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.