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 ‘holidays’ Category

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!

 

Learning to look forward-2012

Happy New Year and thank you to all who visit and comment on my blog.

I’m still getting used to the notion of a new year making its entrance without Jordan here to experience it with me. Tears have flowed already this morning as I learn to live in a world where I don’t get to see my oldest son grow and prosper. Even as I wiped the tears away my heart was grateful to have family and friends that I can share my deepest feelings with and not feel misunderstood. With every year I feel a part of my grief being transformed into a powerful love that comes from being able to mother such a wonderful son as Jordan. For that gift I always say, “Thank you.”

To all of you I wish peace, time for quiet reflection and experiences of real joy in 2012.

My family on Christmas Eve

My Christmas Letter

Dear Jordan,

I sat down many times in the last month trying to write a holiday letter to send out to friends and family. This year like last, I wasn’t up to sending out Christmas cards and felt so guilty about it. Every time I tried to write, the words wouldn’t come. I finally realized why. The person I most want to write to is you. I miss you. It is Christmas again and I’d give anything to hear you singing your way through the holidays. I’m finally able to listen to “This Christmas.” For the past 2 years if I heard it on the radio or my Ipod I immediately switched it off. It hurt too much to think of that song as timeless and you’re not here to share Christmas with us.

Merrick is home from his first semester of college. I know you are so proud of him. He loves his school and is making genuine friends who care about him. You know Merrick. He was so worried that he wouldn’t fit in. I know you are part of the reason that he stayed true to himself and let friendships evolve naturally. You always told him to, “Keep it real,” and that’s what he is doing. His spoken word poetry is a big love and you are a mainstay in his poems. He misses you so much and talks about you all the time. The other day he reminded me of how you used to act out the “Little Drummer Boy,” song. You loved Christmas so much!

Your sisters are flourishing. As they get older their memories of you seem to get stronger, not fade away as I had feared. I know you reside in their hearts and I thank you for holding them close. They both just tried out for the volleyball team and are waiting to hear the results. They’ve also followed in your acting footsteps and have been in a couple of plays.

Your dad is as busy as ever with work. He’s traveling a lot but he’s so good at finding a balance between work and home. You know your dad, family man all the way. You’ll be happy to know that all your encouraging and cajoling paid off. Your dad works out regularly and always says he wants to make you proud of him.

As for me, well like the rest of us I have good days and bad days. But the good days are starting to stretch out in frequency as I make peace in my heart that you are safe. I continue to write and hope one day soon to have my book finished. Your words, “Mom, when are you going to write your book?” echo in my head and fuel me to forge ahead writing about my precious son who left too soon.

The Christmas tree is up and all the stockings are on the mantel. Like every year past, yours is hung between Merrick’s and mine. I’ll write my little note to you on Christmas Eve as I have since you died and place it in your stocking. I imagine that one day, when my time to join you is drawing near I’ll sit and read all the notes knowing they’re filled with the love, pride and longing I have for you.

Thank you for being my son and for continuing to help me know what is good and honorable in this world. You are such a bright light.

Love,

Mama

(P.S. Hug Pop for me and tell him we’re taking care of Oma, doing the best we can to muddle through this first Christmas without him.)

Jordan on our tree-2010

Christmas Lights and Music

Christmas 2010

Every Christmas carol you can name, my father had a jazz version of it. By far though, the saxophonist Dexter Gordon’s version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was always Daddy’s favorite Christmas tune. He would play it repeatedly, interspersed with Dave Brubeck, Gene Ammons, the Drifters, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and others. But Dexter Gordon popped up in the rotation more often.  Every time I’d hear it I always sang the words in my head and felt the melancholy of the line, “Through the years we all will be together if the fates allow.”

Last year as Christmas music filled our house for the first time since Jordan died, the “fates” felt closer than ever. Daddy had already told Mark and I that 2010 would probably be the last year he’d be able to make the trip to our house for Christmas. “These old legs can’t take too much traveling anymore.”

Mark assured him, “It doesn’t matter where we have Christmas as long as we’re together. We’ll come to you. The kids are older now. We can make it work.”

And that was the plan. I’ve been steeling myself for the holidays since Daddy died in April. Christmas was by far his favorite holiday. He always stood at the bottom of the stairs so that he could see his grandchildren race down to see what was under the tree. As the kids got older and slept later he’d complain, “What’s wrong with these kids? I’m giving them 15 more minutes and then I’m waking them up. It’s Christmas!” His child like exuberance filled our house and is a tradition that will be so missed. I must now put that tradition in my heart alongside listening to Jordan sing, “This Christmas,” over and over.

Time if you let it can be a teacher. I’m learning that no matter how much my heart feels broken, it is not beyond repair. I put Christmas music on today as I begin to pull out the decorations that always grace our home. The olive wood nativity scene, the angel with the capiz shell wings and many others will be displayed throughout the house making me smile and wistful all at the same time. I put the music on shuffle and was doing fine until Dexter Gordon’s horn started to play. I could see Daddy sitting whistling along in his perfect pitch. A part of me couldn’t help but cry out, “Why couldn’t the fates allow us one more Christmas together?” Three years ago I didn’t think I’d ever be able to listen to Christmas music especially Jordan’s favorites, “This Christmas,” by Donny Hathaway and Luther Vandross’ version of “My Favorite Things.” Each year has brought a little more comfort, sprinkles of peace even as heartache so clearly still resides within me.

Mark is outside taking advantage of an unseasonably warm day to put up the Christmas lights. This year I asked him to decorate the trees outside the window of the seat I occupy most, especially when I’m sad. I asked for light and it will glow through the many nights as Christmas approaches.  I’ll never stop missing Jordan and the thought of my first Christmas without my father can only be felt in small bits. But there is light, and it is finding its way into my heart.

Jordan on our tree-2010

Daddy listening to his music-Christmas 2010

 

 

Thanksgiving 2011-Remember the Time

Sometimes it isn’t until you give yourself a chance to breathe a deep cleansing breath, that the impact of what you’ve witnessed and been through can be fully experienced. I took my first real breath the Monday after Thanksgiving. After taking the girls to school I came home and found myself so profoundly sad and unable to shake it. I did the only thing I could. As had happened so many times before, I sat with my grief thinking of it as a guest that would leave when it was time. I wouldn’t wallow but I would feel the sadness, longing and anguish that the busy days of Thanksgiving had allowed me to quell. This year marked another beginning. Learning to live and celebrate without Daddy’s boisterous presence. My father more than anything loved having his family together. Loved cooking for us and was happiest watching us relish the food he and Mama prepared.

In many ways the familiar outweighed the feelings of loss as I navigated my way through the holiday. I still made cranberry sauce and candied sweet potatoes as I always do. Julie helped Mama prepare the turkey and was the taste tester on the dressing and potato salad. I moved in and out of the kitchen comforted by our routines and overwhelmed at the same time. When Jordan discovered he liked potato salad he became the jr. tester. Watching Julie made me miss him so much. “Jordan should be here,” crossed my mind and heart more than once. Daddy would usually be sitting at the kitchen table offering his sometimes, unwanted suggestions and comments to my mom as she readied the turkey. “Ann, check the wing it looks like you missed a pin feather.”

Mama would sigh, say, “Yep,” and check, even though she hadn’t finished cleaning the bird and would have found the feather on her own. These scenes frustrated me to no end. This woman had been cooking turkeys for at least 30 years and every year the ritual was the same. Except for this year, when the kitchen was quieter than usual and I wondered if I should fill the silence or let Mama be, not knowing if she too was thinking of Daddy and his armchair quarterbacking.

The turkey was always put into the oven at around 6 am. As the years went by the responsibility of bringing it up from the basement refrigerator and putting it into the oven fell to my sister and her husband who slept on the pullout couch in the family room. In my youth, Daddy and Mama had always “put the bird in” together. Both coming downstairs and reminding each other all day of what time they’d put it in the oven. But as rheumatoid arthritis took more of Daddy’s strength, he was no longer able to navigate the steps while carrying the 23lb. turkey.

When I got up Thanksgiving morning I came downstairs to find Julie already awake and eating breakfast. “Girl, I’ve been waiting on you. Get to making that coffee. You know that’s your job.”

“I didn’t realize how late I’d slept.”

Julie followed me into the kitchen and as I looked down into the oven I asked her if she went back to sleep after putting the turkey in the oven.

“I tried but I couldn’t really sleep.”

“What time did you put it in?”

She looked at me for a moment and then said, “I put it in the oven and then went back downstairs and looked at the clock. It was 6:07.”

Tears welled in my eyes, “Daddy’s birthday!”

“I know I couldn’t believe it either. He was telling me, I’m right here.”

Shaking my head I replied, “He is here and he found the perfect way to show us.”

daddy carving turkey

“To Grandmother’s House We Go”

Thanksgiving has come and gone and with it all of the anxiety that built up inside me. For weeks before I wondered how it would be possible to step inside my parents’ home and not have daddy sitting in his chair waiting to welcome us. Mama was determined that would stick to our usual routines and traditions. She would make fried fish and potatoes on Wednesday, the meal we always savored after our journey from Chicago. Daddy usually cooked his famous home fried potatoes but this year Mama would handle the duties.

My sister had asked me repeatedly what time we’d be arriving in Ohio. With each ask my response was the same, “I don’t know.” Up until a week before I wasn’t even sure if we were coming. It felt too hard not just for me but for my children as well. For the first time in their lives they didn’t know if they wanted to make the trip. “It won’t be the same without Pop. Can’t Oma come here and we’ll do all the cooking and take care of her?” It was a lovely thought. One I presented to my mother who balked at the idea.

“No, I want to do Thanksgiving. I’m alright, I can do it.”

When she said these words I wanted to cry out, “But I’m not sure I can do it.”

Trying to make things as they always were in the face of another empty seat at the table felt like too much pain to take in. I wanted to support Mama and be there because I knew she needed me but I also had to think of what was best for my family and what felt selfish, what was best for me. Mark said he would abide by and understand any decision I came to, but he added the words, “Thanksgiving is going to be different and hard no matter where we are.” And he was right. In the end I needed to be with my mom and the rest of my family for Thanksgiving. I told Mama of my misgivings and warned her that I felt so sad and wasn’t sure I’d be able to feel much of anything else.

“Don’t worry about being sad. We’ll all cry when we need to and we’ll get through this Thanksgiving together.”

We made the familiar trip to Ohio and Lindsay, Kendall and Merrick shouted out, “Welcome to Ohio,” as we passed the sign. I sighed knowing that soon I’d be at my childhood home with my mother waiting to greet us at the door. “Who’d carve the turkey?” “Who’d sit at the head of the table?” Were questions that wouldn’t leave my head.

As we drove up to my parents’ house I saw my sister Julie and her husband Brian’s car in the driveway. Brian opened the door for us and Mama was right behind him ready to receive us. The smells of our delicious dinner wafted from the kitchen. As Mark and Merrick brought the bags in I walked through the family room and glanced at the chair Daddy would have been sitting in, waiting for our arrival. A short glance at the chair was all I could muster as I made my way upstairs to the kitchen to hug hello to Julie. The table was set and all that was left was for us to do was eat.

Mama shouted out, “Alright now come and eat while everything is hot.”

We all made our way to the table and I sat in my usual seat to the right of Daddy’s chair at the head of the table. The chair sat empty but only for a moment. Mama came into the room and with decisiveness took the seat at the head of the table. We grabbed hands to pray and I gripped her shaking hand as she thanked God for our being together, “One more time.” Her voice faltered but her spirit is so strong. As we said, “amen” I gave her hand an extra squeeze and opened my eyes to my wonderful family. Even in the midst of longing for Jordan and Daddy I felt their presence and was warmed by the grace of their company mingled so beautifully with all of us at the table.