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 ‘guilt’ 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

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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

Back to the Writing Life

I had to look at my blog stats to realize it’s been almost 2 months since I’ve written in my blog, After we spread my father’s ashes in West Virginia I spent almost two weeks with my mom in Ohio and found it hard to do anything except rest and be with her doing whatever she wanted. I watched her favorite game shows, I went out to dinner with her friends and her, and for the first time in months I realized how tired and weary I was. I’m glad to be back writing. I hope you’ll keep reading.

I don’t know where to start. March 11th set me on a path that I didn’t anticipate or want. Then again who wants to hear that one of their parents has cancer and only has weeks to live. Intermingled with this still ungraspable news were the parental duties that I had to find a way to manage while doing whatever I could to help my mom help my dad. Talk about the sandwich generation.

As all of these duties were unfolding and I was getting into a routine of traveling to Ohio every week or so to hear for myself what the doctors had to say and to make sure my mom wasn’t coming home to an empty house, my own personal loss made a grand appearance. The date of what would have been Jordan’s college graduation was approaching and I was steeling myself for how I would make it through May 22nd. Merrick’s last day of high school was upon us and as he waited to hear from colleges where he would be accepted I tried my best to ease his fears, repeating, “You will go to college and it will be a place you want to attend.”

I’m thinking, “ Merrick’s going off to college and right now I can’t even imagine letting him go. Daddy’s not going to see him graduate from high school and that’s breaking my heart. How am I going to get through this day?”

As life would have it, we are making it through. Merrick’s graduation was beautiful. Hearing his name being read and seeing him walk to receive his diploma brought such pride knowing how many burdens he carried to get to that point. Cameras flashed as we took all configurations of pictures with Merrick as the centerpiece.

I have to admit that I had to look away when Mark called out, “Okay, now a picture of the graduate with the grandparents.” Those words told our family’s story better and more succinctly than anything else. Four years ago Jordan was receiving his diploma and his four grandparents proudly flanked him. This year our family portrait is of 5 not 6 and the call for grandparents rings out and “Pop” isn’t in the picture. Four years have created so much change. Moments before the grandparents picture I hugged my mother, as she wept, no words necessary. Then I watched her dry her eyes and proudly take her place next to her grandson. She managed a smile even though her eyes still held sadness. Sorrow and loss have touched my family  in profound ways. But joy and celebration also find their ways into our hearts.

Merrick and his proud family at his HS graduation

In Lieu Of

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

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

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

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

**

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

Should I have been a helicopter parent?

Helicopter parent: a mother or father that hovers over a child; an overprotective parent.

There are days when I try to change the events of October 12th, 2008 by turning myself into a helicopter parent. I wonder if hovering and being a parental GPS would have saved Jordan’s life. I know it’s useless. “What ifs,” at this point change nothing but I’m still haunted.

I found the writing below on Jordan’s laptop after he died. He gave me another purview into the world of parenting:

“My mother would tell me I had the soul of a poet. She would take my grade school musings, read from the crumpled pieces of yellow lined paper, and tell me how wonderful they were. Her unwavering praise for my puerile prose had the perhaps unintended side effect of imbuing me with an aura of unwarranted confidence.”

The words above are the beginning of a file, which he entitled, “Jordan’s musings.” The story goes on to talk of him bent over a commode as he vomits to the point of dry heaving as his friend chastises him for trying to drink a much larger, more experienced drinker under the table. The friend’s disgust stemmed from the fact that they’d come to the party with a group of girls and Jordan had ruined their chances for the night.

When I first read this story I sat with my hand over my mouth. Not because of the drinking, I knew Jordan was drinking while away at college. I’d told him to be careful. I told him of the history of alcoholism in our family. He always nodded, saying, “I know Mom,” uncomfortable with the conversation. But I persisted wanting to make sure that he knew I’d had a college experience as well and things hadn’t changed that much in 25 years.

My hand gripped my mouth because my son seemed to blame me for making him feel too special. Had I really gone too far in my praise and pride in my child? How much had I contributed to his air of invincibility?

When I was growing up my father’s biggest mandate to my sister and me was, “No matter what, you have to be able to take care of yourselves.” That one sentence meant being able to cook, do laundry, live independently and make choices that enhanced not hindered our lives. I say the same things to my children. Jordan starting doing his laundry at 14 and could cook simple meals before he went away to college. He ran errands, picked his sisters up from school and did his schoolwork without any prodding. He hated that he was the only one of his friends that had a curfew. My only response was, “Every family has their own rules. A curfew is one of ours.” He was a good boy, with good friends. Even though I know from looking at pictures on his cell phone that he experimented with alcohol and pot with his high school friends. I should have asked more questions. Why wasn’t I a helicopter parent?

The events of the weekend that Jordan died replay in my head with an on/off switch that I don’t control. I never know when an image will pop into my head or when I’ll think of what Jordan told me he was going to do that weekend, and what he really ended up doing. His plan was to go to New York, spend the first night with a friend from college who was taking a semester at Columbia, and then spend the rest of the weekend with his childhood friends one of whom attended NYU and another who had taken the train in from Boston. It wasn’t until Saturday when he texted me that he was on his way to Baltimore did I know the plan had changed.

Many months after he died, one of his friends from the car emailed me after much pleading on my behalf to please tell me about their weekend. He told me that they’d gone to Baltimore to go clubbing and attend a concert. The lure of a concert and hanging out with his older college friends pulled Jordan from a weekend that would have kept him safe. I didn’t try to stop him. I wanted to and even thought about telling him to take the bus back to NY and stick to the plan we’d agreed upon. But he was 19 away at college and Mark kept reminding me that we needed to let him make his own decisions. I finally relented hearing the words I’d spoken to Jordan before he went off to school. “I’m not going to be one of those helicopter moms, swooping in and tracking your every move. We’re raising you to be able to take care of yourself and that’s what I expect you to do.”

That’s what I thought was the right thing to do. Now I don’t know anymore. I wish I could find an article that would tell me if helicopter parents children survive in greater numbers than those of us who send our children out into the world hoping and praying that we’ve done right by them.

I’ve had so many arguments in my head with Jordan since he died. “Why didn’t you stay in NY? October 11th was one of your best friends birthdays. You were supposed to celebrate with him. Why did you choose partying with your college friends all 21 and legally able to go to clubs when you had to show your fake ID that I found amongst your things to get into the club?”

I always hear him say back, “But Ma it was a once in a lifetime concert. My friend got the tickets we all wanted to go.”

“How could you leave your friend, especially when it was his birthday. I don’t think I’ll ever understand that. I’m so disappointed that you made that choice. His birthday will never be the same because the next day is the day you died.”

I don’t think I was blind to Jordan’s shortcomings, he was impatient, at times selfish and quick to anger, and sometimes he didn’t think he just did. Jordan knew his shortcomings and was just entering adulthood in a way that we could start the conversations about triumphs and mistakes, both from me as his mother and from him as my son. I’m now left here working through the anger and disappointment that leap out of my grief, putting a chokehold on sorrow and replacing it with shame. Did I do right by my son? Could I have protected him from death? The prisms of grief have so many facets and can be blinding at times. Sorrow, lost, longing, anger, disappointment, shame and love. No matter what, there is never ending love for the boy who seemed to have a perspective on parenting that is now added to my rule book.

Jordan in his own way probably said it best further down in his, “musings”:

“Perhaps it’s a parent’s responsibility to be intensely optimistic when it comes to their children, their legacy. Its natural to hope that what’s left of you once you’re gone is a good representation. It’s even more natural to allow your hope for immortality through the greatness of your children to blind you to their shortcomings.”

Jordan didn’t get to be my legacy and that is the biggest shortcoming of this cautionary tale.

 

 

Forever Valentines

Mark surprised  me this weekend with dinner and a concert. He was able to keep the surprise from me although he did slip on the name of the restaurant. I teased him on the way to dinner telling him about my prowess as a detective. We had a great dinner where he gave me a lovely necklace with a typewriter letter, “J” as the charm. As I opened it he said to me, “I liked that it was a typewriter key, especially for you as a writer.” I nodded and told him, “I love that idea, but right now I’m glad the “J” stands for Jackie and Jordan as I clutched the charm. Mark nodded at me, already knowing I would love this fact about my gift.

We went to the Anita Baker concert and sang along enjoying the show even though it started an hour late! Anita Baker ended the show with the song, “You Bring Me Joy.” I listened swaying in my seat with the line, “If I can’t see your face, I will remember your smile,” staying with me and traveling home with me.

I loved spending such a special evening with Mark and the kids were so excited to see us going out having a good time. Lindsay and Kendall who knew about Mark’s surprise told him, “Daddy all my friends think you are so romantic.” I agree with Lindsay’s and Kendall’s friends. Mark is very romantic and my children are very loving. I know I’ll cherish the cards they’ll make and give to me tomorrow. Every year I pull out and look at the valentine given to me by Jordan when he was a teenager. I will always cherish this homemade valentine given to me by Jordan when he was in high school. The card from him was such a surprise. I’m rerunning that post today as well. Valentine’s Day is reminding me that love endures and I’m so grateful that it does.

Valentines-Transformation-2/13/2010

Jordan and Lindsay 12/07

This time last year, 2/12/09:

Jordan,

The boxes with the programs were emptied today. They have been under the bench in the entry since October when the programs were printed for your Memorial service. I glimpse at the boxes everyday when I walk past, always planning to move them or get rid of them. Until today something always stopped me, I didn’t feel ready.

Today your sisters needed boxes for the Valentines they would receive at their Valentine’s Day parties. Impulsively I said, “There are boxes under the bench but let me get them.”

Lindsay asked “Why?”

She didn’t understand why I insisted on getting the boxes. I told her the boxes held extra programs from the Memorial Service. I explained that we didn’t use them because the front picture was too dark.

Lindsay told me “I can get them.”

She quickly went to the entry and brought the box into the family room, trying so hard to impress me with her industriousness. She opened the box, looked at one of the programs and said, “You’re right the picture is too dark it doesn’t look like Jordan.”

She flipped through the program, reading it and asked, “What are ushers?”

I explained the function of ushers at funerals and memorial services. She then said, “That’s nice, his best friends were ushers.”

She then read the poem I wrote about “My boys” on the back of the program. The next question of course was, “Why aren’t Kendall and I in the poem?”

I said, “Oh honey, I wrote that one day when I was watching your brothers together.”

She said, “It’s a good poem, I like it. What should I do with all these programs?”

I said, “Let’s put them in a bag.”

She said, “Okay I’ll get it.”

She quickly got up and grabbed a black trash bag from under the sink. She was determined to do the job alone and resisted my attempts to help her.  Her only comment during her task was, “Mom, I can do it.”

After she emptied out the programs, Lindsay looked at the empty box and said, “This box is perfect for Valentines. I’m going to decorate it and make it beautiful.”

For me, she already had.

Happy Valentines Day

With eternal love,

Mama

 

 

Poem on Back of Program

Mother to Son

 

Jordan is a poet

Merrick is poetry

Jordan has the words to captivate a nation

Merrick has the movement, the smile, the soul of honesty and love

There is magic in words and movement

Together they reveal the essence of life,

both poet and poetry,

spoken word and dance and song.

I can listen to and watch them forever

My boys

 

Jackie Moore (2002)

Today, 2/13/10:

A few days ago I posted a query on Facebook asking, “What was your most memorable Valentine’s Day?” I kicked off the discussion by relaying the memory of a Valentine’s Day from my grad school days when my roommates and I went to a Bingo Hall with the mother of one of my roommates. It turned out to be an evening filled with laughter, girl talk and the hopes of winning the jackpot (not to be).

For the last few months I have been in search of a Valentine’s Day card, that Jordan gave me when he was a junior or senior in high school. It holds special significance because it was handmade of construction paper with Jordan’s handprints on it. Jordan wrote the following on the card,

When I was in preschool, teachers seemed to think that putting handprints on a piece of paper or a paper plate and using it as a gift for any holiday was a great idea. Although I’m no longer in preschool and my handprints barely fit on the paper, I decided for Valentine’s Day I’d give you a gift that hearkened(sp) back to my younger days. Happy Valentine’s Day Mom!

Jordan then signed the card, “Love, Your oldest little boy, JORDAN” with the J backwards in the same way he used to write his name as a kindergartner.

All the places I thought I’d stored the card turned up empty. I finally decided that the best way to find it was to stop worrying over and looking for it. If and when it was meant to be found, I would find it. Tonight as I polished the writing piece above, I searched for one of the programs from Jordan’s memorial service. I reached into the top drawer of our file cabinet and there on the side of the hanging files amongst other papers, was the card from Jordan. I’m sure I’ve checked this spot before but clearly not well enough. Tonight I pulled it out of the drawer, sat and looked at it, held my hand against Jordan’s handprint and cried. I found it just when I needed to find it. Now my most memorable Valentine’s Day, albeit a little early is the Valentine’s Day of 2010.

Rediscovered Valentine

Time for, “The Talk”

I frequently read other parenting blogs and have a couple of my favorites on my blogroll. Katie Granju is a mom who has several blogs. I became acquainted with her Mamapundit blog after the death of her oldest son Henry. Yesterday I commented on her Babble blog about what to tell your kids when they ask questions usually out of the blue that don’t always have comforting answers. Questions like, “Can we visit heaven?” I commented as a parent and as a person with a background in developmental psychology. Part of my answer to her regarding her preschooler was, “Answer only what question they ask in the simplest way possible. You don’t want to overwhelm them.” I’ve found that kids want the truth and usually find a way to ask for it. Usually.

I’m stuck right now because Mark and I are faced with bringing our children to another level of awareness about loss and grief. I keep waiting for them to ask a question about Jordan’s ashes, any opening that will lead to a discussion of our plans to keep some of his ashes in an urn at home. They know we plan to spread some of his ashes as we travel but even this is an abstract concept. I don’t want them to be afraid of Jordan’s urn, especially when Mark and I need to have part of Jordan stay at home with us. What will we do if any one of our kids can’t handle an urn at home when it is something that will give Mark and I solace?

I’m afraid of scaring and scarring my kids by even bringing up the subject of the urn to them. And I’m afraid of them hurting in a way that I can’t help them. But I have to admit I’m also feeling a little selfish too. Jordan is also my child  and I want part of him at home with me.

I’ll get the perspecitve and suggestions from therapists and counselors. I’d like to know though how others in my situation have dealt with this issue. I’m asking for help from anyone who has experience talking with their kids or knows someone who has. How do you prepare your child/children to accept that the sibling that once laughed and played with them is partially, yet symbolically represented as ashes in an urn? It is a conversation quite frankly I’m dreading. I don’t want them to hurt anymore than they already do and yet it’s a conversation that must be had.

Jordan and his siblings on his 19th birthday. The last picture taken of all of them together.