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.

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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Comments on: "A Fraternity Not of One’s Choosing" (6)

  1. Jackie,
    I just left a similar comment to what I am about to say here, on a posting by Katie. Some people lack compassion, plain and simple, and the internet has provided an anonymous outlet for ugliness.

    I will take your lead and not allow myself to let anger take over. You are grace and poise in the face of classless drivel.

    I am so, so sorry, I send you hugs, and as long as you write, I will read.
    I admire and respect you, more every day.

  2. Jackie, I’m honored to be a follower of your blog. I read all the comments, too, and the one you mention above was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve read in a long time. There is no “worse” grief when it comes to losing a child, and that kind of thinking is so corrosive. Whether a child is 3 or 30, one of five or an only-child, killed in an accident or succumbed after a long illness, an honor role student or high school dropout, the loss is horrific. For that commenter to imply that your loss was not as terrible, or worthy of grief, or deserving of compassion as someone else’s is incredibly arrogant, mean-spirited, and unkind.

    I think your post was beautiful. I’m proud to keep reading so please do keep writing. You are an inspiration, and a fabulous mom.

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m here referred from Motherlode, which I read frequently. I think one of the problems of our new media structure — merging journalism and the personal, as blogs do, is that the intellectual and the deeply personal overlap so completely that it invites a type of cruelty I hope we see less often in real life.

    As a longtime Motherlode reader, you probably must recognize that that commenter (and those who recommended the comment) are on a long-term tear about the NY Times coverage of parenting, which absolutely is heavily weighted towards stories about upper middle to upper class people. It’s a theme that someone likes to complain about in response to almost every post, and is not really about you or your story. But when you open your life up in such a raw way, I can see why it would be hard to dismiss any reaction this way. It’s part of why I could never blog!

  4. Jackie –

    I cringed while reading some of the comments on NYT’s Motherlode site. Your commitment to be present for all of the your children IS fierce, even as you deal with unimaginable grief every single day.

    Wishing you strength as you navigate the college admissions process with Merrick and in all of the other challenges that you face.

  5. What I’ve discovered is that generally, the people who choose to comment in those wider arenas are either compelled to for supportive reasons or have way too much time and anger on their hands for a multitude of reasons. I choose to listen to the supportive ones and send compassion to the others.

    I’ll keep reading. Keep writing, and keep sharing your love for your family.

  6. I came to your blog via the motherlode post and wanted to thank you for writing.

    What struck me most about membership in the Fraternity Not of One’s Chosing is the isolation and the silence. Some understand grief, some do not, and no one can fully understand another’s loss – but it means a lot to hear someone speak their story. To remember that I am not alone in tragedy and grieving does not always end when others want it to.

    I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your journey, your memories of Jordan and the story of your family.

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