It is the last day of October. In the shower this morning I stood and cried, thinking of Jordan, freshly feeling the pain of losing him, and how we lost him. Water fell around me as the intrusions of traumatic days and dates surged causing me to sob. In 2008, October 11th was the day Jordan told me he was going to Baltimore. The 12th is the day he died in a car accident. On October 13th, in the early morning hours the news of his death was forced upon us. The 16th is the day we viewed his body one last time at the funeral home. The 17th was the day he was cremated and the 18th was the day of his Memorial service.
On the heels of all these days comes October 20th, Merrick’s birthday. A bright spot that feels flung at us after the pounding traumatic remembrances early October brings. The 20th is the gasp of air given to my family after being held underwater for days by shock, flashbacks, turmoil and grief. I got to breathe a little knowing there was life to celebrate even though it was swirling with the vestiges of death and loss that wafted around us.
Merrick approached his 18th birthday with resolve and reflection. I asked him what he thought about such a milestone birthday, being able to vote, society’s view of him as a quasi adult? He felt more circumspect than excited. “This time next year my friends and I will be scattered around the country, attending different colleges. Our time as, “the guys” hanging out together like we do now will be over. “ I listened to his words, hearing no cynicism only the matter-of-factness that is a by-product of facing the loss of his brother. “The world is yours,” promise, so giddy and hopeful in it’s bumper sticker mentality doesn’t resonate the hopefulness the way I always imagined it would for all of my children. Merrick has firsthand knowledge that nothing is really promised. I selfishly wanted Merrick to proudly declare, “I’m 18,” with excitement. He didn’t and he wasn’t. I watched him try to find traction for celebration after days of lost sleep, quiet contemplation and wanting. The ultimate and unreachable gift, his brother to congratulate him on being 18 was unattainable. Awareness of mortality, embracing moments, and a loss of innocence were firmly placed in Merrick’s path in the month of October.
Yesterday my parents were here briefly as they started a train trip to the West Coast. They’ve always wanted to travel cross-country by train, replete with sleeper car and the luxury of time. October 28th was their 49th wedding anniversary and after years of talking about travelling by train, this year they are doing it. They sat at my kitchen table talking about the books and movies they brought along with them for their trip. I go through my checklist and they tell me they remembered the camera and look forward to sitting in the observation car watching the landscape float by. They’re finally taking one of their dream trips and a part of me senses how final it feels. As independent as they are, Daddy needs a wheelchair to get him onto the train. I ask him if he has his medication and how his arthritis plagued ankles are holding up? His response is as it always is, “Oh girl, I feel good. The doctor says I’m fine.” I ask who is picking them up from the train station and they tell me their high school friend will be there to meet them. Daddy laughs, excited about catching up with old friends. He tells me that his friend wanted him to bring him a taste of moonshine. I laugh along with him but am relieved that none of them will be drinking moonshine. Clearly their West Virginia roots are still firmly entrenched. Mark takes them to the train station and I stand in the driveway waving and yelling, “Have fun.” I walk back inside thinking and praying, “I hope they have a good time. Don’t let anyone get sick. Bring them home safely.”
Today is Halloween and I witness my 11 year old daughters pour bags of candy into a basket that will be empty by the end of the evening after all the trick-or-treaters make their way by our home. The girls’ excitement this year is less about running from house to house filling their candy bags to the brim, than it is about attending their friend’s haunted house party. Wanly I watch them, glimpsing the teenagers they will soon be. They are my youngest and my wish to have time stand still, to keep their youthful exuberance about costumes and counting their candy at the end of the evening, “Mama, I got 3 BIG candy bars,” is overpowering. I’m stuck in a nostalgia time warp that is making me teary in wanting things I cannot have. The days of having a parent accompany my daughters, waiting on the sidewalk as they run from house to house, racing to ring the doorbell are over. They look forward to trick-or treating with a group of their friends. If I want to hear them say, “Trick or treat,” this year I’ll have to force myself on them or follow them from a distance. They are acting like typical “middle schoolers” and my gratitude that they embrace normal activities without being too weighted down by grief is tempered by wariness and melancholy. What am I doing letting them explore the world and have independence? Am I insane? I’ve lost a child, yet I keep encouraging my others to find their way in the world.
I made it through October again. A new month beckons and as ceremonial as it is, I’m relieved that the calendar page is about to turn. I need the surges of grief and middle of the night weeping that are now hallmarks of October to be quieted.