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?”
“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:
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.