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 April, 2011

While Sam Cooke Sang

I have been away from my blog for a while as I’ve been in Ohio with my family during my father’s illness. Sadly, I have to tell you that my father passed away on April 24th, 2011. I was able to be in Ohio with him before he died. We sat and talked and he told me what he wanted for his memorial service, who he wanted to speak and of course a saxophone playing. Daddy loved jazz and the saxophone was his favorite instrument. He had 10’s of thousands of songs that he catalogued on his computer. His jazz library could rival any formal library in the world.

As we talked I had one question for my dad.

“Daddy I know you want your ashes spread in West Virginia.”

“Yeah, your mama knows what I want. There’s a creek where I used to play when I was a little boy and that’s where I want the ashes.”

“Is the creek still there?”

With his typical eye roll, “Oh shoot girl, yes it’s still there.”

“Well I was just wondering if it would be okay to have some of Jordan’s ashes mixed with yours when we spread them.”

“Of course you can, even if it’s just a teaspoonful. You know Jordan is my boy. Now you notice I said is, not was.”

“I know Daddy.”

Daddy handing Jordan(age 2) a rock when they both got restless at church and went outside.

“Shoot, that boy and I threw rocks together when he was little down in West Virginia. Of course he can be with me.”

“Thank you Daddy.”

We sat quietly for a while after talking and I looked over and Daddy had fallen asleep.

Later that day he was moved from the hospital to an inpatient hospice facility. Our hope was that he would be able to come home in a few days after they  transferred him to oral medications. Unfortunately, his condition deteriorated rapidly and by Friday he wasn’t talking anymore but didn’t seem to be in much pain. When my mom and I walked into his room on Friday as part of our new routine I asked him what music he wanted to hear.I rolled out the usuals, Stanley Turrentine, Gene Ammons, Jimmy Smith. He shook his head “no” until I came to Sam Cooke.He wasn’t in the mood for jazz, but for gospel.
I stood rubbing his shoulder as he seemed a bit restless and then he reached out for my hand. I took his hand and told my mother to hold his other. All the while Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers played, “Nearer To Thee,” in the background. After a few minutes of standing at his bedside holding his hands he gently pulled his hands away. Mama and I went to sit down. I looked over at my exhausted mother and saw that she had drifted off to sleep. Daddy would close his eyes for a few minutes and then open them again, putting his hands behind his head and then trying to turn in bed. He was too weak to turn and shook his head “no” when I asked if he wanted help. I looked over at him as he lay with his eyes closed and suddenly he opened his eyes and with perfect clarity winked at me which brought me to the edge of my seat. I smiled back, so familiar with that wink and knowing this time all the words that it conveyed, “I’m alright”, “Take care of yourself” ,”Take care of your Mama”, “Goodbye.”

That was the last time Daddy opened his eyes and his gift of a wink was the perfect goodbye. He was an amazing man who taught me so much about life and not fearing death. Sleep well my wonderful father. You have earned your rest.

June 7, 1936-April 24, 2011

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Tying Ribbons, Making Buttons, Remembering Jordan

On the program at Jordan’s memorial service, the poem I chose for the front was one by Henry Dumas:

The universe shrank

            When you went away

            Everytime I thought your name,

            Stars fell upon me.

For me, the universe did shrink when Jordan died. I felt it every time I had to remind myself to breathe when I didn’t realize I was holding my breath. I felt it every time I looked outside and wondered how people still knew how to walk and converse and laugh. I felt it every morning when I opened my eyes, looked around my bedroom and then closed my eyes again, because having a dead son makes it hard to imagine how you’ll fill your day.

In my last post I talked about consciously mourning the fact that my family doesn’t get to see Jordan graduate from college and that to honor the Amherst commencement we will tie purple ribbons around the trees in our yard and on Jordan’s tree and I asked others to do the same. Since that post, a very kind and generous woman named Dafeenah who found my blog through She Writes has given me a way that others can honor Jordan and help him to be remembered. She wrote saying she didn’t have a tree to which she could tie a ribbon, but she could make a button that she could place on her blog. She asked my permission to design the button. I cry every time I come to the part of her asking permission. It reminds me of Jordan’s friend Sean asking permission to wear Jordan’s birthday as his football jersey number.  The respect and grace people have shown me in the face of my sorrow as they help me honor my son is so humbling and helps tilt the earth just a little bit back to the axis of beauty that I knew before Jordan died. I am forever grateful.

2 ½ years have passed since Jordan’s death. It is a short amount of time and a lifetime all at once. The passage of time and the constancy of love are teaching me important lessons about keeping my heart open to the present and the future. The fear I had that my son would be forgotten is unfounded. Family, friends, and strangers who quickly become friends because of their compassion, are showing me that a shrinking universe can expand again and that I can be a part of it.

The button is displayed below and will be on my blog through May 22nd the date of Amherst College’s commencement. Any of you that would like to display it on your blogs; Facebook pages or wherever you feel is appropriate I would be honored. The button says a “life of consequence” which aptly describes Jordan’s life, and are also the commemorative words associated with the Jordan Moore-Fields’ Amherst Scholarship fund.

Good Mourning Commencement

“Dear Ms. Moore,

The Class of 2011 recently had an election to elect Honorary Members of the Class of 2011.

Jordan is fondly remembered by the class and received an overwhelming number of nominations. He has been chosen to be an Honorary Member of the class.

Each honoree receives a cane and a certificate and we would like to send these onto you. Please let us know the appropriate mailing address.

We will be announcing the honorary class members on the campus Intranet and at the Senior Dinner in early May.”

Tears came as I read the email from Jordan’s classmates. They are making sure that he will always be a member of the class of 2011. They haven’t forgotten him and are honoring him at a time when everyday I wish that he is still among them, readying himself for graduation. It has been so hard to come to this time of year and know that 4 years ago at his high school graduation party we all talked about how fast time goes. Merrick was entering high school and Jordan was entering college. My mom said to me, “Just think before you know it, we’ll be having another party sending Merrick off to college and congratulating Jordan on his college graduation. It’ll be here before you know it.”

Four years later we’re still here. Merrick contemplates having a graduation party. He tells me, “All I wanted to be able to do was call Jordan and tell him where I’m going to college. I know exactly what he would have said. I miss him.”

Every morning I wake up with my first thought being of my father sick with lung cancer. “Daddy please live until Merrick graduates. Don’t die before his graduation.”

Dates are looming for Merrick’s graduation but also Amherst’s graduation. I’ve decided that for my own sense of peace I need to mourn not being able to see my son graduate from college on May 22nd. Trying to suppress my disappointment and sadness and throw all of my energy into Merrick’s upcoming graduation is not providing the distraction I thought it would to ease the burden on my heart. I am the mother of four and I need to give all of my children my attention. I must grieve the specific loss of the Amherst College commencement ceremony, which will not include my son in the way I dreamed.

It wasn’t until last week that I knew the official date. The end of May was all I knew. I thought if I didn’t know the official date it would be easier to get through the month, especially as many of Jordan’s friends prepare to graduate. It took courage but I wanted to face my fear and open my heart to the hurt that was orbiting it. I stopped the wondering and  went online to see the date of graduation. There are so many hopes and dreams that May 22nd, 2011 was supposed to capture. All the weeks I’ve tried to ignore it’s coming only brought me anxiety and pain. It is a day to be recognized and for me that means tears not of joy but of sorrow for what doesn’t get to be. I don’t get to see my son throw his cap into the air. There’ll be no pictures of him receiving his diploma. The smile that would have graced his face can only be imagined now. We’ve been kindly and graciously asked by the Amherst administration if we would like to attend the ceremony. I know if we did they would do their best to take good care of us. I can’t go. Hearing the names called and waiting, hoping that somehow Jordan’s name will ring out and he’ll appear ready to take on the world is more heartache than I can bear.

When I was driving home today after taking the girls to school, I didn’t take my usual route and ended up on a street where I passed a series of trees with white ribbons tied around them. “Huh, wonder what the ribbons are for? Are they in memory of someone, solidarity for a sick neighbor….?”
I wasn’t sure but those ribbons helped me with an idea of one of the things I need to do as May 22nd approaches. I’ve decided and I’ve told those around me who I love and I know that love me, that the only way I’ll get through what should have been Jordan’s college graduation is to mourn what can’t be. The huge catalpa tree in front of our house will be wrapped in a purple ribbon as will Jordan’s tree. Purple is Amherst’s school color and it will be our recognition of the day. I would be so honored by any of you that choose to put a purple ribbon on a tree near your home. Please send pictures if you can and I’ll post them here on my blog.

I’m not sure how I’ll spend May 22nd. I’ve given myself permission to cry all day if I need to, to stay in bed or sit amongst Jordan’s things and just remember. Mourning the loss of what would have been is my right as Jordan’s mother. I’m unselfishly loving my child in the only way I know how, by honoring him and grieving my loss. For my family May 22nd will be a commencement, a moving forward, just not in the way we had imagined.

purple ribbon "J"

Should I have been a helicopter parent?

Helicopter parent: a mother or father that hovers over a child; an overprotective parent.

There are days when I try to change the events of October 12th, 2008 by turning myself into a helicopter parent. I wonder if hovering and being a parental GPS would have saved Jordan’s life. I know it’s useless. “What ifs,” at this point change nothing but I’m still haunted.

I found the writing below on Jordan’s laptop after he died. He gave me another purview into the world of parenting:

“My mother would tell me I had the soul of a poet. She would take my grade school musings, read from the crumpled pieces of yellow lined paper, and tell me how wonderful they were. Her unwavering praise for my puerile prose had the perhaps unintended side effect of imbuing me with an aura of unwarranted confidence.”

The words above are the beginning of a file, which he entitled, “Jordan’s musings.” The story goes on to talk of him bent over a commode as he vomits to the point of dry heaving as his friend chastises him for trying to drink a much larger, more experienced drinker under the table. The friend’s disgust stemmed from the fact that they’d come to the party with a group of girls and Jordan had ruined their chances for the night.

When I first read this story I sat with my hand over my mouth. Not because of the drinking, I knew Jordan was drinking while away at college. I’d told him to be careful. I told him of the history of alcoholism in our family. He always nodded, saying, “I know Mom,” uncomfortable with the conversation. But I persisted wanting to make sure that he knew I’d had a college experience as well and things hadn’t changed that much in 25 years.

My hand gripped my mouth because my son seemed to blame me for making him feel too special. Had I really gone too far in my praise and pride in my child? How much had I contributed to his air of invincibility?

When I was growing up my father’s biggest mandate to my sister and me was, “No matter what, you have to be able to take care of yourselves.” That one sentence meant being able to cook, do laundry, live independently and make choices that enhanced not hindered our lives. I say the same things to my children. Jordan starting doing his laundry at 14 and could cook simple meals before he went away to college. He ran errands, picked his sisters up from school and did his schoolwork without any prodding. He hated that he was the only one of his friends that had a curfew. My only response was, “Every family has their own rules. A curfew is one of ours.” He was a good boy, with good friends. Even though I know from looking at pictures on his cell phone that he experimented with alcohol and pot with his high school friends. I should have asked more questions. Why wasn’t I a helicopter parent?

The events of the weekend that Jordan died replay in my head with an on/off switch that I don’t control. I never know when an image will pop into my head or when I’ll think of what Jordan told me he was going to do that weekend, and what he really ended up doing. His plan was to go to New York, spend the first night with a friend from college who was taking a semester at Columbia, and then spend the rest of the weekend with his childhood friends one of whom attended NYU and another who had taken the train in from Boston. It wasn’t until Saturday when he texted me that he was on his way to Baltimore did I know the plan had changed.

Many months after he died, one of his friends from the car emailed me after much pleading on my behalf to please tell me about their weekend. He told me that they’d gone to Baltimore to go clubbing and attend a concert. The lure of a concert and hanging out with his older college friends pulled Jordan from a weekend that would have kept him safe. I didn’t try to stop him. I wanted to and even thought about telling him to take the bus back to NY and stick to the plan we’d agreed upon. But he was 19 away at college and Mark kept reminding me that we needed to let him make his own decisions. I finally relented hearing the words I’d spoken to Jordan before he went off to school. “I’m not going to be one of those helicopter moms, swooping in and tracking your every move. We’re raising you to be able to take care of yourself and that’s what I expect you to do.”

That’s what I thought was the right thing to do. Now I don’t know anymore. I wish I could find an article that would tell me if helicopter parents children survive in greater numbers than those of us who send our children out into the world hoping and praying that we’ve done right by them.

I’ve had so many arguments in my head with Jordan since he died. “Why didn’t you stay in NY? October 11th was one of your best friends birthdays. You were supposed to celebrate with him. Why did you choose partying with your college friends all 21 and legally able to go to clubs when you had to show your fake ID that I found amongst your things to get into the club?”

I always hear him say back, “But Ma it was a once in a lifetime concert. My friend got the tickets we all wanted to go.”

“How could you leave your friend, especially when it was his birthday. I don’t think I’ll ever understand that. I’m so disappointed that you made that choice. His birthday will never be the same because the next day is the day you died.”

I don’t think I was blind to Jordan’s shortcomings, he was impatient, at times selfish and quick to anger, and sometimes he didn’t think he just did. Jordan knew his shortcomings and was just entering adulthood in a way that we could start the conversations about triumphs and mistakes, both from me as his mother and from him as my son. I’m now left here working through the anger and disappointment that leap out of my grief, putting a chokehold on sorrow and replacing it with shame. Did I do right by my son? Could I have protected him from death? The prisms of grief have so many facets and can be blinding at times. Sorrow, lost, longing, anger, disappointment, shame and love. No matter what, there is never ending love for the boy who seemed to have a perspective on parenting that is now added to my rule book.

Jordan in his own way probably said it best further down in his, “musings”:

“Perhaps it’s a parent’s responsibility to be intensely optimistic when it comes to their children, their legacy. Its natural to hope that what’s left of you once you’re gone is a good representation. It’s even more natural to allow your hope for immortality through the greatness of your children to blind you to their shortcomings.”

Jordan didn’t get to be my legacy and that is the biggest shortcoming of this cautionary tale.