I had always shopped for my family’s clothes. There were family jokes about my shopping prowess, even with my extended family when we were all together. I remember one Thanksgiving when my brother-in-law looked around my parents’ family room and observed, “Jackie dressed all of us.” Everybody looked down and realized they were wearing some article of clothing I had picked out for them as a gift.
I always liked the fact that I could shop for my teenage sons and they trusted my taste. Jordan would seem a bit surprised at times when I would come home with a t-shirt or sweatshirt that was exactly the kind of thing he would have picked for himself. I still remember when I bought him a t-shirt with a picture of Tupac Shakur on the front. Jordan loved the shirt and asked how I knew he was, “Into Tupac?” I told him, “I’ve known you for a long time. I notice what you’re listening to and reading.” I would also jokingly add, “I wasn’t born with the name “Mama”, I used to be a teenager too.”
“The funeral home needs the clothes for Jordan.” My sister-in-law Cheryl leaned down and gently whispered these words to me when she came back from running an errand. Cheryl had told me before that they needed the clothes by Tuesday, but I had been unable to collect them or ask anyone else to do it. The time had come for me to dress my son for the last time. When Cheryl came in, Mark and I were sitting in the living room with our family friend Larry who had come over to meet with my sister Julie. She was going to assist Larry in writing the obituary for the memorial service program. Julie could provide details that only family would know. When Larry arrived, Julie was at our church with Mark’s other sister Leslie. They were meeting with our Pastor to finalize arrangements for the memorial service.
We’d asked Larry to write Jordan’s obituary not because he was a professional writer, but because his son Matt was one of Jordan’s best friends and Jordan spent a good part of most weekends at their home. Matt’s house, more correctly, Matt’s basement was the hangout for Jordan and all of his friends. I used to tease Larry and his wife saying that there were times that they saw more of Jordan than Mark and I did. I knew they loved and respected Jordan. Larry was Jordan’s little league baseball coach and took as much pride as we did in his academic accomplishments. He was the first person to come to mind to handle the task of giving account of the life of our sweet boy. We knew that Larry would do Jordan’s short, but full life on this earth justice. Jordan had vacationed with Matt and his parents on a trip to Mexico when they were in elementary school. For the trip, we had to fill out forms giving Larry and his wife permission to carry our son to a foreign country. They were Jordan’s “In Loco Parentis (in the place of a parent)” for the trip, and trusted caregivers for the rest of his life.
“The funeral home needs the clothes for Jordan.” I knew that when Cheryl made the request this time, I could no longer avoid picking out clothes for my son. We were having a private family viewing of Jordan’s body on Thursday before the cremation and before the memorial service on Saturday. Cheryl had to take the clothes to the funeral home that same day when she and my in-laws went to make sure everything was in order for the viewing. There was no time left. For me it was the first of many things that I would deem as my “last time as his mother” gesture. I understood the finality of my task but I didn’t know how I was going to get through it. With all of my apprehension I didn’t ask for help. I needed to get the clothes alone. I knew that picking out clothes this time did not signal a party or celebration no matter how hard I tried to will away October 12th. My “mother self” was in control and compelled me for this last time to pick out clothes for my son the way I always had.
Mark and I had decided Jordan would wear a suit because we knew that is what he would have wanted. Even as a boy, Jordan was transformed when he put on a suit. He stood taller, acted more mature and emulated his dad. The first suit Jordan wore that wasn’t from the boys’ department was for his eighth grade dance. He had to accompany me to the store because he had grown taller and needed to be measured for his first suit in the men’s department. He and I went to Men’s Wearhouse and I explained to him how they would take measurements to determine his suit size. As we looked around, Jordan picked out a black suit with a grey pinstripe. I was surprised at the conservativeness of his choice, thinking that he would pick something more colorful and flashy that matched the suits of the athletes and hip- hop stars that he liked and saw on television. When I expressed my surprise to him about his choice, he just shrugged and explained he liked the way his Dad looked in a suit and that was the look he was going for. The evening of the dance, Jordan came downstairs tie in hand asking his dad for help. Prior to this occasion Mark or I would tie the boys’ ties, but this time, Jordan wanted to learn so that he would be able to do it himself. I sat watching for a few moments as Mark simultaneously tied Jordan’s tie and provided verbal instructions. I jumped up to get the camera realizing that this was a special father/son moment-Mark showing his oldest son how to tie a tie- that we’d want to capture and be able to look back on as a milestone moment.
For every occasion after that initial “man’s” suit, Jordan held true to form and always went for a look that could have easily taken him to any courtroom, or boardroom. He always looked so grown up and so handsome in a suit and he knew it. I used to tease him about learning how to accept compliments. Whenever he would come downstairs preparing to go to a dance at school or church, or other special occasions, we would all tell him how nice he looked and he would reply in his deepening voice with an exaggerated, “Yes I know” and we would laugh. I always told him how much like my father he was at these times. Daddy’s response to the same compliment was always with mock indignation, “You don’t have to tell me, I know I look good.”
“The funeral home needs the clothes for Jordan,” echoed in my head as I walked up the stairs, leaving Mark talking with Larry. “You can do this, just get the things and give them to Cheryl. You’re okay.” I repeated that phrase over and over as I went up to Jordan’s room and opened his closet door. I knew exactly what he would wear and that there would be a set of headphones in his pocket. Jordan never went anywhere without his Ipod. I wanted to make sure he would have headphones in his pocket to symbolize that fact. I immediately went to Jordan’s dresser hoping he’d left a spare set of headphones in his room. I looked in his dresser, feeling uncomfortable like I was snooping. In his top drawer I quickly found a spare set of headphones and placed them on top of the dresser so I wouldn’t forget them. I stood for a moment and then opened his closet door. I picked up the hanger that held the black suit he had worn to his high school graduation. I then picked out his goldenrod colored shirt that he wore for his Senior High School portrait.
He loved that shirt. That past summer he told me that one day during his internship in DC while on the train he had been complimented by a lady who told him that the color looked really nice on him. I then pulled a tie from the rack on the side of his closet. It was a tie that he picked out for a “Sadie Hawkins” dance at his high school and had worn numerous times after that occasion. All of these clothes were still in Jordan’s closet because he had left them behind when going back to college in August. His intent was to take his more formal clothes to school when he came home for Thanksgiving.
I touched his suit and shirt and was overcome remembering all the occasions Jordan had worn a suit. My mind started racing, “What am I doing?”, “How did this happen?”, “Not Jordan, not Jordan.” I leaned against the closet door clutching the hangers that held his clothes and tried not to fall down. One small moan escaped my lips and then I said, “No” directed forcefully to me. I was determined that I would dress my child for the last time. I was his mother and I needed to have this last chance of doing what I had always enjoyed doing, but what was now so heartbreakingly ceremonial and final.
I looked through Jordan’s dresser trying to find a white t-shirt to go under his shirt because that is how he always wore his shirts. I couldn’t find one in his drawer and thought to myself, “He probably took all of his to school with him. I’ll just get one of Mark’s.” As I walked across the hall to my bedroom the absurdity played out in my head, “He doesn’t need a t-shirt, it doesn’t matter anymore.” I shook my head as if that would knock loose the reality that these clothes would be the ones we saw when we walked into the funeral home viewing room, and they would be the ones he wore when he was cremated.
Just as these thoughts overpowered any notion I had that I could do this task alone, my sister came upstairs and asked me what I was doing. I told her that Cheryl needed to take Jordan’s clothes to the funeral home and I was getting them together. She asked how she could help and I told her I couldn’t find his dress shoes. Once again the voice in my head said, “He doesn’t need them anymore.” I continued looking for a t-shirt and black socks with, “He doesn’t need them anymore” ringing in my head. I met Julie outside of Jordan’s room where she held the shoes. She shakily said to me, “When I bent down to get his shoes, I smelled the clothes that were on the floor and they still smell like him. I tried to make a joke and said, “Those are dirty clothes he left behind, be careful.” She continued in her somber, trembling tone, “I don’t care they smell like Jordan.” I tried to keep going.
For some reason I couldn’t find black socks in Jordan’s dresser or in Mark’s dresser. I was becoming manic, turning over the socks in Jordan’s drawer trying to find a plain black pair, then going to Merrick’s room looking for plain black socks. I was on my way back into my bedroom when Mark came upstairs and asked what I was doing. I told him, “Cheryl needs Jordan’s clothes to take to the funeral home.” Mark quickly replied, “Baby why are you trying to do that by yourself I would have helped you.” I was adamant but had started to tremble; I shakily said to him, “No, I always got his clothes and I have to do it this time too.” I then said to Mark, “I can’t find black socks, I can’t find black socks.” It was too much. I couldn’t keep going. I couldn’t gather my son’s funeral clothes as though I was helping him prepare for a special occasion. I remember Julie saying, “She’s gonna fall Mark do you have her?” As I crumpled down, Mark grabbed me, holding me so tightly and gently at the same time and carried me to our bed. All I could do was scream “no”, “no”, “no.” Mark lay on the bed with me. We faced each other and clung to each other as he soothed me and whispered in my ear, “I know how you feel”, “I know how you feel.” My screams brought both of our families into our bedroom. I felt hands touching my hair and face and rubbing my back as I wailed and moaned and asked Jesus to help me.
As I began to calm down I felt Mark’s grip on me tighten and he suddenly moaned and said, “I always tied his ties. You weren’t supposed to get his tie. I’m his dad I tied his ties.” I held him as he had held me moments before. I whispered in his ear, “I know how you feel”, “I know how you feel.” We lay that way clinging to each other on the middle of our bed with our families touching and soothing us. Suddenly I heard my sister’s voice in my ear as she hummed a song from our childhood church that she used to sing. As she hummed, “Everything Will be Alright”, I felt my breathing returning to normal and the words of the song easing the sorrow that was weighing me down. The words to the song echoed in my head,
“If you put your trust in Him, although your candle may grow dim. After the storm clouds all pass over everything will be alright.”
Mark and I lay there hearing the humming and the soothing, loving voices of our family. We were able to release each other and sit up. They laid hands on us, encircled us and gave us strength to keep going.