Sharing my mourning journey as my family learns to live a new normal after the death of my 19 y.o. son in an auto accident on 10/12/08.

Archive for March, 2010

Hopes and Wishes

In the months prior to Jordan’s death, my father was diagnosed with a serious illness. During the summer of 2008, he had outpatient surgery and a round of chemotherapy. After his chemo treatment we counted the weeks until his follow-up appointment, which would determine if his treatment had been successful. During the waiting period he reassured all of his family, “Don’t worry about me, I feel good.” I believed him. My mother’s side reports also conveyed that the doctors were optimistic and that he was feeling fine. His diagnosis however brought a reality I couldn’t shove away; I didn’t want to lose my parents. I felt like a 10-year-old again. I still needed them and knew they had so much more to offer their family and friends. Hints of illness and mortality didn’t jibe with the vitality they displayed, and the roles they fulfilled for each other as a couple and for their children and grandchildren.

Daddy’s diagnosis forced the fact of mortality into my field of vision and I couldn’t look away. During the time we waited for my father’s follow-up appointment I spent time with my counselor dealing with all the health scares I’d had as well as those of family members and how they were heightening my fear of death.  As my parents aged I knew that mortality was an issue we all faced. My grandmother was the closest person to me to die. Her death came as she was gripped with pain and suffering, and all of us that love her, knew she wouldn’t want to live in that way.

In the weeks after I learned of Daddy’s health issues, I prayed for his full recovery wanting him to have more years of living and living well. As with others of my generation, my perspective on aging has changed, as I’ve grown older. Years that used to seem “old” are now young to me. When I hear that someone in their 60’s or 70’s has died, my first reaction is, “they weren’t that old.” Even as I prayed for Daddy, I did my own research on his illness. I asked friends who were doctors their opinions about my father’s health. I did online research and I settled into an uneasy peace that everything was going to be okay.

Then October 12th, 2008 came and every fear and worry that occupied my mind seemed absurd and self-indulgent. October 12th took my child away. In my grief I chastised myself for not putting my full focus on my son. While I prayed for Daddy, I lost Jordan. My mother instincts lead me down a path of blame. How could I have let this happen to my son? Grief told me that my lack of vigilance caused Jordan to die. I should have prayed more fervently for Jordan’s safety and kept him tighter control of his activities. I felt I had taken my focus off my son. Had I been praying for the wrong thing? I didn’t trust my instincts anymore.

When we received the news of Jordan’s death at 1:30 in the morning, Mark and I immediately called our parents and siblings and tried our best to comfort our children. I lay on my bed with Lindsay and Kendall for a while, holding them close. When they grew tired they went to their room and slept together in Kendall’s bed, which is closest to the door. I checked on Merrick who was in his room with the door closed and the lights off. He kept telling me he was tired and was going to try to sleep. I could see how haunted he was by the news of losing his brother but knew I had to respect his wish to be alone. My only request was that he leave his door slightly ajar so he could call out to me if he needed to. He agreed and I hugged him and went downstairs. Later that morning I learned that before Merrick went to his room to mourn alone, he posted on Facebook at 2:48am, “Merrick is lifeless. A piece of him died.”

After settling the kids into an uneasy rest, Mark and I sat in our family room, willing a “decent” hour to come so that we could notify our friends of our loss. While we waited, we cried softly, trying to make sense of the information the State Trooper had given us. We kept repeating to each other our fervent hope that Jordan hadn’t suffered during the crash. After all the hopes and dreams we had for him in life our greatest one at the end of his life was that death came quickly and without pain. As we talked, our phone rang. The caller ID showed Jordan’s cell phone number. For the briefest second I held the hope that the news of him being gone was wrong.

Mark answered the phone and I heard him explaining to the person on the other end that the phone was our son’s and that he had been killed in a car accident. He asked the man to please get the phone to the State Trooper who would get it back to us. I then heard Mark say, “Thank you.” Mark hung up the phone and explained that the man had been fishing and as he walked along the side of the road he’d found the phone. From his description the phone was more than 50 ft from the accident site. The phone landed fifty feet from the car. The impact of the crash sent items careening everywhere. The impact killed my son. The man said to Mark, “There are papers and stuff everywhere down here, it’s a mess.” I screamed repeatedly as Mark relayed the call to me. Mark stood over me as I tried to muffle my screams against him. “How did this happen to us?” kept circling through my mind.

As dawn approached we started calling our friends. By 7:30am our friends started to fill our home, bringing food and solace. I remember trying to be a good hostess offering people water, juice, and coffee, and being repeatedly told to sit down. All of them saying, “We’re here to take care of you” as I tried to make the most horrible, unthinkable day seem less awful. If I sat down, if I let my friends take care of me, my hands would shake too much and the tiny thread of composure I kept, so as not to worry my children would disappear.

Mark and I repeated for everyone that came through the door the limited details of the accident that we knew. I felt that if I repeated the details of the accident enough times, it would start to make sense to me; even when I knew it would never make sense. I know now what people mean when they say they’re in shock. The morning after learning of my son’s death, I sat at my kitchen table, I talked even as I wanted to be unconscious and wake up with the horror of loss being erased. The only time I was alone was when I would go in the bathroom. I would stand and try and focus on what had happened to my world. “How did this happen?” “Not Jordan”, “Jordan where are you?” were repeatedly said aloud by me. I fought against the part of me that said, “You don’t have to believe it’s true, Jordan doesn’t have to be gone.” I knew he was gone, no matter how strong the impulse was to deny such an ugly truth.

The day wore on and friends came by to take Lindsay and Kendall to their home to play. Merrick kept to himself, playing video games and then briefly went over to a friend’s house. Two friends went to the airport to pick up my parents. Upon their return, I greeted Mama and Daddy at the door, I let them envelope me. No words other than, “I’m glad you’re here” were spoken by me. Mark’s parents were the next to arrive and just as quickly as our house had filled with friends earlier in the day they quietly exited and made room for our family and our shared grief.   In the evening my dear sister-friend Michele came and offered me the care and sisterhood I needed. We talked privately and she managed the people who came to drop off food and cards. She was as surprised as I when the pastor of her church arrived. We both discovered that her husband had called Pastor Wilson upon hearing of Jordan’s death.

Pastor Wilson came to minister to our family. He sat at our kitchen table, drinking tea, eating coffee cake and providing a calming presence to all of us. He spoke with Mark and I privately, never trying to offer answers to the unanswerable question of “Why.” Before he left he asked if he could pray with all of us. We all stood holding hands around our circular kitchen table. Pastor Wilson asked if any of us had something they wanted to say before we prayed. Through tears we went around the table and each offered our pleas, prayers, and words to our sweet Jordan. I remember Merrick saying, “I’m going to miss you Jordan.” Lindsay cried uncontrollably and simply shook her head no when the circle came to her. Kendall through tears said, “Rest in peace Jordan.” My mother, my in-laws, Mark and I spoke and I don’t remember what words we said. I do remember with impeccable clarity what Daddy said when it was his turn. With his head bowed he quietly but strongly said, “I wish it was me.” At the sound of his voice and his words I gasped and sobbed. No trades or deals are made when death enters your world. No parent should have to lose a child. No grandparent should have to lose a grandchild and see their child filled with a pain they can’t fix. All of those thoughts were embodied in Daddy’s simple plea, “I wish it was me.”

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Soundtrack

I just left Lindsay and Kendall at school where I watched a fifteen minute presentation of what they’ve learned in their Monday after-school dance class. After the presentation they are off to another school project that won’t end until five. I have an hour to fill. I always call the time between my driving shifts as limbo time. It’s not enough time to go home and get anything done, and too long to sit and wait for them. I decide to head to Walgreen’s to pick up poster board for Lindsay and the spiral notebooks Merrick requested. I then head to Starbucks, book in hand to kill the rest of my time.

I already know dinner will be takeout. I made peace with myself earlier today about that fact. After traveling last week, it always takes me a few days before the fatigue induced by traveling and the effects of  lupus subsides.

So, here I am sitting at Starbucks drinking a tall skim latte, waiting for Lindsay and Kendall to be done. I try to read, but my mind is too restless. Every attempt to blend in with the patrons who are reading, pounding away on laptops or talking with friends is futile. My mind is racing, taking me to thoughts of loss and what now. Being still too long without distractions pulls me into grief and longing for any day before October 12th, 2008. I pull a piece of folded scrap paper from my purse and start to write. I’m realizing how hard it is on this day to sit still without crying or  screaming.I remember reading the book, “Damage” by Josephine Hart over 20 years ago. In the story the main character upon learning of the death of her son, beats and punches her face and body to still the pain in her heart. Of course she learns self-mutilation does not quell grief.

I think of “Damage” and I want to scream out, “Do you people know how hard it is to sit here, drink coffee and read? My son is gone. He died, he’s gone. I need you all to know his name.”  I want to pummel his name into all of their memories. I don’t take any of these actions. I sit, sip my latte and continue to alternately read and write on my scrap paper. I wait for it to be 4:50 so I can pick up the girls.

I realize as I’m writing and my heart is swamped with sadness, my feet are  tapping along to the beat of the jazz-real jazz(as my father would say) music playing in the background. Here I am writing about my grief, how hard it is to suppress tears and screams, and my feet are on another journey, keeping beat to another tune. I look up from my writing and really listen to the song. I smile and hum along. It is a song from the album, “Black Talk,” by Charles Earland.  I’m swept back to childhood and hearing the cut, “I Love You More Today Than Yesterday” wafting from Daddy’s basement stereo system. I close my eyes and remember him whistling and singing along, “I love you more today than yesterday, but only half as much as tomorrow.”

It’s 4:50 time to go. I let my feet lead me out the door, a new song in my head. “I love you more today than yesterday.” Thanks Daddy.

Be Good to Yourself

The tether sorrow has on my heart isn’t quite as tight as it was in the months right after Jordan died. I can physically feel the progress being made as my mind and body make the shift towards acceptance that Jordan is really gone. As I feel myself leaning toward acceptance, just as quickly, I feel myself trying to stop the progression. Acceptance is still too big of a message for my heart to hold.

Most of the times when I remind myself to, “Feel what I’m feeling” it is in response to sad and painful emotions I experience bubbling inside me. It has been easier to allow myself to feel grief than allowing myself to feel excitement or happiness. Accepting too much joy in my life seems like distancing myself from Jordan and his memory. Time has taken on a different dimension. No matter how many days I watch go by since Jordan’s death I don’t want to measure losing him in days. I know it’s been over a year since October 12th, 2008, but as twisted, as it seems to me, having his death be closer in time means his life is also closer to me in time. How can I ever feel joy that isn’t tempered with sadness if one of my children is gone?

In spite of nagging doubts that time makes things easier, I keep going. I found myself two weeks ago feeling an emotion that has laid dormant- excitement. Mark had a conference to attend in Florida and as he told me the details, I realized I wanted to go with him. I felt excited and as he talked, I quelled the impulse to admonish or question myself about my feelings. I impulsively called my mother to ask her if she could stay with our kids, before Mark told me all the details of the conference and before I could talk myself out of going. I wanted to go with him! I was allowing myself to “feel what I was feeling”, even positive feelings.

Grief plays so many tricks and comes in so many forms. It’s as though I have a meter inside of me that will only allow in so much joy before a warning signal registers. I find myself proceeding cautiously not wanting to move too quickly into what looks like happiness. Since losing Jordan, I know how quickly happiness can be taken away. I was impacted by these cautious feelings  as I prepared for my trip to Florida. One day as I drove to pick the girls up from school, I uncharacteristically had the radio on a music station and was singing along. I was taking in my excitement and relieved that I was still looking forward to my trip. As I approached a stop sign I heard sirens in the distance. All it took was the sound of sirens to turn my excitement into anxiety. Since the car crash that killed Jordan, I don’t know how to ignore sirens. I’m trying to learn to make them less powerful. For me sirens signal warning, danger, sickness, accidents, weariness, fear, longing, grief, crashes, tears, pain, sleepless nights, 5 instead of 6, Mother-heart loss. Sirens mean stop!

I stop at a stop sign and take deep breaths, attempting to pull myself back on the path to the present. I remind myself that sirens don’t have to mean someone in my family is in danger. The sirens aren’t headed to the girls’ school. They are safe. Someone would have called me if they weren’t. Merrick is safe at home. I just left him. Mark is at work and I don’t need to worry. The sirens sound but I don’t have to bring them into my heart.

I cling to my travel plans and shake off my fears as I pick the girls up from school. I know that I need time away. Mark and I are both so weary. This trip will be our first time away as a couple since Jordan’s death. I need to take care of myself even though it doesn’t come easily. Treating me, being good to me have always been hard even as I extol self-care to family and friends. A reminder I give out  with complete sincerity is, “Be good to yourself.” I know it isn’t grammatically correct. My saying should be, “Be good to you.” Somehow having the word “self” in relating my wish of self-care to others makes it more impactful. Like most people, it is easier to tell others they should take care of themselves than receiving and putting into practice that same message.

I told a friend of mine via email about my plan to go to Florida with Mark. She was excited for me and told me to pamper myself and get a massage. It’s not as though she was the first person to suggest a massage as a way to ease my stress and anxiety. I still have the gift certificate given to me by a friend for my birthday last March. I’ve gotten close to making an appointment, gone so far as picking up the phone to dial the number and then putting the phone down. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to be in such a contemplative silence, alone with my thoughts. My counselor has also talked to me about self-care asking me, “What are you going to do for yourself this week?” I tell her about the gift certificate and she always tells me what a good idea it is. The gift certificate continues to sit on the desk in our office, even as my back and neck hurt. Taking care of “self” does not come easily.

In Florida I went with my impulses and scheduled a massage. Mark was in meetings most of the day and the pain in my back and shoulders was letting me know how beneficial a massage would be; especially when all I had to do was walk downstairs and have someone help me. In the locker room as I changed out of my clothes and into a robe for the massage, doubt came back to visit. I burst into tears in the changing room. My mind raced with so many thoughts, “What was I doing getting a massage? How would I handle the silence? Would the silence be filled with “what if’s” and “missing my boy” thoughts?” I thought about Dawn’s words, “treat yourself to a massage.” She was the reason I had the courage to schedule the appointment. Dawn telling me to get a massage came from a different perspective. She and I became friends because of our shared fraternity. She lost her 15-year-old son suddenly, 4 years ago. He was her oldest child and she knows the heartache and pain that threatens never to subside. She also has told me that time will lessen the pain. I booked the massage in one of those, “before you change your mind” moments.

The last time I had a massage was last May when I went with my dear friends on Mother’s Day weekend to a resort in Wisconsin to rest and regroup. I had attempted to back out of the trip saying to one of my sister-friends, “I don’t think I’ll be good company.” Her response was calm and quiet, “We’ll take you however you are.” Another sister-friend was more blunt but just as loving, “If we have to tie you up and put you in the car, you’re going. We love you and you don’t have to pretend with us.” They cared and watched over me that weekend. Every moment I knew their safety net was close by. Now here I was, almost a year later attempting true self-care. I sat in the locker room and cried for a few minutes. I then told myself that I’d try the massage and if I got overwhelmed I could always stop it and go back to my room. I was in control of what happens.

My massage, my walks on the beach, the time away were restorative. My grief came with me of course and I made room for it. Tears came more than once as I thought of my family, and my beautiful boy who is gone. Excitement and happiness came with me as well. When Jordan died, I never thought I’d feel excitement again. I’m moving forward, breath-by-breath. For now heartache and a burgeoning happiness will have to reside together inside of me. I’m slowly learning that feeling happy doesn’t diminish my love for Jordan. Be good to yourself Jackie, it’s okay.

Calls

Yesterday was a hard day. All day I thought about how much I missed Jordan and giving anything to hear his voice. Some days hit me so hard. I don’t try to figure out what triggers especially hard days of grief, the reasons make themselves apparent. Sometimes grief knocks me over and the triggers are easy to trace. At times it will be a whoppingly inappropriate question coming from someone who should know better, “You have a son in college right?” Other times it is seeing the grief of my husband or children as they struggle with their own pain of loss. Sometimes it is unexpectedly coming across something that belongs to Jordan and being transported to the “before” days. During the Christmas holidays, I absentmindedly picked up an old comforter and as I brought it close I could still smell Jordan’s scent on it. I was brought to my knees. I held it, inhaled and wept.

I’m learning that grief can hit hard with whispers too. Today it seeped in and took hold little by little. The day started off sunny, but as the day grew grayer so did my mood. The gray day was also affecting Kendall. Lindsay had plans for the day, but Kendall was feeling agitated because the lack of plans was making her uneasy. I needed her to know that she could be with herself, and be at home without the need for plans with friends. She struggled to think of something to do and then sank into a chair with an anti-stress, squeeze balI that she was tossing into the air. She dropped it more than she was catching it. She positioned herself in a chair right outside my room as I lay on my bed determined to ignore the sound and prayed for strength and healing.

Lupus was causing physical aches. I had taken a bath and stretched trying to care for my body. I wanted and needed to rest, but I also wanted and needed to be with Kendall. I knew that I had to be present for her. I was aware that lately I had been retreating when not feeling well either physically or emotionally. I didn’t want her to learn that grief was something that always had to be endured alone. I prayed a specific prayer. I asked God to help me to think of a way to be with my child so she knew that she wasn’t suffering alone and to give us both some peace.

I allowed myself to rest, even as the sound of the ball echoed in the hallway. After I rested for a while, I figured out what the two of us could do that wasn’t taxing to me physically but allowed us to be together. When I got up and went into the hallway Kendall was gone. I stopped in the office to look for a Studs Terkel book Merrick could use for his history paper. As I looked for the book I came across another book entitled, “Healing Your Grieving Heart for Kids: 100 Practical Ideas.” I looked at the book trying to remember when I purchased it. As I flipped through it, I realized it was a book Lindsay had borrowed from the library of the family support group we attended last year. I took the book downstairs and found Lindsay and Kendall sitting in the family room reading. Kendall seemed much less agitated than she had earlier. I asked her if she wanted me to give her a manicure while Lindsay was out with her friends. She gave a hint of a smile and said, “Sure.” I then told Lindsay about finding the book. I told her I would mail it back to Willow House. I showed Kendall the book and read a few of the suggestions aloud to Lindsay and her:

28. Play Sports

32. Pack a Memory Box

36. Hug

37. Hold Hands

38. Clean Your Room (This one got a big laugh and the girls demanded to see if I was making it up.)

39. Pray

I gave the book to Kendall and told her to look through it because it has some good ideas. Kendall flipped through the book and started reading things to Lindsay and me. She read:

42. Put up pictures of the person who died

49. Eat Something Weird (try a food you’ve never tried before)

53. Listen to Music

She looked through the book quietly for a little longer and then returned to her previous book. The three of us then sat at the table and had lunch. Kendall was feeling better and so was I.

After Mark left to take Lindsay and run errands, Kendall and I set up our manicure station. I had Kendall soak her hands in a bowl of warm soapy water. I remembered the old Palmolive soap commercial with Madge the manicurist and smiled to myself. Kendall picked two colors that she wanted alternated on her nails. We talked easily about school and our upcoming trip for Spring break. Merrick wandered downstairs while I was painting Kendall’s nails. He readied our dog Nessy to take her for a walk. I told him when he got back it was his turn for a manicure.  He looked at me in mock horror, bringing his hand to his chest. He finally agreed when he realized all I wanted was for him to soak his hands so I could push his cuticles back, no nail polish involved. As he and I sat, he asked me about the Oscars. I told him I didn’t have a best movie pick because I hadn’t seen enough of the movies. He told me his prediction and choice for “Hurt Locker” even though he loved “Avatar.”

After Merrick went back upstairs I felt the weariness of earlier in the day returning. It was such a gloomy day. Rain drizzled and my body ached. I wanted to lie down, but felt that missing Jordan would make resting too much of a struggle. I wanted more than anything to talk to Jordan. To have a conversation with him on the phone while away at school was such an ordinary wish that now could not be granted.

Jordan’s voice is captured in so many ways. He made music. He loved to make beats and would rap/freestyle over them. One that I treasure has him talking to Merrick in the beginning, while music plays in the background. He then starts to freestyle. There are days when I listen to “Jordan’s Rap” over and over and cry. Just being able to hear his voice connects me to him. As I stood at the kitchen sink, I realized that Merrick asking me, “Which movie do you think is going to win the Oscars?” took my grief and covered it with longing for Jordan. Merrick was so excited about watching the Oscars. I shared a bit in his excitement making predictions in certain categories.  All the while, grief was seeping in and my longing to be able to call Jordan was growing stronger. I thought about his cell phone. I haven’t disconnected it yet. I almost did on Friday. I called AT&T but hung up. I wasn’t ready to ask them about getting a recording of Jordan’s voicemail message, or recording his voice on my own. Having to explain the reason I needed the recording is still so heartbreaking and takes so much energy. Plus, there are so many in our family including Lindsay, Kendall and Merrick that still from time to time call his cell phone just to hear his voice.

When Mark came home I expressed how much I wanted to hear Jordan’s voice. I told him,

“It’s Sunday and we call Jordan on Sundays. I want to hear his voice. The Oscars are coming on and we would talk to him and debate our picks.”

Mark told me he had a similar moment in the car when he was listening to the Lakers game on the radio. He missed Jordan and had the same desire to just call him and talk about the game. I stood by the sink and cried. Mark rubbed my arm and just said, “I know.” Grief was creeping in and I had to make room for it and let it happen.

I watched the Oscars with Mark as Merrick bounced in and out of the room to check our reactions to certain categories. Mark and I made a point of changing the channel so as not to see the montage of movie industry artists who died in 2009. Watching the list of those lost brings too much additional pain. I went to bed, willing myself to fall asleep as I hoped that the images of seeing Jordan in the casket and sitting at the memorial service, that were trying to crowd my mind would dissipate. Jordan is gone. I hear his voice on his voicemail message, in his songs, and on the video recordings we have of his life. Grief comes to call in different ways. Today it crept in and followed me around. I’ll never stop missing my boy or wishing to have more time with him.

Early days