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.

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.

Comments on: "Mother Skills" (7)

  1. Kyle Hansen said:

    Jackie, I’m here if I can help. I think of you and Jordan almost daily. I walk by his tree at Mann School and say “Hey Jordan.” I then begin to feel deep sadness and walk away distracted by my own life and grateful for the distraction. I can’t linger with the sadness because I start to cry. I only read your blogs when it’s convenient for me to allow those feelings and indulge myself in a good cry. You write so beautifully Jackie, it’s so raw, moving and the humanity is so – I’m at a loss for words. I also wonder if your words might really help another mother going through the same thing. Would you ever consider writing a book or publishing these as a memoir? Anyway, take care and keep writing. Love Kyle

    • anne palmer said:

      your mother instincts are amazing. Especially because you have lost a child, you know better than most of us how tenuous any relationship is. we all would like to think we can control what happens to our children. it seems like as parents that it is part of our job. but it’s an impossible task. your blog speaks to that impossibility that we all wish we had our hands on…keep writing!

  2. Jackie– I found your blog from a suggestion at Katie Granju’s blog about a week ago and have been reading about you, your beautiful Jordan, and the amazing job you are doing helping your family stay afloat. My husband and I lost our 17-month-old daughter, Hudson, two months ago to an incredibly aggressive bacterial meningitis infection. One day she was fine and running a fever; the next day, she was in a coma from which she would never wake up. She was our only child so far, but as we contemplate having more, I am riddled with terror about all the possible catastrophes that can befall our children. And riddled with guilt because part of me really believes that if I had taken my daughter to the emergency room at 4AM, rather than waiting a few hours and taking her to the pediatrician, she would still be alive. I fear I will question my mommy instincts forever because I feel like they failed me at the one time they mattered the most, and I lost my daughter because of it.

    But everyone keeps telling me that horrible, awful, incomprehensible circumstances occur all the time, that there is only so much we can control, and that I did exactly what I should have done given the information that I had at the time. They tell me, and I listen, but the grief sometimes just drags me right into that hole and once I’m down there, it takes a long time to crawl back out. But they keep telling me, because they know that that’s the only way to help me crawl out.

    So for what it’s worth, I will tell you, too, knowing that as bereaved parents, this is what we do– we try to figure out what we missed, how we missed it, how we could have failed to do the only job that matters– protect our child. You could not control what happened to Jordan. You could not have done anything to stop it from happening. You are clearly an extraordinary, thoughtful, huge-hearted, wonderful mother who has been thrust into this awful journey against your will.

    It has helped me to read your blog. If it helps you, I invite you to read mine as well. I hate that we belong in this terrible club that no one wants to be in, but if we have to be here, we can try to find comfort in knowing that we are not here alone. You can find it at .

    I will remember your dear Jordan. My heart is so heavy for you that he is not with you now, eating you out of house and home and cracking jokes with his brother and sisters. I wish you all the comfort and peace that you can find, Jackie.

  3. Jackie,
    I have a friend who lost her 17-year old son, her oldest child, suddenly on March 16th of this year, and an acquaintance whose 18-year old daughter died suddenly in December of 2006. Their pain has been so gut-wrenching to see, and leaves me feeling helpless. I am going to refer both of them to your blog. You write so beautifully. I wish you peace.

  4. I’m just an old senior citizen,never had children…just taught school for a thousand years. But I do know this….there is nothing like a mother’s love. I’ve sat here and read and read tonight…I am just so sorry , so very sorry, for the ache in your heart. Jordan was such a wonderful young man, a treasure in your heart always. I firmly believe that there are just some things in this life that we will never, never understand. (As a teenager, my cousin – who was our next door neighbor — was killed in an car accident. I can still vividly recall his mother’s many, many early morning visits to my mother after his death. They would sit in the kitchen and I could hear his mother wailing and asking my mother so many questions. I would pretend to be asleep during those early morning visits…listening to a mother’s heart break over and over. And we always talked about him as your dad said to do.) Love your heart and sending you a hug from the hills of Tennessee….

  5. Jackie, your post took my breath away. Partially it was because I was unconsciously holding my breath. Partially it was because there was the physical weight of fear and grief on my chest. I have a 4 year old son with a potentially life-limiting chronic illness and there have been several times that I thought he would not live. I’m lucky he is still alive and don’t know the grief of loss, but i recognize the fear that my children are not safe, the recognition that I don’t have the power to keep them safe.

    If you are willing to share, I would love to cross-post this blog post on our blog with your bio and a link to your blog. If you are interested, please contact me. If not, I completely understand and respect your privacy.

    Regardless, I just wanted to say thank you for sharing.


  6. […] many of us share.  I hope you find a meaningful sentiment or insight while reading this post.  Click here to visit the AlwaysMomof4 […]

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