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 ‘gifts’ 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

Hearts and Flowers 2/14/12

To all who visit here I say thank you. I never imagined I’d be away from my blog this long after having foot surgery. Who knew that my entire body and mind would feel compelled to participate so fully in my recovery. I imagined myself alternating between writing furiously, reading a stack of books and catching up on movies with my leg propped on a pillow. One appendage was repaired and healing, and the parts of me I need for writing were unscathed or so I thought. Recuperation in the first weeks took all of my energy. I’m back to writing now and so glad you’re hear to share my journey.

Valentine’s Day 2012

“I hate Valentine’s Day.”

I’ve been hearing these words from my 7th grade daughters for the last week. When I push for a reason why, I’m met with,

“Because it’s a made-up holiday.”

“In middle school it’s dumb. We don’t have parties anymore like when we were little. It’s just another day.”

My reply has been, “Well it may feel dumb now but I hope you know that it can be about whatever kind of love you want to express.”

I was met with begrudged mumbles of agreement. I’m not sure if they really agreed with me or just wanted me to be quiet. It’s hard to tell with adolescents exactly what’s going through their minds. I know my girls are romantics at heart and love sappy movies as much as they love watching football with their dad and playing soccer. I was the same way growing up, minus the football, so I know that their expectations for Valentine’s day are liable to exceed the reality. I think they both would love to find that they each have a secret admirer or a boy that’s gutsy enough to express his feelings. The travails of middle school.

I remember the valentines of elementary school. Picking a special one for the boy I had a crush on and hoping he’d notice me. By junior high my anticipation of the day waned. I still looked forward to one part though. Every year there would be  small heart-shaped boxes of chocolates on my sister’s and my pillows, with a huge heart-shaped box given to my mom. Daddy never forgot. He made sure we felt special every year. Daddy even surprised me one year when I was in grad school in Los Angeles and feeling lonely. He had my roommate place a  box of candy on my pillow. Daddy was never the overtly emotional or affectionate type but he taught me how much gestures made out of love mean.

Today despite their misgivings both girls came downstairs wearing necklaces with heart charms, revealing their true feelings and showing that they’d give the day a chance. In spite of themselves they anticipated the flower deliveries that would happen at school. Every year the student council sold flowers for friends on Valentine’s Day. L and K had both bought flowers for their buddies and each other. I knew they were eager to see the reactions of their friends but also secretly hoped for flowers of their own. How perfect that they remembered each other. I’ve watched them grow so close since Jordan died. They take care of each other in a way that channels a lifelong friendship beyond their sisterhood. Love is in the air and it is the sustainable, grounded kind that sees you through tough times and rejoices with you in celebration.

When they come home today they’ll also find a surprise. As I was writing this piece the doorbell rang and there was a delivery for me. Inside was a large box of chocolates and two small heart-shaped boxes sent by my wonderful husband. I cried as I saw the boxes remembering my Dad and how special he made me feel. L and K will find hearts on their pillows just like I did growing up. My daughters are learning about love. There are many love lessons to come but one thing is certain, their foundation is one of kindness, generosity and respect.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

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

While Sam Cooke Sang

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

Tying Ribbons, Making Buttons, Remembering Jordan

On the program at Jordan’s memorial service, the poem I chose for the front was one by Henry Dumas:

The universe shrank

            When you went away

            Everytime I thought your name,

            Stars fell upon me.

For me, the universe did shrink when Jordan died. I felt it every time I had to remind myself to breathe when I didn’t realize I was holding my breath. I felt it every time I looked outside and wondered how people still knew how to walk and converse and laugh. I felt it every morning when I opened my eyes, looked around my bedroom and then closed my eyes again, because having a dead son makes it hard to imagine how you’ll fill your day.

In my last post I talked about consciously mourning the fact that my family doesn’t get to see Jordan graduate from college and that to honor the Amherst commencement we will tie purple ribbons around the trees in our yard and on Jordan’s tree and I asked others to do the same. Since that post, a very kind and generous woman named Dafeenah who found my blog through She Writes has given me a way that others can honor Jordan and help him to be remembered. She wrote saying she didn’t have a tree to which she could tie a ribbon, but she could make a button that she could place on her blog. She asked my permission to design the button. I cry every time I come to the part of her asking permission. It reminds me of Jordan’s friend Sean asking permission to wear Jordan’s birthday as his football jersey number.  The respect and grace people have shown me in the face of my sorrow as they help me honor my son is so humbling and helps tilt the earth just a little bit back to the axis of beauty that I knew before Jordan died. I am forever grateful.

2 ½ years have passed since Jordan’s death. It is a short amount of time and a lifetime all at once. The passage of time and the constancy of love are teaching me important lessons about keeping my heart open to the present and the future. The fear I had that my son would be forgotten is unfounded. Family, friends, and strangers who quickly become friends because of their compassion, are showing me that a shrinking universe can expand again and that I can be a part of it.

The button is displayed below and will be on my blog through May 22nd the date of Amherst College’s commencement. Any of you that would like to display it on your blogs; Facebook pages or wherever you feel is appropriate I would be honored. The button says a “life of consequence” which aptly describes Jordan’s life, and are also the commemorative words associated with the Jordan Moore-Fields’ Amherst Scholarship fund.

An Early Valentine To My Village

Picture taken at a local park Valentine's Day 2010

Today when I went to pick the mail up off the floor from underneath the drop slot, I saw a pouch with paw protectors. I smiled remembering that Lindsay and Kendall told me to expect them as one of our fellow neighbors /dog walkers, was going to leave them for Nessie. Apparently they were too small for her dog. She eyed the rubber booties Nessie wore and thought we might like the canvas rubber soled type better. Before owning our dog I didn’t even know some dogs wore booties. Our small pawed, cold hating dog wears them out of necessity. When I saw the pouch lying with the mail it reminded me of how kind and good hearted the people of my community are. Her random act of kindness reminded me of all I have to be thankful for because of the people in my community. Today, even though its 9 degrees and the wind is blowing, the sky is blue and the sun warms my seat on the couch by the window. It feels like a good day to express gratitude and to give a valentine to the village I love.

From the moment we moved in, Mark and I loved our new community. We felt after several job transfers, we’d found the place we wanted to stay. We chose this community over 16 years ago because we wanted a home and a neighborhood that would be the secure base from which our children would learn and make lasting ties. We liked the notion of living in a village, rich with history, which our town is. It has been ideal for us because it has great public schools, is close to downtown and has the nostalgic neighborhood feel, with kids safely playing outside reminiscent of Mark’s and my childhoods. In every way it felt right when we moved here and continues to do so. We moved here with our two young sons and all we saw was a bright future in a friendly environment. Our new neighbors welcomed us warmly with gifts of food and made themselves available to answer questions about the local school Jordan would attend for first grade.

Jordan walked to school with other kids from the block and when Merrick started school he and Jordan walked together. When it came time for middle school for the boys, the bus stop was less than a block away. Lindsay and Kendall hit the friend jackpot on our street. There were five children within a year of their ages that lived on the same side of the street as us. The kids played from yard- to -yard and house- to- house. There was no need for “play dates.” They made friends at school and on the block and their friends’ parents became the friends of Mark and me.

No community is perfect, but ours has proven to be a good fit. The people here have shown themselves to be kind, creative and trustworthy. Block parties are common during the summer, and every Fourth of July our village has a fireworks display at the local high school. People come with lawn chairs or blankets and together we sit and “ooh” and “aah” at the pyrotechnics. Volunteers come around and gather monetary donations to help defray the cost of the event.

One Fourth of July about 5 years ago we got a personal sense of the spirit of the people who make up our village.  During the Webkinz stuffed animal craze (Is it still a craze?) I accidentally dropped Lindsay’s webkinz as we walked back to our car after the fireworks. I didn’t realize until we got home that Zach the beagle wasn’t with us. Lindsay slept with this stuffed animal every night so she was very distraught. I promised her if we didn’t find it in the next few days I’d get her a new one. Until then she found comfort with one of her other stuffed animals. A couple of days later as we drove home from running errands I waited at a stop sign and happened to look up at the brick fence of the home on the corner near the high school. There sat Lindsay’s stuffed animal waiting for its rightful owner. I got out of the car, handed it to Lindsay and after finding his telltale rip she assured me this was her webkinz. I thought then, “This is the only place I know where a kid’s toy would still be here to be claimed.”

When our world was upended On October 12th 2008 with the unimaginable loss of Jordan, our friends and neighbors took action. As we sat numb with grief and in shock, we appreciated that our village is also a place where news spreads quickly and people want to know how to help. It is a place where the then superintendent of the elementary schools, who I know through school board committee work came to my home and said the words few can say at such a devastating time, “I know how you feel.” She sat with me holding my hand telling me the tragic loss of her daughter in a car accident. She did all this on what would have been her daughters 35th birthday. I will always be awed by her compassion and grace.

My family has been enveloped in a quilt of caring, with threads of care that have touched us so profoundly. We experienced firsthand how friends and neighbors gather together and figure out what you need when you’re in the haze of grief and can’t find words. They give without being asked. They pray for you, they hug you; they drop off brownies, books, and flowers on your porch-just in case you’re resting- but all the while wanting you to know that they’re thinking of you.

We have been fed physically and spiritually. In the months after Jordan’s death, meals were dropped off at our home and an account was set up at a local restaurant that provided delivery of meals for 6 months. In the first year, cards arrived almost daily with notes of prayer inside. Cards came from Jordan’s piano teacher, many of his former teachers and the librarian at the high school, and so many from the parents of his friends. All of them expressed their condolences but also shared their special memories of Jordan, which I cherish to this day.

I’ve learned a lot about friendship since Jordan died. Even as my friends experienced their own personal ordeals and worked through grief and losses they found time for my family and me. Friends like Terrie, Lori, Lisa and Michele made a pact with each other to check-in with me just to, “hear my voice,” or “lay eyes on me” if they hadn’t heard from me in more than a few days. And my friends Amy and Jeanne who call me every Saturday morning to ask without judgment or pressure if I’m attending our exercise class. If my answer is “yes” they pick me up and have provided a buffer as I try to gently reenter the world outside of grief.

The neighbors and friends in my village showed the heights of  compassion and loyalty on the day of Jordan’s memorial service. The memorial service was the same day as my daughters’ soccer game. The game was rescheduled because it conflicted with the time of the memorial service and so many families were attending the service that there wouldn’t have been enough girls to field either team.  At the memorial service we walked in to see a church that seats over 700 people filled to capacity. That day we met the parents of some of Jordan’s friends who were there as proxy for their children. Even though they didn’t know Jordan personally their children told them how special Jordan was and is to them.

My village has taught me so much about grace in action. The lessons have come through the many kindnesses of my friends and neighbors. No one ever expects to experience a devastating loss like the death of a child. On many days when grief brings me to my knees, what sees me through, is the compassion and generosity of my family, neighbors and friends. Today I offer this post as my valentine to my village. Thank you for shouldering some of our burden and finding ways to ease our pain.

Our family at Jordan's tree dedication ceremony. The tree was dedicated by Lindsay's and Kendall's Girl Scout Troop.