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.


Jordan's Candle burning in remembrance

I sat with my eyes closed in my counselor’s office. I’d come in for a second session last week because as the anniversary of Jordan’s death loomed closer I felt myself growing more anxious and afraid. The images of him lying in the coffin with the bandage on his head wouldn’t leave my mind. I was jumpy and weepy every time I heard a siren. I wanted to be able to go longer than a few minutes without crying and feeling like I was going crazy. My mind needed to be quieted.

My counselor sat across from me and told me to be aware of where I felt the pain and anxiety that was overpowering my body. I pointed to my chest, which felt like someone was squeezing my diaphragm and not allowing me to take a full breath. Then I touched my throat, which throbbed and felt like it was closing because of unshed tears.

She assured me she’d help me find a place for all the feelings that were overwhelming me. I leaned my head back on the chair hoping to find a way to ease my sorrow even if it was just a little bit. My counselor told me to imagine a container or a place that I could use to store the pain and help heal it. The thing that came to mind was a big, black bowl sitting on the grass. It looked like a huge salad bowl. My counselor in her low soothing voice spoke to me, “Do you have a container?”

I shook my head, “Yes,” as tears streamed down my face.

“Were you able to put some of your pain in the container?”

I shakily said, “All of it.”

I already felt relief knowing that I’d found a place for my sorrow. It didn’t feel like it was overpowering me anymore.

She continued, “ Now if you want to, you can send some source of healing to the container. It can be light, a higher power, anything that you think would help to be a healing force.”

With eyes still closed I took a deep breath and nodded my head to my counselor letting her know that I was imagining the healing of the pain. I knew who I wanted to help me with the pain. In my mind I called out to my grandmother (Nanny) to come and help me. She’d helped me before in sessions like these. In the months after Jordan died when I wondered what prayer was for, because it hadn’t kept my son safe, Nanny was my intercessory. I asked her to watch over my boy until I could see him again. I asked her if he was okay? I begged her to help me learn to talk to God again. In life and beyond I felt her unconditional love.

Nanny holding me.

I saw Nanny walk out and stand by the container. Then she said, “Come on now, we’ve got to help Jackie.” Then one by one my grandmother’s sisters all of whom are with her in heaven, appeared and stood around the bowl that contained the hurt my heart couldn’t hold.

To me all of them were fearless. One summer, when I was a child, during one of our family reunions in West Virginia, I’d seen them shift from sisters sitting around my aunt’s kitchen table talking, drinking coffee and playing Scrabble, to warriors. One of my cousins came upstairs from the bedroom portion of the house panic-stricken. With wide eyes and a shaky voice she said, “There’s a bat downstairs.” Nanny, Aunt Mary, Aunt Gaynel and Aunt Frances rushed from the kitchen table, one of them grabbing a broom on the way, as they went downstairs to kill the bat. Aunt Gaynel’s voice rang out, “You kids stay up there. I don’t wanna see any of you downstairs.” I stayed in the kitchen still perched on the red vinyl stool that was my post for watching the Scrabble game. I heard, “There it is,” “Be careful,” and “It’s over there,” float up the stairs as the sound of brooms and shoes and whatever they could use as weapons struck the walls and ceiling. I finally went outside to sit on the porch with my other cousins telling them about the bat. A little while later, one of the sisters put a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on the porch. My cousins and I dared each other to look into the container. I finally took my turn and quickly peeked in to see the dead bat lying on its back. Through the screen door I heard one of my great-aunts call out, “Ya’ll don’t get to close to that bat now.” I looked in the door to see them seated around the kitchen table again, Scrabble game and sister-talk resumed. Their actions and teamwork still rank as one of the bravest things I’ve ever witnessed.

Now as I sat with a tear-stained face in my counselor’s office, they’d come to help me. All of them knew about the kind of heartache contained in my bowl. Nanny had mourned the loss of a son from a miscarriage. During one of our late night talks when I was a teenager I remember her telling me, “It was a boy, and he was about this big,” as she held her hands a little less than a foot apart.

Next I saw my Aunt Gaynel determinedly walk up and grab Nanny’s hand. I swayed in my seat as I thought of the early morning call so many years ago telling us that Dougie and Dawn; her grandchildren had been killed in a house fire. She’d felt the same kind of tear soaked pain that my container held. I continued watching as Aunt Frances and Aunt Mary came and stood around the bowl. Aunt Mary’s hair was still pulled back in a bun. I couldn’t help thinking, “She looks the same.” She stood there with her sisters, who’d helped her mourn the loss of a son born prematurely. A son she tried to keep alive and warm by placing him near the open oven in her kitchen.  They helped her hold vigil because there was no hospital in West Virginia where she could take her brown- skinned baby and get quality care.

Then my Aunt Frances came and stood by the bowl too. She looked at me with all-knowing eyes. She’d stood and wept at the coffins of both of her adult daughters who were taken by illness. Witnessing her mourning helped me to accept that no matter their age, your children are always your babies.  My grandmother’s youngest sister Juanita was there too. I watched as they coaxed her to the circle. She moved slowly and Aunt Frances in her raspy cigarette smoke-stained voice said, “Hurry up you can help too.”

Juanita died when I was a child. My memories of her are as the “Cosmopolitan,” sophisticated sister. She could have graced the cover of any fashion magazine. She gave me my first real jewelry when I was about five. It was a birthstone jewelry set with matching heart-shaped necklace, bracelet and ring. The heartache she endured was inferred by my family, but never talked about to me. I felt Juanita’s love as she stood by the bowl with her sisters.

I took a deep breath in and exhaled slowly as they circled around the bowl. I talked to my grandmother, “Nanny, I’m so tired. It hurts too much. I don’t know how I’m going to make it through another anniversary. I miss my boy. I want him to come home. Help me.”

Nanny briefly looked at me and nodded her head. Then she and her sisters bowed their heads and began to pray. I couldn’t hear what they said but I’d heard all of them pray before. Their prayer was a balm of healing over my bowl of pain, longing and loss. I felt peace and protection coming my way. As I watched them pray, the tears that fell from my eyes didn’t burn so hotly. My breathing came easier and didn’t get caught in my throat. My hands that were clenched in my lap relaxed and I uncrossed my legs. As I sat feeling the tension subside in my body, I heard my counselor’s voice in the distance bringing me back to the room in her office. “Listen to the sounds out the window. Feel the floor beneath your feet and your back against the chair.”

I sat for a moment eyes still closed taking a few more deep breaths. I opened my eyes still not ready to make eye contact with my counselor. She sat patiently waiting for me to compose myself. After grabbing a tissue and wiping my eyes I looked at her. She gently told me, “The container and the healing image that you used today can help you whenever the pain feels overwhelming. Just take a few moments and close your eyes and allow yourself that comfort.” I looked at her attempting a smile as I nodded. Then for the first time in our sessions, I told her of the image I’d just witnessed. “My grandmother and her sisters held hands and encircled the bowl. They came to help me.”

She looked at me and simply said, “That’s beautiful.”

As I rose to go, I grabbed my purse, told her, “Thank you” as I always do and walked to the elevator. I put my sunglasses on as I reached the first floor. As I walked to my car I continued to feel the fierce love and protection of Nanny and my aunts. They are my role models of strength and resilience.

Today the phone rang and when Mark answered I heard him say, “Whose calling?” He then stood and walked out of the family room. The next thing I heard was, “Jordan passed away in 2008.” Like I’d done two years ago almost to the day at hearing Jordan’s name, I got up and followed Mark. I held my hand over my mouth waiting for him to finish the call. He then told me, “It was Jordan was on their volunteer list. They were calling to see if he wanted to volunteer again.”

Sobs broke through my hand covering my mouth and Mark held me as I cried. I sobbed at the pain that announced more precisely than any date on a calendar, “My son is dead.” He isn’t here to volunteer for his favorite causes. I don’t know what direction his interest in Political Science would have taken him. As I cried, the fact that Jordan’s been denied the opportunity to have new adventures and experiences made the ache of loss surge. He died. Even though I want to go and look for him to bring him home I can’t. I leaned against the doorjamb in the dining room, crying and thinking of all the things he wanted to do and be.

October 12th is the date Jordan was killed in a car accident, but everyday I struggle to learn to live without him. After the phone call from MoveOn, the images and sounds associated with losing Jordan threatened to overpower me. I took a moment and remembered the 5 sisters with their fierce love and arms of protection. I closed my eyes and saw them encircling and praying over my container of pain.

Back row(l to r): Aunt Mary, Aunt France and Nanny Front Row (l to r) : Aunt Juanita and Aunt Gaynel


Comments on: "The Johnson Sisters Come To Call" (15)

  1. Gail Lawson said:

    Beautiful! If anyone can pray you to a good place it’s the “Sister” Love you.

  2. Jackie – your piece is stunningly, rawly beautiful. Life resonates when it encounters Truth, and you live and mourn and write from a place of truth. Can I share your piece with the readers on my website…giving all credit to you?

    Sounds like have a wonderful therapist. Am sending you and your whole family healing love today, tomorrow and always. You will survive…and you will thrive. I promise you that.

  3. Jackie. Your cousin Gail shared this posting on Facebook this morning. I’ve been following you as you are led by our Lord through your grief and healing over these several months. Thank you for your sharing and and your teaching, for you are indeed teaching me and many others through your writing. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  4. Jackie, this is gorgeous writing, which sounds strange juxtaposed as it is against the painful place it comes from. But it is a sad story beautifully told. I am witnessing writing healing you, too. Do you mind if I borrow the Johnson Sisters from time to time? 🙂 WOW! What a powerful image you created. I love it! The healing container, the sisters, then the ordinary life intrusion. There is no panacea for a mother’s pain….but I think you are tapping into some pretty powerful healing mechanisms. Thank you for sharing your gift and your loss. We are here for you! Sending lots of healing light and love your way!

  5. Dear Jackie,
    This is so incredibly beautiful and so unbearably real. May the Johnson sisters come to call as often as you need them. You are on my mind so much with tomorrow’s date looming large. Please know that you are thought of with love and peace as you find your way through the valley of grief.
    I’m so sorry.

  6. I love that you have these strong women surrounding you and helping to hold you up. What an honor you’ve given them and what a gift they are in your life.

  7. Beverly Lyles said:


    Knowing you, it hurts to read of your pain. Still, I find your writing so incredibly beautiful and instructive, though overwhelming in its sorrow. I wish there was a way that my friend could be relieved of this anguish. I know this road is slow. What valiant women you have in your life. I more fully understand the warrior you are now. A gentle warrior, but fierce, so very fierce. You are brave to summon these feelings , to wrestle them, and to write. And you are a brilliant bright light – even in this saddest of sorrows- you are a source of enlightenment for me. My son wreaks havoc on my emotions these days. Havoc. But, you remind me to be grateful and to embrace this havoc because it is a gift – he is still here. I love you for this lesson. Truly. Thank you dear friend.


  8. Beverly Lyles said:

    By the way, that is a fierce pic of the sisters. Beautiful.

  9. Thinking of you and your family today, and especially Jordan, and sending love, light, and prayers.

    Thank you also for sharing this beautiful story about the strong women in your family, and about love that surpasses time and death. Love always wins out over darkness.

  10. Wonya Lucas said:


    Your writing is incredibly moving, and it transforms me to a place right there beside you. What a strong woman you are to endure this unimaginable pain. Yesterday, I thought about your family as we visited Amherst. Thinking about Jordan walking along the same paths and seeing the same beautiful vistas. He was alive to me then and there. His beautiful spirit looming over the campus. He will never be forgotten.

    We are thinking about you and your family today. Much love to you all!

  11. Stopping by today to leave you extra hugs and hopes for peace on this, the most brutal of days.

  12. Jeanne Martinez said:

    Jackie – have been thinking so much of Jordan and all of you. .
    This is truly one of your best – so much pain, but so much incredible love, too. What a beautiful legacy.

  13. I hope you always find support and healing when you need it, may your aunts and Nanny always be there just when you need them.

    I lost my nineteen year old daughter Tejaswee on Aug 11 2010, my sister in law recently told me she dreamt she was telling me, that if something were to happen to her, she was going to meet my daughter and take care of her and I should take care of her daughter here. Your son is in great hands and being loved and cared for by those who love you and love him.

    • alwaysmomof4 said:

      Thank you for your kind words. I do believe that Nanny and my aunties are watching over my boy. I’m so sorry for the loss of your daughter Tejaswee. We think of 19 as starting to explore and imagine all the possibilities the world has to offer. You and I sit with a different reality. Be good to yourself.

  14. Jackie, this essay is beautiful–so evocative in the way it recalls the strength, fierce determination, and great love African American women throughout history have summoned from the very depths of their souls to protect and preserve their families.

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