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 July, 2010

Cleansing Breaths

This past weekend I felt as though I was in the presence of a miracle. I would appreciate the impressions and comments of all my readers in the comments section. Thank you

On Friday night torrential rains steadily pounded the roof and windows of my house all night. When I got out of bed Saturday morning, the rain had stopped and the sun was reclaiming its place in the sky. Absentmindedly I traipsed down my basement stairs to retrieve a towel from the laundry room. I stopped on the last stair right before stepping into a pool of water on the floor. Every inch of our basement was flooded with about 3 inches of water. Mark had just gotten home at 5:30 that morning from a business trip. The storm delayed his flight and the flooded streets made a 30-minute drive home take two hours. I didn’t have the heart to awaken him and tell him what task lay ahead of us for the day.

My mother and sister Julie were visiting. I came upstairs so disappointed that the day of relaxing, talking and just being together I’d envisioned for us had to be changed. As soon as my mother and sister took a look at the basement their only response was, “Well let’s get started.” I found rain boots for all of us and we began carting rain soaked items from the basement. Our basement is unfinished except for the laundry room. We’ve lived in our house a little over two years and the basement has been the repository for everything from furniture from our old house, moving boxes filled with “don’t know what to do with” items, to out of season clothes in plastic containers. We laid the items that we could salvage on the driveway even though the forecast called for more rain. With each rain soaked item that we brought to the driveway, the sun shone brighter and we felt assured that we would be able to finish clearing out the basement without the threat of rain.

As Mama, Julie and I continued to haul items from the basement, Mark awoke and after having breakfast joined us. Most of the boxes and plastic bags I looked through held items that Mark and I had been meaning to give away or throw away. We gathered up the clothes and books that were not damaged and put them in the back of the car so they could be given to a charity we routinely gave donations. Mark and I said in amazement to each other more than once as we cleaned, that the storm forced us to handle a task that we had put off for far too long.

Just as the motions of clearing, sorting and cleaning started to feel routine, Mama pointed to several plastic bags under a workbench and asked me, “What’s in those?” I told her I didn’t know and continued talking to her as I opened the first bag just like I’d done so many others that morning. I peered in and saw the backpack Jordan used in college. I dropped the bag and started moaning, “Oh no, oh no.” I stood by the bags and cried, regretting that Jordan’s backpack had been ruined. My mother came over and held me as I cried.

I finally took a deep breath and looked through the other bags. They held some of Jordan’s clothes and towels from his belongings that were shipped home after he died. I’d gone through his things and washed all of the clothes I knew we wanted to keep. Several times I’d tried to throw away these bags that I stood crying over. Each time I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. I knew they would never be used but they were Jordan’s and that was my rationale for keeping them. Now they were soaked with rainwater. Mark came over to me and gently asked what I wanted to do with the bags. Through tears I told him, “We have to throw them out. They’re all ruined. We have to throw them out.” I took one of many deep cleansing breaths that day to calm myself so I could keep working.

We continued working only breaking for lunch. As we sat eating, Mark said he thought we were pretty much done with clearing out the basement. I reminded him as I had earlier that water also got into the small room directly across from the stairs. He looked at me after I spoke and sighed. I held his gaze because like him I knew the hardest part of the day was before us. The room I referred to held the moving boxes from Jordan’s room in our old house as well as the computer that he used in high school.

When we moved I’d told Jordan that he would have to sort through the boxes from his old room. He joked with me that he didn’t mind if I wanted to unpack them. We’d gone back and forth about his boxes; him hoping I’d unpack them for him, me letting him know that they’d be waiting for him when he came home. We moved in January of 2008. Jordan was home for a few days during his Spring break and only a few weeks during the summer. He never got around to his boxes. Even when he left for his sophomore year of college, I teased him saying his boxes would be waiting for him when he came home. Six weeks after leaving for school Jordan was killed in the car accident. He didn’t get to come home from school anymore.

Even though I tried to normalize the storage room that held Jordan’s boxes by storing other household items there it was still a wistful place. Every time I went into that little room to get a roll of paper towels or to retrieve snow boots or snow pants for the girls, I looked at Jordan’s boxes. I would sometimes peer into them but I always stopped myself from looking further. I wasn’t sure I could take such a long look at all the memories of Jordan’s childhood and adolescence that those boxes held.

As we set out to clean the storage room, Mark and I felt foolish and reckless for potentially losing mementos of Jordan because we were too filled with sorrow to go through his boxes. Then the storm came and the choice of cleaning out the boxes was made for us. As Mark and I started opening boxes I saw so many books that Jordan cherished! Just looking at the eclectic assortment, from Homer’s “The Odyssey” to “The Rose that Grew from Concrete,” by Tupac Shakur I was so proud of my “Renaissance Man” son. I wept over the books that could not be salvaged; and I wept as I painstakingly dried the pages of other books I was determined to keep.

Jordan holding a book he got for his 15th birthday

Mark continued to clear the room and then he came across a box that held a folder with essays Jordan wrote during a summer internship and his high school backpack. Inside the backpack were a computer keyboard, the cord to Jordan’s drum machine, his swimming trunks from his pre-college summer as a lifeguard and a partially used tube of sunscreen. He held up each item with his mouth downturned and tears in his eyes. The backpack with all its contents looked as though it was just waiting for Jordan to return and hoist it over his shoulder.

I cried as I was transported back to the summer before his freshman year in college. I remembered so vividly all the times he took the keyboard and drum machine to his friend Matt’s house so they could compose music and “make beats.” I could hear his voice telling me where he was going and how long he’d be gone just by looking at the backpack. I sat on the stairs wailing, wanting to have my child back. Mark held the backpack and headed toward the garbage with the swimming trunks and backpack. I cried out, “No, I want to keep it. It’s his backpack.” Mark handed me the swimming trunks so I could wash them and put the backpack on a shelf in the storage room. He kept his head down, working as I sat on the steps with my mother two steps below my sister and me two steps behind me. I cried and cried as they rubbed my knee and my shoulder.

As I sat there trying to regain my composure so I could keep working, I heard Mark let out a moan and looked up to find him crying. He’d stumbled across the Oakland Raider’s helmet which was as part of a football uniform he’d given Jordan as a Christmas gift when he was three. I knew he was thinking of all the times he and Jordan played football together and how many games they watched together.

Jordan's early version of hiking the ball

He bent over with his hands on his knees and wept, not wanting to be comforted, just to cry. I watched him as he wiped his eyes and took a deep breath calming himself. We were almost done with the room. We looked at each other knowing that our cleaning was also cleansing. That day we’d wept over the beautiful son we lost, but were comforted by the wonderful things of Jordan’s that we found.

As I headed upstairs to shower Mark told me he was going to see if the computer still worked. It didn’t get wet and he was ready to see what was on it. When he came upstairs he told me that there were lots of my files on the computer as well as Jordan’s. One file of Jordan’s that peaked his interest was entitled, “Memories.” He told me that he’d briefly looked at the first paragraph and then emailed the essay to me. I sat down with my laptop and opened up Jordan’s, “Memories.” It was an essay in four sections spanning ages 3 to 16. He began by talking about his earliest memory of staying over at his friend Travis’ house the night I went into labor with his brother. He went on to say that although the memories were fuzzy he remembered climbing up on the hospital bed where I held his brother to get a good look at as he wrote, “the newest member of my family.” His “Memories” also included being told at the age of ten that I was pregnant with twins.  He remembered that he and Merrick made a special request for sisters.

I read and reread Jordan’s essay so grateful to have a son who catalogued so exquisitely for his siblings his wonder and excitement at their addition to our family. Jordan’s 21st birthday will be here in less than two weeks. We his family are struggling to accept that August 9th will come again without Jordan here with us. On his birthday, I know I’ll read Jordan’s “Memories” essay again and be so grateful that a rainstorm and a flooded basement focused our attention on the amazing gifts he left for us.

Jordan's "declaration" on his bedroom wall of our old house


Family Visit

I have always known how fortunate I am to have a family that loves and cares for me. Every time I’ve been sick or had major surgery my mother, mother-in-law and sister have come to care for me. Their presence has allowed me to heal knowing that my family and household are being taken care of in a way that is nurturing and respectful. They are all hands-on caregivers, helping me dress, doing laundry, preparing meals, shuttling kids around, all the things they know I would do if able.

My sister Julie has also come when I’ve needed her simply by my asking. There was a time when we were both in college and I had just broken up with my boyfriend of two years. A dance that I thought I was going to attend with him was coming up and he was bringing his new girlfriend. My pride made me determined to attend the dance, but I needed back up. All of my friends were attending with dates and I didn’t want to be an add-on to their evenings. Julie took the bus from Boston to Providence and came to the dance with me. She understood without explanation why I needed her there. Going to the dance was about proving to myself that I wasn’t going to allow anyone to make me feel that I didn’t deserve to be present. Just having her there allowed me to move past my self-consciousness of feeling alone. It also allowed me to sneak glances at the girlfriend while proving to myself that the world didn’t end because of the break-up. A problem that at the time seemed so monumental. Thank God for youthful ignorance and invincibility.

Julie at age 2 and me at age 4

My past shows me that asking for help is something I do after much consideration. My “self” never allows me to slip too far before I reach out and ask for support. Right after Jordan died, as October and November came and went, Christmas was approaching and I had no idea how I was going to make it through the holiday season. Mark and I both said that if it were just the two of us we’d probably go someplace far from home and come back when the holidays were over. Our children however, looked to us to provide continuity and reassurance that our world would keep going. I knew I had to provide those things, but I didn’t know how I could with grief weighing so heavy within me.

The albatross that most exemplified my unyielding sorrow was my dining room table. It was cluttered with plastic ware and covered containers from the weeks after Jordan died. The dishes needed to be returned to those who had dropped off food at our house. The table also held the guest book from the Memorial Service as well as cards and letters of condolences mixed in with mail Mark and I hadn’t been able to sort through. There were two large poster boards leaning against the wall in the dining room that we’d displayed at the Memorial service. They held pictures of Jordan and messages family and friends wrote on them after the Memorial service. When I would pass through the dining room I would usually avert my eyes not able to take in what the table represented. Occasionally I would sit in one of the chairs and pick up a pile of cards and letters attempting to sort through them. I would sit and stare for a few moments as I felt myself becoming agitated. I would sigh heavily and shake my head as I left the room. I couldn’t do it. I was overwhelmed by all the reminders of loss that occupied the table yet I couldn’t move past the vestiges of the Memorial Service. Clearing off the table meant moving on and accepting that we would have our first Christmas without Jordan. How could Christmas come to our house without Jordan? I was so conflicted. I wanted to be able to walk through my house without averting my head at what to me represented my failure to move on. My cluttered, filled with reminders that my son was gone, dining room table needed to be readied for the holidays and I couldn’t do it. When I asked my sister if she could come for a few days to help me she said simply, “Yes.” She understood without explanation my need for order. She didn’t try to tell me it didn’t matter what the table looked like. She knew me and knew what I needed to ease my mind. I knew she would help me handle the task in the way that would be gentle and spare me as much pain and anguish as possible.

Julie came for three days before Christmas and in that time made a spreadsheet of all the addresses Mark and I needed to send thank-you notes. She found boxes for all the cards and letters that I wanted to keep and put them in a closet where I could easily get to them, but they were out of sight. The day that she left, like someone from a design show she brought up candles and other decorations from my basement and transformed my dining room into a place of beauty. A place I could walk through without trying not to see all the reminders of death that had been in the room. I hugged her tightly when she left saying, “Thank you” but meaning so much more. She took care of me without judgment.

I am again in a place where I feel so close to breaking. My sister asked me the other day how I was doing. I told her I was hanging on by the thinnest thread. With my simmering worry about Merrick being away for 6 weeks, Mark travelling frequently for work and my daughters needing me to help them navigate their grief I feel broken. . Weariness has set in; being caretaker and receptacle for my children’s grief as well as my own has taken all of my energy.

My mother and sister heard the weariness in my voice and their love for me is bringing them for a visit. They’re coming today. They’re coming to as my mother said, “Lay eyes on me and take care of me for a few days.” They made the decision to miss our 52nd annual family reunion, even thought they’ve paid for all the events. I had my moments of guilt. I didn’t want them to miss seeing all of our relatives and my mother presiding over our family meeting. I told Mama I’d be okay even though the conversations she’d had with me in the last few days indicated otherwise. Mama simply said to me, “I’m doing what my instincts tell me to do.” She then asked me was there anything she could bring me? Through tears all I said was, “I just want you to cook for me and take care of me.”  Relief surged through me as I felt the weight of caretaker being eased by my mother and sister.

My mother and sister are coming today to embrace and love my family. My mother will cook all our favorite foods. As I rest in my room with vigilance abating I know I will hear the sounds of my daughters playing endless games of Uno with their aunt and “Oma”. They will laugh louder and longer than they have in a long time. Mama and Julie will sit with me on my front porch and listen without judgment or advice as I unburden myself, letting them in on how grief is working within me as Jordan’s 21st birthday approaches. They are coming to take care of me and I’ve never been more grateful. Just knowing that I can let my guard down for a little while and rest because they are here is my blessing.

Mama and I when I lived in L.A.

Let It Be Me

Being diagnosed with lupus( at the age of 23 turned my “carefree 20’s” into a time of tests, lifestyle changes and medications. It was also however, a time of graduate school, love, marriage and my sons. My husband Mark knew of my illness well before we were engaged. In my attempt at full disclosure to whom he was marrying, I made sure he understood that I had an illness that I and now he would have to deal with for the rest of our lives. His only response to me was to quote a line from an Anita Baker song(\”Just Because\”) and tell me “it was a welcome sacrifice.” He loved me and anything that happened would be “our” problem.

Health issues have always been a part of my adult life. I’ve had numerous surgeries including the most traumatic one when I lived in Houston, TX. In 1995 I was told that an MRI showed a tumor on my spinal cord. My doctor at the time came into the exam room, looked at me and quietly said, “It’s not good news.” During the week between diagnosis and surgery the doctors had no doubt that the MRI scan showed an astrocytoma- a cancerous tumor with a typical life expectancy of 5-7 years.

In the week before my surgery I obsessively added and re-added those 5-7 years to my 32 years of age. My counting was always done in terms of how old my boys would be when I died. I counted and recounted determined to live long enough so that my then 5 and almost 3-year old boys would have their own memories of me. If I couldn’t live to raise them I wanted them to at least be able to recall special moments we had together; to remember what it felt like to have me as their mother. I poured all of my prayer and positive energy into a full recovery. I wanted Mark and I to raise our sons together. The surgery was successful and showed that the surgeons initial diagnosis was incorrect. The tumor was benign. I’d been given my life back.

In 1999 after the birth of my twin daughters, complications arose and I awoke from general anesthesia to hear Mark whispering in my ear that the doctors had to perform emergency surgery to stop the bleeding that started during delivery. In a soothing but shaky voice he told me that I’d suffered tremendous blood loss. He quietly said, “We almost lost you.” I listened to his words and my first question to him was, “Are the babies alright?” He assured me our daughters were premature but doing well. I drifted back to sleep relieved that my children were okay. I was grateful to be alive for all of my children.

Every time I had doctor’s appointments or hospital stays I was keenly aware of the sick children that were there. Any moments of self-pity I had were erased as soon as I saw a sick child. I would silently pray for the child and their family and then be grateful that I was the one enduring the unknown with painful tests and hospital stays. If it had to be someone in my family that was sick, I wanted it to be me. I felt that I had an unspoken pact with God that any suffering to befall my family should come to me.

I never shared my feelings about my pact with anyone. I held it close as my way of keeping my children from harm. Like most parents I wanted my children protected and free from as much danger and pain as possible. Even those times when I was faced with death, I knew should anything happen to me, I had no doubt that Mark would love and care for our children. My silent pact boiled down to its essence simply put was, “let it be me. “

I know how foolish, superstitious and naïve I was to believe that I could have a contract with God that included an immunity clause for my children.  It was still the deal that I wanted. I was to be the sponge that dealt with pain, my children would be spared. Intellectually I knew every time I whispered,” I glad it’s me and not the kids,” that I was operating under an illusion of control. There are no deals with God and he doesn’t offer immunity clauses. The fierceness of my Mother Love however, prevailed over logic and reason. Time and time again I truly believed that I was cocooning my children from harm. “Let it be me.”

Then the illusion that was my pact shattered. Our phone rings late at night and two police officers come to our door telling us the words no parent wants to hear. Our son was dead. Jordan was killed in a car accident. He was gone and all of the notions I had about my accumulated pain and suffering being the buffer that would provide my family some immunity from further tragedy was nullified. Even in my haze of shock and grief I felt so stupid. There are no bargains or immunity clauses. All I had to do was look around to see all the tragedy in the world to know that my family is not exempt because I made a one-sided deal with God.

My son is gone. Since Jordan’s death I struggle not to veer to the extreme and feel that my children will never truly be safe.  I still have my moments, my days when the thought heaviest on my mind is, “Let it be me.” I work so hard to stay sane and not slip too far into darkness and depression. Jordan’s life held virtue, humor, caring and so much light. Each day I make a choice to keep going for my family and for me. The future can’t be predicted. I can’t mystically shelter my children from all harm. The shock of loss has slowed my acceptance of the fact that complete protection is an illusion-even if it is fueled by the fiercest love. My vigilance towards my children is still strong. But a parallel vigilance is burgeoning. It still whispers, “let it be me” but the meaning has shifted. Let it be me who remembers all aspects of my son’s too short life. Let it be me that honors in my own way the zeal Jordan had for life. Let it be me that loves life and hopes for joy to come in the morning.

Mother Skills

When Jordan was in 6th grade he read a biography of Grant Hill and Grant became one of his heroes. Jordan liked Grant Hill’s work ethic, his generosity and athleticism. In Jordan’s mind, he was the consummate student/athlete and Jordan wanted to emulate him both on and off the court. I liked the parts of the book that Jordan read to me which talked of Grant’s mother and her strictness. The book talked of how Grant was teased by his friends because he couldn’t do all of the things his friends did and had a stricter curfew. According to the book Grant’s friends called his mother the “Sergeant” when he was in junior high school and she was promoted to “General” by the time Grant was in high school. As Jordan talked about the book I told him I liked Grant’s mother’s style. I always told him to expect the same from me that Grant expected from his mother.

The times that Jordan especially as a teen pushed the limits on his curfew or started a sentence with, “But all of my friends can,” I had no problem being the strict mother within his group of friends. I always told Jordan that as he got older he would be allowed greater freedom and responsibility.  I would sometimes remind him of Grant Hill by saying, “It worked for Grant Hill, and it can work for you too.” He would roll his eyes and storm off but I felt comfortable in trusting my instincts for my children’s futures.

I don’t trust my mother radar anymore. Losing Jordan without warning when I thought he was safe has altered my trust of my instincts. I ask myself all the time, “Why didn’t I know he was going to die? I could have stopped it from happening. Why didn’t I know?”

Grief colors every part of my world and I’m not the same person I was before October 12th, 2008. I have declared repeatedly that I will always be the mother of four. While I grieve the loss of my oldest child, my three living, learning, playing and mourning children need their mother. There are days when I’m here for them, and I’m not all at the same time. Numbness still lurks at the edges, and sometimes seeps in to share a place inside of me with grief. Guilt has overtaken me many times as well. Especially times when I realize that I forgot to check over a homework packet for my 10- year old twin daughters, or that my 17- year old son had a test and I didn’t quiz him, the way I used too before Jordan died.

For the first time since I’ve been a mother, I forgot about Easter baskets. Seven o’clock at night on the Saturday before Easter and the notion of our usual traditions hadn’t crossed my mind. I was exhausted from our spring break vacation. The suitcases lay in Jordan’s room still packed. Lupus had taken any energy I would normally have away. I was in the middle of a flare and was having trouble understanding how to make room for my chronic illness when my chronic grief was also flaring. Thoughts of college basketball, Easter Sunday, Spring break without Jordan were all swirling around in my head. How dare my body also betray me? I felt as if the marrow has been sucked from my bones. Rest is the only real remedy for fatigue that takes a stranglehold on my life but guilt at feeling neglectful wouldn’t let me rest.

I tell myself that being forgetful and not having the same attention to details as I had before losing Jordan is expected. My self-critic however is harsh and adds more doubt to whether I’ll trust my maternal instincts again. Even as I try to reprogram my instincts, sorrow clouds my judgment and makes me doubt my decision-making abilities. I was in Walgreen’s with my daughters the other day and stood chatting with a friend as my daughters perused the magazine section. As my girls came over to me I saw a lump behind the ear of one of them. How had I missed a marble sized lump? I finished up my conversation with my friend but my mind was already calling the doctor to schedule an appointment. I have a veneer of calm but inside of me a panicked voice is saying, “Please don’t let it be anything serious. Her gland is swollen and she doesn’t have any other symptoms. What if she has cancer?” When we see the doctor the next day, she assures us it’s nothing serious, just as I had assured my daughter the night before. She asks my daughter to wait out in the waiting room so that she can talk with me for a minute.

Marian, our family physician, and I have been friends for a long time. She looks at me and says, “You thought it was cancer didn’t you?” With tear-filled eyes I shake my head yes, not trusting my voice. She goes on to tell me that if she thought it was serious she would be running tests and scheduling biopsies. She knows that my greatest fear is that I’ll lose another child. Even as she tries to calm me by saying, “You’re not going to lose another child,” my vigilant part is whispering, “No one can tell you that.” I needed to hear her words though, as a counter-action for the fear that resides in my heart. I know living with the fear of losing another child occupying such a large part of me is not good for my family or me.

My vigilant part stays on high alert. When the girls walk the dog, when my son is late coming home, I tell myself everything is fine, but I don’t fully breathe again until I see them and hear their voices. Now with Merrick away for the summer what I thought was my most vigilant self has been pushed to a more extreme level. Nothing that happens with my kids feels routine. Taking my daughter to the doctor exposed how fully my greatest fear has taken hold inside me. I walk around attending to chores, errands and even fun with a wariness that is exhausting. I know I can’t continue living and behaving this way. I am consciously trying to regain my balance. It’s so hard to feel centered when at the edges grief, vigilance, anxiety and sorrow pull at me and demand attention.

Right now I’m reaching out to family and friends to help steady me as I relearn my balance, especially on the days when I sway so far from center that it feels like I can’t recover. Slowly ever so slowly I’m taking deep breaths in and exhaling fully. I’m trying to learn to do the best I can without so much fear, breath-by- breath.

Party Planning

I’m planning two parties right now, a sleepover for my daughters and a gathering for family and friends to honor my son Jordan. The paradox is not lost on me. My twin daughters’ birthday is exactly a week before Jordan’s birthday. My girls will turn 11 on August 2nd. Jordan would be 21 on August 9th. Sometimes I have to shake my head to clear my thoughts enough to do such parallel planning. I want my daughters birthday to be special and silly and fun just as 11-year old girls are. I’m putting extra care into their party because this year their attention has been more focused on their brother’s birthday rather than their own.

My daughter Lindsay was the first to ask about Jordan’s birthday. “Are we having a party again this year for Jordan’s birthday?” The thought had been running through my mind for weeks, but I wasn’t sure if I had the emotional energy to make it happen. Watching my family as August 9th approaches I realize we are all feeling Jordan’s absence even stronger than usual. We need to have a party for Jordan to soothe our hearts and make the equivalent of a shouting of his name from the rooftop. We need the world to know, “Jordan was here.” 08-09-10 is the birthday Jordan couldn’t wait to celebrate. Not just because of the freedom and status that being 21 brought but also because of the magical flow of numbers: 8,9,10. This flow of numbers as magical as his birth date, 8-9-89.

Banner hung at our house to welcome guests to 2009 celebration of Jordan's life

Last year I was compelled to have a gathering for Jordan’s friends in honor of his birthday. It was the first birthday we’d celebrated since his death. I worried about Jordan’s friends and wanted those friends who couldn’t attend the memorial service and even those who had, to have a place with our family knowing they were with others who loved and missed Jordan. The party was beautiful. Jordan’s friend Luc who plays the sax with the same talent and passion as any jazz great brought his band to our home and performed. Another friend Matt made a video of silly moments from their elementary and high school years and we watched and laughed together. I watched with gratitude as bridges between Jordan’s high school friends and college friends were crossed as they met and shared their own Jordan stories for the first time. It was almost perfect. I mingled with the kids and my friends in attendance until the moment when it was all too much. There came a point when all I could think was, “How could we have a party for Jordan without Jordan?”

“I miss my boy. I want him to come home.”

I made my way to my bedroom, quietly closed the door and lay on my bed and sobbed. After a few minutes there was a knock at the door and my sister Julie peeked her head in. Seeing my face she simply asked, “Is it okay if I stay in here with you?” I nodded yes and she lay down beside me and touched my shoulder. I cried and wailed and called Jordan’s name and she cried with me. I thought back to Jordan’s first birthday and the party we held. The party Julie and I planned together. Julie and I joked back then that we could go into the party planning business.

It is now weeks from Jordan’s birthday. Twenty years later Julie and I are planning a party for Jordan again. Jordan’s 17- year old brother has repeatedly said to me, “I want it to be huge.” He misses his brother and best friend so much and needs to see the love and longing for Jordan reflected back to us so we don’t feel so alone in missing and honoring him.

As August approaches my daughters’ excitement for their birthday is rising. The night of their party my husband and I will listen to the karaoke singing, glee filled laughter and whispering that sleepovers bring. We’ll hand out goodie bags as the guests leave and look at our daughters for signs of hazy contentment that comes from sleep-deprived fun. Then, on August 14th we’ll have an “Open Mic Night,” as suggested by Lindsay. Friends and family will gather to express themselves through poetry, song, dance, storytelling, however they see fit. We’ll pass the hat for “Jordan’s fund” and provide scholarships for college students. Great effort is going into both parties. Generosity and love is bestowed upon my children.

We’re Together

“I feel sad for no reason. I feel sad all the time, even when I feel happy. I can feel it right in my gut.” Lindsay 7/13/10

As Lindsay says “gut” she fiercely pushes her stomach with the palm of her hand. We are sitting in Panera’s having lunch and when Kendall gets up to get her forgotten piece of bread Lindsay looks at me and without warning tells me about her sadness. Before I have time to weigh what I should say, I look at her and blurt out, “That’s how I feel too.” Her look as I speak is one of relief but still questioning. I know how much it took for her to be so vulnerable and reveal the depths of her sadness. She’s looking to me to ease her pain and provide some understanding. I take a breath and hope I can make her realize that she’s not alone in her feelings. I tell her, “What you’re feeling is grief.” As I say these words Kendall slides back into her chair and hearing the word “grief” is instantly caught up with the conversation. She knows without asking that we’re talking about Jordan and how we miss him and long for him. I tell them both that sometimes grief feels like it is inside you and won’t ever go away.

I look at my girls and I tell them what on this day I’m not sure I fully believe, but I say it anyway, “We won’t always feel this sad. It will get better.”

Even as I navigate my own feelings of grief, I shore myself up hoping to be prepared for moments such as these. I stand watch, vigilant to the needs of my children who have been traumatized by the unimaginable loss of their big brother. My energy stores are for my children who need a mother that is emotionally present and with whom they can reveal their hearts without fear or worry. For our family, grief is a shared experience. They’ve seen me on days when grief and sorrow weigh me down and all I can do is cry. I’m honest with them when they come to me with worried looks and ask, “What’s wrong?” I always truthfully answer and say, “I’m having a tough time, I miss your brother.” Childhood does not mean that they don’t know what grief looks like or how it feels. As much as I wish I could take all of their pain and sadness away, I know I can’t. Even so, I never want them to think that the grief they feel is wrong or unnatural.  Mother love drives me to ensure that Lindsay, Kendall and Merrick know that they never have to carry their burdens alone.

As we sit quietly for a moment in our booth all lost in our own thoughts, I steal looks at my almost 11- year old daughters. I tell them of an idea I have for their upcoming birthday party and I watch as smiles almost reach their eyes. They tell me they like my idea. We sit and take some time to plan their party focusing our attention on celebration.

My love for them is immeasurable. My prayer that grief not fully rob them of their childhoods is prayed daily. I watch my daughters and I silently repeat to myself what I said to them earlier, “We won’t always feel this sad. It will get better.”

Trial Run

“We’ll take him there. We’ll get him settled and he’ll have a good time.” I wake up in the middle of the night repeating what has become my new mantra. Merrick is off to a pre-college program for 6 weeks and I’m trying to figure out how I will allow my son to leave home for most of the summer without going mad. Jordan is gone, and can’t come back home. Everyday I live with the loss of my son. I’m stuck in a paradox of knowing that a lifetime ago, Jordan went away to college and didn’t come home. On this new journey the scars of loss cloud my judgment about what are the right experiences for my children to have. Merrick wants to go away and I don’t know if I can give the world another one of my children. I can’t lose another son and yet I know I have to let him go. I’m helping him prepare to go.

I’m filling out health forms, signing residence hall forms and buying supplies. I’ve done all of these things before. I helped Jordan prepare for college and for a summer program when he was in high school. Merrick in his excitement about his own pre-college program when he saw hesitation on my face countered with, “But Jordan went away when he was in high school.”  I watch Merrick’s face, seeing the excitement and anticipation. I remember back to Jordan’s summer away and how much it enriched him. I take in all of this information and know that it is Merrick’s turn to get the trial run at the college experience.

Merrick’s words are ringing in my ears as I try to ready myself to have him gone for 6 weeks this summer. He is so excited and rightfully so. It’s his turn to experience life as an almost college student. Jordan will forever be his role model and he looks forward to following in his footsteps by having his own adventure. I can’t tell him not to go without exposing the selfishness behind the act. “Stay home so I don’t worry every time the phone rings.”

“Stay home so I can hug you when I say goodnight to you.”

“Stay home because I can’t lose anymore children.”

“Stay home so I can feel like you’re safe.”

I could keep him home, find a program in Chicago that would suit his needs. But I know that if I start changing the trajectory of my children’s dreams I’m limiting their lives. I don’t want them to live afraid or to refuse opportunities for fear of worrying me. I have to adapt to my new reality. A reality that has an oldest child killed in a car accident and three younger children with full lives ahead of them learning how to be excited about life. I watch myself as I talk to Merrick about his time away. I encourage him to take advantage of the weekend getaways. I tell him, “You’re in a part of the country you’ve never been to before. Make sure you explore and see new things.” I caution him against spending too much time alone in his room. “Interact with your peers. Spending too much time alone will lead to feeling depressed. Take advantage of this opportunity.” I say all of these things to my son all the while wondering if I’m doing the right thing. A part of me wants to watch over him every moment. To tell him to come home at the first signs of homesickness, but I don’t. I tell him I’m excited for him, that he’ll need adjustment time but his experience will be good. I cheer him on even though my mind is screaming at me to make him stay home as though I can ward off danger if I keep him close.

In spite of my fears and because of faith we drive Merrick to his summer program. Mark, the girls and I help him get settled into his room and tour the campus with him. We meet his roommate and the Resident Assistants on his floor. We are in so many ways the typical family. As we prepare to leave to drive back to Chicago we all give Merrick one last hug and tell him we’ll call him when we’re home. Lindsay bursts into tears as soon as Merrick walks back to his dorm. I hold her close telling her I know she’ll miss him. I look back to see Merrick loping up the steps back into his dorm without a backward glance. His adventure begins.

My mind and heart continue to be in conflict. There are no quick fixes or instruction manuals on learning how to live, love and parent after losing a child. My mind nags me, making me question the wisdom of letting Merrick go away. It says “keep him home at all costs. Letting go is how you lost Jordan.” My heart even though it is bathed in sorrow still makes room for hope and pockets of joy. I won’t let my fears derail my children’s futures. I have to lead with my heart, summoning strength and courage to be the mother my children need. I’ll cheer them on and applaud all their accomplishments hoping for safe travels and always, always hoping that they come home.