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 February, 2011

A Fraternity Not of One’s Choosing

As many of you know on February 25th my blog was featured in the NY Times Motherlode column. I assumed that given this is the season when students are hearing or waiting to hear from colleges about their acceptance my post about Merrick’s college wait would resonate with many. Our situation does not mirror everyone’s because while grieving the loss of son while away at college, I’m readying another to leave for school. It is a paradox that shifts the earth beneath me. I had no idea my piece would elicit such strong reactions. Comments ranged from empathy and understanding to pure disdain. At times I wondered if some of the readers read what I wrote before commenting. I was accused of being elitist because Jordan went to Amherst College. Jordan’s school is many things; elitist is not one of them. They welcome students of all backgrounds. There was also innuendo that because Jordan died in a car accident, drugs or alcohol was involved. Jordan died on a clear fall night at 9:30 pm. Fatigue was the culprit not anything else; even though why that matters to a grieving parent fails me at this time.

I know I didn’t have to read the comments but I did and I’m glad. Mixed in with accusatory comments were many that understood the point of my writing. Losing a child upends your world. The family that is left behind learns how to navigate the world with sorrow and loss as a new thread woven into life. We keep going and continue to ready our children to be independent, gracious, honorable human beings.

One commenter in particular gave me pause. He wrote:

I think this mom’s letter reeks of status and privilege. Her kids are going to elite private schools like Amherst and she worries as he “readies himself to be on his own”. Puleeeeze. Places like Amherst bend over backwards to ensure students are happy and successful, providing everything from psychologists to academic advisors to climbing walls to vegan cafeteria options. We have moms in this country who are sending their sons into tough inner-city schools because it is all they can afford. We have moms in this country who are sending their sons into the marines and thus into Iraq or Afghanistan. I want to read their letters.

14 readers recommended his comment. His letter above all others made me feel the need to explain the death of a son or daughter. Recently a dear friend lost his adult sister to cancer. My first thought was of his mother and the heartache that cannot be wholly defined that I knew she was feeling. It was the same reaction I had while watching the Winter Olympics seeing the mother of the Georgian luger holding her head in her hands devastated by the news of her loss. It is the way I felt when Kelly Preston and John Travolta lost their son and the way I feel when I see or read about parents who’ve lost children in combat. We are all members of fraternity not of our choosing. Perhaps the letters of mothers of soldiers lost in combat might be more interesting to some readers. What I know is that no matter whether your child died while away at an elite institution, community college, war or coming home from a party, having police show up at your door at 1:30 in the morning and delivering news that is every parent’s worse fear is an equalizer. There is no hierarchy of trauma from grief.

My husband and I have not hidden our grief from our children but we have been careful to not burden them with our grief either. They know we are here for them and we continue to nurture their spirits and interests wanting them to follow their dreams. A toll has been taken on my heart that may never fully repair. In spite of this fact, my commitment to be present for all of my children is fierce.

I’m grateful for the support and understanding I receive from those who read my blog. I’ve been humbled by those who’ve written to me telling me how my words have helped ease some of their pain. I’ll keep writing. I hope you’ll keep reading.

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Guest Writer

My latest post, “Letter To the College of My Son’s Choice,” is featured today in the NY Times Motherlode column. Thanks to Lisa Belkin for allowing my writing further reach.

 

An Open Letter To My Son’s College Choices

We are playing the waiting game at my house. Merrick has applied to the colleges of his choice and is now waiting to hear back from them. One of the schools he applied to asked for a letter of recommendation from the parents. They wanted the perspective of the person/people who would talk of the early years and personality of the applicant. When I read their request I cried. I was being asked to weigh in and support my son’s application and frankly there are days when I don’t know how I’ll let him go. Sometimes even the thought of Merrick going off to school makes me physically ill, but at the same time I want what’s best for my son. I will not be a hinderance to his dreams. I realized that the only way I would be able to write a letter of recommendation, is to ask a request of all the schools. Below is my open letter to all of them.

Dear College of my son’s choice,

My son Merrick has applied to your school and is hopeful that he will be accepted. You invited parents to write letters of recommendation for their child. Your request is based on the fact that most students when applying concentrate on the ages of 14-17 and parents can give a long-range look and perspective on the applicant. I’m quite willing to write a letter for my child. I appreciate the wisdom and sensitivity in your request. Before I do so however, I have a request of my own. Please watch over my child. He is eager to leave home and enter the world of academia and freedom that college allows. I watch his anticipation and enthusiasm and am confronted with my own mixture of excitement and apprehension.

When his older brother Jordan went off to Amherst College, his dad and I could not have been prouder. Jordan chose a school that was the perfect fit for him. We watched him attenuate to college life with vigor and ease. He entered his sophomore year excited to have a single room, ready to pursue a major in Political Science and looking forward to the future. I often joked with him that I was living vicariously through him as he talked of studying abroad either in Costa Rica or London. His future seemed boundless. Seemed. When we received the news that Jordan had been killed in a car accident just 20 miles from his college campus shock and sorrow took hold of us, the grip of which I still feel today.

Now it is time for another of my children to fulfill their dreams and goals. Merrick has worked so hard to be an attractive candidate for your college. A finer student, scholar, and most importantly compassionate human being you won’t find. As he readies himself to, “be on his own,” I try and ready my heart to give the world another one of my children. Merrick comes to you an eager vessel of learning. He also comes bearing the weight of sorrow that losing his big brother and best friend brings. So, I’m finding a way, no matter how hard it is, to continue trusting that the world is a giving, safe place for my children. As unwieldy and irrational my plea is I ask you to remember it. When you see my son walking through campus, treat him with care as he fulfills his dreams and honors the legacy of his brother.

Sincerely,

Always Mom of Four

Waiting For The Repairman

Does anyone remember those, “Baby on Board,” signs that were prevalent in the late ‘80’s and ‘90’s? They seemed to be suction cupped to the window of every other car on the road. I thought about those signs this morning and how I never got one after Jordan was born because it seemed to me that people should drive safely regardless of whether there was a baby in the car or not.

*

We’re still waiting to see if the video camera we sent in for repair will come back to us with images of Jordan in the last months before he died. The repairman called again recently to say that they needed to repair the motherboard and wanted our approval because they couldn’t guarantee that our hard drive wouldn’t be lost. If the hard drive is lost in the process of repairing the machine we lose the footage that’s on the camera. When the repairman asked what I wanted to do, proceed, or not with the repairs, my response was silence, then a heavy sigh and then a plea.

“The hard drive holds footage of our son. He was killed in a car accident. We need it.”

“Ma’am, I can’t guarantee that the hard drive won’t be damaged. Can you have your husband call me back and tell me what you want to do?”

Another long silence as I try to keep the tears out of my voice.

“Um, I’m not sure what we should do. I’ll have my husband call you.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

Mark called the repair center and told them to go ahead with the repairs. This morning while I showered I thought about the camera and visualized the repairs being done, hoping that they’re being extra careful so we have more memories of Jordan. I finally shook my head and thought, “Whether you have the footage or not, Jordan’s still gone. Stop putting so much importance on the camera. It doesn’t bring Jordan back.”

I realized how ridiculous it was that I’d poured my heart out to the repairman as though with my camera he’d be extra careful and more professional and with everyone else’s repairs he did slipshod work. That’s how I got to the baby on board signs in my meandering way. I would hope that the repairman always does his best work, just like when I saw the, “Baby on Board,” signs I hoped that everyone drove responsibly. Now I wish I’d wrapped the car Jordan was riding in on October 12th, 2008 in, “MY BABY ON BOARD,”signs and that doing so would have kept him alive. There are no magic formulas of protection or safety. I’m sitting with that harsh reality and waiting again for a box in the mail.

Forever Valentines

Mark surprised  me this weekend with dinner and a concert. He was able to keep the surprise from me although he did slip on the name of the restaurant. I teased him on the way to dinner telling him about my prowess as a detective. We had a great dinner where he gave me a lovely necklace with a typewriter letter, “J” as the charm. As I opened it he said to me, “I liked that it was a typewriter key, especially for you as a writer.” I nodded and told him, “I love that idea, but right now I’m glad the “J” stands for Jackie and Jordan as I clutched the charm. Mark nodded at me, already knowing I would love this fact about my gift.

We went to the Anita Baker concert and sang along enjoying the show even though it started an hour late! Anita Baker ended the show with the song, “You Bring Me Joy.” I listened swaying in my seat with the line, “If I can’t see your face, I will remember your smile,” staying with me and traveling home with me.

I loved spending such a special evening with Mark and the kids were so excited to see us going out having a good time. Lindsay and Kendall who knew about Mark’s surprise told him, “Daddy all my friends think you are so romantic.” I agree with Lindsay’s and Kendall’s friends. Mark is very romantic and my children are very loving. I know I’ll cherish the cards they’ll make and give to me tomorrow. Every year I pull out and look at the valentine given to me by Jordan when he was a teenager. I will always cherish this homemade valentine given to me by Jordan when he was in high school. The card from him was such a surprise. I’m rerunning that post today as well. Valentine’s Day is reminding me that love endures and I’m so grateful that it does.

Valentines-Transformation-2/13/2010

Jordan and Lindsay 12/07

This time last year, 2/12/09:

Jordan,

The boxes with the programs were emptied today. They have been under the bench in the entry since October when the programs were printed for your Memorial service. I glimpse at the boxes everyday when I walk past, always planning to move them or get rid of them. Until today something always stopped me, I didn’t feel ready.

Today your sisters needed boxes for the Valentines they would receive at their Valentine’s Day parties. Impulsively I said, “There are boxes under the bench but let me get them.”

Lindsay asked “Why?”

She didn’t understand why I insisted on getting the boxes. I told her the boxes held extra programs from the Memorial Service. I explained that we didn’t use them because the front picture was too dark.

Lindsay told me “I can get them.”

She quickly went to the entry and brought the box into the family room, trying so hard to impress me with her industriousness. She opened the box, looked at one of the programs and said, “You’re right the picture is too dark it doesn’t look like Jordan.”

She flipped through the program, reading it and asked, “What are ushers?”

I explained the function of ushers at funerals and memorial services. She then said, “That’s nice, his best friends were ushers.”

She then read the poem I wrote about “My boys” on the back of the program. The next question of course was, “Why aren’t Kendall and I in the poem?”

I said, “Oh honey, I wrote that one day when I was watching your brothers together.”

She said, “It’s a good poem, I like it. What should I do with all these programs?”

I said, “Let’s put them in a bag.”

She said, “Okay I’ll get it.”

She quickly got up and grabbed a black trash bag from under the sink. She was determined to do the job alone and resisted my attempts to help her.  Her only comment during her task was, “Mom, I can do it.”

After she emptied out the programs, Lindsay looked at the empty box and said, “This box is perfect for Valentines. I’m going to decorate it and make it beautiful.”

For me, she already had.

Happy Valentines Day

With eternal love,

Mama

 

 

Poem on Back of Program

Mother to Son

 

Jordan is a poet

Merrick is poetry

Jordan has the words to captivate a nation

Merrick has the movement, the smile, the soul of honesty and love

There is magic in words and movement

Together they reveal the essence of life,

both poet and poetry,

spoken word and dance and song.

I can listen to and watch them forever

My boys

 

Jackie Moore (2002)

Today, 2/13/10:

A few days ago I posted a query on Facebook asking, “What was your most memorable Valentine’s Day?” I kicked off the discussion by relaying the memory of a Valentine’s Day from my grad school days when my roommates and I went to a Bingo Hall with the mother of one of my roommates. It turned out to be an evening filled with laughter, girl talk and the hopes of winning the jackpot (not to be).

For the last few months I have been in search of a Valentine’s Day card, that Jordan gave me when he was a junior or senior in high school. It holds special significance because it was handmade of construction paper with Jordan’s handprints on it. Jordan wrote the following on the card,

When I was in preschool, teachers seemed to think that putting handprints on a piece of paper or a paper plate and using it as a gift for any holiday was a great idea. Although I’m no longer in preschool and my handprints barely fit on the paper, I decided for Valentine’s Day I’d give you a gift that hearkened(sp) back to my younger days. Happy Valentine’s Day Mom!

Jordan then signed the card, “Love, Your oldest little boy, JORDAN” with the J backwards in the same way he used to write his name as a kindergartner.

All the places I thought I’d stored the card turned up empty. I finally decided that the best way to find it was to stop worrying over and looking for it. If and when it was meant to be found, I would find it. Tonight as I polished the writing piece above, I searched for one of the programs from Jordan’s memorial service. I reached into the top drawer of our file cabinet and there on the side of the hanging files amongst other papers, was the card from Jordan. I’m sure I’ve checked this spot before but clearly not well enough. Tonight I pulled it out of the drawer, sat and looked at it, held my hand against Jordan’s handprint and cried. I found it just when I needed to find it. Now my most memorable Valentine’s Day, albeit a little early is the Valentine’s Day of 2010.

Rediscovered Valentine

Time for, “The Talk”

I frequently read other parenting blogs and have a couple of my favorites on my blogroll. Katie Granju is a mom who has several blogs. I became acquainted with her Mamapundit blog after the death of her oldest son Henry. Yesterday I commented on her Babble blog about what to tell your kids when they ask questions usually out of the blue that don’t always have comforting answers. Questions like, “Can we visit heaven?” I commented as a parent and as a person with a background in developmental psychology. Part of my answer to her regarding her preschooler was, “Answer only what question they ask in the simplest way possible. You don’t want to overwhelm them.” I’ve found that kids want the truth and usually find a way to ask for it. Usually.

I’m stuck right now because Mark and I are faced with bringing our children to another level of awareness about loss and grief. I keep waiting for them to ask a question about Jordan’s ashes, any opening that will lead to a discussion of our plans to keep some of his ashes in an urn at home. They know we plan to spread some of his ashes as we travel but even this is an abstract concept. I don’t want them to be afraid of Jordan’s urn, especially when Mark and I need to have part of Jordan stay at home with us. What will we do if any one of our kids can’t handle an urn at home when it is something that will give Mark and I solace?

I’m afraid of scaring and scarring my kids by even bringing up the subject of the urn to them. And I’m afraid of them hurting in a way that I can’t help them. But I have to admit I’m also feeling a little selfish too. Jordan is also my child  and I want part of him at home with me.

I’ll get the perspecitve and suggestions from therapists and counselors. I’d like to know though how others in my situation have dealt with this issue. I’m asking for help from anyone who has experience talking with their kids or knows someone who has. How do you prepare your child/children to accept that the sibling that once laughed and played with them is partially, yet symbolically represented as ashes in an urn? It is a conversation quite frankly I’m dreading. I don’t want them to hurt anymore than they already do and yet it’s a conversation that must be had.

Jordan and his siblings on his 19th birthday. The last picture taken of all of them together.

An Early Valentine To My Village

Picture taken at a local park Valentine's Day 2010

Today when I went to pick the mail up off the floor from underneath the drop slot, I saw a pouch with paw protectors. I smiled remembering that Lindsay and Kendall told me to expect them as one of our fellow neighbors /dog walkers, was going to leave them for Nessie. Apparently they were too small for her dog. She eyed the rubber booties Nessie wore and thought we might like the canvas rubber soled type better. Before owning our dog I didn’t even know some dogs wore booties. Our small pawed, cold hating dog wears them out of necessity. When I saw the pouch lying with the mail it reminded me of how kind and good hearted the people of my community are. Her random act of kindness reminded me of all I have to be thankful for because of the people in my community. Today, even though its 9 degrees and the wind is blowing, the sky is blue and the sun warms my seat on the couch by the window. It feels like a good day to express gratitude and to give a valentine to the village I love.

From the moment we moved in, Mark and I loved our new community. We felt after several job transfers, we’d found the place we wanted to stay. We chose this community over 16 years ago because we wanted a home and a neighborhood that would be the secure base from which our children would learn and make lasting ties. We liked the notion of living in a village, rich with history, which our town is. It has been ideal for us because it has great public schools, is close to downtown and has the nostalgic neighborhood feel, with kids safely playing outside reminiscent of Mark’s and my childhoods. In every way it felt right when we moved here and continues to do so. We moved here with our two young sons and all we saw was a bright future in a friendly environment. Our new neighbors welcomed us warmly with gifts of food and made themselves available to answer questions about the local school Jordan would attend for first grade.

Jordan walked to school with other kids from the block and when Merrick started school he and Jordan walked together. When it came time for middle school for the boys, the bus stop was less than a block away. Lindsay and Kendall hit the friend jackpot on our street. There were five children within a year of their ages that lived on the same side of the street as us. The kids played from yard- to -yard and house- to- house. There was no need for “play dates.” They made friends at school and on the block and their friends’ parents became the friends of Mark and me.

No community is perfect, but ours has proven to be a good fit. The people here have shown themselves to be kind, creative and trustworthy. Block parties are common during the summer, and every Fourth of July our village has a fireworks display at the local high school. People come with lawn chairs or blankets and together we sit and “ooh” and “aah” at the pyrotechnics. Volunteers come around and gather monetary donations to help defray the cost of the event.

One Fourth of July about 5 years ago we got a personal sense of the spirit of the people who make up our village.  During the Webkinz stuffed animal craze (Is it still a craze?) I accidentally dropped Lindsay’s webkinz as we walked back to our car after the fireworks. I didn’t realize until we got home that Zach the beagle wasn’t with us. Lindsay slept with this stuffed animal every night so she was very distraught. I promised her if we didn’t find it in the next few days I’d get her a new one. Until then she found comfort with one of her other stuffed animals. A couple of days later as we drove home from running errands I waited at a stop sign and happened to look up at the brick fence of the home on the corner near the high school. There sat Lindsay’s stuffed animal waiting for its rightful owner. I got out of the car, handed it to Lindsay and after finding his telltale rip she assured me this was her webkinz. I thought then, “This is the only place I know where a kid’s toy would still be here to be claimed.”

When our world was upended On October 12th 2008 with the unimaginable loss of Jordan, our friends and neighbors took action. As we sat numb with grief and in shock, we appreciated that our village is also a place where news spreads quickly and people want to know how to help. It is a place where the then superintendent of the elementary schools, who I know through school board committee work came to my home and said the words few can say at such a devastating time, “I know how you feel.” She sat with me holding my hand telling me the tragic loss of her daughter in a car accident. She did all this on what would have been her daughters 35th birthday. I will always be awed by her compassion and grace.

My family has been enveloped in a quilt of caring, with threads of care that have touched us so profoundly. We experienced firsthand how friends and neighbors gather together and figure out what you need when you’re in the haze of grief and can’t find words. They give without being asked. They pray for you, they hug you; they drop off brownies, books, and flowers on your porch-just in case you’re resting- but all the while wanting you to know that they’re thinking of you.

We have been fed physically and spiritually. In the months after Jordan’s death, meals were dropped off at our home and an account was set up at a local restaurant that provided delivery of meals for 6 months. In the first year, cards arrived almost daily with notes of prayer inside. Cards came from Jordan’s piano teacher, many of his former teachers and the librarian at the high school, and so many from the parents of his friends. All of them expressed their condolences but also shared their special memories of Jordan, which I cherish to this day.

I’ve learned a lot about friendship since Jordan died. Even as my friends experienced their own personal ordeals and worked through grief and losses they found time for my family and me. Friends like Terrie, Lori, Lisa and Michele made a pact with each other to check-in with me just to, “hear my voice,” or “lay eyes on me” if they hadn’t heard from me in more than a few days. And my friends Amy and Jeanne who call me every Saturday morning to ask without judgment or pressure if I’m attending our exercise class. If my answer is “yes” they pick me up and have provided a buffer as I try to gently reenter the world outside of grief.

The neighbors and friends in my village showed the heights of  compassion and loyalty on the day of Jordan’s memorial service. The memorial service was the same day as my daughters’ soccer game. The game was rescheduled because it conflicted with the time of the memorial service and so many families were attending the service that there wouldn’t have been enough girls to field either team.  At the memorial service we walked in to see a church that seats over 700 people filled to capacity. That day we met the parents of some of Jordan’s friends who were there as proxy for their children. Even though they didn’t know Jordan personally their children told them how special Jordan was and is to them.

My village has taught me so much about grace in action. The lessons have come through the many kindnesses of my friends and neighbors. No one ever expects to experience a devastating loss like the death of a child. On many days when grief brings me to my knees, what sees me through, is the compassion and generosity of my family, neighbors and friends. Today I offer this post as my valentine to my village. Thank you for shouldering some of our burden and finding ways to ease our pain.

Our family at Jordan's tree dedication ceremony. The tree was dedicated by Lindsay's and Kendall's Girl Scout Troop.