“Jordan should be here.” The ache of sorrow that courses through my body can be boiled down to that one statement. He should be here because his birthday came and went and we celebrated his life without him. He should be here because there were no calls for his siblings or his parents on their birthdays. He should be here because of the empty seat left at our table at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and because of all the presents I didn’t get to buy that would have been perfect for him.
Clothing, pictures, videos, anything Jordan ever wrote, have become my treasure chest of memories. I rediscovered what is now one of my most cherished pictures of my son and I together. It’s a picture taken on my birthday about 4 years ago. It is the birthday I received an iPod nano and felt I could share in the music “techy” talk with my sons and husband. Jordan sat next to me as I opened my gifts that year and leaned his head on my shoulder as I looked at my gift. I look at that picture many times during the day seeing the joy on both of our faces and wondering what laugh we were sharing. I touch his face, I whisper to the picture “you should be here.”
I watch my 17 year old son Merrick as he prepares for his final exams, full of his typical anxiety as he has never felt comfortable with tests and becomes more nervous the closer the exam date gets. The attempts his dad, teachers, and I make to ease his anxiety are met with compliance some days but on other days when it’s all too much, the cavalier bravado that only a teenager can master rises to the surface as an annoying weapon as he yells out from his room on the mornings he’s running late to school, “I’m keeping it real.” He’s “keeping it real” and I’m standing outside his door not knowing whether to bang my head against the wall while screaming, curl up on the floor and cry or bang his door down and drag him to school myself. Fortunately, these scenarios happen only in my mind. I breathe deeply a lot and I go downstairs determined to ignore his attempts to push my buttons and try to sift the chaff from the wheat, the grief from the typical teen angst. I stay calm on the outside because I know we’re all suffering and ignoring his nonchalance, which covers so much pain and confusion seems the best tact to get him out the door and started with his day. We’re all changed. In our own ways our behavior, words and sleepless nights echo what we’re all feeling and hoping could be true-“Jordan should be here.”
Merrick talks to me about wanting the week of exams to be over so he can rest. I remind him that junior year is tough and yes “you will be tired”. He always asks, “Did Jordan get nervous about finals?” I tell him “yes. “ Jordan should be here” because he is the person I would be calling now to give Merrick a pep talk. As a sophomore in college, he would have wise words for his brother about studying and not getting overwhelmed and telling Merrick, “you can do this.” Merrick would leave the call feeling focused and less burdened. He would have had the chance to complain about his dad and I and how “we’re on his back” in a way you can only do with your siblings. Jordan would have told him, “That’s how they were with me too.” The camaraderie they shared would have shored Merrick up and given him the boost he needed to get through that day.
I watch Merrick alternate between studious and weary and wonder how should I interject myself into my son’s process. He wants to do well, he has to study, but his mind takes him to so many places beyond the walls of high school and the upcoming exams. He sees the images of Haiti’s destruction and death and like his dad and I have a kinship with the grief we see on the faces of the survivors. A part of us reaches back to the first moment of knowing of the death of Jordan and we wail inside and shudder with the faces of the people of Haiti whose grief is so graphically displayed. After losing a loved one, viewing others’ displays of grief is with a lens tinged with fraternity and sorrow. I recognize the sobs and the wails, because I’ve cried them. I see the women holding their heads in their hands in grief and pain and I know it is done to try and block out if even for a second the new reality and life they must face, because I’ve held and still hold my head the same way. Total destruction did not befall my family. Our house still stands, food, water, medicine, all the necessities are in ample supply. But like anyone who has lost a loved one, how that person died is secondary to the tragedy of loss. There is an ever present longing to have your loved one back. Talking to mothers who have lost children in a variety of circumstances has taught me this lesson about grief.
As we manage our loss we are grateful for the friendships we’re forming with Jordan’s friends. As has become one of our new and treasured traditions, all of Jordan’s closest friends drop by whenever they are home from college. Two of his lifelong friends were over the day before they went back to school and sat and talked with Mark and I for a couple of hours. Football was on in the background and I sat across the room and observed Mark and Jordan’s friends watching the game together and talking about who they saw going to the Superbowl. Bouncing off the walls were the words “Jordan should be here.” As the talk turned to how they were doing in school, and what they were thinking of majoring in they told us of their latest venture to form a music production company and the time they spent over break recording their latest mix tape. “Jordan should be here”, continued to echo in my head almost to the point where I thought I would have to leave the room. All of these young men, friends since childhood stepping into a new venture and maintaining the bond of friendship that saw them through grade school, block parties, sleep away camp and going off to college. “Jordan should be here.” As they got up to leave Mark and I walked them to the door, happy as usual to see them, but feeling all the while how bittersweet their visits are.
As they were leaving Merrick came in from hanging out with his friends and Jordan’s friends remarked on how tall Merrick is. I looked at him and realized he’s taller than both of them. I wonder, “When did he get so tall?” and how is it I hadn’t noticed. I say my final goodbyes and leave them to talk with Merrick. I hear their voices in the entry as they stand and talk for another 30 minutes about music. I listen for a bit and hear how easily Jordan’s friends embrace Merrick into their conversation and respect his point of view. I hear the energy and excitement in all of their voices. For me, it is time for this day to end. I go upstairs with the words of the guys’ talk of their new music group wandering through my thoughts, knowing that Jordan would have played a big role in their group if he were here. I go upstairs only wishing to sleep and not linger too long on the thought that is permeating my being, “Jordan should be here.” As soon as I get upstairs I take the medicine my doctor has prescribed to help me get the sleep that has eluded me for months. I take it even as I hear the guys still in our entry talking to Merrick. I need sleep to come quickly. I need to focus on a new day. The unfairness that is surging inside me must be quelled. I’m hoping sleep will quiet the longing for my son, if just for a little while. Jordan should be here.