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 ‘high school’ Category

What I Want For Mother’s Day

Dear Jordan,

It is Mother’s Day again. I look at your brother and sisters and am reassured that my capacity for love didn’t wither when you died. Your death drilled down to my core and I wondered if I’d ever trust the Universe with another of my children. I didn’t have to wonder long, my love for you and your siblings fueled my maternal heart. My resolve to be present and let anyone who asked know that I will always be the mom of 4 crystallized my path of healing. I see you in Merrick, Lindsay and Kendall. Your humor, smile, stubbornness, quick wit and sense of fairness plays out in glimpses that let me know you are never too far from any of our thoughts.

This morning there was a soft knock on the bedroom door and Kendall stepped in with a mug of coffee and a hug for me. Merrick sprang from his room when he heard me in the hallway and enveloped me in a hug brightened by his smile and his deep voice, “Happy Mother’s Day Mama.” Lindsay was downstairs making breakfast and smiled and hugged me when she saw me. When we sat down to breakfast your dad said grace as we all held hands. Looking around the table I felt a mixture of gratitude, nostalgia and melancholy. Where has the time gone? No matter how much time has passed, you are with us, a part of our family circle. “Amen,” rang out around the table, and softly, just for me, I said, “Jordan, Merrick, Lindsay, Kendall.” As we released each other’s hands, my hand was still reaching for yours. I imagined bringing your hand to my face and feeling your knuckles graze my cheek before I planted a quick kiss. I’ve had 8 mother’s days since you died. The dread of the early years has softened. The day as are the days leading up to it bittersweet and I’m learning to embrace and not be surprised that joy, sadness and longing can reside in my heart compatibly, if I let them.

I’m still learning how to comfort the maternal part of me that surfaces at times and is primal in its insistence that the only way it will be quieted is by your physical presence. The need to hear your voice, hug you and find some forgotten sign of life from you are overpowering. In the early days and months after you died I would hold your pillow, inhaling any remnants of your smell until my heartache subsided. The pillow lost your scent years ago and I’m okay. I’ve memorized your essence, it’s decoded and stored with my own DNA. I carry you with me and find ways to sit with you hold you and hear your voice. I dream of you, sitting with us at the table, listening intently as your voice dances with excitement at seeing old friends at your 10- year high school reunion. Sometimes, there’s a baby, your child, my grandchild, perched on my lap as we laugh and talk, regaling your wife with Jordan stories. I imagine the rhythm of our table talk injected with the energy of new life and new memories.

For this Mother’s Day, I’ll sit under your tree, knowing that the shade is my hug from you. When the leaves rustle I’ll know it’s your voice. I’ll look up through the maze of branches, and the kaleidoscope made by sunlight shining through the leaves will be the brightness of your smile. Your tree stands tall just as you did. It towers over me and I marvel at how it’s grown. I’ll bend down at the base and pick up a hand full of soil. My thoughts as always will drift back to the day I rode my bike to the young tree when it was first dedicated to the park and pulled the Ziploc bag that held some of your ashes from my pocket. I mixed them with the soil determined to have you represented in every branch. Your tree is one of the places I find you, our sacred space. I will always be your mother; you will always be my son. And this Mother’s day like the past 7, your tree is my reminder of how the seasons change and life continues. Spring always comes and we keep going.

Love,

Mama

 

 

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Wedding Vows and Compromise

From the moment one says, “I do,” and commits her life to another the whole notion of sacrifice and compromise become a part of her vocabulary. In our early days of dating Mark and I were both weary from energy depleting relationships and wanted nothing more than to find someone with whom we could truly be ourselves. During our first date we talked of hating the game playing that had defined previous relationships we each had. We went so far as to make a pact that we’d have truth and honesty as our foundation and then we shook on it. It seemed so simple. We were on the same page and looking for the same things, a committed relationship, a partner that shared our values, someone to make us laugh and listen when we needed to unburden and cry. We have found that in each other.

I love when Mark tells the story of asking my dad for my hand in marriage. We’d met my parents in Vegas and Mark’s parents were there as well so that we could introduce everyone. Mark found himself in a difficult position. His dad was insisting he do the traditional thing and speak with my father about our impending engagement. Mark knew from talking to me that if he asked my dad for my hand, the response would be, “I don’t have anything to give away.”

Sandwiched between two strong-willed fathers, I wished Mark the best as he went off to talk to my dad. True to form as soon as he began to ask for my hand my dad interrupted him saying, “Boy, I don’t want to hear that kind of talk. It’s not for me.”

Mark nervously replied, “You’ve got to understand. My dad is pressuring me to do what men in our family have done for generations. I’m stuck so please let me finish.”

With those words Daddy softened and told Mark to take a look at me standing across the room. “What did Jackie have to say about this?”

“Well she warned me you would react this way.”

Daddy grabbed him by the shoulder and said, “Do you see that smile on her face? As long as you can help keep that smile there you’ll never have any problems with me.”

Mark and I have been married now for close to 24 years. We still watch our wedding video from time to time and my favorite part is after we’ve been announced to the congregation and our making our way back down the aisle, Daddy briefly stands with this huge smile on his face and pats Mark on the back. He knew I’d found my life partner.

Life has caused Mark and I to face and stand by every vow that we said those many years ago. We’ve faced sickness and health, richer and poorer and during our wedding ceremony said in strong voices, “Til death do us part.” Death has come to visit, not leaving either of us widowed but taking our oldest child and testing all the promises we made to each other. Would we still be honest and open with each other? Would grief drive a wedge between us or allow us to grow closer even as we mourned in different ways. We’ve held each other in sorrow, weeping until no more tears would fall. We’ve flipped through pictures of before Jordan died reminiscing and breathing the blessing that was his life. But there are times when our expressions of grief and love for our son take divergent paths. I regularly watch the video of Jordan from the memorial service. I cry every time and they are sweet cleansing tears. Mark hasn’t watched it since the memorial service. Mark occasionally wears some of Jordan’s shirts and sweatshirts and I can barely breathe thinking, “Those clothes aren’t for you.” But I stay silent because I know they bring him comfort and a connection to Jordan.

Now we’ve come to another crossroad and it has to do with the picture of Jordan we used for the memorial service. It was a poster-sized version of Jordan’s high school senior portrait. My extended family each has copies and they are proudly displayed in their homes. I never got around to framing Jordan’s portrait and after he died for me it was no longer his senior portrait but the memorial service picture. I couldn’t look at it anymore. But Mark wanted to put it up next to Merrick’s senior portrait. “Merrick looks so lonely. His brother should be next to him.”

“I’m not ready to do that. Can you take it to work and have the picture there?”

“If it’s too much for you, I’ll take it to work.”

That was the plan and even though it still felt unresolved I felt less anxious about having to look at the picture everyday. I didn’t want to let Mark down and I hated that the portrait no longer represented the sweet memory of watching Jordan hurriedly tuck in his shirt as he rushed out the door to get his picture taken. I wanted to reclaim that feeling but I didn’t know how. Thursday evening I was walking upstairs and glanced in the living room to see Jordan’s senior picture displayed on the coffee table. Shock and betrayal filled me. “He promised he wouldn’t put it up but he did.”

It was like the picture had some force field around it. I couldn’t even go into the living room and remove it from the table. I ran upstairs and confronted Mark.

“You said you were taking the picture to work. Why is it on the table in the living room?”

“What are you talking about, oh wait a minute I had the picture face down by my briefcase. Irena (our cleaning lady) must have put it up. I wouldn’t do that to you. I’ll go get it right now.”

“Thank you.”

It wasn’t sitting well with me that I was thanking Mark for removing a picture of Jordan. I needed that picture to be transformed and I didn’t know what it would take for it to be his senior portrait again. I walked by it face down on the dining room table for a couple of days. Then on a day that I needed a reminder that there were those out there who remembered that grieving lasted longer than a season, I received a card from my friend Sue who I haven’t spoken to in ages. The front of the card read, “Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.” St John Chrysostom Sue wrote an inspiring message inside to me and signed the card writing, “Shine on sweet sister.”

I realized as I read the card that I do want to shine on and part of that for me is taking away any negative aspects connected to looking at my son. His memorial service was beautiful and as I’ve said before I wish that we’d recorded it. During the service my thoughts were far from wanting any visual reminders of the event. The first moments of walking into the church were traumatic and I gasped when I saw the picture of Jordan haunted by the too big image of him on the dais. I tried to make it through the service by not gazing directly at his picture, thinking that I could somehow preserve it as what it was before if I didn’t look at it. But I did look at it as he looked out on the congregation with a perpetual smile. That beautiful smile that everyone who knew him commented on and all I could see at the time was a picture spoiled, totally ruined by death. How dare death make us choose a picture for a memorial service when all everyone wanted was for Jordan’s death to be a horrible mistake? So I chose instead to listen, keeping my eyes closed for most of the service and letting the sounds fill me with a peaceful connection to all that had gathered to pay tribute to Jordan.

The card from Sue reminded me of two things. One no matter how alone I feel sometimes, there are so many family and friends sending, prayers, love and light to my family and me. Two, Jordan is with me always and I choose to embrace him by watching videos, listening to his voicemail message, rereading old cards and letters from him, writing to him, talking to him and yes erecting his senior portrait where it should have been all along. I took the picture of Jordan examined it closely, looking deeply into his eyes and planted a kiss on his cheek before placing it on the table next to Merrick’s picture. Mark saw it a little later and asked what made me change my mind? I responded, “I don’t want to be afraid of anything connected with Jordan and I love you and think you should be able to see your boys side by side in our home.”

I have two boys that graduated high school and their pictures will always hold a place of honor.

Senior Portraits

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

Still Going

The girls’ open house is tonight. They are so excited for Mark and I to go to each of their classes. Kendall has told me more than once not to lose the schedule she filled out for me. “Mom it has the room numbers for all of my classrooms. It’s very important.” I tell her I have her schedule and don’t plan to lose it. I’m laughing inside because while the middle school is new for my daughters it’s old ground for me. They know that both of their brothers attended the same school, and one of their brothers had the same teachers they now have. It’s new to them and that’s what matters. I’m feeding off of their excitement. I’m taking this opportunity to look at the open house and “their” middle school from the perspective of excited 6th graders’. My daughters have no need to expect  less from their parents.

Thanks to you for all of the comments, compliments, which I sheepishly accept, and offers to come with me to the high school open house. I am fed emotionally by the support of my online community and neighborhood friends. All of you are gifts. Just knowing that I have such a strong, wide net of support is comforting. I do believe my online friend Claire, would travel here to go with me to the high school  even though we’ve never met in person.

I’m not sure why I’m so haunted by the high school and the memories of Jordan that may pop out at any time. Jordan always loved “his” school. He like most teenagers was excited for the independence high school would bestow. Four quick years (and they do go by so fast) and then he’d be off to college. High school is the place where I witnessed the beginning of Jordan’s transformation from child to young adult. Having my oldest child start high school was symbolic for me as well. It was a new adventure for both of us. At the beginning of Jordan’s freshman year of high school, I wrote the following in my journal,

We’re turning a corner I’m not sure I’m ready to turn. Suddenly you’re pulling me along, eager to see what lies ahead. You’re not my little boy anymore. There are so many glimpses of the man you’ll become. The set of your jaw, the shape of your mouth and eyebrows, especially the bass that is pushing it’s way into your voice.

I can’t hold you back. I don’t want to. But your pace and mine have suddenly changed. You’re turning the corner and you still check in to see if I’m watching and following. But you had to let go of my hand to make the turn. I’ve got to let you explore and embrace this time, even if it means you’re not my little boy anymore. I’ll always be here for you, to support you and love you. Don’t forget to turn and wave.

Jordan in the high school newspaper room

The high school holds much symbolism, rewarding memories and reminders of the changes to come for my family and me. I have a son who is now a senior in high school and has college on the horizon. Just as I did with Jordan, I’ve got to let him explore and have his adventures. I’ve never been one to let my fears rule me for too long. Mark and I will attend the open house with the other parents tomorrow night. I may clutch his arm tighter than usual but my husband understands me, which is my blessing. I’m hoping this year will be easier than last; it certainly can’t get much worse! I’ll keep walking the grounds and the halls of the high school. By the time my daughters are freshman there it will feel so good to say, even if a bit wistfully, “My kids school.”

Freestyle

Merrick has been coming home for lunch everyday since school started. I’m trying to get used to this new development as it directly conflicts with the vision I had for my days once school started. I imagined the 6 hours I’d have as my time. One of the things that I miss during the summer when my kids are out of school, as much as I relish the lack of scheduled activities, are the chunks of time I have to myself that the school year affords me. My son’s new routine is making me realize just how much I looked forward to my “bastion of solitude”, interrupted only when I chose it to be. This school year, I’ve already started proportioning my days differently. Now, there is the block of time after dropping girls off at school until M comes home for lunch. The next block is after lunch until it’s time to pick up the girls.

It’s not as though I have to prepare meals for Merrick, or spoon-feed him but it’s an adjustment to how I spend my days. Even on days when I’m out, when I get back home, there’s no mistaking he’s been here. There are telltale crumbs on the counter, occasionally the TV has been left on (even though he’s not supposed to watch TV during school time), the microwave door is standing open, and there are condiments left out for me to either clean up or leave out and move around until he gets home and cleans up his own mess. For those of you wondering how I can complain about the habits of my children that drive me crazy in the midst of my loss, trust me I’m learning that wistfulness makes room for annoyance, anxiety, and impatience; behaviors most mothers would put on the “con” list of parenting.

Right now my son enjoys having his lunch break at home between morning and afternoon classes. After being at home for a little while midday, he seems energized when he walks out the door. I’m learning to make room in my “bastion” for him and his respite needs. Today while I was out for an appointment, I texted Merrick telling him I would bring home lunch. When I got home we sat together eating and talking. He told me how his morning went (“Good”), and which colleges he’s considering. I told him about an article I read in Time magazine that I thought he’d like. Then, as if on cue, he asked the daily question I get from all my kids, “What’s for dinner?” We can be in the middle of a meal and they still need to know what’s for dinner.

As Merrick was finishing up lunch and about to go back to school he reminded me that he had Spoken Word Club after school. Talking about Spoken Word made him remember  his first time publicly freestyling (rapping without prepared lyrics). He was in the basement of one of Jordan’s best friends. He talked about Jordan’s and now Merrick’s friend Billy, who was yelling and waving his hand throughout his performance. Merrick said with a laugh that Billy is the perfect hype man. He decided he wanted Billy to be on stage with him whenever he performed.

I listened to Merrick just as caught up as he was in his memory of his inaugural performance. As we grew quiet, I relayed a memory of mine from that time. I told him that whenever I think about him freestyling in front of Jordan’s friends, I remember Jordan words about his brother. I said to Merrick, “Your freshman year in high school when you were having trouble adjusting Jordan worried about you. He was away at school but he called one night to talk about you. One of the things he said to me was,

“ I wish Merrick could see how great he is. He freestyled in front of my friends before I did and he was good. All of my friends think he is cool.”

My voice trembled as I recalled my conversation with Jordan. I looked at Merrick whose eyes were as shiny with tears as mine. While looking down at his sandwich he said, “Jordan said that about me? I kind of remember that.”

“Yes he did. He always wanted you to know how talented and special you are.”

Merrick shook his head in agreement saying, “That’s right, I did freestyle before he did. He told me that.”

“Think of it this way, you were Jordan’s inspiration too. You two were good for each other.”

Merrick was silent for a moment, seeming to take in all we’d talked about. Then in the way he’s had since he was a little boy, he looked at me and in his most sincere voice said, “Thanks Mom.”

I watched him get up from the table to throw away the trash from his lunch and to retrieve his backpack. He ambled down the hall towards the front door calling out, “See ya,” as he left. I sat at the table a little longer hoping what Merrick and I had talked about would give him a boost. I realized as I sat, that my son and I could share the sacred space that lunchtime provides. It is true that wistfulness is with me all the time. On the positive side, it shares space with love, laughter and so many sweet memories. There are still many lessons for me to learn as the mother of four.

My sons deep in conversation

Merrick and Billy performing at our "Express Yourself" event

Tell Your Story

It’s been several days since I’ve written on my blog. I’ve been trapped in a warp of sadness since my children started school that has finally eased enough for me to write.

The first week of school for my kids was last week. Since Jordan’s death, transitions are harder and I’m more preoccupied with the coping mechanisms of my kids. They carry the burden of loss with them and stay on guard against thoughtless and/or cruel comments. As my husband and I have learned to prepare ourselves for the “How many kids do you have?” question, my children have also learned to prepare for the “How many siblings?” question. Depending on the situation their strategies as does mine, differs. My daughters have stammered and trailed off while speaking when someone has questioned their math when they say they have two brothers. They’ve heard responses like, “I thought you only had one brother. Where’s your other brother?”

As the girls are starting at a new school this year, I made sure that I informed the school administration of our family’s loss. Even though we live in a tight-knit community and they are attending the same middle school that both of their brothers attended, I didn’t want to assume that Jordan’s death was known to all. I just want to provide as much cushion and buffering that I can for my kids when they’re out in the world. The girls first day of school went well. The only anxiety and angst was the typical middle school variety, nothing out of the ordinary.

Merrick’s first day unfortunately was not the same. At the end of the school day as I drove to pick up my daughters, I saw Merrick walking home from school. I waved and slowed down to tell him where I was going. He surprised me when he said, “Can I come with?” I of course agreed but felt that something had to be wrong for him to be so close to home and want to run an errand with me.

He hopped into the car and started telling me about his first day. He told me about his teachers and that his first day went “okay.” He talked a little longer about which of his friends was in his lunch period and then the reason for his accompanying me came out. He told me that one of his teachers recognized his last name and asked him if he had an older brother. He responded by saying, “Jordan?” The teacher then asked, “How is Jordan doing?”

As Merrick talked, I shouted, “Oh No!” and pulled the car over to the curb.

“Oh Merrick, I’m so sorry. God, on your first day. What did you say?”

“I didn’t really say anything. I just kinda’ mumbled and looked down.”

“Well what did your teacher do?”

“Finally moved to the next person and started talking to them. I almost came home. I didn’t know what to do.”

“It would have been okay if you came home. Talk about  minefields. You could have come home if you wanted to.”

“I know. I still felt weird but I stayed. Can you tell my teacher about Jordan?”

“Of course I will.  I’ll make sure all of them know. I didn’t think I needed to notify the school this year. I guess I should have.“

“Thanks Mom. I just don’t want any big display in front of the class. I just want them to know.”

After I assured Merrick all of his teachers would be notified about Jordan’s loss, our talk turned to other parts of his school day. I asked him if he got a new lock for his locker, and what he had for lunch. I gripped the steering wheel trying to stay calm. Inside I was screaming. In the midst of our conversation Merrick suddenly changed the subject and asked, “Do other kids who’ve lost somebody go through stuff like this?” I took a breath and told him yes.  I then told him about a woman who is a member of the same online writers’ group as I. I’d received an email from her that same day commenting on one of my blog entries. I told Merrick that she lost her brother in a bus crash when she was 14. I hoped that Merrick would gain some solace and feel less alone hearing of someone else that lost a sibling.

Later that same evening I emailed my new friend to tell her about Merrick’s experience on his first day. She responded saying she knew the feeling and that unfortunately the same thing happened to her all the time when she was in school. She offered to talk with Merrick whenever he needed. Her offer got me thinking about the best way for my kids through the stories of others to feel less alone.

Please Help

I have a request of all of my readers that I hope you can honor. My children need something I can’t give them. They need to know from those of you who have lost a sibling or parent, what your experience was like and how you cope (d). We’ve been to family support groups and they have met other children who have lost a parent or a sibling. They’ve read books on kid’s grief and my husband and I have read to them.

I’ve done the things I know to do to ease their pain and to help them understand they’re not alone in their feelings. I know the upending grief of losing a child. As much as I offer comfort, I can’t give my children the perspective of someone who suffered a traumatic loss as a child. I feel helpless and heartbroken as I watch my children ache with sorrow. I know I can’t take away their pain anymore than my parents can take away mine. I’m hoping that their sorrow can be eased as they search for reassurance that the experiences and feelings they have are not unnatural or theirs alone.

Those of you who lost a parent or sibling as a child are needed as guides. My children need to hear from those who know the pain of losing such a loved one during your childhood or adolescence. Please share your stories in my comments section. On days that bring Lindsay, Kendall and Merrick confusion and pain, I know they will gain solace and reassurance from being able to read or have read to them the experiences and feelings of those of you who have coped and learned to live with loss. Please pass this post along to others who you think can help. I thank all of you willing to help ease the heartache of my kids.

Senior Moments

Jordan and Merrick walking to school on the first day. This was the last year they would be at the same school together.

Today is the first full day of school for my kids. My daughters are excited middle-schoolers, and my son Merrick is a senior in high school. As is our tradition Mark videotaped each of our children individually, asking them what they expected this school year to bring. He then took pictures of them as they headed out the door.

The typical back to school shopping has also of course occurred. We have notebooks in every color, new backpacks and new shoes. Mark took the girls to buy their school supplies guided by  the long list provided by the school. Merrick and I went yesterday to get the things he needed. He resisted getting things for school earlier and now we were doing last-minute shopping. Merrick has not exhibited the excitement I hoped being a senior would bring for him. His level of enthusiasm is tamped down by his longing for his brother to share the “senior moments.”

As we drove to the office supply store Merrick spoke often of Jordan. He remembered stories I had forgotten about their exploits from the days that they walked to school together as elementary school children. Merrick then voiced the anxiety that has weighed on his mind since his first day of Kindergarten. In elementary school the question was, “Will my teachers be nice.” Now as he sat beside me in the car he said, “I just don’t want any bad teachers.” Before I could respond he asked me, “Did Jordan have any bad teachers in high school?” I told him there were teachers that weren’t the best fit for Jordan. Jordan could be less than respectful of condescending teachers who didn’t challenge him. He would question  why they had to do certain assignments. I relayed to Merrick that there were a couple of times that I met with Jordan’s teachers to insure that their was an optimal learning environment. I also told Jordan that questioning authority was fine, but we expected him to be respectful of his teachers.

Merrick continued to pepper me with questions about Jordan’s experiences his senior year. I answered them as best I could. As we drove, the space between us held the longing and the need to have Jordan sitting with us. Merrick needs his brother so much right now. They were supposed to be seniors together, one in high school and one in college. They used to talk about this day teasing each other about whose school started first (“sucker!”) but then the comeback was always, “Yeah, but I’ll be home sleeping while you’re still in school.”

Every question Merrick asked me, I knew he wanted to ask his brother. The excitement and enthusiasm which we all expected senior year to hold for Merrick has been changed to a time of reflection and solitude. As we were about to get out of the car, I looked at Merrick and told him, “You have worried and wondered about your teachers since you started school. You’ve learned how to deal with all kind of teachers. Think back on all you’ve dealt with and adjusted to. You are amazing. Your dad and I are here for you.” Merrick in his typical style looked at me and quietly said, “Thanks Mom.”

We made our way through the store, splitting up at points as Merrick gathered school supplies he needed and I retrieved extra items for his sisters. I tried so hard not to cry. I have always been sentimental and this occasion was no less so. Every aisle was a reminder of how much I had looked forward to this pivotal year. My daughters entering middle school and my boys being seniors. I chastised myself as I walked through the aisles. “Stop being so emotional. You’re in Office Max, get a grip!” I tried not to think too much about what this year was supposed to bring. Every aisle I walked down put me closer not further away from my heartache and what I want. I want Jordan to be a senior in college. Most of his friends are already off to school. They are excited and stunned that they’re in their senior year of college. “Where did the time go?”

I composed myself, willing back any tears that threatened to fall when I rounded a corner and saw Merrick coming towards me. We finished our shopping and then were off to buy sneakers. Several times on our way to the car, I almost said to Merrick, “Can buying shoes wait?” I was so tired and so emotional. I finally decided to keep going. I didn’t know if breaking the errands up into smaller parts would make it easier. We’d put off this shopping trip long enough. Merrick needed shoes more than he needed school supplies so I found a reserve of strength and we went to Foot Locker.

Merrick has never been an enthusiastic shopper. I typically buy his “uniform” of jeans, t-shirts and hoodies with no complaint from him. Shoes are the only things he has to be present for me to buy. As we entered the shoe store I did my best not to look too long at the polo shirts that hung on racks in the middle of the store. Polo shirts and jeans were Jordan’s uniform; so much so that his friend Billy asked me if it was okay to wear a polo shirt to Jordan’s memorial service because that’s how he wanted to honor him.

As I stood trying to stay focused on Merrick’s shoes, telling him to select a couple of pairs to try on, he reached for the ones he said he wanted. He picked up black “Air Force One’s.” I nodded my head, knowing who he was thinking about and said, “Whatever you want to try is fine.” The salesman returned with the box and Merrick tried on the shoes. Merrick stood up and said, “I see why Jordan liked these. They are really comfortable.” Merrick continued talking about memories of his brother but I had to stop listening even though I continued to nod my head and say, “uh huh.” My thoughts rebounded to the place they go when my heart grows too heavy,

“How can Jordan be gone when we need him so much?”

“ I want him to be a phone call away.”

“ I want him advising his brother about applying to colleges and getting the most out of his last year of high school. “ I want, I want, I want.

I paid for Merrick’s shoes and we made our way to the car. I sat, put my seatbelt and sunglasses on and started to put the key in the ignition. Then I stopped and said to Merrick in a trembling voice, “seeing all those polo shirts made me sad. I miss Jordan.” Merrick quietly responded, “I know, me too.” I couldn’t hold my sorrow in any longer. I sat, sighed a few times and then quietly wept as Merrick sat beside me staring out the window. I wept for all we’ve lost and for all we’re trying so hard to do. After a few moments, I took a breath, wiped my eyes underneath my sunglasses and started the car. I told Merrick we had one more stop, to get a few groceries and then we’d go home. We rode silently. When we pulled into the parking lot I touched his arm and said, “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay.”

We got out of the car and made our way inside, looking to all the world like a mother and son having a typical day.

SCHOOL DAYS

Jordan on 1st day of Kindergarten

Excited high school freshman

High school senior

Back to school- L & K in elementary school, M in middle school and Jordan in high school

Amherst College Freshman

Jordan walking to his dorm sophomore year