My daughters Lindsay and Kendall were amazing to watch as they switched back and forth between planning their 11th birthday party and planning the, “Express Yourself ” celebration to honor Jordan for what would be his 21st birthday. They talked one moment of the elaborate sparkly cake they wanted for their sleepover and then the next asked if we could have mint chocolate chip ice cream and Oma’s pound cake at Jordan’s celebration. They wanted all of his favorite foods, songs, and people to be represented. Their energy and enthusiasm was awe-inspiring. I tried to keep up but sometimes as they reminisced about Jordan and the things he loved I looked away. I started to wonder why I decided to have with this event. Getting through Jordan’s birthday on 8.9.10 had been filled with laments. The “Express Yourself” event was five days after his birthday. How was I going to make it to that day without being engulfed in sorrow? The only purpose reminiscing about Jordan seemed to serve for me was that it made me want what I couldn’t have. I wanted Jordan back, so he could tell us too much fuss was being made about his birthday. I wanted to watch him turn 21 and go out with his dad for a beer. “How did we get here?” was ringing in my head.
Two weeks before Jordan’s celebration, I called my sister and told her I was going to cancel it. I felt more sad and apprehensive than any desire to be festive. I felt more like I was planning a memorial service. I couldn’t put my family or myself through that pain again. My sister Julie was the only one I let know of my plan to cancel the event. After I spoke with Julie, I wondered why this year it seemed harder than last to have a celebration of Jordan’s life. As I went to shower I realized the difference between this year and last, my friends. Last year my friends sat around my kitchen table asking me what I wanted the celebration to include, and then they handled the details. They told me I was doing enough by being there.
I realized why planning “Express Yourself” seemed so hard. Unlike last year’s celebration of Jordan on his birthday, this year I hadn’t let any of my friends in on the planning or the ambivalent feelings I was having. I’d put my own measure on time and decided that I should be able to plan this year on my own. Because it has been almost 2 years since Jordan died I decided that I should be able to handle planning the event. I knew my friends were busy with their own lives and I didn’t want them to feel burdened by my grief. I didn’t even ask my sister for help until late in the planning stages. The word “should,” I’d broken my own rule about grieving. There are no “shoulds.” There are no rules. Grief and mourning don’t follow any linear path to some final point of acceptance and healing. Every day is different.
Just as I was finishing my shower, clear now that it was not the celebration that was causing my sadness, but the isolation I had imposed on myself, Mark told me that my friend Jeanne called and wanted to know if I was free for lunch. Twenty minutes later I met Jeanne and Amy at a nearby Indian restaurant. We hadn’t talked, really talked to each other in months. As we sat and caught up over Indian food I finally told them how my summer has been fraught with sadness and anxiety, something I’ve managed to simply endure. It has been drenched with sadness and anxiety with “good days” being few and far between. Then the questions came:
“Why didn’t you call us?”
“I didn’t know what to say? I was just trying to make it through each day.”
“You can’t suffer in silence. We’re here for you.”
“I know you are. I didn’t know what I needed. I didn’t know what to ask for.”
As we sat and talked I told them how I’d considered cancelling the “Express Yourself” event. Amy gently reminded me of why I wanted to have the celebration. She said, “It is a lovely idea to honor Jordan’s memory by being with friends who love your family and who loved Jordan. Don’t over think it. It will be what it will be.” She and Jeanne went on to tell me that if at any point I got overwhelmed then I could go home, even if I only stayed for 5 minutes.
Once I accepted help and expressed my apprehension and confusion, I was met with such generous spirits. I watched as my apprehension turned to excitement. Amy and Jeanne deemed themselves the food committee and told me they’d have everything ready the night of the celebration. Julie kept in touch with Jordan’s friends and they planned the performances that would occur. I put myself in charge of tablecloths, candles, and of reminding myself when I felt down that celebrating and honoring Jordan was a source of energy and light. I held on to those feelings and looked forward to an evening spent with friends, many of whom I hadn’t congregated with since the memorial service.
On August 14th, friends and family gathered at the “Express Yourself” event. We looked at pictures of Jordan where we couldn’t help but smile. The spread of food was enough to feed an army and included cupcakes lovingly made by Lindsay and Kendall. The music playing in the background was from Jordan’s IPod. Throughout the evening people signed the “Express Yourself” guestbook and made donations to “Jordan’s Fund.” The evening of performances started with listening to “Jordan’s Rap” which I cry every time I hear. Hearing his deep, beautiful voice I imagine what wonderful things he would have done in this world. Julie read a poem written by Lindsay, which talked about the shade in her heart since Jordan’s smile is gone. Merrick and Jordan’s friends performed hip-hop and jazz music. I listened to the words of Jordan’s sister and watched Jordan’s brother captivate the room and I knew Jordan was proud.
Julie sang accompanied on saxophone by Jordan’s friend Lucas, “Look to the Mountain,” a beautiful song she and her husband wrote over 20 years ago upon hearing of the death of one of our dear high school friends David Saidel. She talked of the irony in singing again a song about a wondrous life that ended too soon. Later in the evening, Lucas with his brother Nick on clarinet and friend Jack on bass played, \”All Blue\”“a selection from Miles Davis’s, “Kind of Blue” album. Lucas introduced the piece by saying that it always reminded him of Jordan and him driving around together. He said that Jordan was his only friend that he could listen to jazz with, and they both loved Miles Davis. I took a turn as well, reading in a shaky voice “To Jordan on His 21st Birthday.” It was a good and necessary thing to socialize, laugh and cry with those who love my family and I. All those in attendance had their own sweet, memories of Jordan, which they so eloquently conveyed. I left that evening feeling grateful to be a proud, humbled, still hopeful mother of four.