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.

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My First Easter

The last month has been challenging the closer it came to Easter. Daddy died on Easter Sunday and even though last year that date was April 24th, it didn’t matter that the date didn’t fall on the same day. Easter brought up all the memories of getting the call from hospice that Daddy was in his final moments and we should hurry if we wanted to see him before he died. We got there 10 minutes too late, which I think Daddy would have been relieved about. He didn’t want us to watch him die. We all filed in to his room to see him, all tubes removed and him lying in bed with no signs of pain on his face. I laid my head on his chest and called out, “Oh my daddy, my daddy, my daddy,” marveling all the while that his body was still warm and it didn’t feel like we got there too late.

This year, all the days leading up to Easter brought flashes of visiting him in the hospital, watching his fast deterioration, having a slideshow in my head of the MRI scans that showed picture after picture of all the places the cancer had invaded his body. I was dreading Easter and wanting to quicken its arrival at the same time. “Lord let me get through this day.”

I worried about Mama and was relieved when my sister told me she would be going down on Saturday to be with her on Sunday. But Mama, always the planner had already mapped out her day. She would observe her usual Easter rituals. There would be Sunrise service at 6am with her friend Mrs. Bradley, and then Sunday school before coming home and later having dinner at a friends. The last part was the different ending to the day. Dinner with Daddy was always how Easter Sunday wound its way down in years past. But she found a way to make it through the day on her own terms. I was flailing around, wanting to be with her, wanting to be with Merrick who loved his Pop so much and was showing his own signs of missing him and us.

“Mom, I wish I could come home and go to church with you for Easter.”

“I know honey, but you’ve got a few more weeks and then you’ll be home for the summer.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Can you find a church service there you can go to?”

“Probably, my friend Jeremy said he would go with me.”

“That’s a good friend. I’m glad he’s there for you.”

“Mom, I was feeling bad on Friday and I listened to “Sugar” by Stanley Turrentine.”

“Oh believe me I know the song. That was one of Pop’s favorites.”

“I just missed him and started listening to it and I love how it starts off kind of slow and then builds and then rolls between all these different rhythms. By the end of the song it was like Pop was talking to me, “Boy get on up and do what you need to do.”

“That sounds like Pop.”

“Well I felt better so I got up and went to my Spoken Word Club meeting like I was supposed to.”

“I’m glad he was there for you. I think I may need to take a listen to some Stanley Turrentine myself. It’s gonna be okay baby. I know it’s hard.”

And Easter was hard. My family went to a friend’s church with her family choosing not to go to our home church even though I’d bought a lily to sit at the base of the altar in memory of Daddy and Jordan. I couldn’t bear the part of the service where they ring a bell after saying the name of each person who died in the previous year. The sound of the bell they rang when they said Jordan’s name in 2008 still echoes in my heart.

The service at my friend’s church was beautiful and uplifting but mostly I felt numb, still so torn that I wasn’t with my mom or with Merrick. After church when we came home I did the only thing I could. I changed clothes and lied down on my bed curling up waiting for sleep to come. Mark came into the room telling me not to worry about dinner.

“Stay here as long as you need to. I understand.”

The most comforting part is that I knew he truly did understand. I talked to Daddy for a while telling him how much I loved and missed him and before I knew it I was asleep and I slept better than I had in weeks.

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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

 

 

The Snowy Day and a Friendly Intervention

 

I was outside with the kids on their snow day as they attempted to turn a 5 ft snowdrift located right in front of the garage into a sledding hill, while Mark used the snow blower to clear our driveway and sidewalks. Merrick’s first comment when he came outside was, “Hey Mom, this is the kind of day Jordan and I dreamed about. A snow day like this where we could build tunnels and snow forts, a day just like this.”

I stood watching him for a second imagining what he was imagining and found that my only reply was, “uh huh.” I thought about saying, well your sisters would love to build a fort with you, but I’m so glad I didn’t. When I thought about how saying that would sound, it reminded me of one of those well-meaning comments like, “At least you have the other children to keep you busy.” Merrick had a specific image in mind and the people in it were he and Jordan.

The kids and Mark ended up staying outside much longer than I did. After shoveling part of the deck and snapping pictures of the blizzard aftermath, I was ready to come inside. The cold was making it’s way to my fingertips always a sign that lupus was at work. After pulling off my boots and hanging up my coat, I assigned myself to chuck wagon duty.  I found a container of turkey hash in the freezer that my parents made when they were here for Christmas. It would be the perfect warm-up meal and give me something to do so I didn’t feel like I was wimping out by not being outside.

The hash was going to take a while to warm so I found some leftover spaghetti in the fridge and heated that up for myself even though I was tempted to wait by the aroma of the turkey, potatoes and onions. I could hear Lindsay and Kendall playing and the steady sound of the snow blower so I knew it would be awhile before everyone came in. Everyone. Kendall said earlier in the day when she realized her dad was staying home too, “We’re all here together.” Her words wandered through my head as I ate and then I just laid my fork down and put my head in my hands. I sat at the table and tears filled my voice as I said aloud, “I miss you Jordan. I want to call you and talk to you today.” I invited all the lurking sadness to sit with me awhile without fear of being shooed away.

Sitting and crying I knew I couldn’t have what I wanted. I wanted to send Jordan pictures of his siblings trying to sled down the 5 ft snowdrift in front of the garage and of his dad snow blowing the driveway so bundled, that all you could see was his nose. Jordan knew how much his dad hated the cold. I wanted to call him and make sure he was prepared for the storm coming his way and that he was safe and warm and dry.

While I sat, I allowed myself to imagine what Jordan would be doing, something I haven’t been able to do very often anymore. With eyes closed, I saw him studying and hanging out in the hallway of his dorm talking to friends. The images came so readily and then just as quickly they dissipated.  I got up and cleared my lunch dishes and resigned myself to a wistful day.

I wandered over to the couch and sat down with my laptop.  I looked at my emails to find that Jordan’s friend Kathryn had emailed me with, “just checking in,” as the subject line. She told me about her classes and how she’d been thinking of the family and me. I wrote her back immediately telling her she was the warmth and sunshine I needed at just the right time. My melancholy was getting mixed with a little joy. After I emailed Kathryn I decided to email Jordan’s friend Matt. Kathryn told me that she’d spoken with him a few days before. In my email to her I closed by saying, “I’m so glad two of Jordan’s favorite people are becoming such good friends.”

I didn’t get to see Matt over the holidays and it felt like the right time to reach out to him, so I extended the check-in started by Kathryn. After asking about his classes and after graduation plans, on an impulse I sent him hometown pictures of all the snow and one of Merrick in an, “American Gothic,” pose, shovel in hand.

When I closed my laptop after writing the emails I noticed the difference in how I felt. I said a silent thank you to Jordan for sending his friends to me, so that missing him hurt a little less.

Jordan’s Snow Days

Christmas in Ohio 1990 Jordan's first snow. Mark is shovelling in the background.

Still loving playing in the snow as a teenager

 

What Jordan Gave Us

A card my sister made in honor of Jordan's 20th birthday

Precious memories can be made in the most unexpected places. The summer of 2008 was our last summer with Jordan. It was filled with moments that are crystallized in my memory. Even at the time, they were beautiful “Jordan” moments where I held my breath not wanting them to end. Even then I knew the memories Jordan was leaving us were special. I chalked it up at the time to my sentimentality and nostalgic nature. I had no idea it would be our last summer with him. Even though I didn’t know this fact at the time, an inner voice told me, “remember these feelings, you’re in the middle of something special.”

Gift 1

Every time I pull my car into the garage I look around the walls, smile and then sigh. I’m looking at Jordan’s handiwork. To the outside world it’s a typical garage; for me it’s an improbable shrine to Jordan. The summer before his sophomore year of college, Jordan did odd jobs around the house to earn extra money to take with him to Washington, D.C. He was spending most of the summer in DC as an intern working for PIRG (Public Interest Research Group). When I offered the garage-cleaning job, Jordan leapt at the opportunity. Our garage was filled on one side with moving boxes, old toys, and gardening tools. Jordan’s task was to make our two-car garage ready to house two cars. As he worked, I would occasionally watch from the kitchen window to see him methodically emptying the garage of all of its contents so that he could sort through items and then replace only those things we really needed. I remember watching him thinking how mature and responsible he was becoming. I didn’t have to stand over him to make sure he did a good job. He asked questions of me when he needed to and took the job seriously. I saw glimpses of the man he would become and felt so blessed. Now whenever I enter our garage, I look up at the snow shovels and rakes hanging on hooks, the hula hoops leaning against the far wall and I think, Jordan’s hands touched these things and put them in order.

Gift 2

At another time during the same summer of 2008, Jordan and I went shopping to buy him shoes for his summer internship. After we were done shopping, we’d stopped for lunch when I got a return call from my doctor. I had called her earlier in the day to tell her of pain I was experiencing in my ankle. I assumed she would tell me to increase one of the medications that I took for Lupus. Instead she said that she wanted to examine me and asked how soon I could get there. After I hung up the phone I told Jordan of her comments and asked if he would mind driving me to the appointment since I hadn’t driven during our errand because of my ankle. He agreed in his nonchalant way with a, “No problem” and off we went.

I remember coming back into the waiting room after seeing my doctor to find Jordan asleep in a chair. When I went over and touched his arm, he looked up at me and as he stretched said, “Are you okay?” My reply to my son who at that instant with his sleepy look was my little boy again was, “Yes honey I’ll be okay.” Even as I allayed his fears I was so glad I hadn’t gone to the doctor alone. Now, every four weeks when I go to my doctor’s appointments I look at the seat where Jordan sat that day and think about how well he took care of me.

Gift 3

As is inevitable with twins, there are times when one is invited to an event and the other is not. In our last summer with Jordan, Kendall was invited to the beach with a friend and Lindsay was not. Lindsay was inconsolable, begging me to please call and see if she could also go to the beach as well. I told her I couldn’t do that and that there would be times where she was invited places and Kendall wouldn’t be. I reminded her that she had been invited to a friend’s house and Kendall wasn’t. Her unconvinced reply was, “but this is the beach.”

Jordan came downstairs to see a very disappointed Lindsay sitting on the couch as Kendall left with her friend. He went over to her and told her they could do something together. Trying to be helpful I suggested he take Lindsay swimming. Jordan vetoed this idea, mainly because the summer before he’d spent as a lifeguard at our community pool. Swimming, rather overseeing swimming, wasn’t one of his favorite pastimes. I decided to let he and Lindsay figure out what they would do together. Jordan thought for a moment and then asked Lindsay if she wanted to cook something. Lindsay’s face lit up and she went to the cabinet where we store our cookbooks. She pulled out the Williams Sonoma “Kid’s Cookbook” that Jordan and Merrick had received as a Christmas gift when they were younger.

Lindsay and Jordan stood side-by-side at the island in the kitchen flipping through the cookbook. They came to a recipe for “Buttery Pecan Cookies” and both decided that’s what they wanted to make. I went upstairs to give them time together. Jordan yelled to me that they were going to the store to get chopped pecans. I came downstairs to give them money for the store. I watched Lindsay excitedly put her shoes on and they were out the door. Lindsay’s regrets about going to the beach were long gone because she had one-on-one time with her big brother. I ran errands while they baked and came home to the smell of fresh baked cookies. Lindsay proudly showed me the plate of cookies she and Jordan made. I tasted one and told Lindsay and Jordan that we would definitely have to make the cookies at Christmas time and give them out as Christmas gifts. Lindsay was so excited about the cookies and wanted to make sure we saved some for her dad who was travelling on business. I told her we could freeze the cookies she wanted her dad to taste. She picked out two cookies and put them in a freezer bag. When her dad got home two days later there were still a few cookies left so he sampled from the ones left out of the freezer.

After Jordan died, I found the cookies Lindsay and Jordan baked together in the freezer. I held the bag up peering at it, trying in some way to conjure up Jordan. Just looking at the bag brought back so clearly the day they were made. The cookies remain in our freezer. Lindsay takes the bag out occasionally to look at them. Since Jordan’s death, she has started a new tradition. She decided in honor of Jordan, she would bake the “Buttery Pecan Cookies” on his birthday every year- all by herself.

Gift 4

Jordan made dinner for us one night when Mark was away on business. It was a night where I was not feeling well and he, unsolicited offered to make dinner. He made a dish he had perfected while in D.C., pasta with chicken that he sautéed with garlic and onions. While away and on a budget, Jordan quickly learned that the only way to make his money last was to eat out less, and cook more. I’d taught him the basics of cooking and sent him a care package of kitchen supplies during the first week of his internship. I sat at our kitchen table impressed as I watched Jordan prepare dinner. He talked as he cooked. I sat listening as he talked about the new friends he’d made while in D.C. and his internship duties at PIRG which were highlighted for him by frequent trips to Capitol Hill.

When we sat down to dinner that night, I was so proud of Jordan and the example he was setting for his brother and sisters. In yet another way he was displaying his ability to take care of himself and care for others. He was so proud as he served his siblings and I. We sat down to dinner that night and laughed and talked over a meal prepared by my son. That night watching Jordan, I was reassured that if anything were to happen to Mark or I, Jordan would be able to care for his siblings with love and a generous spirit.

The summer of 2008 was filled with bountiful offerings bestowed on my little family by a kind and grace-filled son. We had Jordan for nineteen years, two months and three days. During his time on this earth, Jordan didn’t amass any monetary fortunes or have time to realize all the dreams he so eloquently spoke of pursuing. His legacy however is made. Among the things he left us are improbable treasures in the form of: a garage with items neatly stored, a trip to the doctor, homemade cookies and a shared dinner. Who knew such simple things could pull at my heart with such force. I’m grateful everyday for the inner voice that so aptly told me to remember.