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 May, 2010

Facebook-Generation Y Keeps In Touch

Right now I’m trying to prepare myself to wistfully watch college kids trickle back home for the summer. I know I’ll do my usual double take at young men that remind me of my son Jordan. I know they’re not he but my gaze will linger on their walk or the backs of their heads. I will imagine for just a moment that it is my boy and he’s come home.

Jordan can’t come home anymore and some days that fact is easier to bear than others. One day a few weeks ago I was cleaning out my inbox on our main computer. I’d hesitated to do this task because I wasn’t sure how I’d react to seeing old messages from Jordan. I shouldn’t have worried. Every message I found from him made me smile. I sat at the computer reading his sometimes too brief notes with such contentment. I felt as if I’d rediscovered a cache of letters buried deep in a drawer. Every email was a treasure no matter how banal. They were notes from my boy to me; nothing could be more priceless.

Email was one way I kept in touch with Jordan while he was away at Amherst College. Some of his emails were his paper assignments from his History or Political Science classes for my review. I was so honored that he trusted my opinion. It marked a milestone in our relationship, him seeking out my advice. He like most adolescents went through the phase where any suggestion I offered had to be debated or rejected. Looking over his papers in middle school and high school were torturous sessions. College though, was different. The maturity Jordan was showing made me so proud. We shared a love of reading and then he allowing me into his world of writing.

Jordan and I also routinely emailed articles we thought the other would find interesting. Jordan’s wit and his opinion of my generation were exemplified in the articles he chose to send me. I found emails from Jordan in my inbox that included an article from the July/August 2008 Atlantic Monthly, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/6868/, also articles from his college newspaper, and my favorite, an article from the NY Times entitled, /Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK) by Laura M. Holson.

I have never been very technically savvy. My husband and children lead the way in all things new and computers are no exception. Jordan and I had the same type of cell phone and he taught me as best he could how to send text messages. I realized that if I didn’t learn how to text I wouldn’t have much contact with him when he was away at school. He rarely checked voicemail messages but would respond quickly if I left him a text message. I used the cell phone to make calls; he used it to send text messages. I remember asking him about the feature that showed in “ghost writing” an anticipation of the word you were typing. I asked him to show me how to text faster by using this feature. He explained how it worked and I must have looked as confused as I felt because he finally said, “That’s the advanced class, just work on regular texting for now.” I still haven’t made it to the “advanced class.”

Jordan and his friends used forms of communication that at times led me to wonder how close their friendships were. Everything seemed virtual. They texted in clipped abbreviated grammar, they “talked” on Facebook but rarely unless they were face-to-face did they hear each other’s voices and hold conversations. Jordan and I would debate the lack of what I considered “real” talk between he and his friends. I teased him that their lack of talking and writing, would make it hard for them to communicate more broadly when they needed to. He always gave me the same response; I didn’t understand his generation. They didn’t need to communicate the way I did with my friends he would tell me. They stayed in touch with each other and that in his mind was the important thing. He also predicted that my mode of communication would become outdated and I would find myself texting more and talking via phone less. Time will tell.

When my sons were younger, I signed up for Facebook after reading about and hearing from friends how it could be misused for bullying and harassment. Jordan and I were never Facebook friends though I did attempt once when he was in high school to “friend” him. My friend request to both of my sons was ignored. When I gullibly asked them if they got my request they told me as politely as they could that letting me into their Facebook world wasn’t something they planned to willingly do. I quickly learned from Jordan and Merrick that they would have to be forced to let me into their virtual friend space. I didn’t press the issue. My relationship with each of them was open and strong. I told them I trusted them and would continue to do so unless they gave me a reason not to. They understood my meaning and my Facebook page lay dormant until well after Jordan died.

“jordy! been blastin the cool thinkin bout u, missin u and lovin u.”

I have now become a voyeur in my late son’s world. Messages like the one above greet me when I go to visit my 19-year-old son Jordan’s Facebook page. Looking through the messages left by Jordan’s friends since his death on October 12th, 2008 have provided comfort and community on days when all I want is for Jordan to be a sophomore in college preparing like his friends to come home. I am so gratified to know that by dropping in on his Facebook page I’m connected to his friends who let me know with heartbreaking beauty that they miss him too and that he has not been forgotten.

After Jordan died I learned first hand about what Jordan meant about his friend’s communication skills. They’ve reached out to my family with grace and a maturity that belies their years. His close friends who were unable to attend the memorial service, some we’d never met before, made a point of coming to our home to sit with us and pay their respects. Remembrances of Jordan in the college newspaper also let us know how he was thought of:

“[Jordan] was one of the coolest, most chill dudes on campus. He had a way about him that was quiet, but he never let you forget he was in the room. He just never said anything that didn’t need to be said. He was real at all times and he was an honorable person that was fair and loyal.”

Those that weren’t able to visit, sent cards or letters with their own fond memories of Jordan that I wouldn’t otherwise know. One letter from Jordan’s friend who couldn’t attend the memorial service talked of her time working with Jordan on their high school newspaper. She wrote of a time travel game they used to play in their down time. The game involved describing what era you’d like to visit and what you would do when you got there. She ended the letter by telling me she would never forget Jordan and that all of those who played the time travel game voted Jordan most likely to fit in no matter where he landed. I treasured her words and have my moments thinking of Jordan time travelling and fitting in oh so well.

I’m still learning of the impact Jordan had on his family and friends in his time on this earth. In the hours after Jordan died I learned by accident that his younger brother posted a plaintive message on Facebook page that was the virtual equivalent of a wail. His post read, “Merrick is lifeless. A piece of him died.” Merrick left our computer open to this page and I found his message the morning of Jordan’s death by accident. I sat numbly after reading his words and for a moment was taken back to my conversations with Jordan about his generation’s way of communicating. Here in two sentences were the echoes of grief that Merrick had been unable to verbalize directly to his parents. On Facebook he laid his soul bare. Merrick expressed his sorrow and reached out to his and Jordan’s friends using the medium that reached many quickly without concern for showing his vulnerability. I ached for my son and knew by reading his words the depths of his pain. I also knew that we had to quickly find a way to let Jordan’s close friends know of his death before they learned of it virtually without benefit of comfort by family or friends. I didn’t want any of them sitting alone facing a computer screen when they learned their friend had died. My husband and I placed calls to the parents of Jordan’s closest friends who informed their children and I assume spread the word. Jordan’s college sent out a mass email alerting everyone to his death. Word spread the way of Jordan’s generation and that is one of the ways they chose to pay their respects.

After hearing of Jordan’s death, two of his friends set up a public R.I.P. page on Facebook so that his friends could post messages. I went to this page expecting to see it filled with messages honoring Jordan. I was so disappointed and confused to find it empty except for information about the memorial service. Where were Jordan’s friends? Then it hit me. They had gone to the place they always went to communicate with Jordan, his profile page. Since Jordan and I were never Facebook friends my only entry was due to Merrick leaving his Facebook page open. I went from his Facebook page to Jordan’s and was met with a flurry of postings from Jordan’s friends and acquaintances who as they said had, “dropped by.” Here was the place that held the messages meant for Jordan.

The virtual reality that is Facebook allowed Jordan’s friends to stay in touch with him in a metaphysical way that is so fittingly a part of their generation. Their shock and disbelief leapt off the page. For so many of them, Jordan’s death marked the first loss of one of their own. They came to his page to try and make sense of the unfathomable, and also I think to try and be with Jordan. There was no hint of self-consciousness as both male and female friends openly expressed their love for Jordan and their sorrow. Their vulnerability and pain were evident in all of their posts.

His friends paid their respects with transparent eloquence:

“i dont know how or why this happened to you. You were one of the nicest people Ive ever met and your smile could light up any room. you will be missed”

“Damn this is crazy Rest in peace man…”

“Jordan you are the kind of guy that no one could ever say anything negative about. A quality man I know your already making a positive impact somewhere and you will continue to do so here.”

“I don’t know if this counts, but I lit a candle for you and said the mourner’s Kaddish. I’m sure I was terrible with the Hebrew, but I don’t think you’d mind (hah, you ain’t even Jewish). You are in my thoughts and my prayers. I hope that we’ll meet again somewhere.

Sincerely, respectfully, sadly,”

The earnestness and sorrow with which they spoke to Jordan surprised and touched me. Jordan was right. There were things about the way his friends communicated that I didn’t understand. I prayed as I read their messages that they would take the time to read the messages left by others. I needed them to know that they weren’t alone in their grief. Jordan would not want them to suffer alone. In spite of the virtual nature of their contact there were tangible benefits. They like I could drop by anytime and not have to grieve alone. These children/young people/friends were spread all across the country but when they visited Jordan’s page they grieved together and celebrated Jordan’s life together. The miles that separated them didn’t matter. They didn’t need to see each other’s faces or hear each other’s voices. Their words were enough. Their words meant everything because they took the time to drop by to the one place where they all knew that they could come together and talk to and about a life well lived.

After the initial rest in peace messages, the Facebook communications did not stop. For Election Day 2008, messages to Jordan showed how well his friends knew him and his love of politics. It was a day where my husband and I casted our votes with tears in our eyes. We voted thinking of our Political Science major son Jordan and how he’d voted early via mail-in ballot. How he watched every debate with the same intensity and fervor that he watched sports on television. As we stood in disbelief casting our votes for Obama, knowing how much Jordan had been looking forward to this day, his friends posted notes on his page showing they too were thinking of him:

“Jordan as I went to the polls this morning bright and early at 6am… i thought about u… i kno u were right over me watchin witnessing this legacy that has taken place…. our votes counted and we helped change the world…. we in here Jordan -Love always and 4ever”

“Your legacy has been made. Ill see u in heaven someday. Catch u on the flip side son, Im gonna miss ya. Your vote is what changed the country.”

“JORDY!!!!!!!!!! i kno how happy you are to kno that we have a black president!!!!!! miss u much!”

I continue to be comforted every time I visit Jordan’s Facebook page. His friends wish him Happy Birthday, Happy Holidays and update him on their lives. I love that they bring Jordan forward with them in their lives. I hope they don’t mind that I drop by to gather a bit of the love they leave for my son. Some days it is what keeps me going.

Since Jordan’s death there are days when my biggest fear of him being forgotten comes forth and overpowers me. Even as I’m reassured that he won’t be by the outpouring of love towards him by his friends, my mother heart is still uncertain. When I’m having my doubts all I have to do is visit his Facebook page. There plain as day are the many notes of love, longing and good wishes from his friends. As one of his friends put it, “See you in the later.”

I’ll see you in the later too sweet son. You are missed by so many.

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Year Two

“It is awful when one’s great capacity to love betrays a person… Each day, you negotiate an unfamiliar dark while doing your best to guide your children back into the light.” (Beverly Lyles in an email dated May 14, 2010)

“There is so much pain and no place to put it.” These words echoed in my head in the hours and days after Jordan died. I felt that I’d never have a reprieve from the irrational pain of losing my son so suddenly and senselessly. Lately, I’m finding myself rooted to my grieving spot. I sit on the chaise by the window, watching the world keep going, wondering again when grief will hurt less. In year one I sat sometimes for hours looking out the window and wondering, “How did this happen?” Now my lack of energy and grieving heart have brought me back to my grieving spot, sitting and wondering about life without all of my children on this earth. I get my kids off to school and my energy is gone. I’m in year two of living as a bereaved mother. My mother heart hurts and continues to cry out in disbelief. I wish someone had told me about year two. There are expectations that the rough part of grief is over and that I will start to feel the effects of time soothing the sorrow. I’m in year two when friends and family expect that there are more good days than bad. My days have taken on a somewhat comforting routine. There are still many days where I can barely run errands without the weight of loss pulling me home.

The world is going on and outwardly I participate in it. Spring is here and it has brought more anger than renewal. I’ve watched the flowers bloom and the trees bud. I see the lilt in people’s walks that only spring can bring. I look at them and I want to scream. The world is moving on and I’m rooted in a place of pain. I want to cry out, “I’m still in pain”, “I still can’t sleep”, “I still have a dead son.” Time hasn’t eased my pain.

The wave of grief I’m in now was so insidious in its approach that I was caught off guard. I am having a hard time imagining it is ever going to subside.  I’m not prepared for year two without my son on this earth. Year one provided cautions, advice and road markers to cushion the shock of birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and first vacations without Jordan. Year two has all those events coming around again and some are more painful this time than last. When does the advice and counsel I’ve been given that, “time will ease pain” kick in? I hurt and I am angry at the pain. It wasn’t enough that my son was ripped from this earth with no warning. I have to figure out how to keep going and keep my family going as well. Every time I ask, “how did this happen?” I know how ridiculous it sounds, and I know it’s a futile question. At those moments my anger turns inward. I tell myself, “You’re not helping yourself.” I am my harshest critic. Even as I criticize myself, I know I have to take care of myself so that I can care for my family. But here I sit staring out the window willing the pain of grief away, not sure how long I can endure this grief wave.

Grief brings on fatigue that threatens never to abate. Sleep provides little respite. I dreamed last week that I walked downstairs into our kitchen and Jordan was sitting at the table with his father and siblings. They were all laughing and talking. In my dream I stop at the base of the stairs and watch my family for a few minutes. I smile but even in the dream I know Jordan is dead. The rest of my family, however don’t know that he’s gone. I watch my family trying to decide if I should tell them the truth that Jordan is dead or join them in the fantasy and live as though Jordan is still alive. In my dream, I fret over the decision I have to make and wake up startled, right as I’m deciding that I could live with knowing Jordan is dead if I’m the only one who has to know. My sleeping hours and waking hours hold the same pain and conflicts.

Year two of grief has me focusing on what will become of my children whose childhoods are forever changed by loss. There are days when the cost seems too high to bear. I watch my children prepare for school on some days with a new type of fatigue that I know is the weariness brought on by grief. I’m tempted to keep them home. I want to find ways of protecting and fixing their pain. I want to say, “Let’s rest today. No school, no worrying about homework, just being together and resting.” I’m tempted but I stop myself. I can’t take away their pain or bear their sorrow for them. They all communicate with me well and let me know when they need a break. I can’t let my sorrow be the barometer for their day.  I want them to do well and know their capacity for good work and greatness. I’m awed by their ability to get up every morning and face their days, sometimes with hope and sometimes strength alone. In the midst of so much sorrow they strive to do well and find comfort in their routines. Year two is teaching me that no matter how much I desire to, I can’t carry my children’s grief for them.

My rational self knows that I can’t put a timeframe on when grief will loosen its grip. Grief is another chronic condition that I am learning to manage. As much as I’ve told myself that there is no linear path to grief, my mind has tricked me more than once into thinking that the heart-stopping pain I felt in the moments and days after Jordan died were over for good. I somehow decided that grief would return but would have a lessening impact and strength each time. It’s not true. Inside of me are wails yet to be released, heartache still so heavy, and so many unshed tears for the loss of my son.

A part of me recognizes that our society puts time limits on grief. The “shoulds” of decorum dictate that I act better even if I don’t feel better. I promised myself that I wouldn’t feel judged by other’s expectations of my grieving process. I validated the promise by putting it in writing in my journal-“I won’t let anyone tell me how to grieve for my son.” When I wrote these words I didn’t realize that I would be one of my harshest critics. Time is relative and doesn’t dictate the depths of pain or the length of sorrow. When I feel that grief’s heaviness will never end, I remind myself to look to others who have been on this journey of loss longer than I. There words are even truer in year two of grief- I have to take my time and not be ashamed of expressing my sorrow. My son died. He held so much promise and gave me such joy. His place on this earth was not fulfilled. I’m left to grieve my loss and all that could have been because of him. I have to take my time:

  • Time to be with friends and family who with few words from me, understand how my pain feels fresh
  • Time to sob uncontrollably
  • Time to lie in bed, with the covers drawn under my chin wishing for the “before” days
  • Time to smell Jordan’s pillow and his hairbrush, committing to my genetic memory his scent
  • Time to listen repeatedly to Jordan’s voicemail message and the songs he recorded. I don’t ever want to have to try too hard to recall what his voice sounds like.

When Jordan was born, motherhood taught me my full capacity for love. I never knew I could love someone so much. Jordan’s death is showing me that the pain of grieving for my child is equal in intensity. I’m still in the midst of the rage, pain, anguish and sorrow that are expected to quiet with time. I’m a mother who lost a precious son. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I don’t want to feel that I’m abnormal because my heartache feels fresh, even in year two. I’m mourning my son. I still need the compassion and generosity of spirit shown to me in the weeks after Jordan died. The world keeps going, I keep going; even so, I will never stop wanting my son back.

“Mama What Do You Want For Mother’s Day?”

I’ve been feeling so tired and vulnerable thinking about my children and how to love them and protect them as they navigate their way through their days with grief as a companion. So many of my thoughts too, have been of Jordan. It is my second Mother’s Day without him and it is no easier than the first. I’d fooled myself into thinking that this year would be easier but it’s not. Grief has circled around and put me in a raw place. Every bud and flower of spring serves as a reminder that the world goes on whether I’m ready or not.

“Mama, what do you want for Mother’s Day?”  My daughter Lindsay posed this question to me a few weeks ago and she caught me unprepared. I was not ready to answer because I’d been putting off thinking about Mother’s day, as though that would make the day further away. I told her I didn’t know yet but I would think about it. She wanted to know what gift she could buy me. All I could think of were the things that I want and need that can’t be gift-wrapped.

Mother’s day has a new representation for me now. I am the mother of four. My oldest son is gone, killed in a car accident on October 12th, 2008. My other son is 17 and wears his weariness and grief like a backpack. He misses his brother so much. When he does share his sorrow with me he talks of the things he and Jordan won’t get to do together. On days when his friend’s complaints about mundane things make him angry and he wants to tell them, “Shut up. There are bigger things going on in the world” he instead wishes for his brother to talk with and counsel him.

What do I want for Mother’s Day? I want to know that my children can sleep without fear of bad thoughts or dreams. I want the longing and ache that has taken residence inside our home to go away for a while. As composed as my children are, able to attend school and do well, I’m occasionally jarred by an image that lets me know how close to the surface their fears and grief are. Just days ago I was driving home with my daughters when we had to pull over because of a fire truck passing us, sirens blaring. It continued up the street and then we started to drive again. As I made the left turn onto our block, fire trucks, ambulances and police cars blocked the corner where our house sits. Lindsay looked at the scene and said, “Merrick.” I touched her arm and saw the fear in her eyes and the vein in her neck pulsing. I told her, “It’s not Merrick. Merrick is fine. You don’t have to worry about your brother.” She then exhaled and said, “As long as it’s not Merrick.” I reassured her again still stroking her arm. We made our way to the driveway and I asked Lindsay before she got out of the car if she was okay. She told me she was.  She tried to recover by making jokes and talking fast but I could tell she was still unsettled. The girls let themselves into the house, and I sat in the car for a few more minutes.  I rested my head on the steering wheel trying to make sense of what just happened. Of all the places for a congregation of emergency vehicles to happen, it happened in front of my house and my daughters. It brought back all the painful memories of my imaginings of Jordan’s accident scene and I admitted to myself that when I told Lindsay that, “It’s not Merrick,” I was telling myself that too.  I fought back tears because I didn’t know if I’d be able to stop once I started. My daughter had just uttered her brother’s name when she saw emergency vehicles. She’s carrying right under the surface so much fear.

What do I want for Mother’s Day? I want to be present for my family. Right now, my insides are swabbed to saturation with the responsibilities, doubts, fears and sorrows that being a mother who has lost a child bring. Vigilance has not allowed me many opportunities to sit with myself and find respite. I need to remember how to be Jackie, how to nurture myself so that I can care for my family. I’ll talk with friends, I’ll read and maybe see a movie with Mark. I need to reconnect with the person I am. The person who believes that “joy comes in the morning.” I hope to continue to be strong even when weariness sets in. I resolve to honor my authentic self, to give that part of me the same nurturance and love I give others. I will try to find peace in who I am.  I take it as my right.

 

What do I want for Mother’s Day? I want my 3 living children to always love and respect each other. I see them reconfiguring their relationship with each other, having to find an internal place for their love for Jordan but also a new way of being siblings without their oldest brother as guide. I want my daughters’ fears to be eased when their dad or brother are late coming home. I want my children to always feel comfortable talking to their dad or me when they are troubled or sad. I want to be available to them when they need to express their sorrow. I want to continue to normalize our life and routine, to set limits for them so that they grow up understanding they have to earn what they get.

What do I want for Mother’s Day? I want my children to feel real joy without guilt. They are too young to live a life without real joy. I want to be a good mother to my children. For my second Mother’s Day proclaiming I am the mother of four and having three children to hold and have look at me expectantly for signs of  surprise and gratitude. I want them to see me be joyous. They need to know that they matter to me as equally as their brother Jordan. I will not let grief rob me of mothering my children and sharing a life of love and joy with them. On Mother’s Day, I will stand in that space reminding myself of the eternal relationship I have with Jordan, hoping to again feel his presence. In the midst of my sorrow, I will find the joy in what motherhood has given me. My gifts are eternal ones- Jordan, Merrick, Lindsay and Kendall.

Mother’s Day 2006