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 March, 2011

Family Vacations- Joy and Grief Together

Not why, what now? That’s the question I try to remember as each birthday approaches. After Jordan died every birthday leaves me stunned for a moment. How can I be growing older and one of my children has died? I’ve tried to schedule a vacation for the kid’s spring break, which coincides with my birthday since Jordan’s death. It feels like the only way to quiet the buzz of loss that throttles my mind on March 24th. Planning, packing, and being on our way to a warm place help me to accept with grace the exuberance of my family has in wishing me happy birthday. The smile of gratitude I give to them with each passing year is slowly becoming my own as well.

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“We shake with joy, we shake with grief. What a time they have, these two, housed as they are in the same body.”

Mary Oliver

Every time we travel as a family without Jordan, we’re relearning what a family vacation is. When we boarded the Southwest flight, I scoped out two rows like I always do, made my mental count and said to Merrick as I pointed at two rows across from each other, ”Okay, you save those three seats and I’ll save these three so we can all sit together.” He nodded. It wasn’t until we were all seated, Kendall at the window, I sitting in the middle, and Mark on the aisle. I looked across to see Lindsay at the window and Merrick on the aisle an empty seat between them. I’d miscounted again. I seem to do it every flight we take. We don’t need 6 seats anymore. We travel as five. We’re a family of six learning to live as a family of 5, slowly with twists and turns along the way.

Grief and joy have taken root in my heart and I know they’re both here to stay. As we get set with chairs and umbrellas on the beach, the attendant tells us they rent chairs in sets of two or four. Mark blurts out, “We need an odd number,” and gives me a look I can’t quite decipher. We don’t ever want our children to feel odd as a family of five. The attendant looks at us and quickly says, “We’ll just add an extra chair, no problem.”

Merrick and Mark decide to jet ski. I watch Merrick jet ski for the first time and then come back to shore with a broad smile that is rare these days.

“That was ballin.’”

“So you had a good time?”

“Yea, it’s great out there?”

“I’m glad you tried it?”

“I pushed it full throttle. It felt good going so fast. I caught air.”

“I know I saw you. You looked like you were having a great time.”

As he strolls to his chair, I can’t help but notice how he and Jordan have the same body type. They both have the same small waist and broad shoulders. Merrick would have loved jet skiing with his brother.

The attendant at the rental stand sees Merrick coming.

“He sure looks more relaxed, look at that beautiful smile.”

“He’s worried about when he’ll hear from colleges so I’m glad he tried something he’s always wanted to, but never did before.”

We stand watching him approach for a moment and I start to tear up glad to have sunglasses hiding my eyes. I look over at the attendant and tell her, “You know this is the first real family vacation we’ve taken that all of us were excited about since my oldest son died.”

“I’m so sorry.”

Nodding my head, “It’s just good to see him smile.”

I settle down in my beach chair and watch as Merrick shows his sister how to use a boogie board, the activity that he and Jordan did for hours until we would call them back to shore. He’s teaching his sisters now, letting them know the carefree feeling of riding a wave and letting it carry you, no hesitation, just freedom.

In between looks at the horizon with the waves softly crashing, I text my sister, “How was Daddy’s morning?”

She texts back, “Woke up in pain, but doing better now.”

“Thanks”

My mind flashes to the MRI scans that showed all the places cancer has taken hold of Daddy’s body. I send love and light my father’s way praying that pain won’t rule his day. As I lift my gaze I smile, catching sight of Mark and Merrick making their way back to shore after playing in the waves. With the sun behind them and their strides matching, I see a glimpse of Jordan flanking his dad on one side. I smile and cry knowing I’ve conjured up my son and settle into joy and grief housed together.

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Wait Until A Decent Hour

“Let’s wait until a decent hour.”

That was the request of my mom to my sister about calling to tell me that Daddy was in the hospital. They’d been at the emergency room since around 4am knowing that Daddy was going to be admitted. Even as they waited my mother didn’t break her weekly ritual with Merrick. Twice a week she calls him at 6:30am gives him a little pep talk so that he can get up and be at school an hour early to meet with teachers or study in the library. Mama made a pact with Merrick after Jordan died that on days when his spirits would be so low but he still wanted to excel that, “You do the work, I’ll do the worrying.” She extended that care to me, waiting until 7am to have my sister call. Julie in her calm soothing voice called me at 7am to tell me, “We’re at the hospital with Daddy and he’s pretty bad.” My first reaction was a sob and then, “I’ll be there today.”

“I know you will. They’re trying to get him stabilized.”

We’d just found out Daddy was seriously ill on Saturday. I’d missed a call from my mom earlier in the day and when I returned her  call  she immediately said, “Hold on a second I have to get Julie on the line. Your Daddy wants to talk to you.” Those words alone were enough to make me brace myself for bad news. My father hates talking on the phone and rarely initiates a call. Mark and I had just dropped the girls off at a birthday party and as soon as I told him what Mama said he pulled the car over to the side of the road.

He told us his news and my screaming, “NO,” and “Not my Daddy,” over and over marked my devastation until Mark took the phone so they knew he was there with me. I exhaled the last scream and shakily told Daddy, “I’m here. I’m sorry.”

In a quiet voice Daddy responded, “I just need to know you’re here with me. I’m sorry this happened. But I just need you with me that’s all.”

“We are Daddy. That’s how we’ve always done things.”

“I’m sorry to put you through this. I just don’t understand how this happened. I’ve never missed a doctor’s appointment.”

“You’re not putting us through anything. We’re here and we’ll do whatever we need to.”

“I know you will.  I know you will.”

Daddy saw a specialist  on Monday and all of us are trying to wrap our minds around the disease that is ravaging his body and the prognosis, which is poor. Tuesday morning jettisoned our family to another level of fear and shock as he was rushed to the emergency room. When I arrived Tuesday afternoon I went immediately to the hospital needing to see Daddy for myself.

From Tuesday on Mama, Julie and I adopted our hospital routine. Every morning I was dropped off at the front entrance so I didn’t have to walk as far with my booted foot. Then, my mom, sister and I sit vigil with Daddy, with my mother always taking the chair closest to his bed. I watch Mama closely looking for signs of weariness and fatigue, and all I see is resolve and commitment to her husband. When she leaves the room Daddy will ask Julie or I, “How’s your Mama doing? You watch her eyes that’s where she’ll show when she’s not okay. Watch her eyes.”

I reassure him that she’s taking things a day at a time and is not hiding anything from him. As we sit in his room, we listen to him make jokes with the nurses and other staff, complain about the food and bargain with the nurses to let him have one little packet of salt to make the food semi-edible. We also watch as he tries to maneuver in bed and pain grips his body with such force that we wait, holding our breaths, until the wave of pain subsides. Everything is still surreal. New routines and worries are now in the works, setting up home nurse care, wondering how Daddy will navigate a home with stairs and praying that he handles the medication without too many side effects.

I came home today hugging Daddy and today telling him I’ll be back soon.

“You go home and take care of your family. I’ll see you next time.”

Daddy is a strong man. He is the one who reminded me after Jordan died to say his name everyday. He continues to teach me so much. Here is the post, “Say His Name,” to give you a glimpse of just how amazing my father is.

Say His Name (9/28/2009)

I’ve never seen a picture of my father as a boy, yet I’ve heard so many of the stories of him growing up in a coal mining community in West Virginia, third youngest of thirteen children, that I have a distinct picture of him in my mind. My father is quite the storyteller and I’ve sat in rapt attention as he’s told me of his boyhood antics as well as those of his siblings. I’ve also listened as he’s shared the sorrow his family endured. As a young man in college, Daddy in less than 14 months, lost a sister to illness, a brother to murder, and his mother after making the statement to my father as they sat on their front porch following the death of her son-“I will not live to bury another one of my children.” She died a few months later.

Every time Daddy shared the story of losing so many loved ones in such a short span of time, I looked at him with compassion and awe. How do you keep going when you lose so much in such a short amount of time? Daddy had survived unimaginable loss and yet didn’t seem haunted by what he endured. His life had gone on with a college degree, marriage, work and family. He spoke lovingly of his family. He told funny and poignant stories of relatives that were long gone by the time I was born. Because of him I felt I knew them. Their deaths did not erase them from Daddy’s heart. He talked about them all the time. I watched him because as untouched as I was by the death of someone close to me, I knew it would happen eventually. Daddy provided my first road map on mourning loved ones.

My “eventually” came with the unexpected, shocking news of Jordan’s death. When I made the call to my parents in the middle of the night to tell them that Jordan their oldest grandchild had been killed in a car accident my mother screamed and cried, and then my father was on the phone. He told me they would be there as soon as they could and they were. By Monday afternoon they were sitting at our kitchen table. The friends who had held watch over us since early that morning quietly left once our family arrived. We sat, cried and talked. Daddy’s words to me were simple and direct, “Don’t stop talking about him. You say his name everyday.” I’m not sure if I would have taken such direct advice from just anyone, but I knew my father’s experiences with loss. Daddy’s advice was him speaking what he had lived. The way I knew about my aunts, uncles and paternal grandparents was because Daddy didn’t stop talking about them. He said their names and his eyes lit up with the memories they invoked.

Every time I called him in the weeks and months after Jordan died sometimes barely able to speak because I couldn’t catch my breath from crying he would calm me, soothe me, always telling me he wished he could take some of the pain away. He never failed to remind me of his feeling that holding in my grief would make me sick.  Then he would ask, “Are you talking about Jordan? You make sure you keep talking about him.” I always told him, “yes we talk about him everyday.”

My children know by the example of their father and I that it’s okay to cry and miss Jordan, but it is also okay to remember all the funny Jordan stories and talk about him as much as they want and need to. We sit at the dinner table and one of my daughters will say “remember the time Jordan raced into the bathroom right before I was going in to take a shower and jumped in the tub with all his clothes on and starting singing in that high voice “I’m taking a shower” as he pretended he was really taking a shower. We would all nod in remembrance and laugh. That story would remind another one of us of some other Jordan story and the love in remembering would grow. There would be other times when something happened at school and one of them would ask Mark or I “did that ever happen to Jordan?” We never turned away from an opportunity to talk about our son/their brother. He always will have a seat at the table.

Even almost a year after Jordan’s death my father still reminds me to “Say his name.” Now with the clarity of my own experience I know what he means. His philosophy about loss has become my own. The person we lose cannot become a taboo subject. Holding in our pain is also holding in our memories and ultimately the joy that person brought us. I knew about my aunt, uncle and grandparents long gone before I came along because of Daddy. They are etched in my heart as though they told me their stories themselves.

My children freely talk about their brother. They laugh together, imitating him and remembering. The way my children talk about their brother assures me that their children will know their Uncle Jordan. And one day in the distant future I pray that I’ll live to have my grandchildren sitting at my knee as I sat at my father’s and have them ask to hear about their uncle, my son. Without hesitation I will openly, wistfully, freely “Say his Name.”

Jordan with his Pop - High school graduation 2007


To Be A Sweet Offering

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately. The truth is I always read poetry.  For me it is a form of meditation. Yesterday I read for the first time the poem, “Self-Portrait” by David Whyte. One stanza leapt out at me:

I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world with its harsh need to change you. If you can look back with firm eyes saying this is where I stand.

The last few weeks have been challenging for me and my family. The challenge and the pain got an unexpected new dose yesterday with some very troubling family news. I ask for your prayers.

I heard a song last night called, “Encourage Yourself.” One of the lines of the song is, ‎”Sometimes you have to speak victory during the test.”

Mark and I talked last night about the bombardment of pain and bad news that has come our way in rapid fashion. I told him, “Weariness is setting in. I wake up every night at least once where my thought is Jordan is dead and I have to learn to keep going. I’m working hard to live life with a positive outlook.”

“I know, we both are. We’ll make it. We have each other, always.”

“Things are happening so fast. We don’t get a chance to catch our breath, to process what’s happening before something else happens. I don’t want to live my life always on guard. I want to live life with a positive outlook. Life can’t feel like a chore, something to be endured.”

Even in the midst of worry and sorrow there is a piece of my heart that tugs at my soul saying, “Hold on, Spring is coming.” It beckons me but in a voice oh so faint. I’m holding on, wanting to be a sweet offering to my family, friends, the universe and me.

Here is an excerpt from, \”Let It Be Me\,” a post I wrote back in 2010.

I work so hard to stay sane and not slip too far into darkness and depression. Jordan’s life held virtue, humor, caring and so much light. Each day I make a choice to keep going for my family and for me. The future can’t be predicted. I can’t mystically shelter my children from all harm. The shock of loss has slowed my acceptance of the fact that complete protection is an illusion-even if it is fueled by the fiercest love. My vigilance towards my children is still strong. But a parallel vigilance is burgeoning. It still whispers, “let it be me” but the meaning has shifted. Let it be me who remembers all aspects of my son’s too short life. Let it be me that honors in my own way the zeal Jordan had for life. Let it be me that loves life and hopes for joy to come in the morning.

Spring is coming

Getting The Boot

My ankle is officially out of commission for a while. I went to my family physician on Wednesday who took one look at my ankle and said, “I want someone from ortho to take a look at this.” Performing her unique magic, after a phone call she was able to get me in for an appointment an hour later. The ortho doc took x-rays, examined my ankle and prescribed a compression sock to relieve the swelling and one of those boots to keep it immobile. He also scheduled an MRI and wants to see me in 2 weeks. I was a fairly agreeable patient but did tell him, “March 24th is my birthday and my family is headed to Florida for Spring Break. I can’t disappoint them, and we all really need the break.”

He responded with kindness saying, I don’t think that will be a problem, but if it turns out you can’t go, I’m happy to have a little break in Florida.”

We both laughed and then he reassured me that he thought everything would work out fine. I left the hospital trying to learn how to walk in the black clunky boot and remember to, “roll from heel to toe,” as the technician had advised me, even though every step sent daggers through my ankle. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in so much physical pain. I thought back to the first time I had the same problem with my ankle although in a less serious form. It was August of 2008 and Jordan had driven me to the doctor, letting me lean on him as we made our way from the car to the office.

Last night the swirl of Jordan taking me to the doctor back in ’08, having a recurrence of the same ailment and just a few days earlier planning a scholarship fund in his memory became too much. When we sat with the representative from Amherst College talking of our plans for the scholarship we ventured into talk about some of Jordan’s friends and their after college plans. As we talked my discomfort grew. I let Mark engage in conversation and I kept looking at a picture we have in the living room from Jordan’s high school newspaper days taken by his friend Clare. In the photo he’s looking over his shoulder as if someone just called his name and he has that trademark smile on his face.  I kept looking at the picture talking to him in my mind. “Why aren’t you here? I want to tell people what you’ll be doing next year. We’re sitting here planning your memorial fund. Why aren’t you here?”

I made it through the meeting and the kind, young woman who came to meet with us begged me not to get up as she prepared to leave. “Please rest your leg. I hope you feel better soon.” I want to feel better too. Some days I wonder how that will happen. I’m feeling excruciating pain in my ankle and my main thought is, “How can this be? How can I be here hurting, being assured I’ll recover fully and my son didn’t get to live? Jordan took ME to the doctor before and that image is colliding with the sight of this boot on my foot. The physical and emotional pain are so intertwined that they’ve become one.

I continue practicing with the boot, trying to figure the best way to walk with the least amount of pain.

Picture of Jordan we have framed in our living room

Amherst, Massachusetts

I’m sitting on the couch, my right ankle propped up on a pillow with a bag of ice underneath and one to the side of my ankle. I have to check in with my doctor tomorrow to let her know if the antibiotics are working and the swelling in my ankle has subsided or at least not gotten worse. Being forced to be off my feet is not something I do well. Pain is ruling however and I’m listening to my body even though I’ve told it that I have a meeting today at 12:15 that I plan on attending. For me, idle body means overactive mind, taking me to places I’m not sure I’m ready to go. Thinking of the things yet to be done that I desperately want to do. Spreading Jordan’s ashes, turning “Jordan’s Fund,” into an official non-profit and most importantly helping my daughters as the awareness that their brother Merrick will be going off to college soon. None of these thoughts happen in any organized fashion but rather like a racquetball bouncing off of any available wall. I’m still learning how to quiet my mind.

Later today Mark and I are meeting with an alum from Amherst College to officially set up a scholarship fund in Jordan’s memory. I’ve stopped myself from saying, “finally,” set up a scholarship fund because I have felt that after 2 1/2 years we should have already had a scholarship in place. I decided that guilt wasn’t helping the process at all and that my goal of having a scholarship in place by what should be his graduating year has to be good enough.

Jordan’s Fund has been in existence since the week he died. My friend Michele went with me to the bank to set it up so that in lieu of flowers, people would have a resource to honor Jordan and his love of learning. I’ll never forget sitting in that bank officer’s cubicle filling out paperwork and being prompted by Michele to answer questions when my mind would wander to, “What am I doing here? Where’s Jordan?” But we did it and every year since his death we have had a celebration of Jordan’s life where we’ve welcomed donations to Jordan’s Fund. There will be scholarship funds at his high school and his college.

I subscribe online to  the Writer’s Almanac because I like starting my day with a poem. When I opened the email this morning the title of the poem was, “Amherst Massachusetts,” by Jaimee Kuperman. Just seeing the title felt like another validation that we are doing right by our son. In May, my family won’t get to see Jordan receive the college diploma from the school he loved. There will however be scholarships for years to come for incoming students with a love of learning and a thirst for social justice. Jordan will live on through the learning of others.

Jordan just learning of his acceptance to Amherst College

Just Beneath the Surface- A Father’s Grief

My husband Mark is the guest blogger for today. So, instead of Always Mom of 4, you’ll be hearing from Always Dad of 4. I’m grateful that he agreed to give the perspective of a grieving father which is not frequently heard.

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Jackie asked me to host blog today, looking to inject a different perspective into the journal of our journey since the loss of Jordan.  I am honored and a bit intimidated in opening up in a forum like this, but I told her I’d give it a shot.

Last night, as I reached up to rub part of my back that is aching but in one of those hard to reach areas, I wrenched my face in obvious discomfort.  Not knowing that I was being watched, I heard a careful whisper from the corner of the room, “Oh no, Dad, is there something wrong with you too?”  The, “too,” part of her question came because Merrick was already sick and her mom had been resting a lot lately dealing with a flare from lupus.

“No baby.  My back is just sore because of the way I was sitting over there on the couch.  Don’t worry, I’m fine.” Always the worrier, she just wanted reassurance that things wouldn’t take an unexpected turn for the worse.  After all, Jordan always called me “the healthy one.”  In the cold of late February and early March we got hit with a series of sniffling noses and achy bodies.  Recently, Merrick had been home for two days, as it turns out sick with strep throat.  Jackie’s lupus  has shown up this time as inflammation of her right Achilles tendon.  Hard for her to get around when that happens.  The girls just recovered from colds and a few days off from school.  I’m fighting off a cold as well, but as all parents do, I reassure the children that I’m ok and here to make sure that things will get back on track.   But sometimes I wonder, will they ever? I can’t give that assurance to our children anymore that “nothing bad will happen.”

I’ve tried to explain to my friends and family that the death of Jordan seems analogous to losing a leg and then being forced to learn in a short amount of time to walk again with a prosthetic. It makes it look to the outside world like I’m a perfectly intact human being, but that is far from the truth. I can stand up straight, but that limb, my Jordan, is still gone. While I can function, go to work everyday and have an outward appearance of being “ok,” the pain and sadness is right under the surface.  It sits quietly with my soul similar to the way Jordan as a young child would keep his hand on my arm when we were sitting close as if to always keep me near. He was my oldest and that hand on my arm was a physical reminder of my stature as a father and caregiver. I would look down at his hand reassuring him, I’m here, you have me.”

I still feel that hand on my arm.  Now the hand is a reminder that just as I’m a father and caregiver, I’m also a grieving dad. I’m learning how to move through life with this new moniker. The first two were expected and eagerly anticipated, the latter an intrusion and shock.  But I continue to push forward.  So to my babies, who know me well and walk with me on this journey, I do at times say, “I’m ok,” and assure them that if I can help, I’ll be here for them and I will do everything I can to make sure that they don’t have to face the unwelcomed shocks alone.  If they come, we’ll keep pushing forward.

Since Jordan died, we all move with a vigilance, trying to ward off unexpected bad news. I say that knowing that keeping the realities of life at bay is impossible, but right now it feels like reassuring my children about the little things, like my achy back is a concrete way to make them feel secure. As a parent, sometimes I feel like I’m desperately trying to keep things on an even keel so as not to give rise to the tsunami of emotions that come along with knowing that our lives can be changed in an instant.  Nothing is guaranteed.

A few weeks ago I was watching one of my favorite movies, “Dances with Wolves.” The girls walked into the room curious about what I was watching and joined me. While trying to enjoy the movie I also took the opportunity to share with them the beautiful filmmaking and historical relevance of the story. During an intense chase scene, when the US Marshalls were descending on the Native American tribe, one of my daughters turned to run upstairs.  I protested saying, “Hey don’t you want to see what happens?”

“No” was her immediate response but I paused the movie to urge her to stay and watch.  I told her that the man and woman wouldn’t be separated forever, but the tribe had to move on and they were splitting apart for a little while.  I made the mistake of saying, “It’s a movie, everything works out ok, but their lives are changed.”

She looked at me saying, “How can you say everything works out ok when my brother didn’t come home from school?  That didn’t work out ok, he’s gone.”  I turned off the movie, called her down to sit with me and just held her as she cried.

All I could say to her was, “You’re right. Things don’t always have a happy ending. But even when they don’t people still continue to move forward.” For all of my family, the fear of sudden loss is just under the surface.  My babies learned at an early age that life, while full of promises, could also offer bitter disappointment and sorrow. As parents Jackie and I choose to continue to move forward telling our children that time will help diminish the pain of sorrow and that Jordan will always be a part of our lives.

 

Mark and Jordan reading the paper

Always Dad of 4

Glimpses of Jordan

I know I’ve shown the video from Jordan’s memorial service before. I watch it occasionally and today is one of those days. I wanted to share some of our wonderful memories of Jordan.