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 ‘cremation’ Category

Honoring Last Wishes- Another Look 2013

To give more insight into the idea of honoring requests and giving my new readers a fuller picture of my dad who was/is so instrumental on my mourning journey I offer again the post below.

The last few months I feel like I’ve been in a whirlwind. Traveling back and forth to Ohio when my Dad was ill, preparing for his memorial service after his death, honoring what would have been Jordan’s commencement with purple ribbons, and then Memorial Day weekend honoring Daddy’s final wish of spreading his ashes in his hometown in West Virginia. The part of West Virginia where my parents and their parents lived is fit for any postcard. The summer mountains are filled with lush green trees and roll on and on for as far as the eye can see. The area where Daddy lived was a mining town and everyone called it “#9” because that was the number of the mine that the men worked in and they lived in company owned housing and shopped at the company store.

It took us an hour to get there from our hotel and as we drove winding on too small roads that seemed to at any bend curve right into a mountain, Mark the kids and I all wondered, “Are we there yet?” Finally my brother-in-law who was leading the way pulled over on a patch of gravel off the side of the road.

“There’s the creek with the waterfall, exactly like Daddy said. It’s right here.”

My hand covered my mouth as I wept thinking back to our very last conversation when I asked him if he was sure the creek was still there and he replied, “Shoot girl, of course it’s still there.” The creek was there and he was right, Mama knew how to get there. My great-uncle who had driven with my cousin said as he got out of the car, “I thought I’d seen all of West Virginia, but I’ve never been out here.”

The area was overgrown and I looked up from the creek to all the trees and tall grass, trying to imagine what it looked like when it was dotted with small houses. What dotted the area now were yellow and black butterflies everywhere.Their presence was as if to say, “You’re in the right place. We’re here to make sure it’s special for you.” None of us had every seen so many butterflies in one place. I joked, “Daddy wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the place.” After we’d all had a chance to look around and take pictures of the waterfall and creek and the mountains as the backdrop it was time to do the task that had brought us to the spot. Mark carefully pulled the metal container from the back of the car.

I asked, “Do you have something to cut the plastic bag?” Remembering our struggle when we tried to spread Jordan’s ashes and didn’t have anything to cut the zip tie that held the bag closed.

Mark nodded and continued over to the creek just under the waterfall. Mama asked for a word of prayer and we all gathered, holding hands and my Uncle prayed for us and for the task we were undertaking. As we dropped hands I looked over to see Lindsay and Kendall crying and put an arm around each one of them holding them close. The bag was opened and Mark began to pour the ashes and we all watched as the ashes mingled and churned with the water cascading from the waterfall before drifting downstream.

I called out, “Daddy thank you for being so wise and letting us know what your final wishes were. We are so proud to honor them.”

Mark poured a bit more in and then I reached into my pocket and removed the small container that held some of Jordan’s ashes. With a high arc I flung them into the water. “Thank you Daddy for letting Jordan be with you.”

The only sounds were weeping. My mother wailed as she watched the remains of the man she’d loved since high school drift down the creek he’d played in as a boy. Suddenly we were all together hugging and crying as the sunshine warmed our backs. Mama began to quiet down and we all stepped back a little to give her space. I went back to the waterfall and just watched the water no longer clear but muddied with the ashes. As I walked back to the car, I searched the ground for rocks that weren’t broken pieces of gravel and found a coral colored rock and one stone with specks of glittering green. I put them in my pocket thinking of all the rock Daddy had skipped in that same creek.

Our day wasn’t done, Mama wanted to spread some of Daddy’s ashes around the graves of her parents and that of his oldest sister. We loaded back into the car for the next sojourn. As we pulled away from the creek Mark suddenly stopped the car.

“Look at that sign. Take a picture of it.”

I hurriedly got the camera and snapped the picture.After I read the sign I whispered, “and Daddy too.”

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

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.

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

To Jordan On His 22nd Birthday

Dear Jordan,

This is my 3rd letter to you on your birthday. What I wouldn’t give to be able to hug you and hold you close while saying, “happy birthday.” That dream/wish is no different from years past. Life of course continues to move forward and I feel shifts inside of me that let me know that your absence in our everyday lives has taken nothing away from the fullness I feel of you in my heart. Relationships are eternal and loving you is a fact of my life.

Pop is with you now. Before he died he counseled me on the worry about you that lingers within me. His wisdom helps me be still and find a modicum of peace. “Jordan is okay, you have to believe that so you can move on. He’s alright,” were some of his last words to me. I am learning to accept that fact and find comfort in your grandfather being there to talk jazz with you and maybe even play a little poker.

Your sisters just turned 12 and no one can believe how tall they’re getting and what lovely young ladies they are becoming. They both got braces about a month ago. Every other question they had was about your experience when you got braces. “Did Jordan say it hurt when they put them on?” “Did he ever chew gum?” “How long did he have to wear them?”, and on and on. You remain the benchmark for so many experiences for your siblings.

Merrick will be off to college in a few weeks and has chosen a school in Amherst, MA. When he first approached your dad and I with his first choice we told him, “Merrick this might be hard for us, you going to school so close to where Jordan was.” His response would have made you proud.

“You’ll be alright Mom and Dad. This is the right place for me.”

When we visited I knew he was right. I think too that being close to where you chose to go to school brings him a bit of comfort. During the school year he wore his Amherst College sweatshirt whenever he studied or had a paper to write. He said wearing it made him feel more studious and serious the way you were when you did homework.

Of course I worry about him going away and wonder how I’ll keep myself from “popping into Massachusetts just to check on him. Whenever I have these thoughts I hear your voice in my head.

“Mom, Merrick is gonna be fine. He’ll figure things out.”

I hope you’re right. I know that he misses you so much and all the questions he has about college and what the first year are like, are questions he only wants to ask of you. I ache for him when his longing for you overwhelms him. Please watch over him and find ways to whisper your guidance to your brother. He needs to feel your presence.

You’d be surprised how much you still make your brother and sisters laugh. Their latest thing is trying to imitate that crazy bark laugh that you used to make out of the blue. I watch them, smiling as they stand together loving you as only siblings can.

Missing you will always be a part of my life. Some things are getting easier though. Your dad and I have started spreading your ashes in different places wanting you to be everywhere. Your ashes are on the main campus of your college and when we spread Pop’s ashes in West Virginia, I threw a bit of your ashes into the waterfall watching them mix and flow with your grandfather’s. Before he died, he responded with gladness when I asked him if you could be with him in this way. If there were a way I could toss your ashes into the wind and watch them float high and wide like helium balloons to all corners of the earth I would.

Yesterday I rode my bike to your tree. I had a plastic bag filled with your ashes in my pocket, determined that you would grace the tree and land of the place where you spent so much of your early years. Today I will bury some of your ashes at the base of  the sumac tree we planted in our meditation garden to keep a part of you always at home with us. The garden is now filled with flowers and plants that promise color almost year round. When I sit on the bench in the garden looking at the cherub statue reading I imagine you lounging outside reading as you did so often.

“Jordan would love this garden,” crosses my mind every time I’m out there. I push away thoughts that we probably wouldn’t have the garden if you were still alive. It is enough that you would love it and that I feel close to you when I’m there.

We’ve hung our “Jordan banner” on the front porch again this year. Celebrating you will never grow tiresome. Today you would be 22 years old. I wonder what direction your interests would have taken you. Would you be in NY with Matt guiding the world of hip-hop into the future? Would you be on Capitol Hill continuing to strive for social justice? I’m left with imaginings. As difficult as this day is I know I’ll get through it. That’s something I couldn’t say with much assuredness in the months after you died. Time does bring about a change, as Nanny would say. We keep going and you my beautiful boy will always be in our hearts. You are forever my son and I am forever the mother of four.

Missing you and loving you,

Mama

Jordan with his Pop

Our meditation garden