking an English quiz and a Physics test all in one week, he hit the wall. He came to me Friday morning and said, “Mom, I don’t feel good, I can’t go to school today.”

“What’s the matter?”

“I just don’t feel good, my stomach is bothering me.”

“Merrick you’ve got to talk to me honestly. I need to know what’s going on if you are staying home.”

I went into Merrick’s room and sat on his bed. He was lying down on his side and we started to really talk. It finally all spills out. He tells me how his mind has been racing about school and about the upcoming holidays. He hasn’t slept well in days and the night before he didn’t fall asleep until around 3am. He is exhausted and can’t stop thinking about how different everything feels without Jordan.

The day before when Merrick came home from school I took advantage of the fact that his sisters were staying after school for a project. I knew we could talk without being interrupted and I chose this time to ask him simply, “How are you feeling? We haven’t talked in awhile about how things are going at school and what your thinking about Thanksgiving this year.” Merrick looked at me and gave me a vague response about school starting to “get crazy” and he was just trying to deal with that. I probed and was finally able to get a description of what “get crazy,” meant. He finally gave me examples of the types of things that were on his mind.

He talked about his distaste for how kids in remedial classes are treated differently when they get in trouble as opposed to their more achieving counterparts. Earlier in the week he witnessed one of the security guards tell a white male student to go to the detention center. Moments later he saw the same security guard grab a black male student by the collar and forcibly take him to the detention center. Merrick has always internalized the inequities and injustices he sees around him. He is one of those individuals that worry about the world. Merrick worries about the incidents that occur in the microcosm of his high school world and how these incidents shape the larger world.

As I listened to Merrick I recognized the angst brewing inside him. I had seen it before. Merrick has always been shy and slow to warm up around his peers. Seeing others bullied or treated unfairly has always made Merrick uncomfortable and made him shrink inside himself a bit so as not to be targeted. The times his quietness has been misjudged as weakness and he has been the target of bullies, he has quickly let his strength both physical and inner be known. Those who targeted him realized how much they have underestimated him. Regardless of how he handles himself, when school situations are overwhelming he stays close to the wall and keeps his head down. He doesn’t like confrontations and has a term for how he handles them, “ghosting”. Last year he was starting to come to terms with these “ghosting” behaviors and learn to not take high school and it’s occasional unfortunate but inherent culture so seriously. Jordan had been his mentor and confidante on that journey.

As he relayed his worries, I said to Merrick, “I know you’ve always had these worries about bullying and kids being targeted.  You and Jordan used to have long talks about your feelings about high school. What did Jordan say to you about your worries and fears.” Merrick looked at me, exhaled and then with a far off look that held such longing told me about his “brother talks.” He said Jordan always told him that he had too much “righteous anger” inside of him. Jordan wanted Merrick to understand that certain aspects of high school were wrong, rude, and unfair, but trying to absorb and figure them all out was not Merrick’s responsibility. Merrick said to me, “Jordan always told me to let go of some of my righteous anger so that I wouldn’t miss out on the good things that high school also had to offer.” Merrick thought a moment and then continued, “He told me that college would be different and I would have more freedom and choices; I’d see the difference and be more comfortable.”

I looked at my son and told him all the things Jordan had told him still held true. I begged him not to forget the advice his brother had given him. How much he missed his brother filled the room. All I wanted was to suggest ways for Merrick’s loneliness and longing for his brother to be eased. I  told him to keep talking to Jordan, write to him, write poems about him, and express his feelings in his freestyle and spoken word. I reminded him that I talked to Jordan all the time. I wrote him letters and felt connected to Jordan because of these actions. I told him the reason I started my blog was to share my thoughts and feelings about my love for and loss of Jordan. Merrick’s weariness made him  wary of my suggestions but he said he would try. Merrick then revealed that his biggest sadness was that the holidays were approaching and he blurted out, “I feel worse this year than I did last year. It’s not the same without Jordan.” All I could say to him was, “I know, it’s not the same. But, I don’t want you to think there’s anything wrong with you because you feel worse this Thanksgiving than you did last year.” I wanted him to understand that grief is not a straight path that we walk on where everyday is a progression that leads us to a destination. I assured Merrick that he is not alone in feeling it is hard learning to live without Jordan.

I didn’t tell Merrick, but I knew that last year shock and numbness had enveloped our family and allowed us to move through the days without facing the full rawness the pain of not having Jordan with us brought. Feeling worse this year was a sign of the numbness of our grief wearing off. As hard as it is we are moving closer to acceptance. It is not a linear path and it does not follow any calendar ever invented. As those on the grief journey longer than my family have been reminded me, time eases the pain but time is relative and personalized to each mourner’s heart. I hugged my son and offered this same promise.

My family goes into this holiday season  longing for a son, brother, grandson, nephew, and friend. For my family I know that what I remind my children when they are sad and weeping over our loss still holds true, we will love Jordan together, and we can miss him together.  Jordan will always be in our hearts.

Merrick always keep Jordan close to your heart.

Trusting Again

Jordan in the newspaper room

Jordan's great smile captured by his friend Clare at school. This picture sits in our family room. I love that Jordan is looking back smiling at me every morning when I come downstairs.

I had coffee with a dear friend the other day. She asked how I was doing. As we talked further she wondered did I believe that as time passed I’d be able to have joy in my heart again. I told her I didn’t know. I hoped that I would believe in feeling joy again, that is as far as my commitment can go, the hope that joy might happen. I told her that at least once every day the thought, “I can’t believe someone came to my door and told me my son is dead” crosses my mind. She understood how surreal life continues to be as my family and I mourn and learn to live without Jordan.

Right now, glimpses of joy, real joy are tethered to guilt. Joy feels like leaving Jordan behind. Joy right now means accepting new memories, traditions, and a life that doesn’t include my boy. As my friend listened to why “hoping to believe” was all I could muster she responded by saying, “I’ll pray for you. Specifically I’ll pray that you embrace the belief that you’ll feel real joy again.” These were my friend’s words as she listened to my conflict and pain. Her faith was so strong and I was so grateful for her compassion and grace. She would pray for me. I clung to her words, even as I struggle to regain my faith, to have it be the anchor it once was in my life. She knows my struggle and has put joy reentering my heart on her prayer list.

My reluctance to believe that life holds joy that is not intertwined with guilt and sorrow are not new feelings for me. In the weeks after Jordan died, I was in regular contact via email with my friend Tom who knows loss intimately after losing his wife and two of his children over the last 20 years. I asked him the following question,

“Everyone who has lost a child says, “You don’t get over it, you get through it” and that grief is hard work and takes time. How do you get through the days and sleep at night without feeling eviscerated and numb at the same time?”

Tom responded,

“You don’t.  You try and allow yourself to feel everything there is to feel, as you are able.  Try to observe it all. Try to allow it to flow through you.  Every feeling and emotion will have a beginning, middle and an end.  I am living proof that you can learn to live WITH the death of your beloved son …and that your life will be filled with joy, again…impossible as that probably is to believe right now.  Try to hang on to that.”

The parents of one of my high school friends who was killed suddenly in a car accident in 1987 at the age of 23 sent me these words in the weeks after Jordan’s death:

“As your peers in this terrible fraternity, we want to help you. Time, distance and love have made us more understanding of the loss.” They then went on to write, “I can promise you that brighter days will follow. The days will never be the same but they will be bright, often illuminated by Jordan’s spirit.”

The words of my “fraternity members” echo in my head and I pull their words from my mind like reference books from a shelf and just sit with them sometimes; hoping that their words will wash over me and help me make it through the unbearable moments. Brighter days illuminated by Jordan’s spirit, what a wonderful peaceful image.

I am hanging on, as incredulous as it feels. Some days I live in disbelief  that I’m still a functioning human being. Death has torn me apart and I’m still here. The surreal moments in which I’m moving forward without the physical presence of my son, my children’s brother, feel like a strange fantasy, it has to be. I know it’s not. For now I hope, and I’m trying to learn to pray again. Prayer doesn’t come as easily since Jordan died. I told a friend and pastor who was my family’s spiritual mentor, and comfort in the days after Jordan died, “My faith is shaken. What does God do?” I revealed to him that every night when our family said grace we prayed the same prayer:

“Graciously heavenly Father, we thank you for this day and for the food we’re about to receive for the nourishment and strength of our bodies, in Jesus’ name we pray, and please keep Jordan safe. Amen.

No matter whose turn it was to pray, the prayer always ended the same way, “and please keep Jordan safe.” Every night that prayer was said. We prayed that prayer the night Jordan died. It didn’t work. When my friend said she would pray such a specific prayer for me about believing in joy again, I nodded grateful for her compassion, but left wondering, which prayers get answered? There are of course no easy answers to my questions.

Mark and I attended a grief workshop last spring and the woman sitting next to me articulated the feelings I had been struggling to grasp. She said, “I still believe in God, I just don’t know if I trust him.” As soon as she said the words I straightened up in my seat. She had put words to the internal struggle I faced daily. I didn’t trust God, because my most important prayer had gone unanswered. Jordan was gone even though we prayed for his safety. He was gone and his friends remained unharmed.

I have to figure out how to trust God again. My belief is still present, I know this because in the days and weeks after Jordan died when the pain of grief made me feel like I was suffocating I cried out the only word that my mouth could form, “Mercy”. I would lay curled up on my bed too exhausted and distraught to move, feeling like I could explode at any moment. With the bit of strength I had, I said over and over again, “mercy”, “mercy”, “mercy, Lord please.” Mercy was my plea until I felt my heartbeat calm, and I was able to catch my breath. I would finally feel soothed and able to face the next moment.

My distrust of God did not prevent me from praying for Jordan’s friends who survived the accident. In the hours after Jordan died, I got on my knees and asked God to be with them, to ease their guilt and give them the strength and peace they would need to live full lives.

As the days wore on and my heart was consumed with grief, my doubts grew and my trust in God waned. My pastor told Mark and I that being angry with God is completely understandable and that we should rail at God as much as we need.  He emphatically said to us, “Don’t worry, God can take it.” I needed to vent my anger and disappointment at God. I still had questions about why my prayers for Jordan’s safety had gone unanswered. I wrote to God hoping the answer would come. In December of 2008 I made this entry in my journal:

God,

You’ve made it so that I know my prayers don’t matter.

I can’t pray for the safety of my children it doesn’t work.

What is prayer for?

I pray for mercy

My heart still hurts

I pray for peace

I still can’t sleep

Prayer doesn’t soothe

It doesn’t benefit

It doesn’t protect

I prayed for safety

It didn’t work

I need to sleep

I want my son

My son has been taken from this life; words like trust, faith, and joy are incongruent with the surreal feeling of loss. For now I hope, I read, I rely on friends and clergy whose faith is stronger than mine to see me through. I want peace in my heart. My family still says grace every night and typically the person praying ends with, “and please keep Jordan in our hearts.” I know he’s always in our hearts, that fact I will always believe.

Even as I struggle to regain my faith, God still whispers to me in the most unexpected ways. The other night, with Mark out of town on business, my daughter said grace and ended with, “And please bring Daddy home safely.” With all that we’ve lost her prayer requested safe passage home for her father. The faith of my child is instructional in its honesty and simplicity. Her faith is still wide enough to include prayers of safety. She still believes.

What does God do? I think the answers are all around me. I’m slowly reaching out to explore trust again. It is not a linear path, but the diversions I have, bring lessons and I pray they bring me closer to my faith.

Celebrations

Celebrations

Brothers that were buddies from the start

On October 20th, 2008 I wrote the following in my journal:

Jordan’s gone. The pain is everywhere and there’s no place to put it.

It’s Merrick’s birthday. I got up, got the kids off to school and stumbled back to bed. Mark held me as I slept and he stared.

Later, I got up and curled my hair, put on make-up and changed my clothes. I made sure to put on a necklace, earrings and a bracelet, the things Merrick has seen me in before. The things I wear when I want to feel like I look good.

My heart is so heavy and aching with missing Jordan; I also have joy and this wonderful gift whose name is Merrick. Today is his day and he will be celebrated.

Those are the words written in my journal 8 days after Jordan died. Within 8 days were the death of one child and the birthday of another. I was saturated with pain and sorrow and my son’s 16th birthday was here. He was upon one of the “big” birthdays, the one that puts you on the threshold of independence and starts the pull from adolescence into young adulthood.

Since the age of 5, Merrick claimed the month of October as his own. The first day of October he would come downstairs and in a loud voice announce, “It’s Oc-toh-berrr” just like one of the World Wrestling Federation announcers. It was his signature call that we all awaited. Then every day until his birthday he would count down and ask me the same question, “Hey Mom, you know my birthday is in 19 days?” Then the next day the same question as the countdown continued until finally his birthday arrived. My response everyday to the countdown question was the same, “Yes Merrick I know your birthday is in 19,18,17… days. I was there for the actual birth.” Last year like clockwork came the “It’s Oc-toh-berrr” call. He was so excited at finally being 16. He talked about getting his learner’s permit and then his license. He told me he knew he’d have to run errands and pick up his sisters “Just like Jordan.” He was so excited that he was about to be 16.

I asked him if he wanted to do something special with his friends for his birthday. He gave me an exasperated look and explained that girls got together for birthdays and had “little parties” but that’s not what guys did in his generation. He told me, “let’s just do what we always do.” Our family tradition for the kids’ birthdays was to go to Cheesecake Factory for dinner, order cheesecake to go, and came home to sing “Happy Birthday” and open presents. I told Merrick, “then we’ll do our regular routine”.

Celebrations

Jordan helping Merrick celebrate his 13th birthday

Our regular routine, even saying those words is difficult now, but planning for Merrick’s birthday is probably the last time I said or felt anything that was like “our regular routine.” October 12th, 2008 the day Jordan died has taken the words “regular routine” from our vocabulary -at least for now. There may come a day when those words feel right to say again. We celebrated Merrick’s birthday last year, all of us with such heavy hearts. Merrick did his best to be cheerful but there are pictures from that night that make me cry every time I look at them. Pictures of Merrick with a faraway look, lost in thought, clearly not thinking about celebrating. Every time I look at a certain picture I wonder if Merrick is thinking what I was thinking, “Jordan would/should be calling right now.”

Celebrations

Merrick lost in thought as we sing "Happy Birthday" to him on his 16th birthday.

Merrick hearing his brother’s voice wishing him a happy birthday was missing from the day. That birthday call was part of the regular routine since Jordan had been away at college.

Right after Jordan died Merrick and I talked and he expressed his sadness, but also his belief that Jordan’s spirit would be with him always. He admitted to me however, that he was relieved that Jordan didn’t die on his birthday. He said to me, “I don’t think I could take it if that had happened. This is already too hard.” Even though Jordan didn’t die on Merrick’s birthday it has changed October for all of us, but especially my son who lost his only brother and his claim on the month of October.

This year as the first day of October came; I waited but knew there would be no cry of, “It’s Oc-toh-berr”. Merrick no longer claimed October. Merrick was so subdued and didn’t mention his birthday at all for the first week of the month. One day as he and I sat at the kitchen table eating lunch, he said to me, “Mom, there are two good things happening in October.” I asked him, “What are they?” His reply was about a new video game and a new movie coming out that month. I looked at him across the table and then gently said to him, “And your birthday.” He looked at me and said quietly, “Oh yeah, that too.”

How I ached for my boy. He needed so much gentleness and care. The 8 days that separated his birthday from the loss of his brother weren’t lived in real time. They were more like one extended day that should never have been. I didn’t push any false cheer on Merrick. I knew the result of that would be him forcing himself to act happy to make his family feel at ease. I had to let him feel whatever he needed to feel as his birthday approached. It hurt seeing how changed he was from years past. Merrick had gone from treating his birthday as a national holiday to seeming wary and just trying to make it through the day. It was one of those moments as a parent when you stand helplessly by watching the pain of your child and know that it is a burden you cannot fix. There is no way to take away the pain.

As Merrick’s birthday approached, Mark told me what gift he planned to get for Merrick. He was planning on buying him the Sony Playstation 3, even though we couldn’t really afford to right now. Mark’s only care was trying in some way to see a glimpse of excitement and joy in Merrick’s eyes. Any talk of money and budgets from me were futile. Mark was determined that whether it worked or not he was going to surprise Merrick with a gift he knew he wasn’t expecting at all. He wanted to see a glimpse of joy amidst the quiet pain haunting our son’s face.

A few days before his birthday I asked Merrick what gifts he wanted since he hadn’t asked for anything.  Merrick told me that he needed a couple of sweatshirts and a new wallet. He needed a  wallet because his had been stolen from his gym locker a week before. Most of the contents of the wallet had been found in an empty classroom including his school ID and learner’s permit, but he was most upset that “Jordan’s mantle” was gone. The mantle Merrick referred to was a piece of cloth that had been cut from a larger cloth our Pastor used during the tree dedication ceremony we had for “Jordan’s tree”.

Celebrations

Friends cutting cloth from "Jordan's mantle"

The tree was donated by my daughters’ Girl Scout Troop and planted in Jordan’s honor at the field overlooking the elementary school all four of our children attended. Our pastor explained that the cloth represented a way for all of us to honor Jordan’s memory by carrying forth Jordan’s work, loves, interests and personality. The pastor placed the mantle cloth on a branch of the tree and urged everyone to cut off a piece and keep it with them and decide what aspect of Jordan’s personality and life they wished to emulate and keep alive. He talked of Jordan’s sense of adventure, his social activism, love of family, love of reading and learning new things, and his loyalty as a friend. The mantle cloth represented all of these attributes and Merrick as did everyone at the ceremony cut a piece for himself. He told me that he kept the cloth in his wallet. He was most upset that when the contents of his wallet were found, the mantle cloth was not among them. I assured Merrick that we still had the larger piece of cloth and that he would be able to cut another piece.

The day of Merrick’s birthday arrived and with the help of his sisters who had excitement to spare Merrick began to look forward to the celebration we would have after school. I tried to glean and soak up the excitement and energy my daughters were feeling but it wasn’t enough. The reality that my family was starting year two without Jordan to participate in our celebrations weakened me and made me weary. I struggled for most of the day trying not to concentrate on how many celebrations we’d have to have without Jordan. Last year shock had acted as a buffer to the pain of losing Jordan. This year, the first anniversary of Jordan’s death, reinforced that my boy can’t and won’t be coming home. Imagining having to muster the energy and excitement for all the holidays to come overpowered me. “How could we every truly celebrate again when someone, our Jordan, was missing from the table?”  “Would any holiday, or vacation ever feel right?”  “Could our family make new memories without Jordan that felt joyful and not tinged with sadness?”  Those were the thoughts swirling through my head on my son’s birthday. I was so anguished and upset with myself that I was having so much trouble preparing my mind and our home for Merrick’s birthday.

I spent most of the day in bed, crying off and on and so tired. I tried to figure out how I was going to get the things done, and get myself in the right state of mind to be present for my family and especially my son. The list of errands I needed to run to make Merrick’s day special was on a reel in my head: pick up balloons, get cards and gift bags, and have everything out to welcome Merrick home. The list of things was minimal but my weariness made it feel close to impossible to accomplish these simple tasks.

Then it happened, the part of me that never lets me fall too deep into despair took hold. There came the point during the day, when my sorrow and fatigue started to feel like wallowing and self-pity. I knew I had to shake the depression and take care of my child. I reminded myself as I have times before, “I am the mother of four.” October 20th was my beloved, amazing son’s birthday, he would be celebrated and it would include all the traditions he had come to expect. Despite Merrick’s hesitation and the strangeness all of us felt at celebrating a family event without Jordan, we had to, and we needed to. As parents it was Mark’s and my responsibility to help Merrick reclaim his birthday in a way that showed our joy at celebrating him and the day he was born.

Merrick changed our routine a bit and asked that we order dinner “in” since his birthday was on a school night. When he came home from school, his chair was festooned with balloons as is our tradition and after dinner we sang “Happy Birthday” and took pictures as he blew out his candles and opened his presents. He opened the presents and cards from his grandparents and his aunt and uncle, the gag gifts his sisters bought for him, to make him laugh, and the presents from Mark and I. He liked the clothes I’d chosen for him, and then I handed him a gift bag that was just from me. He opened it and saw that it was a wallet, exactly like the one that had been stolen from his gym locker. I told him to open it and he saw that I had put a dollar inside. I explained that his “Oma”, my mother, had always taught me that you never give a person a wallet without money inside. I then told him to look into one of the folds. He opened one of the folds and pulled out the piece of “Jordan’s mantle” that I had tucked inside. Merrick looked at me tearing up and said simply, but with so much gratitude, which is his way, “Thanks Mom.”

Celebrations

Merrick and I after he opened his gifts.

Then it was on to the final gift. Mark had spent the afternoon setting up the Playstation 3. He had wrapped one of the controllers as Merrick’s clue to the “big” gift. Merrick opened the package and very quickly put two and two together. All he could say was, “Wow, I never expected to get this. This is awesome. Thank you. Thank you.” The look on his face erased any worries I had about our budget. Excitement and joy crossed the eyes of my son who has been weighted down with so much loneliness and sorrow. No matter the cost, that gift was worth every penny. We all went upstairs so Merrick could check out his new system. For the next couple of hours he and Mark were upstairs tinkering and making sure that it worked perfectly. After I came downstairs I heard Mark and Merrick laughing and talking and knew that Mark had done right by our son.

Celebrations

Merrick checking out his new gift

That night as is his nightly routine, when he was about to go to bed, Merrick came into my bedroom to hug me and say goodnight. Before he left to go to bed he looked at me and said, “This turned out to be a good birthday.” I looked at him and said, “That’s what we wanted for you. I’m glad.” With everyday my family is relearning a new normal and celebrations are no exception. We keep going.