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.

Archive for December, 2010

Christmas Time Is Here

My sister Julie is one of the most creative people I know. She and her husband couldn’t be with us in Chicago to celebrate Christmas this year, but she sent her presents ahead with our parents.

A few days ago she said to me, “There’s one gift I want you to open before Christmas. It may make you a little emotional. I just wanted you to be prepared.”

“Okay, thanks for helping me get ready.”

I knew her gift would be something connected to Jordan. I wondered what it would be and figured it would be a picture she’d found and framed.

When I woke up this morning before I opened my eyes I said, “It’s Christmas Eve,” and I started to cry. Another Christmas Eve and Jordan isn’t here. I wondered, “How are we going to keep doing this without him?”

I moved closer to Mark and laid my head on his shoulder. In his sleep he made room for me and put his arm around my shoulder. He woke up as he felt my shoulders shake from sobs. No words were needed. He held me until I reached for a tissue.

“Where are you going,” he asked.

“I have to go out and get pastries for breakfast. Mama and Daddy want those carrot cake teacakes from Bleeding Heart Bakery.”

“Can I go with you?”

“Yeah, that would be good.”

“Let’s stick closer together today okay?”

Through tears I nodded and said, “Okay, that sounds good.”

When we came home with the pastries I asked my mom about the gift Julie wanted me to open early. Mom retrieved the gift from a shopping bag and handed it to me. I started to cry as soon as I saw Julie’s customized wrapping paper. Here is the paper:

Jordan and Lego Santa

Paper is emblazoned with a line from, "My Favorite Things."

If you look closely there is a picture of Jordan taken by one of his friends next to a Lego Santa. The paper also has the words, “Brown paper packages tied up in string,” a line from, “My Favorite Things.” Jordan loved listening to Coltrane’s version of this song, especially at Christmas time.

I gazed at the paper taking in every detail and carefully opened it truly feeling that old adage, “It’s too pretty to open,” but I’m so glad I did. Over an orange cranberry teacake and a cup of coffee, I felt Jordan next to me as I opened the beautiful package. Inside the box was an ornament that Julie made for our Jordan section of the tree. She took a small canvas and made a beach scene complete with sand and shells. It has a beach chair beckoning Jordan to come and sit awhile. On the edge of the chair is a miniature version of the book, “Holler If You Hear Me, “ by one of Jordan’s favorite authors Michael Eric Dyson. Every time I look at the ornament I imagine Jordan approaching the beach chair ready to resume his reading and soak up the sun. Thank you Julie for helping me feel Jordan on Christmas Eve.

Jordan's Ornament

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Worldwide Candle Lighting

December 12th was the Worldwide Candle Lightning ceremony which is sponsored by The Compassionate Friends organization. At 7pm, your local time, they asked that you light a candle for a child that died so that around the world, there will be 24 hours of light in remembrance .I posted their “poster” on my Facebook page asking friends and family to join in the ceremony.

We have a Jordan candle that we bought in 2008 specifically for the candle lighting ceremony. A couple of hours before 7 pm sadness started to seep in and the ceremonial candle lighting felt more onerous than comforting. Mark and I got were out most of the afternoon  running errands and the thought of one light flickering to honor Jordan made me think of the first year we lit the candle.  Mark the girls and I sat numbly and cried, while Merrick stood pacing as the candle flickered. Merrick finally asked to be excused and escaped to his room. Last year was less ceremonial. I lit the candle on my own and when one of the kids asked why, I told them, “It’s for the candle lighting ceremony to honor children who died.” From each of them I received an, “Oh,” as they went about their way.

I didn’t want to light Jordan’s candle if it meant adding to our sadness. Many days Mark or I will light the candle when we are missing Jordan and have no place to focus our longing. The flame gives us peace. We’ve both held  our daughters after they’ve lit Jordan’s candle because they miss him so much. Each time the lit candle was a point of comfort and connection. But on the ceremonial day it started to make me feel like I was slipping deeper into mourning.

Anxiety about lighting the candle started to bother me. I finally told myself, “You don’t have to wait until 7. It’s your house, light it when you’re ready.” I also felt like that one candle wasn’t enough to illuminate the spirit of Jordan. Jordan loved Christmas and as our house slowly takes on the air of the season the spirit of Christmas needed to be intertwined with Jordan’s spirit so I could imagine him singing Christmas carols in his silly falsetto voice and feeling him close. I gathered all the tea light holders that we have and placed them on the mantel of the fireplace and around our family room. Well before 7 I lit them all including Jordan’s candle. Mark came into the house after shoveling snow and said, “Oh it looks nice. You lit the candles already?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t wait until 7 it was making me too sad. I figured it’s 7 o’clock somewhere. Plus, Jordan needed more than one candle.”

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know. I miss so much. Why isn’t he here?”

“I miss him too. We’re going to be alright.”

I nodded my head and gazed at Jordan’s candle. As I felt sadness filling me I reminded myself, “You’re doing this to honor Jordan. If it makes you too sad, then don’t do it.”

I thought of all the ways I kept myself afloat when I went to doctors’ appointments for lupus. Every time I walked in the door of the hospital I reminded myself, “Remember how you’re feeling right now, no matter what the lab work says you won’t come out feeling sicker than you did when you went in.”

I used the same logic for the Candle Lighting ceremony. “Remember how you’ve felt today. You miss Jordan but today has been okay.”

I intently gazed at Jordan’s candle reminding myself that I’d lit it because I wanted our family to honor his memory not to bring on additional sadness.  The flames flickered and I thought of other children I knew who were gone but forever loved: Dougie, Dawn, Paige, Marcus, Larry Jr., Rory, Max, Hudson, Henry, Heather, Trina, Matt and so many others. After a sweeping look around the room at all the candles burning and a, “I love you Jordan,” I got up and checked on dinner. The candles burned in the background filling the room with light.

How To Decorate A Christmas Tree

While driving my daughters home from school the other day, one of my daughters asked, “Mama, can we put all of the ornaments that Jordan made in a box and then have one special section of the tree that’s just for his ornaments?”

Luckily I was at a red light because tears sprang to my eyes as I said, “I think that’s a beautiful idea.”

Both girls asked at the same time, “Why are you crying?”

“Because I’m imagining our tree and I like your idea so much. It’s beautiful. I’m crying too because I miss Jordan.”

One daughter handed me a tissue, as the other rubbed my back.

“It’s okay, Mama.”

“I know. Thank you”

 

We’ve yet to get our Christmas tree. Before Jordan died we went as a family to pick out a tree. Everyone weighed in before we would make our final decision on our perfect tree. Jordan always liked the fuller trees with the feathery leaves. Mark wanted the tallest tree our house could hold. Merrick, the girls and I liked the trees with the firmer branches that were taller and not as wide. Every year after we’d picked a tree I would race back to the car, fleeing the cold. I’d sit and watch Mark with the kids trailing behind him or swirling around him.

The family ritual of all of us piling into the car and heading to the same lot every year to choose a tree has changed. Since Jordan died, just Mark and I go to pick out a tree. Our first Christmas, Mark and I went to a tree lot we had never been to before and picked up our Christmas tree on the way home from the grocery store. It wasn’t a decision we discussed, but as we turned onto Chicago Avenue I looked at Mark and said, “Let’s just get the tree here.” He made a quick right turn and parked. We hadn’t talked to the kids about changing our ritual but neither one of us could bear to go as a family to pick out a tree without Jordan.

Our first Christmas tree without Jordan was decorated only with lights. None of us could bear our usual tradition of gathering around the tree, adding ornaments while Mark played Christmas carol DJ, responding to the shouted out requests, “Play Rudolph,” “No, it my turn, Jackson 5, “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.” Invariably Jordan would sneak over and switch the music to, “This Christmas,” by Donny Hathaway and his siblings would shout out together, “Jordan!”

Last year Merrick suggested a new Christmas ritual. “How about if we put an ornament on the tree whenever we feel like it instead of doing it together. We can just do it when we’re walking by the tree if we feel like it. Let’s not make a big deal out of it.”  We all agreed and over several days our tree was slowly filled with ornaments. There was even a moment when I went into the living room

After listening to Lindsay’s suggestions for our tree this year, I thought of other “ornaments,” that can adorn our tree. Jordan’s key ring, which still holds his house keys, will be hung from a branch. A set of ear buds will be on the tree too representing the way Jordan carried music with him all the time. And an ornament will be made out of a picture of Jordan wearing one of his favorite hoodies, the way we remember him best. All of these ornaments will be in a box near the tree. Each of us in our own time and communion with Jordan will add them to the tree keeping him close and a part of our Christmas.

 

Christmas 2007

Jordan breaking out in song

 

 

 

The picture of Jordan that will made into an ornament

 

 

Sweet Honey In The Rock To End The Day

To all of you still visiting my blog I say thank you. Writing has been difficult for me lately. Grief doesn’t follow any specific path and I’m learning to lean into what is happening so that as my friend Tom tells me I can, “Feel what I’m feeling.”

I was fortunate to hear Sweet Honey in the Rock perform this past weekend. If they’re ever in your town make sure to see them. One of their songs put writing in my heart again. Your comments are welcomed and needed. Thanks

My morning started with the thought, “Why did they get to keep their sons and I didn’t.” I sat up straight in bed knowing that no more rest would come. All that day the, “Why them and not me,” feeling latched on invading most of my thoughts. I wanted Jordan. It was snowing out and I wanted to call him, hearing his sleepy voice as I described what home looked like in a blanket of snow.

“Are you warm enough? Are you wearing your heavy coat?”

“Yes Mom, I’m fine.”

That’s the conversation I wanted but there’s no number to call anymore. I stayed in my pajamas most of the day, which is such a rarity for me that my kids asked if I was sick. I told them, “No, I’m just looking at this snowy day and trying to feel cozy.” I knew later in the evening I’d get dressed because Mark and I were going to a concert but the day was spent wrapped in warmth wondering when the hurt of longing would lessen.

The night was icy and the snow had the crunch of cold. As we walked to the car bracing against the wind, Mark and I joked, “This better be the best concert we’ve ever been to.” Sweet Honey in the Rock was singing at a local college and I was excited to see them. Since college I’d missed going to their concerts for a variety of reasons but I was determined to hear them sing. They sing a mixture of folk, gospel, spirituals, jazz, blues and all of it with their voices as the only instruments. My college friend Melissa was the first to rave about their concerts. Everyone who saw them told me that you leave their concerts transformed.

As we settled into our seats a woman we’d met at the reception before the concert sat next to Mark. She was an administrator at the University and we talked at the variety of guests that came to perform. While making small talk she asked, “How many kids do you have?” Mark told her, “We have 4. Twin girls who are 11, a son who is 18 and our oldest boy was 19 when he was killed in a car accident.” I studied my program as he talked knowing the story by heart but still flinching when he said, “killed.” I briefly looked up and made eye contact with our row mate as her eyes offered condolences and then went back to the program. The lights dimmed and the concert began.

After a lively upbeat intro song called “Denko,” one of the singers introduced the song they were about to sing saying, “All of us have plans for what we want to happen after we die. Sometimes those plans are followed, sometimes they’re not.” She then went on to sing, “When I Die,” with the rest of the group repeating in perfect harmony the phrase, “When I Die,” as her, “music.” As the song started, Mark reached over and rested his hand on my knee. I could tell by his touch that he worried about the hard start to my day and if this was a song I could bear to hear. I squeezed his hand, closed my eyes and chose to be a part of the song.

Jordan’s voice was in my head as I sat up straighter swaying to the refrain, “When I Die, When I Die.”

“When I die, I want to be cremated.” That was Jordan’s desire expressed to Mark and me. We filed it away in the far recesses of our hearts because we didn’t think we’d need to carry them out. Gratitude filled me because we’d listened to Jordan and carried out his wishes. Then a perfect voice sang out, “When I die let my spirit breathe, let it soar like an eagle to the highest tree,” and I touched my throat as I imagined Jordan’s spirit soaring higher than it ever could on this earth. I opened my eyes briefly then quickly closed them back tight. I needed to experience this song without distraction. It meant hearing it and feeling it without worrying about what others around me were doing or how I looked to them.

“When I die, when I die,” the song continued and I thought of Jordan’s ashes and our need to spread them far and wide to signify the world traveler he would have been. I feel guilty that it is taking us so long to spread his ashes. It has been two years and we’re only starting to plan the journeys for Jordan’s ashes. The words to the song entered my body interrupting all guilty thoughts, “Well, well when I die you can cast me out into the ocean wide.  Let my spirit cry, let it enter the tears that make the ocean deep and wide.” Eyes still closed I saw Mark and I standing on a beach releasing Jordan’s ashes into the sea saying goodbye and safe travels one last time. The tears started to fall and I did nothing to stop them. The song held a truth that freed me from one of my burdens. I whispered to myself, “What do you believe? What do you believe? Then the answer came, “Jordan is safe. You don’t have to worry about him anymore. Jordan is safe.”

I leaned back into the song and rocked as I heard the next refrain,

“Oh, oh, oh when I die, toss me out into the winds of time

Let my ashes roam, blow here blow there

I know I’m gonna find my true home”

Tears streamed down my face as the song washed over me. The truth was there begging to be accepted. “When I Die.” The when for Jordan was an answered question. There is nothing I can do about the when. I listened to voices covering and comforting me and asked my heart to accept that Jordan is safe. In the long nights when sleep won’t come and all I want is to have my boy home, I can take comfort if I choose to believe Jordan is safe. I don’t have to worry about him any more. Many questions linger but that one can be put to rest if I allow it.

The fact that he is gone and he’s here is settling in and slowly finding it’s rightful spot within me. I feel him in the bright red cardinal that perches outside my window, peering in looking straight at me as I call him Jordan by name. Jordan’s spirit is in the coincidences of his name appearing or being overheard when I miss him most. He is in the emails, texts and notes from his friends reaching out to me when I ache for him. A beautiful song opened a small part of my heart to that truth. My sorrow hasn’t evaporated and my heart is not burden free. But there is a feeling of relief akin to joy to be able to put one of my worries to rest. Jordan is safe. No more harm can come to him.

“When I die, let these bones take root, let the seed that been planted let ‘em come up bearing fruit”