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.