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 December, 2011

My Christmas Letter

Dear Jordan,

I sat down many times in the last month trying to write a holiday letter to send out to friends and family. This year like last, I wasn’t up to sending out Christmas cards and felt so guilty about it. Every time I tried to write, the words wouldn’t come. I finally realized why. The person I most want to write to is you. I miss you. It is Christmas again and I’d give anything to hear you singing your way through the holidays. I’m finally able to listen to “This Christmas.” For the past 2 years if I heard it on the radio or my Ipod I immediately switched it off. It hurt too much to think of that song as timeless and you’re not here to share Christmas with us.

Merrick is home from his first semester of college. I know you are so proud of him. He loves his school and is making genuine friends who care about him. You know Merrick. He was so worried that he wouldn’t fit in. I know you are part of the reason that he stayed true to himself and let friendships evolve naturally. You always told him to, “Keep it real,” and that’s what he is doing. His spoken word poetry is a big love and you are a mainstay in his poems. He misses you so much and talks about you all the time. The other day he reminded me of how you used to act out the “Little Drummer Boy,” song. You loved Christmas so much!

Your sisters are flourishing. As they get older their memories of you seem to get stronger, not fade away as I had feared. I know you reside in their hearts and I thank you for holding them close. They both just tried out for the volleyball team and are waiting to hear the results. They’ve also followed in your acting footsteps and have been in a couple of plays.

Your dad is as busy as ever with work. He’s traveling a lot but he’s so good at finding a balance between work and home. You know your dad, family man all the way. You’ll be happy to know that all your encouraging and cajoling paid off. Your dad works out regularly and always says he wants to make you proud of him.

As for me, well like the rest of us I have good days and bad days. But the good days are starting to stretch out in frequency as I make peace in my heart that you are safe. I continue to write and hope one day soon to have my book finished. Your words, “Mom, when are you going to write your book?” echo in my head and fuel me to forge ahead writing about my precious son who left too soon.

The Christmas tree is up and all the stockings are on the mantel. Like every year past, yours is hung between Merrick’s and mine. I’ll write my little note to you on Christmas Eve as I have since you died and place it in your stocking. I imagine that one day, when my time to join you is drawing near I’ll sit and read all the notes knowing they’re filled with the love, pride and longing I have for you.

Thank you for being my son and for continuing to help me know what is good and honorable in this world. You are such a bright light.

Love,

Mama

(P.S. Hug Pop for me and tell him we’re taking care of Oma, doing the best we can to muddle through this first Christmas without him.)

Jordan on our tree-2010

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Thinking of You

“I’ll be thinking of you, thinking of you

Though we’re far apart, you’re in my heart

And there you’ll always stay

Till we meet again someday

I’ll be thinking of you”

Andrae Crouch

Jordan is always on my mind, always. Some days the comfort I get from feeling his presence in my heart and surroundings is like light and warmth all at the same time. I freely talk to him telling him about my days and asking him to watch over and encourage his siblings. I remember silly things he’s done and am able to laugh, feeling his laughter too.

On other days, thinking of him makes me wish that there were some way that he could come back, that a horrible mistake has been made and he’ll find a way to return. I’ve even gone so far as to chastise myself for having him cremated. “He doesn’t have a body to come back to, what were we thinking?”

Still more, are the days when I’m so angry not only at the accident that caused his death or at his friends who lived, but at Jordan. A litany of  “Why” outbursts cascade through my mind as I lash out at him for not surviving.

  • Why were you sitting in the rear passenger seat?
  • Why did you fall asleep?
  • Why didn’t you stay in NY instead of tagging along to Baltimore?
  • Why didn’t you stick with friends your own age?
  • Why didn’t you listen to your dad and I and stay vigilant when you’re riding in the car on long trips?
  • Why didn’t you tell me how tired everyone was on the day you were going back to school?

And then the anger fixed on Jordan turns to me.

  • Why didn’t I listen to my gut and call you to check-in while you were on the road?
  • Why didn’t I buy you a bus ticket for NY instead of allowing you to drive with your friends?
  • Why didn’t I get angry when you changed plans and off-handedly told me about it in a text message?
  • Why did I let you make your own choices and decisions?

The last why is the conundrum that threatens me most. I’m raising my surviving children to be just as independent and to live fully the way Mark and I taught their brother. Am I doing right by them? I pray they will live long, happy lives. I’m proud of them for their resilience and that they continue to embrace life with exuberance and hope. The love and pride I have for my children doesn’t change the nagging thoughts that undermine my beliefs in what being a good mother means.  It still stings when people tell me I’m a good mom. Sometimes all I can give in response is a nod as I lower my head. They’re saying, “Good mom.” I’m thinking, “Cautionary tale.”

My oldest boy is gone and as hard as I try I can’t completely shake the feeling that I should have been able to save him. Yes, it was an accident that took his life but there are so many intersections of time where things could have been different. A bus ticket, a phone call, saying, “No, you can’t go,” would have changed the trajectory of my family’s life. I know his death can’t be undone and facing that reality is a part of who I am now. Yes, I think about my son everyday and today happens to be a “Why” day.

Always Mom of 4

Christmas Lights and Music

Christmas 2010

Every Christmas carol you can name, my father had a jazz version of it. By far though, the saxophonist Dexter Gordon’s version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was always Daddy’s favorite Christmas tune. He would play it repeatedly, interspersed with Dave Brubeck, Gene Ammons, the Drifters, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and others. But Dexter Gordon popped up in the rotation more often.  Every time I’d hear it I always sang the words in my head and felt the melancholy of the line, “Through the years we all will be together if the fates allow.”

Last year as Christmas music filled our house for the first time since Jordan died, the “fates” felt closer than ever. Daddy had already told Mark and I that 2010 would probably be the last year he’d be able to make the trip to our house for Christmas. “These old legs can’t take too much traveling anymore.”

Mark assured him, “It doesn’t matter where we have Christmas as long as we’re together. We’ll come to you. The kids are older now. We can make it work.”

And that was the plan. I’ve been steeling myself for the holidays since Daddy died in April. Christmas was by far his favorite holiday. He always stood at the bottom of the stairs so that he could see his grandchildren race down to see what was under the tree. As the kids got older and slept later he’d complain, “What’s wrong with these kids? I’m giving them 15 more minutes and then I’m waking them up. It’s Christmas!” His child like exuberance filled our house and is a tradition that will be so missed. I must now put that tradition in my heart alongside listening to Jordan sing, “This Christmas,” over and over.

Time if you let it can be a teacher. I’m learning that no matter how much my heart feels broken, it is not beyond repair. I put Christmas music on today as I begin to pull out the decorations that always grace our home. The olive wood nativity scene, the angel with the capiz shell wings and many others will be displayed throughout the house making me smile and wistful all at the same time. I put the music on shuffle and was doing fine until Dexter Gordon’s horn started to play. I could see Daddy sitting whistling along in his perfect pitch. A part of me couldn’t help but cry out, “Why couldn’t the fates allow us one more Christmas together?” Three years ago I didn’t think I’d ever be able to listen to Christmas music especially Jordan’s favorites, “This Christmas,” by Donny Hathaway and Luther Vandross’ version of “My Favorite Things.” Each year has brought a little more comfort, sprinkles of peace even as heartache so clearly still resides within me.

Mark is outside taking advantage of an unseasonably warm day to put up the Christmas lights. This year I asked him to decorate the trees outside the window of the seat I occupy most, especially when I’m sad. I asked for light and it will glow through the many nights as Christmas approaches.  I’ll never stop missing Jordan and the thought of my first Christmas without my father can only be felt in small bits. But there is light, and it is finding its way into my heart.

Jordan on our tree-2010

Daddy listening to his music-Christmas 2010

 

 

Thanksgiving 2011-Remember the Time

Sometimes it isn’t until you give yourself a chance to breathe a deep cleansing breath, that the impact of what you’ve witnessed and been through can be fully experienced. I took my first real breath the Monday after Thanksgiving. After taking the girls to school I came home and found myself so profoundly sad and unable to shake it. I did the only thing I could. As had happened so many times before, I sat with my grief thinking of it as a guest that would leave when it was time. I wouldn’t wallow but I would feel the sadness, longing and anguish that the busy days of Thanksgiving had allowed me to quell. This year marked another beginning. Learning to live and celebrate without Daddy’s boisterous presence. My father more than anything loved having his family together. Loved cooking for us and was happiest watching us relish the food he and Mama prepared.

In many ways the familiar outweighed the feelings of loss as I navigated my way through the holiday. I still made cranberry sauce and candied sweet potatoes as I always do. Julie helped Mama prepare the turkey and was the taste tester on the dressing and potato salad. I moved in and out of the kitchen comforted by our routines and overwhelmed at the same time. When Jordan discovered he liked potato salad he became the jr. tester. Watching Julie made me miss him so much. “Jordan should be here,” crossed my mind and heart more than once. Daddy would usually be sitting at the kitchen table offering his sometimes, unwanted suggestions and comments to my mom as she readied the turkey. “Ann, check the wing it looks like you missed a pin feather.”

Mama would sigh, say, “Yep,” and check, even though she hadn’t finished cleaning the bird and would have found the feather on her own. These scenes frustrated me to no end. This woman had been cooking turkeys for at least 30 years and every year the ritual was the same. Except for this year, when the kitchen was quieter than usual and I wondered if I should fill the silence or let Mama be, not knowing if she too was thinking of Daddy and his armchair quarterbacking.

The turkey was always put into the oven at around 6 am. As the years went by the responsibility of bringing it up from the basement refrigerator and putting it into the oven fell to my sister and her husband who slept on the pullout couch in the family room. In my youth, Daddy and Mama had always “put the bird in” together. Both coming downstairs and reminding each other all day of what time they’d put it in the oven. But as rheumatoid arthritis took more of Daddy’s strength, he was no longer able to navigate the steps while carrying the 23lb. turkey.

When I got up Thanksgiving morning I came downstairs to find Julie already awake and eating breakfast. “Girl, I’ve been waiting on you. Get to making that coffee. You know that’s your job.”

“I didn’t realize how late I’d slept.”

Julie followed me into the kitchen and as I looked down into the oven I asked her if she went back to sleep after putting the turkey in the oven.

“I tried but I couldn’t really sleep.”

“What time did you put it in?”

She looked at me for a moment and then said, “I put it in the oven and then went back downstairs and looked at the clock. It was 6:07.”

Tears welled in my eyes, “Daddy’s birthday!”

“I know I couldn’t believe it either. He was telling me, I’m right here.”

Shaking my head I replied, “He is here and he found the perfect way to show us.”

daddy carving turkey