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 the ‘anger’ Category

Wedding Vows and Compromise

From the moment one says, “I do,” and commits her life to another the whole notion of sacrifice and compromise become a part of her vocabulary. In our early days of dating Mark and I were both weary from energy depleting relationships and wanted nothing more than to find someone with whom we could truly be ourselves. During our first date we talked of hating the game playing that had defined previous relationships we each had. We went so far as to make a pact that we’d have truth and honesty as our foundation and then we shook on it. It seemed so simple. We were on the same page and looking for the same things, a committed relationship, a partner that shared our values, someone to make us laugh and listen when we needed to unburden and cry. We have found that in each other.

I love when Mark tells the story of asking my dad for my hand in marriage. We’d met my parents in Vegas and Mark’s parents were there as well so that we could introduce everyone. Mark found himself in a difficult position. His dad was insisting he do the traditional thing and speak with my father about our impending engagement. Mark knew from talking to me that if he asked my dad for my hand, the response would be, “I don’t have anything to give away.”

Sandwiched between two strong-willed fathers, I wished Mark the best as he went off to talk to my dad. True to form as soon as he began to ask for my hand my dad interrupted him saying, “Boy, I don’t want to hear that kind of talk. It’s not for me.”

Mark nervously replied, “You’ve got to understand. My dad is pressuring me to do what men in our family have done for generations. I’m stuck so please let me finish.”

With those words Daddy softened and told Mark to take a look at me standing across the room. “What did Jackie have to say about this?”

“Well she warned me you would react this way.”

Daddy grabbed him by the shoulder and said, “Do you see that smile on her face? As long as you can help keep that smile there you’ll never have any problems with me.”

Mark and I have been married now for close to 24 years. We still watch our wedding video from time to time and my favorite part is after we’ve been announced to the congregation and our making our way back down the aisle, Daddy briefly stands with this huge smile on his face and pats Mark on the back. He knew I’d found my life partner.

Life has caused Mark and I to face and stand by every vow that we said those many years ago. We’ve faced sickness and health, richer and poorer and during our wedding ceremony said in strong voices, “Til death do us part.” Death has come to visit, not leaving either of us widowed but taking our oldest child and testing all the promises we made to each other. Would we still be honest and open with each other? Would grief drive a wedge between us or allow us to grow closer even as we mourned in different ways. We’ve held each other in sorrow, weeping until no more tears would fall. We’ve flipped through pictures of before Jordan died reminiscing and breathing the blessing that was his life. But there are times when our expressions of grief and love for our son take divergent paths. I regularly watch the video of Jordan from the memorial service. I cry every time and they are sweet cleansing tears. Mark hasn’t watched it since the memorial service. Mark occasionally wears some of Jordan’s shirts and sweatshirts and I can barely breathe thinking, “Those clothes aren’t for you.” But I stay silent because I know they bring him comfort and a connection to Jordan.

Now we’ve come to another crossroad and it has to do with the picture of Jordan we used for the memorial service. It was a poster-sized version of Jordan’s high school senior portrait. My extended family each has copies and they are proudly displayed in their homes. I never got around to framing Jordan’s portrait and after he died for me it was no longer his senior portrait but the memorial service picture. I couldn’t look at it anymore. But Mark wanted to put it up next to Merrick’s senior portrait. “Merrick looks so lonely. His brother should be next to him.”

“I’m not ready to do that. Can you take it to work and have the picture there?”

“If it’s too much for you, I’ll take it to work.”

That was the plan and even though it still felt unresolved I felt less anxious about having to look at the picture everyday. I didn’t want to let Mark down and I hated that the portrait no longer represented the sweet memory of watching Jordan hurriedly tuck in his shirt as he rushed out the door to get his picture taken. I wanted to reclaim that feeling but I didn’t know how. Thursday evening I was walking upstairs and glanced in the living room to see Jordan’s senior picture displayed on the coffee table. Shock and betrayal filled me. “He promised he wouldn’t put it up but he did.”

It was like the picture had some force field around it. I couldn’t even go into the living room and remove it from the table. I ran upstairs and confronted Mark.

“You said you were taking the picture to work. Why is it on the table in the living room?”

“What are you talking about, oh wait a minute I had the picture face down by my briefcase. Irena (our cleaning lady) must have put it up. I wouldn’t do that to you. I’ll go get it right now.”

“Thank you.”

It wasn’t sitting well with me that I was thanking Mark for removing a picture of Jordan. I needed that picture to be transformed and I didn’t know what it would take for it to be his senior portrait again. I walked by it face down on the dining room table for a couple of days. Then on a day that I needed a reminder that there were those out there who remembered that grieving lasted longer than a season, I received a card from my friend Sue who I haven’t spoken to in ages. The front of the card read, “Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.” St John Chrysostom Sue wrote an inspiring message inside to me and signed the card writing, “Shine on sweet sister.”

I realized as I read the card that I do want to shine on and part of that for me is taking away any negative aspects connected to looking at my son. His memorial service was beautiful and as I’ve said before I wish that we’d recorded it. During the service my thoughts were far from wanting any visual reminders of the event. The first moments of walking into the church were traumatic and I gasped when I saw the picture of Jordan haunted by the too big image of him on the dais. I tried to make it through the service by not gazing directly at his picture, thinking that I could somehow preserve it as what it was before if I didn’t look at it. But I did look at it as he looked out on the congregation with a perpetual smile. That beautiful smile that everyone who knew him commented on and all I could see at the time was a picture spoiled, totally ruined by death. How dare death make us choose a picture for a memorial service when all everyone wanted was for Jordan’s death to be a horrible mistake? So I chose instead to listen, keeping my eyes closed for most of the service and letting the sounds fill me with a peaceful connection to all that had gathered to pay tribute to Jordan.

The card from Sue reminded me of two things. One no matter how alone I feel sometimes, there are so many family and friends sending, prayers, love and light to my family and me. Two, Jordan is with me always and I choose to embrace him by watching videos, listening to his voicemail message, rereading old cards and letters from him, writing to him, talking to him and yes erecting his senior portrait where it should have been all along. I took the picture of Jordan examined it closely, looking deeply into his eyes and planted a kiss on his cheek before placing it on the table next to Merrick’s picture. Mark saw it a little later and asked what made me change my mind? I responded, “I don’t want to be afraid of anything connected with Jordan and I love you and think you should be able to see your boys side by side in our home.”

I have two boys that graduated high school and their pictures will always hold a place of honor.

Senior Portraits

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Please Keep In Touch: The Grief Does Not Stop Here

Everyday I miss Jordan. I wake up missing him, and I go to sleep missing him. Sure there are times when our spiritual connection is strong and I feel his presence, but those times have not served to negate that intense almost feral desire I have to see his life continue to unfold. I still need to talk about Jordan. I want to share both the great and the not so great memories of all the times we had together, times when we laughed together or shared our favorite scenes from movies, times when my voice went hoarse from screaming at him when he’d pushed me too far because my answer of, ”No” wasn’t enough and he had to have the last word.

I need to say his name and know that I’m being heard and that he isn’t being forgotten. And when despair sets in the thing I crave most is to be able to cry the same way I cried in the early days after he died. Crying hot tears of grief, anger, bewilderment and pure sadness without having to explain that even though it’s been 3 ½ years since he died, some days my hurt is like it happened yesterday. Grief surges and pulls at me in physical ways that make me want to scream.

Mark and I were at the car wash a week ago and as we sat in the car being herded through the line watching the sudsy cloths flow across the windshield I said to him, “this is the perfect place to scream. I could scream here and I wouldn’t have to worry about upsetting anyone.” Sometimes when I’m out in the world attending to mundane tasks of running errands or even when I’m engaged in a meeting or having lunch with friends I feel a surge of pain so powerful that I bow my head for a moment hoping that the scream I feel within won’t be released. At these moments I can tell you that all I’m thinking about is how do I keep going when my son is dead and I miss him so much? I want Jordan. I want the actual blood and tissue and heart pumping Jordan. I’m not content to sit knowing his spirit is with me. These are times that border on insanity and I wonder how long they’ll last.

I have to miss watching what so many of the parents of his friends are allowed to witness. I don’t get to see him get his first apartment, fall in love, find a career that thrills him, butt into his business and have him say, “Mom, I’ve got this, don’t worry.”  I don’t get to see him grow older. As a parent there are days when not being able to call him or touch him make me wail out in pain. Grief has not left the building.

My heart was shattered when I heard the words that Jordan was dead. Even now there are days when the improbability of me outliving my child makes me shake my head in disbelief. I know that part of my longing to see him and be with him is because March is here, the month of my birthday. I’ll grow another year older and have to accept that it is a gift my son will never know again. There’s always the whisper from inside me as my birthday approaches, “Jordan, you take my birthdays I want you here.” Even birthday wishes can’t bring my son back. As much as I know that life goes on and that I want mine to be meaningful, oh there are days when the hurt takes over. It is on these days that I wonder how to let the world know I’m not doing as well as you may think. My heart is mending but it carries a scar that feels like it may never heal. The calls and cards and all the communication I received in the first year have dwindled but not completely gone away. I guess the only way people know how you feel is if you tell them. The problem is I’m not always sure that the notion that I’m still mourning and have days where the tears won’t stop falling may be hard for others to understand. The trouble is I don’t always want to be alone as I mourn. I still need to cry and say out loud how much it hurts that Jordan is gone. I’m not looking for answers just the understanding that it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since the death of a loved one. I need to know that those that care about me can call, email, send a card, be here for me in whatever way feels right, without undue discomfort.

I’m pleading for understanding. I’m better than I was a year ago but my mourning journey still takes me to the depths of heartache and longing. Most of us seem to accept that there is no time limit on grief but be aware, that as the string of days grows longer and functioning in this world grows easier it takes a long time for a shattered soul to be fixed back into something that resembles a functioning heart. Please, think of me, pray for me and ask me how I’m doing if you can. Just be patient in my halted reply.

Searching Out Memories With The Help Of Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston’s death sent me on a search for memories. I’m not talking about anything metaphysical but an actual looking through my stuff search. Mark videotaped so many moments of our children’s lives. The video camera was not just for birthdays, recitals and holidays, but everyday occurrences as well. It used to drive me crazy that his desire to capture even the most mundane of our family’s history. Now all I have is gratitude for his foresight.

When Jordan was 3, he had a favorite Whitney Houston song that he sang regularly. Since her death, I desperately need to hear Jordan singing his favorite song of hers. I’ve been culling our old DVD’s of Jordan when he was younger. I’m looking for a specific video of him singing Whitney Houston’s song, “I Have Nothing.” Jordan loved that song and sang it so sweetly in his high-pitched little boy voice. He was funny with his song choices. He gravitated towards the music he heard his dad and I playing. He was just as likely to sing “Gotta Be,” by Desiree as he was to sing songs from the “Baby Songs,” repertoire. When he got in the car with his dad he always asked to hear Chubb Rock a rapper from the ‘80s.

So far my search has been fruitless. Whitney Houston was my generation. She was born in the same year as I and shared a birth date with Jordan. Her death brought back a flood of memories of Jordan as a little boy. Every video I’ve watched I’m struck by how strong his personality was from his earliest years. In one Christmas video he got a tent and eagerly crawled into it. As I opened the flap so that Mark could film him he politely asked, “Please close the flap, I need my privacy.” That was my 3-year-old boy asserting his independence and guarding his privacy as he did until the day he died.

A dear friend just observed the 7th anniversary of his son’s death. One of the things he did to mark the day was to watch the memorial service video. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to film Jordan’s memorial service. My regret at not having the memorial recorded started during the service. As I sat in the pew, listening to Merrick speak so passionately about his love for his brother, watching the video compiled by one of Jordan’s best friends, taking in the words of the eulogy, speaking of living with the roses and the thorns and having the service end with the sweet sound of another of Jordan’s friends playing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” on the saxophone I thought, “We should be capturing this time.” Being able to revisit that beautiful service and the celebration we had of Jordan’s life is all I want some days.

It’s funny how time and circumstances can change you. About 7 years ago one of my great grandfather’s brother died at a ripe old age. My sister had been in contact with him and they wrote letters back and forth. After his death, his family sent Julie a DVD of the funeral service. She called me surprised and unsure of what to do with the DVD. She like I found it morbid that a funeral would be memorialized. Morbid was the word that stuck in my head. Why would anyone want to rewatch a funeral? It was hard enough attending them. That was back when I was afraid of death, feeling that if I got to close to it I’d be changed and not for the better. Well, I have been changed and the biggest change is that death doesn’t have a hold on me anymore. I held the hand of my dead son as he lay in his casket. I kissed his too cold cheek. I laid my head on my Daddy’s chest in the minutes after he died calling out his name and still feeling the warmth emanating from his body.

Jordan’s death was a traumatic middle of the night horror that still reverberates with shock and despair. His memorial service though was a grace filled occasion and every chance I have to see him in motion from infancy through the last videos we have of him as a young man are gifts. I embrace his life and the legacy he continues to provide. Death took a part of him away, but I’ll never grow tired of remembering him, talking to him and staying connected to my son.

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

October!

Having another child in college is turning out to be the roller coaster I imagined. Merrick was home for his Fall break two weekends ago. When I made his reservations to come home all I could do was cry when I finished. I thought of Jordan and how life would be so very different now if he had come home for his Fall break in 2008. He and I talked about it, given that he had 5 days off from school. A part of him wanted to come home but he was trying to budget his money and be responsible and told me, “Thanksgiving is soon. I’ll wait until then.”

When Merrick’s fall break came up, in my mind there were two choices, stay at school or come home. Neither he nor his dad and I could imagine any other possibilities. We’re all skittish about travel, remembering what happened to Jordan. Merrick was home until October 11th and my heart ached having to send him back to school knowing he wouldn’t be with family on the anniversary of Jordan’s death. I told him he could stay another day if he needed to, but he didn’t want to miss his classes. He left worried but steady and my words to him were, “Please confide in your friends. Let them know about your brother and what October 12th means to you. You don’t have to be alone on that day. If they are the friends you say they are then take a leap and trust at least one of them.”

“Maybe you’re right Mom. I’ll think about it.”

Later on the night of the 12th he told me that he’d talked with one of his friends and they were able to console each other. Her grandfather had died in the days that Merrick was away and she hadn’t told anyone either.

“We talked for a long time and I was glad I told her about Jordan. It made me feel better.”

Long distance parenting is tricky stuff. I worry so much about Merrick, knowing all the mixed feelings October brings for him. His birthday is coming up and he’d forgotten until a call from his grandmother asking him what he wanted. His 19th birthday is on Thursday and the memory of losing Jordan clouds and threatens to cover a day of celebrating life. Merrick has had to grow up and rectify in his heart the loss, longing and need for his big brother with the reality that he has a life to live and he wants it to be long and filled with goodness and prosperity. I watch him struggle with these emotions knowing there are days when all he wants is Jordan, only Jordan to be his sounding board as he navigates college. Gratefully he shares his concerns and anguish with me even though most of the time all I can do is listen and tell him his feelings are perfectly normal. I wish I could do more.

I have another son about to be 19 and I’m praying that it won’t be a year to simply get through so that we can usher in age 20 and feel some superstitious relief. It is Merrick’s time and my greatest prayer and hope is that he continues to thrive and that he learns to trust that Jordan hasn’t left him completely, but is so close, still ready to be a big brother to him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jordan lighting the candle's on Merrick's 13th birthday

August-Taking A Day At A Time

It is the first day of August and I’m reminding myself to breathe. It is a month filled with birthdays, back to school activities, joys, sorrows and goodbyes. August 2nd is my daughters’ 12th birthday and starting the month celebrating them is quickly followed by the reality of Jordan’s birthday being 7 days later.

Controlling my urge to scream and desire to sleep the month away are taking far too much of my focus and energy. Facing another August without Jordan brings pain as fresh as in the days after he died. He should be here, I want him here, singing happy birthday to his sisters and then having them reciprocate along with the rest of our family a week later.

This year is harder than last. Days have become intertwined as my mind ticks off my daughters’ birthday, Jordan’s birthday, preparing Merrick for college and then taking him to school at the end of August. The time and energy it takes for me to untangle all these so that each day can be felt and honored feels like it is slipping away. My daughters’ birthday is tomorrow and I want so much to feel nothing but joy in my heart, concentrating on the miracles that they are.

I went into preterm labor with them at 24 weeks. After spending 30 days in the hospital and 30 days at home on bed rest, they made their entrance into the world 2 months early, small but healthy, only needing to stay in the hospital until they reached the 5 pound mark. While I incubated with them growing inside me, I talked to them everyday, “Keep growing. We’re waiting for you, but don’t come too soon. Keep growing. Mama loves you.”

I look at them now and I see these two beautiful young ladies on the cusp of their teenage years and they make me so proud. They are kind, generous, funny and so loving. The care and love they show each other is something I’m learning is unique to twins. I’m spending today, buying their presents, planning surprises and praying that my heart and mind will breathe with me and take just one day at a time. August 9th will come and it will be a very different day, where stringing the words, “happy” and “birthday” together will feel impossible.

Tomorrow is my two favorite girls’ birthday. I want them to have a mother who is present for them and able to share in all their joy and excitement. This is my prayer.

Sister talk

In Lieu Of

I knew I’d be better off not looking but I couldn’t help myself. Facebook friends that posted a picture with their son or daughter celebrating their college graduation made me sink a little deeper. I looked at their beaming faces and smiled in spite of my pain. They had what I wanted and I am jealous. I’m also angry with myself that I’m jealous, and wake up every day hoping the feeling won’t be as strong. I’ve never wanted to be petty but the jealousy and flashes of resentment have brought on moments of, “Why me” as I watch what I can’t have. I can’t help it though. If I’m going to be honest about my feelings then I have to admit that they’re not all gracious.

I sat in the car today at the grocery store for 15 minutes after I’d parked deciding if I had the strength to go in. What if I saw someone I knew? After sitting and crying I was not in a talkative mood. What if I saw a parent with a graduating child? Would I be able to even say hello? Small talk was out of the question and I didn’t think I even had it in me to say, “Congratulations.” I did will myself out of the car determined to be bigger than my fears and sorrow and I made my way through the aisles and back to the car before having to cry again.

I’m standing in the, “In lieu of,” space typically seen at times of loss. I just used the phrase 2 weeks ago in the obituary for my father. “In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to Jordan’s fund, a scholarship fund in memory of [My Dad’s] eldest grandson. Now in lieu of will be purple ribbons tied on trees around town and in places around the world to honor what would have been Jordan’s graduation. I’ve purchased my ribbon. I’ve even notified our local paper what all the purple ribbons tied around trees will represent so that they can lessen the wonder of our community.

I’m busying myself with these tasks because there is no ceremony to attend. No new outfit to buy and suitcase to pack. There are hopes and wishes floating around that were Jordan’s dreams, that I pray will land someplace viable. The preparations I’m making to recognize Jordan’s graduation are far from anything I imagined. But doing nothing on the day of his commencement filled me with too much sorrow. My pride in him has not diminished and my need to express my love for him will never go away. So I find myself in this awkward, “In lieu of,” place, helpless but for purple ribbons, trees and family and friends who love my family enough to help us celebrate Jordan. Through it all even as I wonder how much I can stand, I’m learning my heart won’t break and that I’ll keep going, finding ways to honor life and the memory of my son.

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A new friend made this button for my blog so that even as I mourn not being able to see Jordan graduate from college I can proudly honor him and show how proud I am of my son. I invite all of you to help me commemorate Jordan’s graduation by tying a purple ribbon on a tree in your yard on May 22nd(graduation day) and/or place this “button” on your blog or Facebook page. Thank you all for the support, kindness and love you continue to give me.