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.

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

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Comments on: "Cleansing Breaths" (12)

  1. Karl Wilson said:

    Mark & Jackie:

    I read with great inspiration your story of how God used inconvenience (the flood) as an instrument to bring your grieving to another level of healing. Although deeply saddened to sense your pain in facing this event, I nevertheless rejoiced in my discernment that you have received some liberation in the process. Matthew 13:45 compares the kingdom of heaven to an individual who went deep onto the sea to drop his net. He pulled up all sorts of things. He then proceeded back to shore to sort the things to be kept from those to be discarded.
    Your experience (although involving only 3 feet of water-smile) forced you to take a deep emotional and spiritual journey. The sorting is both the most difficult and liberating!

    I am reminded of an incident when my daughter (Tiffany) was about six years old. Our task was to buy and prepare some canned soup (you’ll be pleased to know I no longer cook from cans)! Tiffany was very proactive in this process, prefacing each step with “I know what to do”. During these steps she secured the bowl, spoon, etc., including saying grace. As I lifted the spoon to my mouth, she exclaimed: “I forgot one thing”. I couldn’t, for the life of me, imagine what had been forgotten. Tiffany then proceeded from the table to the stove and removed the empty can of soup. She put the can in the trash and said: “we don’t need this anymore”. I have pondered those words for many years, continually reaping the words of wisdom from a child that once you possess the contents, you no longer need to save the empty container.

    May the contents of your greatest possessions always be greater than that which contains them.

    Karl B. Wilson, Sr.

  2. Jackie,

    You don’t know me, and I don’t have any words of wisdom. I’m not even sure how I came across your blog this summer. But I am glad that I did. You write so beautifully as you describe the devastating grief of losing a child. My beautiful, perfectly healthy 13 year old daughter was very suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor, was treated at Johns Hopkins, and died 14 months later, on December 9, 2008.

    We are crushed, as you are, and will never be the same. I’m so sorry for Jordan’s accident, and your loss. He sounds like such a wonderful boy, an absolute treasure, and I know how deeply you miss him. I am sorry.

    I’m so glad that you came across his essay, how very special to hear his words describing his brother and sisters. But I know that it just reinforces how very special he was, and all that you are missing now.

    You are in my thoughts and prayers.

    Carol Herrmann
    http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/carolineh

  3. Shabnam said:

    Hi Jackie,

    I came across your blog from my friend Mandy’s blog, who lost her sweet girl, Hudson. I just wanted to let you know that I am deeply touched by your words…several of your blogs have left me crying at my desk while at work. I am so sorry that Jordan is gone; I cannot imagine your grief. Seems to me he was a wonderful young man, and I am glad you were able to find some of his memories although some precious items were lost in the storm.

    Your blog has touched many people that you are probably unaware of…I am certainly one of those people.

    I wish for peace and comfort for you…and I trust that Jordan is smiling down on you and your family from heaven.

    Sincerely,
    Shabnam

  4. It seems to me that God allowed this to happen as this time because your Mom and sister were there to help you and Mark through this very painful process. I’m glad you had help when you needed it most. I’m so sorry that you lost such a wonderful boy but, I am so glad that you have such wonderful reminders of him.

  5. Even though I don’t believe in God I do believe love lasts forever. I know exactly how it feels to go through what you are describing in this post. I’ve gone from feeling somehow guilty as I first went through his things, invading his privacy (MOooom!!) to now hoarding the last cabinet, the last box, of his clothes, his school work, trophies, toys, and gizmos. There’s no need to let go of it all, of him, of how you feel. He would want you to feel him close to you in those moments, and it certainly doesn’t hurt anyone to remember him and know that he’s still there. I wish I could give you a big hug, but at least I can tell you this much: we aren’t alone. We aren’t meant to be. And everything Jordan was and could be have made you more, as my Jesse’s life made me someone different and better than I could have been without him.

  6. Oh, Jackie-oh, oh, oh. Your depictions of your feelings, of Mark’s heartbreak, and of your family’s comfort are so beautifully written. And I am so, so sorry. Reading your blog has changed my life in many ways. I know that Jordan will live forever through you, Mark, and his siblings…as well as the rest of your family and friends. He will not be forgotten…his footprint is on the world.
    Sending hugs from a stranger.

  7. Jackie,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I read the article in today’s Wednesday Journal, and cried my way through it. You may remember that our Grace was on the same soccer team with girls several years ago (Soccer Sisters, I believe, with the maroon and gold uniforms). We too lost a son, almost 7 years ago now, Max. Our basement flooded as well, and we carried the contents of our storage room up to our dining room, many boxes containing Max’s things. Medical records, cards from his funeral, a box of medical bills, and clothes and toys I could not part with. They still sit, waiting for me to sort through. Your article and words struck a chord, and have given me strength to revisit these items. Thank you.

  8. Found you via mamapundit.

    As a fellow member of “that club”, I have to tell you that I’ve also had those moments where I was forced into facing ‘reality’. Those moments when it seems like someone planned for me to have a good cry, a little heartache.

    How wonderful that your forced moment helped you discover a treasure! I’m sure you will cherish it. 🙂

  9. Jeanne Martinez said:

    Jackie, I had to smile thru my tears last night when I reread this again in the Wed. Journal, when I suddenly realized that Jordan did what you are doing – writing about the most important things we have, our relationships with those we love. Like mother, like son, in so many ways.
    Love, Jeanne

  10. Genee Major said:

    Hi Jackie,

    While we have never really met, we were in a few sessions of NIA together last fall. I recognized your picture from the Wednesday Journal article earlier in the summer. I read your story with the shared experience of losing a child. Our son, Jake, died three years ago in June.

    I read yesterday’s story with recognition as well, the visceral intensity of salvaging photographs and belongings in flooded Oak Park basements. Along with your sadness, the gratitude and love you have for Jordan were palpable. I caught my breath on the final paragraph. Jordan and Jake share the same birthday. On August 9, Jake will be/would be 18. We will eat pizza and donuts and laugh and cry without him.

    Thank you for showing your heart, Jackie, and happy birthday, boys! Holding your family in the light . . .

  11. Lauren Heath said:

    jackie and mark–it takes your breath away when you see something of their’s unexpectantly…..all the memories come back which is good in so many ways..it took the birth of Lainie for me to go through Paige’s clothes as i had a visual of her in each and every one of them. I made a quilt of Paige’s clothes (baby throw up and all) for Lainie so she would have a piece of her older sister with her forever. She sleeps with it every night and i get to see and remember Paige every night when i tuck her in….keep writing…i always enjoy learning more about Jordan as well…lauren

  12. Bonnie Morgan said:

    Jackie, through tears I read your journaling. I just sent your blog address to my dear friend, Brenda, who’s son was tragically killed on June 26 in a horrible car fire. Just got off the phone with her and the pain is almost unbearable. Your willingness to share your vulnerability and pain in the loss of your son is so powerful. This is rare in the world today.
    bonnie morgan

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