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.

Tell Your Story

It’s been several days since I’ve written on my blog. I’ve been trapped in a warp of sadness since my children started school that has finally eased enough for me to write.

The first week of school for my kids was last week. Since Jordan’s death, transitions are harder and I’m more preoccupied with the coping mechanisms of my kids. They carry the burden of loss with them and stay on guard against thoughtless and/or cruel comments. As my husband and I have learned to prepare ourselves for the “How many kids do you have?” question, my children have also learned to prepare for the “How many siblings?” question. Depending on the situation their strategies as does mine, differs. My daughters have stammered and trailed off while speaking when someone has questioned their math when they say they have two brothers. They’ve heard responses like, “I thought you only had one brother. Where’s your other brother?”

As the girls are starting at a new school this year, I made sure that I informed the school administration of our family’s loss. Even though we live in a tight-knit community and they are attending the same middle school that both of their brothers attended, I didn’t want to assume that Jordan’s death was known to all. I just want to provide as much cushion and buffering that I can for my kids when they’re out in the world. The girls first day of school went well. The only anxiety and angst was the typical middle school variety, nothing out of the ordinary.

Merrick’s first day unfortunately was not the same. At the end of the school day as I drove to pick up my daughters, I saw Merrick walking home from school. I waved and slowed down to tell him where I was going. He surprised me when he said, “Can I come with?” I of course agreed but felt that something had to be wrong for him to be so close to home and want to run an errand with me.

He hopped into the car and started telling me about his first day. He told me about his teachers and that his first day went “okay.” He talked a little longer about which of his friends was in his lunch period and then the reason for his accompanying me came out. He told me that one of his teachers recognized his last name and asked him if he had an older brother. He responded by saying, “Jordan?” The teacher then asked, “How is Jordan doing?”

As Merrick talked, I shouted, “Oh No!” and pulled the car over to the curb.

“Oh Merrick, I’m so sorry. God, on your first day. What did you say?”

“I didn’t really say anything. I just kinda’ mumbled and looked down.”

“Well what did your teacher do?”

“Finally moved to the next person and started talking to them. I almost came home. I didn’t know what to do.”

“It would have been okay if you came home. Talk about  minefields. You could have come home if you wanted to.”

“I know. I still felt weird but I stayed. Can you tell my teacher about Jordan?”

“Of course I will.  I’ll make sure all of them know. I didn’t think I needed to notify the school this year. I guess I should have.“

“Thanks Mom. I just don’t want any big display in front of the class. I just want them to know.”

After I assured Merrick all of his teachers would be notified about Jordan’s loss, our talk turned to other parts of his school day. I asked him if he got a new lock for his locker, and what he had for lunch. I gripped the steering wheel trying to stay calm. Inside I was screaming. In the midst of our conversation Merrick suddenly changed the subject and asked, “Do other kids who’ve lost somebody go through stuff like this?” I took a breath and told him yes.  I then told him about a woman who is a member of the same online writers’ group as I. I’d received an email from her that same day commenting on one of my blog entries. I told Merrick that she lost her brother in a bus crash when she was 14. I hoped that Merrick would gain some solace and feel less alone hearing of someone else that lost a sibling.

Later that same evening I emailed my new friend to tell her about Merrick’s experience on his first day. She responded saying she knew the feeling and that unfortunately the same thing happened to her all the time when she was in school. She offered to talk with Merrick whenever he needed. Her offer got me thinking about the best way for my kids through the stories of others to feel less alone.

Please Help

I have a request of all of my readers that I hope you can honor. My children need something I can’t give them. They need to know from those of you who have lost a sibling or parent, what your experience was like and how you cope (d). We’ve been to family support groups and they have met other children who have lost a parent or a sibling. They’ve read books on kid’s grief and my husband and I have read to them.

I’ve done the things I know to do to ease their pain and to help them understand they’re not alone in their feelings. I know the upending grief of losing a child. As much as I offer comfort, I can’t give my children the perspective of someone who suffered a traumatic loss as a child. I feel helpless and heartbroken as I watch my children ache with sorrow. I know I can’t take away their pain anymore than my parents can take away mine. I’m hoping that their sorrow can be eased as they search for reassurance that the experiences and feelings they have are not unnatural or theirs alone.

Those of you who lost a parent or sibling as a child are needed as guides. My children need to hear from those who know the pain of losing such a loved one during your childhood or adolescence. Please share your stories in my comments section. On days that bring Lindsay, Kendall and Merrick confusion and pain, I know they will gain solace and reassurance from being able to read or have read to them the experiences and feelings of those of you who have coped and learned to live with loss. Please pass this post along to others who you think can help. I thank all of you willing to help ease the heartache of my kids.

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Comments on: "Tell Your Story" (14)

  1. Jackie,
    I cannot offer this to your wonderful children; I am unfamiliar with this kind of loss. All I can do is send all of you my warmest hugs and wishes for some peace for them. I gasped when I read about Merrick’s teacher’s question. The sinking in all your hearts must seem unbearable at times. I hope you get some great support from other readers.
    With daily thoughts for peace and relief,
    Claire

    • alwaysmomof4 said:

      Claire,
      If you know of someone who would share their story, please pass along my blog. As always thank you for your hugs and wishes for peace and comfort.
      Jackie

  2. Jackie,
    I lost my father suddenly when I was a high school senior I loved him so much. I was closer to him than anyone in my world. I remember the day we lost him bs the subsequent days while he lingered in a coma. My father died right before my senior prom and he helped me write my graduation speech. I cannot believe thatbi delivered that speech less than a month after he died in front of 2000 people. What courage that took! I didn’t know what I was doing and today as an adult I would be terrified to do that. But the moral of the story is that you will find strength you didn’t know that you had. I must say that I talked to my father a lot during those days. There were so many signs of my father caring and looking over me. I think that we do gain these angels who look after you and care for you. This gives me comfort. I remember the pain and sense of longing. I remember wondering why such a horrible thing would happen to me at such a happy time in my life. I remember wondering when I wouldn’t think of him every hour, then every day. And I remember being horrified that one day I wouldn’t think of him. I was afraid to move on. But, time heals all wounds. I became optimistic rather than continuing to pity myself. How lucky was I to had such wonderful father in my life. How lucky was I to have gained the traits of a great man and teacher. What a gift!!! To have someone in your life who really matters is a blessing. To have had the smiles and laughter, the encouragement and ability to see life through someone elses eyes. What a blessing. I will never know why my father was taken from me at such a young age, but I began to count myself among the lucky ones because I had a great father. Please know that Jordan was an incredible person. He is with God but watching over you. You will never stop feeling his presence and you are who you are because he was in your life. It will get easier but you will never forget the pain. That’s there to remind you that he was here and still in your heart. I will pray for you and your family.

  3. Jackie,

    Although I lost my son when he was 8 years old, that was not the first loss in my life. Back in December of 2000, my 12-year old sister died from suicide. It was so strange because most people knew about her death and pretended she had never existed. That was unnerving. It almost made it harder. I wanted to scream at everyone that my family and I *had* to live with her death. The least they could do was acknowledge her existence.

    She was younger than me, so I didn’t have to follow in her steps at school. I can’t relate to that part of your children’s experiences. I can say, though, that I understand the odd sort of pain they live with, just as I can understand yours as a bereaved mother. Anyway, it’s been almost ten years since my sister’s death, but her absence is like a presence, for lack of better terms.

    Older people who have known my family forever sometimes talk about how much we looked alike or how close we were, and that can be difficult. It can make it feel fresh again. I was a teenager when my sister died, and people sometimes say things about how she was starting to act like the same somewhat awkward adolescent I was at the time. That makes me laugh now, sometimes, but it also makes me wonder if she would have been like that as a teen.

    I guess what I’d like to say to your children is that, even though they feel strange and confused by this new world, they are not alone. I was angry with my sister and everyone else for a long time. I was even scared of her sometimes, like she was going to come back from the dead and take me with her or something. I had absolutely no idea how to live without her around. It was like walking through fog. None of us knew how to deal with it. With school, I do remember teachers getting quiet as soon as I walked into the room and other students sort of turning away. People gave me That Look. I just wanted to tell them all that I wasn’t contagious.

    What helped me the most was trying to spend time with her in the best way I could. Instead of forcing down those “would she have done” I asked them out loud. We lived in a big city, but our neighborhood was like a little town of its own. I did get a couple of my sister’s elementary school teachers who wanted to talk about her. Sometimes I wanted to talk back, and sometimes I wanted them to just leave me alone. It’s hard enough being a teenager, but then trying to live with that shadow over me and my family made it worse. You grow up fast, because you realize that you’re not invincible. I think most teens and middle schoolers have that idea. They’re young and nothing can happen to them. Losing a sibling cuts that thought immediately.

    Sorry this got so long! If there’s anything I can do for you or your children, please don’t hesitate to email privately or comment on my blog or get in touch through your blog. I’m here for you and your family.

    –Becky

  4. Jackie,
    I thought about this all night. A friend of mine in high school saw her younger brother get hit by a car and killed when she was 9 and he was 7. In addition to feeling the horrible loss her entire life, she struggled with the guilt. She carried his picture with her everywhere, and told a story about him every day to her close friends. She would start with, “If you knew my brother John!” I got to the point where I would look forward to hearing her stories and memories-I would seek her out at lunch and say, “tell me about John.” It seemed to help. If any of your kids has a close enough friend to whom they can tell a Jordan story every day, it might help them feel like they are keeping Jordan alive and close. Just a thought. XO Claire

  5. I love the responses I’ve read so far! Especially because I wish my experience had been one I could talk about. I think that is the biggest regret I have. I was eight years old when I ‘lost’ my brother. We had adopted him and, for several reasons, I was closer to him than I was to either of my other siblings, but when my parents got divorced, he was removed from our home by the agency who had helped us with the adoption, while the rest of us stayed together. Nobody in my family ever spoke of him again (it was later theorized that he was taken away because of physical abuse at my father’s hands – thus the shame of talking about him) and I was so confused. My school friends asked about him and I never knew what to say and my parents and extended family preferred to act as if he had never existed. It was torture to know that he was out there in the world somewhere but I would never see him again.

    As hard as it was to field questions, I sincerely wish that I had had a teacher or close friend that I could talk to and relive my experiences with my brother. Keeping him ‘alive’ in my head would have helped to alleviate some of my pain and affirm his existence. Although it invites pain, I think that some understanding and compassion from others outside your family would go a long way toward soothing your kids’ suffering. I hope that Merrick can find a teacher who knew his brother that he can confide in and I’m certain that having the school staff know the circumstances can help as well. The worst thing, though, would be to pretend that Jordan didn’t exist. I’ve found that sharing your pain with others always results in wonderful connections.

    Sending light and love as you all travel this journey.

  6. I lost my brother when I was 22 and he was 16. I remember screaming “no” over and over until my throat and lungs hurt and burned. And for years trying to figure out how to answer “how many siblings do you have?” It is only now, nearly 15 years later, than I can feel comfortable and natural saying “I have four brothers but one died several years ago in a violent car wreck.” The first few years are awful and it feels very alone because you can go to any bookstore and see 800 books on “parental grief” and “losing your parents” but have you ever seen one about losing a sibling? It’s like it wasn’t a big deal, didn’t really matter, like my relationship to and with him was an afterthought. Couldn’t freak out too bad, didn’t way to worry the parents.

    That awkward pause in my life was very prevelant for two or three years at least, and hurt brutally until year 7ish I think. Around then I no longer had the horrible ache, although the scar and tinge will last forever I believe.

  7. Jackie, I will say again what a beacon of strength and light you are, and what a wonderful mother, to be so proactive in trying to help your surviving children cope with the loss of their dear brother while simultaneously shouldering your own heavy grief. I have shared your blog with my friends and asked them to visit here if they have a story to share with Merrick, Kendall, and Lindsay. As for me, I send love and light and wishes for comfort and peace.

  8. Jackie-I lost my daughter Lizzy in Feb of 2007 and have three other children, my two younger ones 8 and 10 are just now really starting to talk about it….I have bought them books that I can read to them that are appropriate for their age level so in a way that they can now begin to comprehend and understand what losing their sister means….Now for my 17 year old it is a different story who struggles daily, who thinks she has to put a on a brave front for us, esp. me :[ I will talk to her and see if she has and thing she can add to this…..It is hard for her to open up but I think opening up to other kids who have lost siblings might be helpful for her…..

  9. Judy Sloan said:

    Jackie, I saw Mandy’s FB post and so wish I could help…but for us the grief is so fresh that we have very little perspective to offer. My daughter, Lauren, is much older than your children–she is 27 and her brother who died unexpectedly on June 13 was 2 1/2 years older. She is having SUCH a hard time…for her, this is the loss of her only sibling, the one who was supposed to always be there for her, to share all of her “life events” in the years stretching ahead, even after we, her parents, were gone. What I do know, from having seen her struggle with this in the past almost-3 months, is that she feels very much alone, unless she is with me or someone who knew Matt very, very well. Other people, even fairly close friends, are well-meaning in expressing their sympathy, but then want to “get on with it.” Then there is the group that doesn’t quite know what to say, and so says nothing much at all. As much as I know YOU are doing to listen to your children, I hope that each of them does have a special friend or relative, it doesn’t matter what age, who understands that there is no time limit on grief and who will listen to their stories about their brother.

    I wonder if maybe your children are struggling in part with the idea that somehow it’s not “OK” to rebuild their lives…that going on with their lives and activities (or even, God forbid, finding joy and sweetness again) means they are forgetting or not honoring their brother’s memory. I would guess this has already come up—but hearing it, knowing it rationally and emotionally “getting it” are not the same thing, and it’s a conversation that you will probably find you have to return to over and over. Something that I have gotten in my reading since Matt’s death is that there is supposedly a shift sometime during the second-third year that occurs as the grieving person, be it parent or sibling, understands on a deeper level that their child or brother is REALLY GONE and that this is the reality they will have to deal with…it’s at that point (the authors say) that we begin to build a new life without our child or brother/sister, even though they will always be part of us.

    On a really practical level, I wonder if it would help to role-play with the children, imagining situations that might arise (such as the teacher’s comment or being asked how many brother they have) and talking out responses….hard to do, but maybe helpful. I think you were spot-on with telling your son that he could have come home…home should always be the place of refuge and your acceptance of his feelings and need for solace was so right and such a loving, supportive response. My daughter lives in another town, and even at her age I have told her to COME HOME when it gets too hard for her to handle…

    But back to the part about your son always being there and always being a part of the lives of all who loved him, as Matt will always be with us…there was a song on the Emmys there other night that touched me deeply. It’s called “The Shape of You” and was written and sung by Jewel, and the words alone might help your children to understand that they will carry their brother with them every day of their lives, no matter what. She calls this “hole in my heart” a TREASURE…odd, but significant, in that one would never let go of a treasure but would keep it with them… anyway, here are some of the words….it’s on YouTube if you want to listen:

    “There’s a hole in my heart and I’ll carry it with me wherever I go,
    Like a treasure that travels with me down every road…

    There’s a hole in my heart in the shape of you.”

    Lauren and I both wear medallions with Matt’s name and the fleur-de-lis, which is the symbol of his adopted city (New Orleans). They are small, about the size of a nickle, and the bottom one has his name (just “MATT”) hammered into the disc, and the top one is a separate smaller silver disc with the fleur-de-lis. I cannot tell you how often my hand goes to hold this precious symbol of my boy. .I wonder if you have something like that ( have a friend who wears a dolphin for her son, and another friend whose hummingbird is for her father), something tangible that the children could wear unobtrusively, that would serve sort of as a touch-stone, a talisman to comfort them when they are away from you. Just a thought…

    I wish you and your family peace as you find your way through this…just know that you are not alone. If you want to exchange emails, my address is sloanfam@gmail.com. I would love to hear how the children are doing as they go through another year…

    Judy Sloan

  10. Hi Jackie, I guess I’m in an unusual position here, because I lost my dad as well as a son Jordan’s age, at different times in life. My dad had his first heart attack at age 37, when I was 13. My baby sister had just been born, so I was helping care for her while mom shuttled back and forth to the hospital.

    I had two other siblings, and I can still remember some of the thoughtless things their classmates said at the time. One little girl lectured my 11 year old sister for laughing on the playground when her father was dying. It’s hard to accept that people really can’t understand what you’re going through, and it’s hard to find your way through something most everyone you know has never faced. You can’t tell yourself it’s going to get “better” and you can’t just unburden on your friends, especially when you’re young. They really aren’t prepared to give good counsel here.

    For me the best I could do in the 70s was read books and watch movies that related, and rely on my mom to help me navigate. My friends were great, as far as that went, but what could they say? People would say things like “were you close?” that just made me feel further and further outside my social group. It took years before I could think of my dad without crying, before I stopped dreaming about him. I still miss him, but it doesn’t knock me flat any more, to realize he’s gone. Maybe because now I’m in the middle of realizing Jesse is gone, instead.

    As much as I hated losing my dad, he would have been glad to know that in the process of it, I learned how to handle the words and actions of others with some small amount of grace, even in the face of my own abject grief; and learned how to accept my years with Jesse as the blessing that they were.

  11. My daughter heard about your blog because of friends of her’s who have just experienced the dead of their toddler to a sudden illness.
    Thank you for caring to send this to me. Seems to me ( I am 58 years old)some of the hardest parts of living is dealing with tragedy and death of those you love and hold so dear.
    I am so sorry for your friend. Words of hope seem so vacant when one is hurting so bad.
    Reaching out to others seems to be a way of coping. She is brave and I admire that greatly.

    there are some universal words of encouragement that for only as one heals will her children see strength and only as she weeps will her children be able to weep.
    Time can help to see the need for living but never forgetting the sister I lost to liver disease when she was 18 and I was 16, and in the end everyone has to grieve their own way. My faith in love through my understanding of God helped me greatly at the time and gave a community of friends to be able to be a part of.
    Neglect of your body can cause unnecessary long term pain. Try to ease into more physical activity and try to eat wholesome foods in small amounts. This is a must for life’s good journey.
    Honor the family by talking about the one who no longer sits at the table but whose spirit is alive and well in your midst. Listen Listen Listen with your children.

    Love , Give , Hope!

    mom

  12. RibbitBliss said:

    Jackie,

    While I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child or a sibling, my father passed away when he was 36. It was three days before I was born (he was being buried while I was being born). I never met him, but always felt the loss. Always.
    Now as an adult, having outlived him also, I am amazed that I do still feel the loss. Time might strengthen the wound, but the wound is deep and will never go away. No doubt death leaves permanent scares to loved ones left behind.
    I think it’s normal for anyone to feel guilty about living life and actually “enjoying” parts of it after you lose someone so dear to you, but I do think that ultimately, Jordan would want you all to embrace joy and live life for him [and yourselves] and with him in your hearts. I can offer one piece of my story in hopes that it helps. My father had mesothelioma so he knew he was dying and had time to prepare. He was leaving five young children and a wife and was pained by how this would affect his family. He wrote letters to his children, including one that we were all to read upon reaching our teen years. It’s a long, wonderful letter but the PS is the most profound. It has really gotten me through many a rough times and I hope that it will do the same for you and your family. I think it reminds us that it’s okay to feel the pain, but it’s also okay to feel the joy that life brings us too. Anyway, this is the closing of my father’s letter to his children that we were to read after he died:

    “Never be sad or gloomy. If a shadow of sadness brushes by, say a little prayer for all of us and then go on, smiling.
    Grow on. Be joyful. Walk tall into a tomorrow filled with great happiness and new memories.
    All my love, through all time, Daddy”

    • alwaysmomof4 said:

      Through tears I say, “Thank you” for sharing your story. I just read it aloud to my husband and we are both deeply touched.

      Death does leave permanent scars as the loss of a loved one is indelible on our hearts. I will carry your father’s wise words with me and share them with my children. My hope for my kids is the same as your father for you, “Walk tall into tomorrow…”

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