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 ‘brothers’ Category

While Sam Cooke Sang

Many of you have found my blog through my piece on the Huffington Post and to you all I say thank you and welcome. I feel the need to repost a few posts about my dad so that those new to my blog can have a true sense of who he was. I say was because Daddy died on Easter Sunday, 2011 after a brief battle with metastasized lung cancer. Below is the piece I wrote about saying goodbye.

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

Changing Traditions And A Christmas Gift From Beyond

Our last Christmas with Jordan, 2007

Our last Christmas with Jordan, 2007

Dear Jordan,

It is Christmas day, 2012 and it has been 5 years since our family tradition of you shepherding your brother and sisters down the stairs so that your dad could get that first reaction picture of Christmas morning. Of course the holidays bring out the longing for you in a most poignant way. Time has eased some of the pain and I’m able to listen to your favorite Christmas songs this year for the first time, even though it isn’t without tears. Donny Hathaway’s, “This Christmas” and Coltrane’s, “Favorite Things,” transplant me back to the days of you crooning your way through the house decked out in your Santa hat, sipping eggnog. I’m able to smile through some of these tears and I pray that you hear me when I talk to you. We are changed, as of course we should be, and there has been growth and grace that has infused all of us. We speak your name everyday. You always live in our hearts and your name and a Jordan story is never far from our lips.

We are making our way through the holidays and learning to keep you with us as well as find new ways to learn to celebrate and feel joy, with the knowledge that we’ll be united again. We’ve changed some traditions because the weight of attempting them without you here to participate was too great. The Christmas tree is now adorned with lights and a few ornaments, although while I don’t push anyone else, I’ve taken over a good deal of the tree decorating. I even have a special “Jordan” section where I hang pictures of you, ornaments that Julie made, as well as all of the ornaments you always insisted on putting on the tree. Don’t worry the nutcracker is in your section.

Jordan's version of Santa

Jordan’s version of Santa

Your brother and sisters have the most trouble with the tree which just exemplifies how much you were/are their beacon for certain things. We no longer go as a family to pick out the tree. Merrick, Lindsay and Kendall politely respond, “No thank you,” when we ask them if they’d like to go with us to tree shop. Your dad and I have found a new lot to go to where we spend less than ten minutes, always finding the perfect tree in record time. I always feel like you’re steering us to just the right place. Gone too are the days of all of us decorating the tree together with Christmas music playing in the background. Merrick asked on the first Christmas we spent without you if we could just leave the ornaments out and when you felt like it, you could place one on the tree. That has turned into our new tradition. Your siblings make their way to the tree in solitude, I’m sure thinking of you. I’ll go into the living room periodically and see that they’ve hung their photo ornaments and maybe a jingle bell or two.

In the midst of the season I’ve had my moments of doubt as to whether I could make it through without falling apart. I said to a few friends that I wish I could just sleep until January 3rd and not have to feel the anxiety and angst of missing you that always creeps into my spirit no matter how hard I try to breathe through the pain. All of these thoughts occurred in the frenzy of the Christmas rush when I was shopping, thinking of the tree and wondering how I would muster cheer when the greatest gift I wanted was you ambling down the stairs with the rest of the kids. I took a moment to imagine such a plan and realized it would leave me missing out on so much of the life force that are our family, friends and even me. Plus, I’d never want to miss a glimpse of you and your spirit.

I’m getting better, feeling the heaviness of sorrow less and accepting healing more. Healing comes in so many forms and this year it was allowing myself to weep openly in front of your dad instead of retreating to the bathroom before we came downstairs this Christmas morning, saying aloud what I think so many times, “How did we lose a son?” The tears are cleansing and every year finds me stronger and more resolute in the fact that I indeed am the mother of four with three surviving children.

One present I gave myself this year was the decision that I don’t have to think of you as forever 19. You would be 23 years old now and when I sit and close my eyes, I see your beautiful brown eyes, the way your jaw would have become more angled with age, the bass that has settled into your voice and of course your smile. You will grow older with me. It is a perfect solution to a problem that felt unsolvable.  Thank you for my Christmas gift.

Love,

Mama

My First Easter

The last month has been challenging the closer it came to Easter. Daddy died on Easter Sunday and even though last year that date was April 24th, it didn’t matter that the date didn’t fall on the same day. Easter brought up all the memories of getting the call from hospice that Daddy was in his final moments and we should hurry if we wanted to see him before he died. We got there 10 minutes too late, which I think Daddy would have been relieved about. He didn’t want us to watch him die. We all filed in to his room to see him, all tubes removed and him lying in bed with no signs of pain on his face. I laid my head on his chest and called out, “Oh my daddy, my daddy, my daddy,” marveling all the while that his body was still warm and it didn’t feel like we got there too late.

This year, all the days leading up to Easter brought flashes of visiting him in the hospital, watching his fast deterioration, having a slideshow in my head of the MRI scans that showed picture after picture of all the places the cancer had invaded his body. I was dreading Easter and wanting to quicken its arrival at the same time. “Lord let me get through this day.”

I worried about Mama and was relieved when my sister told me she would be going down on Saturday to be with her on Sunday. But Mama, always the planner had already mapped out her day. She would observe her usual Easter rituals. There would be Sunrise service at 6am with her friend Mrs. Bradley, and then Sunday school before coming home and later having dinner at a friends. The last part was the different ending to the day. Dinner with Daddy was always how Easter Sunday wound its way down in years past. But she found a way to make it through the day on her own terms. I was flailing around, wanting to be with her, wanting to be with Merrick who loved his Pop so much and was showing his own signs of missing him and us.

“Mom, I wish I could come home and go to church with you for Easter.”

“I know honey, but you’ve got a few more weeks and then you’ll be home for the summer.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Can you find a church service there you can go to?”

“Probably, my friend Jeremy said he would go with me.”

“That’s a good friend. I’m glad he’s there for you.”

“Mom, I was feeling bad on Friday and I listened to “Sugar” by Stanley Turrentine.”

“Oh believe me I know the song. That was one of Pop’s favorites.”

“I just missed him and started listening to it and I love how it starts off kind of slow and then builds and then rolls between all these different rhythms. By the end of the song it was like Pop was talking to me, “Boy get on up and do what you need to do.”

“That sounds like Pop.”

“Well I felt better so I got up and went to my Spoken Word Club meeting like I was supposed to.”

“I’m glad he was there for you. I think I may need to take a listen to some Stanley Turrentine myself. It’s gonna be okay baby. I know it’s hard.”

And Easter was hard. My family went to a friend’s church with her family choosing not to go to our home church even though I’d bought a lily to sit at the base of the altar in memory of Daddy and Jordan. I couldn’t bear the part of the service where they ring a bell after saying the name of each person who died in the previous year. The sound of the bell they rang when they said Jordan’s name in 2008 still echoes in my heart.

The service at my friend’s church was beautiful and uplifting but mostly I felt numb, still so torn that I wasn’t with my mom or with Merrick. After church when we came home I did the only thing I could. I changed clothes and lied down on my bed curling up waiting for sleep to come. Mark came into the room telling me not to worry about dinner.

“Stay here as long as you need to. I understand.”

The most comforting part is that I knew he truly did understand. I talked to Daddy for a while telling him how much I loved and missed him and before I knew it I was asleep and I slept better than I had in weeks.

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A Question For God

I didn’t recognize him at first. The sun was in my eyes and the girls were the first to point him out. “There he is Mama. Merrick’s right there.” I squinted and looked closer and there was my boy waiting to be picked up from the airport, home for spring break. My heart raced and ached at the same time. This situation was one I’d grown accustomed to. Picking Jordan up from the airport while he was away at school I was met with the same stance. There Merrick stood looking so much like his brother, hands in his pockets, backpack slung over one shoulder, nodding his head to let me know he saw me. It was all so familiar. As he got into the car mobbed by his sisters and reaching out to hug me I felt relief that he was home, gratitude that he looked well and sadness that I’d never get to pick his brother up from the airport again. All those emotions coursing through me at the same time, barely able to recognize one before the next bombarded me. Merrick is home and I’m so glad. I get to feed him and care for him and listen to all that has happened since he was home last, just like I did with Jordan. My joy is weighted down with the heaviness of longing and I can’t deny it. I would have given anything to have the girls as we pulled up at the airport point and say, “There they are Mama, there they are.”

I know Jordan can’t come home like he used to but the eerie familiarity of going through the same routine with Merrick that I did with Jordan takes more energy than I have sometimes. I miss Jordan and am overjoyed to see Merrick at the same time. Those two feelings housed inside me overflowed yesterday and all I could do was sit on the patio and cry. I cried and I asked God, “Why? Why did Jordan have to die?” The “whys” haven’t surfaced in a long time. But yesterday for a little while I wanted an answer from God. I wanted to know why I can’t sit around my kitchen table and look at the faces of all of my children and my husband. I wanted all of my family back. It was a why me moment that I gave into and let the tears fall.

As the tears subsided I remembered back to the day after Jordan died when I first asked God, “Why Jordan?” The answer I received came from a surprising voice. Jordan clearly spoke to me and simply said, “Why not me?”

Jordan’s response gave me my answer as unsettling as it was and is. My family has not been spared the death of a loved one. Jordan’s answer is one that grounds me to the fact that we aren’t alone. There are many families just like us longing to have that seat at the table filled again.

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

Learning to look forward-2012

Happy New Year and thank you to all who visit and comment on my blog.

I’m still getting used to the notion of a new year making its entrance without Jordan here to experience it with me. Tears have flowed already this morning as I learn to live in a world where I don’t get to see my oldest son grow and prosper. Even as I wiped the tears away my heart was grateful to have family and friends that I can share my deepest feelings with and not feel misunderstood. With every year I feel a part of my grief being transformed into a powerful love that comes from being able to mother such a wonderful son as Jordan. For that gift I always say, “Thank you.”

To all of you I wish peace, time for quiet reflection and experiences of real joy in 2012.

My family on Christmas Eve

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