Right now I’m trying to prepare myself to wistfully watch college kids trickle back home for the summer. I know I’ll do my usual double take at young men that remind me of my son Jordan. I know they’re not he but my gaze will linger on their walk or the backs of their heads. I will imagine for just a moment that it is my boy and he’s come home.
Jordan can’t come home anymore and some days that fact is easier to bear than others. One day a few weeks ago I was cleaning out my inbox on our main computer. I’d hesitated to do this task because I wasn’t sure how I’d react to seeing old messages from Jordan. I shouldn’t have worried. Every message I found from him made me smile. I sat at the computer reading his sometimes too brief notes with such contentment. I felt as if I’d rediscovered a cache of letters buried deep in a drawer. Every email was a treasure no matter how banal. They were notes from my boy to me; nothing could be more priceless.
Email was one way I kept in touch with Jordan while he was away at Amherst College. Some of his emails were his paper assignments from his History or Political Science classes for my review. I was so honored that he trusted my opinion. It marked a milestone in our relationship, him seeking out my advice. He like most adolescents went through the phase where any suggestion I offered had to be debated or rejected. Looking over his papers in middle school and high school were torturous sessions. College though, was different. The maturity Jordan was showing made me so proud. We shared a love of reading and then he allowing me into his world of writing.
Jordan and I also routinely emailed articles we thought the other would find interesting. Jordan’s wit and his opinion of my generation were exemplified in the articles he chose to send me. I found emails from Jordan in my inbox that included an article from the July/August 2008 Atlantic Monthly, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/6868/, also articles from his college newspaper, and my favorite, an article from the NY Times entitled, /Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK) by Laura M. Holson.
I have never been very technically savvy. My husband and children lead the way in all things new and computers are no exception. Jordan and I had the same type of cell phone and he taught me as best he could how to send text messages. I realized that if I didn’t learn how to text I wouldn’t have much contact with him when he was away at school. He rarely checked voicemail messages but would respond quickly if I left him a text message. I used the cell phone to make calls; he used it to send text messages. I remember asking him about the feature that showed in “ghost writing” an anticipation of the word you were typing. I asked him to show me how to text faster by using this feature. He explained how it worked and I must have looked as confused as I felt because he finally said, “That’s the advanced class, just work on regular texting for now.” I still haven’t made it to the “advanced class.”
Jordan and his friends used forms of communication that at times led me to wonder how close their friendships were. Everything seemed virtual. They texted in clipped abbreviated grammar, they “talked” on Facebook but rarely unless they were face-to-face did they hear each other’s voices and hold conversations. Jordan and I would debate the lack of what I considered “real” talk between he and his friends. I teased him that their lack of talking and writing, would make it hard for them to communicate more broadly when they needed to. He always gave me the same response; I didn’t understand his generation. They didn’t need to communicate the way I did with my friends he would tell me. They stayed in touch with each other and that in his mind was the important thing. He also predicted that my mode of communication would become outdated and I would find myself texting more and talking via phone less. Time will tell.
When my sons were younger, I signed up for Facebook after reading about and hearing from friends how it could be misused for bullying and harassment. Jordan and I were never Facebook friends though I did attempt once when he was in high school to “friend” him. My friend request to both of my sons was ignored. When I gullibly asked them if they got my request they told me as politely as they could that letting me into their Facebook world wasn’t something they planned to willingly do. I quickly learned from Jordan and Merrick that they would have to be forced to let me into their virtual friend space. I didn’t press the issue. My relationship with each of them was open and strong. I told them I trusted them and would continue to do so unless they gave me a reason not to. They understood my meaning and my Facebook page lay dormant until well after Jordan died.
“jordy! been blastin the cool thinkin bout u, missin u and lovin u.”
I have now become a voyeur in my late son’s world. Messages like the one above greet me when I go to visit my 19-year-old son Jordan’s Facebook page. Looking through the messages left by Jordan’s friends since his death on October 12th, 2008 have provided comfort and community on days when all I want is for Jordan to be a sophomore in college preparing like his friends to come home. I am so gratified to know that by dropping in on his Facebook page I’m connected to his friends who let me know with heartbreaking beauty that they miss him too and that he has not been forgotten.
After Jordan died I learned first hand about what Jordan meant about his friend’s communication skills. They’ve reached out to my family with grace and a maturity that belies their years. His close friends who were unable to attend the memorial service, some we’d never met before, made a point of coming to our home to sit with us and pay their respects. Remembrances of Jordan in the college newspaper also let us know how he was thought of:
“[Jordan] was one of the coolest, most chill dudes on campus. He had a way about him that was quiet, but he never let you forget he was in the room. He just never said anything that didn’t need to be said. He was real at all times and he was an honorable person that was fair and loyal.”
Those that weren’t able to visit, sent cards or letters with their own fond memories of Jordan that I wouldn’t otherwise know. One letter from Jordan’s friend who couldn’t attend the memorial service talked of her time working with Jordan on their high school newspaper. She wrote of a time travel game they used to play in their down time. The game involved describing what era you’d like to visit and what you would do when you got there. She ended the letter by telling me she would never forget Jordan and that all of those who played the time travel game voted Jordan most likely to fit in no matter where he landed. I treasured her words and have my moments thinking of Jordan time travelling and fitting in oh so well.
I’m still learning of the impact Jordan had on his family and friends in his time on this earth. In the hours after Jordan died I learned by accident that his younger brother posted a plaintive message on Facebook page that was the virtual equivalent of a wail. His post read, “Merrick is lifeless. A piece of him died.” Merrick left our computer open to this page and I found his message the morning of Jordan’s death by accident. I sat numbly after reading his words and for a moment was taken back to my conversations with Jordan about his generation’s way of communicating. Here in two sentences were the echoes of grief that Merrick had been unable to verbalize directly to his parents. On Facebook he laid his soul bare. Merrick expressed his sorrow and reached out to his and Jordan’s friends using the medium that reached many quickly without concern for showing his vulnerability. I ached for my son and knew by reading his words the depths of his pain. I also knew that we had to quickly find a way to let Jordan’s close friends know of his death before they learned of it virtually without benefit of comfort by family or friends. I didn’t want any of them sitting alone facing a computer screen when they learned their friend had died. My husband and I placed calls to the parents of Jordan’s closest friends who informed their children and I assume spread the word. Jordan’s college sent out a mass email alerting everyone to his death. Word spread the way of Jordan’s generation and that is one of the ways they chose to pay their respects.
After hearing of Jordan’s death, two of his friends set up a public R.I.P. page on Facebook so that his friends could post messages. I went to this page expecting to see it filled with messages honoring Jordan. I was so disappointed and confused to find it empty except for information about the memorial service. Where were Jordan’s friends? Then it hit me. They had gone to the place they always went to communicate with Jordan, his profile page. Since Jordan and I were never Facebook friends my only entry was due to Merrick leaving his Facebook page open. I went from his Facebook page to Jordan’s and was met with a flurry of postings from Jordan’s friends and acquaintances who as they said had, “dropped by.” Here was the place that held the messages meant for Jordan.
The virtual reality that is Facebook allowed Jordan’s friends to stay in touch with him in a metaphysical way that is so fittingly a part of their generation. Their shock and disbelief leapt off the page. For so many of them, Jordan’s death marked the first loss of one of their own. They came to his page to try and make sense of the unfathomable, and also I think to try and be with Jordan. There was no hint of self-consciousness as both male and female friends openly expressed their love for Jordan and their sorrow. Their vulnerability and pain were evident in all of their posts.
His friends paid their respects with transparent eloquence:
“i dont know how or why this happened to you. You were one of the nicest people Ive ever met and your smile could light up any room. you will be missed”
“Damn this is crazy Rest in peace man…”
“Jordan you are the kind of guy that no one could ever say anything negative about. A quality man I know your already making a positive impact somewhere and you will continue to do so here.”
“I don’t know if this counts, but I lit a candle for you and said the mourner’s Kaddish. I’m sure I was terrible with the Hebrew, but I don’t think you’d mind (hah, you ain’t even Jewish). You are in my thoughts and my prayers. I hope that we’ll meet again somewhere.
Sincerely, respectfully, sadly,”
The earnestness and sorrow with which they spoke to Jordan surprised and touched me. Jordan was right. There were things about the way his friends communicated that I didn’t understand. I prayed as I read their messages that they would take the time to read the messages left by others. I needed them to know that they weren’t alone in their grief. Jordan would not want them to suffer alone. In spite of the virtual nature of their contact there were tangible benefits. They like I could drop by anytime and not have to grieve alone. These children/young people/friends were spread all across the country but when they visited Jordan’s page they grieved together and celebrated Jordan’s life together. The miles that separated them didn’t matter. They didn’t need to see each other’s faces or hear each other’s voices. Their words were enough. Their words meant everything because they took the time to drop by to the one place where they all knew that they could come together and talk to and about a life well lived.
After the initial rest in peace messages, the Facebook communications did not stop. For Election Day 2008, messages to Jordan showed how well his friends knew him and his love of politics. It was a day where my husband and I casted our votes with tears in our eyes. We voted thinking of our Political Science major son Jordan and how he’d voted early via mail-in ballot. How he watched every debate with the same intensity and fervor that he watched sports on television. As we stood in disbelief casting our votes for Obama, knowing how much Jordan had been looking forward to this day, his friends posted notes on his page showing they too were thinking of him:
“Jordan as I went to the polls this morning bright and early at 6am… i thought about u… i kno u were right over me watchin witnessing this legacy that has taken place…. our votes counted and we helped change the world…. we in here Jordan -Love always and 4ever”
“Your legacy has been made. Ill see u in heaven someday. Catch u on the flip side son, Im gonna miss ya. Your vote is what changed the country.”
“JORDY!!!!!!!!!! i kno how happy you are to kno that we have a black president!!!!!! miss u much!”
I continue to be comforted every time I visit Jordan’s Facebook page. His friends wish him Happy Birthday, Happy Holidays and update him on their lives. I love that they bring Jordan forward with them in their lives. I hope they don’t mind that I drop by to gather a bit of the love they leave for my son. Some days it is what keeps me going.
Since Jordan’s death there are days when my biggest fear of him being forgotten comes forth and overpowers me. Even as I’m reassured that he won’t be by the outpouring of love towards him by his friends, my mother heart is still uncertain. When I’m having my doubts all I have to do is visit his Facebook page. There plain as day are the many notes of love, longing and good wishes from his friends. As one of his friends put it, “See you in the later.”
I’ll see you in the later too sweet son. You are missed by so many.