I didn’t mean to see the images of the Georgian luger crashing, but I did. Earlier in the day, I’d heard the reports on the radio about 21-year-old, Nodar Kumaritashvili as I went to pick up my daughters from school. The reporter in detailing the luge accident, said the word “crash” repeatedly, and with such force, that I was driven back to my 8th grade English class with Mrs. Hughes explaining “onomatopoeia.” Crash was one of the examples she used to illustrate the meaning of onomatopoeia – a word when spoken implies or suggests it’s meaning. “Crash”, I wondered how I was going to find a way to live with that word. As I pulled up to the school, I changed the station, not wanting my daughters to hear about the tragedy that now was the face of the Winter Olympics. The young luger was the hope of his small village. I felt more in common with his family than I did anyone surrounding me in the carpool lane in my own village.
Later that evening I sat in my living room checking emails as Mark sat next to me and turned on the television. He turned to the national news and there sat Brian Williams, the NBC anchor, cautioning that the video of the Georgian luger was graphic and, “may be difficult for some of our viewers to watch.” I was one of those viewers. I already knew the details of the tragedy from the earlier radio report, I didn’t need to add any visual images. Mark offered to change the channel but I didn’t want him to have to be inconvenienced because of me. I sat with my index fingers in my ears and the rest of my fingers covering my eyes. I have used this same pose since childhood to block out any scary scenes or gory images. Mark knows the routine and at movies always nudges me when it is safe to uncover my face. I sat, waiting for the news piece to be over, repeating the phrase my counselor had given me when I told her I needed to learn how to quiet my mind. I silently repeated my modified version of a Buddhist chant, “May you be at rest, may you be at peace, may you be filled with loving kindness.” I planned to keep repeating the phrase until the news story was done but I looked too soon.
I opened my eyes just as the luge flipped over the railing and landed on the other side of the track. I saw the crash. I quickly closed my eyes again (why didn’t I leave the room?) and resumed my “blockout” pose. Trying to quiet my mind wasn’t working. I kept asking Mark, “Is it over?” “Is it over?” He hadn’t nudged me but I opened my eyes anyway, only to see the paramedics at the scene giving the luger CPR. There was blood on his face and on the snow. I had forgotten about blood. My eyes stayed open as the news program went to his village. There, sitting at the table head in hands wailing, was his mother. I had no idea what she was saying as she wept and held her head but I knew her sorrow.
I made it through dinner that night, talking with Mark and the kids about their days of school and work. I listened more than talked because I wasn’t sure how much longer I would be able to bear the images swirling in my head. As the girls started to clear the table I went upstairs to my bathroom. I turned on the lights and the exhaust fan while closing the door. I sat on the closed toilet seat and wept. I sobbed with my hand over my mouth to insure that no screams could force their way out. I couldn’t have my children worried about me and have the images and sounds of my grief intrude on their sleep that night.
My mind raced with the image of the luge going over the railing, and then the car Jordan rode in going over the railing and dropping 30 ft. All I kept thinking was, “If the luger died going over that railing, Jordan didn’t have a chance.” I tried to calm myself and realized that the only way calmness was going to happen was if I gave in to the images and thoughts my grief had placed in my head, no matter how frightening. It was as though my counselor was whispering in my ear, reminding me that grief was like a wave. She had instructed me before saying, “If you imagine the thoughts and images of grief coursing through your body, as starting at the top of your head and exiting through your toes, you’ll feel more control than trying to suppress them.” She always told me that there are times when grief is too powerful to be ignored and will find a way to be expressed.
I exhaled and allowed myself to fully envision the accidents, both luge and car. Both were devastating and so graphic in my mind. I wept, I held my head and then I heard sirens coming from the fire station 2 blocks away. “Why sirens, now?” I thought knowing that I couldn’t incorporate the sirens into the devastating images already swirling in my head. For the first few months after Jordan died I wondered if we would have to move because the sound of sirens was unbearable. Every time I heard them I thought, “That’s what it sounded like the night Jordan died.” I held my ears and covered my eyes as I’d done earlier that evening and waited out the sirens. Over and over I said, “May you be at rest, may you be at peace, may you be filled with loving kindness.” I tentatively dropped my hands from my face and opened my eyes hearing only the fan again.
Grateful that the sirens had stopped, I thought I could get up and wash my face. As I started to stand, the image of the luger with blood on his face and on the snow came into focus for me and I sat back down. I had forgotten about blood. There was blood when Jordan died too. The accident scene wasn’t just the wreckage of the car, crashing from 30 feet, landing on the right side (Jordan’s side) before returning to all four tires; there was blood. I started recalling more details from the accident report. Jordan had a cut on his forehead. The accident report stated that after Jordan’s friend, who was driving, dragged Jordan from the car, he held his t-shirt on the cut. Meanwhile Jordan’s other two friends went up to the road to flag down the police and ambulance. Jordan was lying on the ground unconscious and there was blood. The road was closed for 3 hours that night.
There had to be blood because there was a bandage on the right side of Jordan’s head when we saw his body at the funeral home. I saw him laying there in the coffin, remembering what his face looked like with the bandage on his head. I wept for my boy and felt as though I was standing at the accident site and then the funeral home. My boy is gone. There was blood. I sobbed and wailed with my hand over my mouth until I felt no more tears could come. I sat for a few more minutes and then exhaled and calmed myself while wiping my face and blowing my nose. I tentatively looked in the mirror at parts of my face at a time. I finally connected eyes to eyes with my mirror image, sighed and shed more tears. “How did this happen?” and “Why just Jordan?” were said to my mirror self.
I went to the door of my bedroom and called for Mark, adopting as normal a voice as I could. He came upstairs with a worried look as I lay on my side of the bed. I tried to tell him about the news and my reaction. I was unable to talk without crying and he held me as I repeated, “If the luger died over that railing, Jordan didn’t have a chance. I can’t watch the Olympics anymore, too many crashes. They keep saying crash.” He held me and let me cry and talk. Then the question I’ve only said a few times out loud came out forcefully and repeatedly, “They should have all died, or all lived, why just Jordan? Why just our boy. I miss him. I want him back.”
Mark sat next to me and shared in the injustice of losing our boy. He told me he had the same thoughts about the accident and was trying so hard to deal with his anger. We sat together as I wiped my face and tried to get my breathing back to normal. As we sat, there was a knock and Lindsay came in to tell us she was done with her homework. She looked at me and said, “Mama are you okay?” I told her, “I’m sad right now baby, but I’ll be okay.” She gave me a second look, smiled softly and then told me she was getting her shower. Mark got up, kissed me on the forehead and went back downstairs. I laid back on my pillow able to close my eyes and let the familiar household sounds of Mark’s footsteps creaking down the front staircase, music coming from my daughters’ room and Merrick loading the dishwasher fill my head.