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 November, 2011

“To Grandmother’s House We Go”

Thanksgiving has come and gone and with it all of the anxiety that built up inside me. For weeks before I wondered how it would be possible to step inside my parents’ home and not have daddy sitting in his chair waiting to welcome us. Mama was determined that would stick to our usual routines and traditions. She would make fried fish and potatoes on Wednesday, the meal we always savored after our journey from Chicago. Daddy usually cooked his famous home fried potatoes but this year Mama would handle the duties.

My sister had asked me repeatedly what time we’d be arriving in Ohio. With each ask my response was the same, “I don’t know.” Up until a week before I wasn’t even sure if we were coming. It felt too hard not just for me but for my children as well. For the first time in their lives they didn’t know if they wanted to make the trip. “It won’t be the same without Pop. Can’t Oma come here and we’ll do all the cooking and take care of her?” It was a lovely thought. One I presented to my mother who balked at the idea.

“No, I want to do Thanksgiving. I’m alright, I can do it.”

When she said these words I wanted to cry out, “But I’m not sure I can do it.”

Trying to make things as they always were in the face of another empty seat at the table felt like too much pain to take in. I wanted to support Mama and be there because I knew she needed me but I also had to think of what was best for my family and what felt selfish, what was best for me. Mark said he would abide by and understand any decision I came to, but he added the words, “Thanksgiving is going to be different and hard no matter where we are.” And he was right. In the end I needed to be with my mom and the rest of my family for Thanksgiving. I told Mama of my misgivings and warned her that I felt so sad and wasn’t sure I’d be able to feel much of anything else.

“Don’t worry about being sad. We’ll all cry when we need to and we’ll get through this Thanksgiving together.”

We made the familiar trip to Ohio and Lindsay, Kendall and Merrick shouted out, “Welcome to Ohio,” as we passed the sign. I sighed knowing that soon I’d be at my childhood home with my mother waiting to greet us at the door. “Who’d carve the turkey?” “Who’d sit at the head of the table?” Were questions that wouldn’t leave my head.

As we drove up to my parents’ house I saw my sister Julie and her husband Brian’s car in the driveway. Brian opened the door for us and Mama was right behind him ready to receive us. The smells of our delicious dinner wafted from the kitchen. As Mark and Merrick brought the bags in I walked through the family room and glanced at the chair Daddy would have been sitting in, waiting for our arrival. A short glance at the chair was all I could muster as I made my way upstairs to the kitchen to hug hello to Julie. The table was set and all that was left was for us to do was eat.

Mama shouted out, “Alright now come and eat while everything is hot.”

We all made our way to the table and I sat in my usual seat to the right of Daddy’s chair at the head of the table. The chair sat empty but only for a moment. Mama came into the room and with decisiveness took the seat at the head of the table. We grabbed hands to pray and I gripped her shaking hand as she thanked God for our being together, “One more time.” Her voice faltered but her spirit is so strong. As we said, “amen” I gave her hand an extra squeeze and opened my eyes to my wonderful family. Even in the midst of longing for Jordan and Daddy I felt their presence and was warmed by the grace of their company mingled so beautifully with all of us at the table.

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Fear of Sleeping

For me, night intensifies even the most mundane of concerns. Sunday’s NY Times Style section had an article with a title that made me blanch: \”Sleep Medication: Mother\’s New Little Helper\”. I hesitated to read it wondering if I would find the article as condescending as the title. But, read it I did and was actually comforted to know that there are many women and it seems mothers in particular who battle insomnia. Apparently that golden time when as new parents we’re able to boast about our babies sleeping through the night coincides for many women with the last time they can remember being able to tout such an accomplishment.

I’ve never slept well and have always been one of those people that awaken repeatedly during the night. The night wakening didn’t bother me too much until it was accompanied by anxiety about going to sleep. The cycle of fatigue had me so worried about getting a good night’s sleep that I couldn’t fall asleep. I resisted sleep aids other than the occasional Benadryl; justifying it by telling myself I needed it for my allergies anyway. But there came a time after my daughters were born 12 years ago that nothing I tried was helping. Sticking to a bedtime routine, taking Melatonin, warm showers before bed, not working in my bedroom, darkening the room, etc. left me still wide awake repeatedly during the night.

The worrier part of me came out in full force at night. Should I have gone over Merrick’s math homework with him, why didn’t I quiz Jordan for his history test. I complimented Kendall but not Lindsay, did they notice? Nighttime started to feel like dread time and I felt powerless to change it.

When I finally went to my family physician and told her of my battle with sleep, after a long talk and many tears on my part she suggested I try Ambien. “But I don’t want to get addicted to sleeping pills.”

“You’ve got a real problem that other methods haven’t been able to address. Look at you, you’re exhausted and depressed and right now my major concern is that you get sleep.”

“I agree. But you know me, I hate taking medicine.” (Said I, the woman with the chronic illness already on numerous medications)

“That’s why I’m here. Don’t worry about addiction, let’s get you some sleep.”

So, I trusted my doctor who knew me and had never thrown medication at me. Ambien worked, for a little while. I slept and woke up feeling rested for the first week or so and then things changed. It didn’t work anymore. I’d take it on an empty stomach as prescribed and wake up at 2 0r 3 am ruminating on my old woes. Would I ever get a good night’s sleep?

In the midst of the ordinary was the phone call on October 12th, 2008 in the middle of the night, followed by the police officers at the door telling us about the car accident. Jordan was dead and sleep has never been the same. In the days and weeks after Jordan died Mark and I wondered if falling asleep let alone staying asleep would ever come naturally? We  began a new ritual of helping each other prepare for bed, both knowing that even though we’d been prescribed anti-anxiety medication in the face of our trauma, sleep would elude us. As I showered, he would sit in the bathroom talking to me when I was able, and listening to me weep when I wasn’t but he would stay and at the sound of the water being turned off, I would open the shower curtain knowing he’d be standing there to envelop me in my towel, wiping the soap from behind my left ear, a spot I always seemed to miss. He’d stand holding me for a moment and then the pattern would reverse. I’d sit waiting for him, sometimes talking, sometimes not but waiting with an outstretched towel to cover him and bring him in close as he’d done with me.

Three years later, Mark and my ritual is not daily but still occurs. I continue taking a small dose of a sleeping aid that allows me better sleep. That, coupled with the meditation exercises suggested by my counselor have made sleep much less frightening. I still have many nights where I awaken. Now the mundane mixes with the surreal. Things like- “Do the girls have food for their lunches tomorrow? Did I remind Merrick to reserve the shuttle to the airport for Thanksgiving? Share space with, “Jordan’s really gone. I have a dead son.” All of these thoughts running through my mind make me grateful for any amount of sleep. It is the elusive respite I craved during the baby phases of all 4 of my children. I keep going; reminding myself that time has brought progress. At least now I’m learning how to be less afraid to go to sleep.

October Snow and Long Distance Parenting

My newly minted freshman in college is a part of the October snowstorm that hit the northeast this past weekend. The town where Merrick’s school is located lost power on Saturday and is still in the dark. Merrick called home Saturday night to update us and we advised him to conserve his phone’s battery even as we peppered him with questions.

“Do you have a flashlight?”

“Um, no.”

“Are you sure? How could we have bought half of Target and not bought a flashlight?”

“I don’t know but I don’t have one.”

“Look in the bottom drawer of your desk. Your dad put tools and things like that in there when we were helping you unpack.”

“Alright Mom, I’ll check but I don’t think I have one.”

Turning to my husband Mark I say, “How could we not buy him a flashlight. That should have been one of the main things on the list.”

“Mom, I’ve got a wrench, no flashlight.”

“Okay, okay. Well hopefully the power will be back on when you wake up tomorrow.”

“It’s okay right now. The generator is lighting the hallway and the bathroom so it’s not too bad.”

“Just be careful okay.”
“I am.”

We said our goodbyes and as Merrick went off to make a snowman with friends and then play his saxophone in a band thrown together for the occasion, I tossed and turned waiting for morning. Who could imagine such a snowstorm in October? The month was so close to being over and for my family it is a month fraught with emotions. We marked the 3rd anniversary of our oldest son Jordan’s death on the 12th and made our way through the 18th the date of his memorial service and then celebrated and consoled Merrick on the 20th the day he turned 19, the same age Jordan was when he died. October already held enough upheaval and Merrick was just starting to find a rhythm again and not be so weighted down with grief. In the days right after his birthday he’d said things like, “Why did Jordan have to die a week before my birthday? And “Jordan died when he was 19, I’ve got to make it through this year.”

Struggling for comforting words I gave him what I could, “ I know your birthday is hard now. It may never feel the way it did before Jordan died. But that doesn’t mean that one day you won’t feel pockets of joy. My prayer for you is that as time goes on those pockets will grow deeper. We’re here for you and we will always celebrate the day you were born. That day gave us you. You’re not Jordan and what happened to him was an accident. Each day, every year is to be lived, not gotten through. Please try to take in what I’m saying.”

“I’ll try.”

Then the tears came and I sat cradling the phone making sure he knew I was there but allowing him to vet every emotion coursing through him as he sobbed for all he’s lost and all the longing he has for his brother. The week wore on and I’d talk to him every other day, “Just checking in,” were my words when I couldn’t keep myself from calling. I didn’t want him to feel like I was worrying too much about him but I was, and the only thing that made me able to cope was hearing his voice.

*

On Sunday morning after the storm, Mark and I were both awake by 7:30 and Mark immediately reached for his Ipad to check the outages on the East Coast. Merrick’s town still had no power. I was grateful he was still asleep and hoped that maybe by the time he woke up the power would be back. Later that morning we got a call from Merrick from the cellphone of one of his friend’s saying that the campus had run out of food and they were strongly encouraging students to evacuate the campus. The administration suggested they go to a neighboring school that did not lose power or home if they lived close enough. Merrick then went on a rant about AT&T and how he had no “bars” and the only people that did were those with Verizon and T-Mobile.

“Dad we’ve got to change cellphone carriers. This is crazy.”

He ranted about his phone but we heard the panic in his voice and his need for us to help him figure out what to do. He was weary from October. We had to decide what was the best option so that he could feel safe. Realizing that soon we wouldn’t have any connection with him if his friends all scattered because some were going to Boston to stay with friends and some were going to neighboring schools, we had to help our kid figure out the best place for him. Thankfully he knew us well enough that he didn’t impulsively just go someplace without letting us know.

Jordan’s trip during his Fall break from college took a detour from New York to Baltimore which he texted us about as he rode to Baltimore. I never got a chance to tell him, “That wasn’t the plan,” or “No, stay in NY.” I wonder if I could have kept him safe, kept him alive. On the drive back, just 20 minutes from campus is where the car accident occurred and he was pronounced dead at the scene. He was riding with 3 friends when the driver fell asleep and the car careened off the interstate falling 40 feet onto the service road below. As much as we want Merrick to have freedom as a college student and be responsible for making decisions, Jordan’s death has cast a veil of vigilance over the rest of our children. Merrick choosing the same small town as his brother to go to school has heightened our anxiety.

As we scrambled to figure out where Merrick should go until he could return to campus he uttered, “I could carpool with some friends to Boston.”

The word, “No,” was out of my mouth as Merrick finished his sentence. “I don’t want you carpooling. We’ll figure out how to get you someplace safe.”

Before I could speak further Merrick jumped in, “Okay Mom, I know. I won’t.”

This wasn’t the first time that riding with friends had come up with Merrick. As I reminded him to make his reservation early for the airport shuttle for Thanksgiving his response was, “My friend and I were thinking about grabbing a ride with some other people going to the airport.”

“Merrick, NO. I don’t want you carpooling. I’ll pay for the shuttle. I don’t want you riding in someone’s car. Do you understand?”

“Mom I got you.”

He says he understands but how long can my fear of young people and road trips determine my son’s actions? He is 19 and I want him to be 20,21 and on and on. There will come a day when he does take a trip with friends and I’ll have to grit my way through it. My feeling now is that I won’t breathe until he’s safely at his destination and then safely back. It’s not how I want to live. I hope I’ll regain some calm and faith, but I’ve become a maven of safety statistics of buses, planes and trains vs. cars. Cars lose every time.

*

For anyone observing Mark and I as we tried to figure out the best and yes, safest place for Merrick to be until he could return to campus, you would have thought we were planning a reconnaissance mission. Mark paced the family room as I sat with my laptop googling hotels, looking up friends on Facebook trying to remember who lived in Boston.

Mark throws out, “Could you call your friend Doreen in Boston?”

“I’m not even sure she’s in town. Besides how’s he going to get there?”

“Well we told him we’d call him back and we need to before his friend leaves. That was the only way we had to stay in contact with him.”

“I know that,” I snapped. Then the obvious became the plan. “Let’s call Jordan’s dean. He said if we ever needed anything to call him.”

With that Mark picked up the phone and both of us started to feel we were doing something to help Merrick. Jordan’s dean was more than happy to help us and would pick Merrick up from campus then take him to his house. We texted Merrick the dean’s telephone number so he could arrange to get picked up. I felt foolish for talking to him like a 10 year old but I repeatedly reminded him to call me when he was with Jordan’s dean. When he finally called a mere 20 minutes later sounding relieved I felt the weight of the night and the panic of the day leave. After our call was complete, I continued to hold the phone, my forehead on my knees. Mark came over and sat on the ottoman across from me and held my legs. “He’s okay.”

Tears were all I could muster as a reply as the words, “Merrick is not Jordan,” were the mantra on my mind.