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 ‘learning to exhale’ 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

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Reading Jordan’s Gratitude List

I am participating in an online workshop given by my dear friend Tom Zuba called, “Living With the Holidays.” The workshop started on November 1st and the exercise yesterday was to:

Consider gathering a few items that connect you to the person (people) you love that have died.  Find a space for them.  In your bedroom.  In your home office.  Somewhere in your house.  It can be a place you pass often…or it can be an out-of-the way place in your house.  A destination, if you will.  A place you consciously have to decide to go to.

I thought a great deal about what items connected me to Jordan. I have pictures of him that I love and chose a few of them. I knew I wanted one of his shirts that still faintly holds his scent. His Ipod is something that I love scrolling through reading the titles of  and listening to the vast and varied  music, so that is in my “Connectedness” collection. I wanted a book because of Jordan’s love of reading, but couldn’t figure out which one to choose. Last night I sat down in the chair on our 2nd floor landing, something I rarely do, looked down and saw a book with an encircled half-moon and stars on the cover. It is one of Jordan’s journals from his youth. I flipped through it seeing his early attempts at rap, the beginnings of short stories and a gratitude list.

I sat reading and rereading  Jordan’s gratitude list, touching the page and smiling at his undeniable penmanship.  I remember when he wrote the list. I owned a copy of “Simple Abundance,”  by Sarah Ban Breathnach that I’d purchased right after it came out in 1996. I hadn’t followed it prescriptively but I liked the notion of focusing on gratitude.

One night when Jordan was in junior high and Merrick was in 3rd or 4th grade, the three of us  sat at our kitchen table and talked about gratitude. I don’t recall what prompted the conversation but we talked about the aspects of your life, not just things, that you are grateful for. I told them about gratitude journals and getting into the practice of writing down what you are grateful for before you go to sleep. I was going to make my gratitude list, before I went to sleep and challenged them to do the same. They were both reluctant, “Why do we have to write it down? Can’t we just think about it?”  I assured them that it was their list and they didn’t have to read it aloud or share it with anyone. The power was in taking time to reflect and to commit to writing those things you may take for granted but that bring peace and joy to your life.

I felt an instant connection to Jordan when I read his gratitude list. Even as I wonder how I can live in a world that took Jordan away, reading his list made me realize he is still bringing me peace and joy. In moments when I am so battered from the aches, tears, and sleeplessness that come from missing him, he reminds me about gratitude.

Here is Jordan’s List:

The List (Things I am grateful for)

  1. My friends and family
  2. My health
  3. The good neighborhood I live in
  4. My being able to eat every night
  5. My knowledge
  6. My good school
  7. My home
  8. Being able to concentrate at school
  9. People who care about me
  10. The luxuries I have that others don’t

Jordan drew a line after number 10 and then added the following:

11. My sisters

12. No homework

13. My bed

14. Sleep

I found Jordan’s journal as I faced another sleepless night wondering how long I would hurt so much. Having to accept, not just know, but come to full agreement with my heart and soul that my child is dead is the hardest thing I’ve ever faced. It is a journey of recalculating what truth means, of acknowledging how much pain I hold inside me and it is about wanting to feel better even when it means saying goodbye to my boy again and again.

I read Jordan’s words last night and added my own to the list.

I am so grateful to be Jordan’s mother and still have the opportunity to learn from him.

Just Be Jackie

I’ve been away from my blog for longer than usual. I thank all of you who continue to visit.

I travelled to my college alma mater for homecoming and the Black Alumni reunion this past weekend. I went even though the week before was filled with anguish and tears. In the days before my trip I ministered to my children when grief engulfed them. I cradled each of them as they wept out of yearning for their brother and as they relived with vivid memories learning of Jordan’s death.

Even though I had already purchased my plane ticket I hesitated about going. I wondered if  I should cancel my plans. I didn’t want to be away if my kids were in such a fragile state and needed me. While I became ambivalent about my trip, Mark became the reassuring voice, “You were looking forward to seeing your friends. We’ll be fine. I’ll be here for them. Go and be Jackie.” Even though I felt Mark was right, thoughts of what my children needed from me swirled in my head. I finally landed on the thought that made me know I was going on my trip. Since Jordan died, my children hadn’t seen me do anything to nourish my spirit. I wanted them to see me beyond my roles as wife and mother. They needed to know, just as I did, that it’s okay to look forward with excitement, instead of anxiety.

The fact that I was excited about travelling back to my college campus thrilled and intrigued me. Four months earlier, when I attended my 25th college reunion, my experience was one of sorrow and regret. Mark came with me that time and I could barely leave our hotel room. The first time I stepped onto the campus and saw all of the college kids, I was holding back tears. I kept looking for Jordan. I watched the students with their rightful looks of freedom and invincibility and wanted to see my son. I looked at the students and thought repeatedly, “Jordan should be at college, not me.” It was an emotionally exhausting weekend. I walked with vigilance and apprehension, praying Mark and I wouldn’t run into anyone. I wasn’t sure how I would handle the exchange. I dreaded being asked, “How have you been?” or “What have you been up to?” I had no idea how I would answer these questions. My biggest fear was that I would start crying and not be able to stop.

The brief encounters I did have with former classmates were strategic. I made sure to stop by my freshman dorm reunion as I had promised, to see friends who I hadn’t seen since I graduated. The other event I attended was the meeting of the Black Alumni Association to thank them for the scholarship fund they started in honor of a classmate from my graduating year who died in the years after our graduation and in honor of Jordan (even though he didn’t attend my alma mater). I was determined to thank them for honoring my son.

Fast forward four months and here I was feeling excitement and anticipation when I was headed to the same place that had recently brought me to my knees with anxiety and tears. I realized Mark was right. I needed to be called “Jackie” for a few days. The responsibilities of marriage, motherhood and grieving have absorbed the majority of my heart and mind. I wanted to reminisce with friends, rekindle my intellectual self and think about career options that have lain dormant. For the first time since Jordan died I was leading with joy not fear or regret.

College Graduation

The weekend was transformative. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you tomorrow.

Learning to Exhale

My husband and I took my daughter to see a specialist on Wednesday. She has been ill and fatigued for much of the past month. Our family physician arranged for this exam by a specialist. As we sat in the waiting room prior to our appointment, I was so anxious. I sat absorbing all the sights and sounds around me. I watched a father giving an IV medication to his daughter who looked to be the same age as my daughter. It was clear this was a typical routine as he rooted through his bag pulling out syringes and alcohol pads to seal off the IV tubing when the medication was complete. I saw children of varying ages leave the office after the appointment knowing that soon it would be our turn. My daughter looked over at me from her seat and mouthed, “I’m nervous.” I mouthed back, “I know, it’s okay.” She smiled at me and returned to fiddling with the cellphone she received for her birthday two days prior. Then her name was called and we rose up and took our turn.

The doctor couldn’t quite pinpoint the cause of my daughter’s symptoms but through reviewing her lab results and his exam of her, he was able to rule out the more serious illnesses we were concerned about. He changed her medication regimen and wants to wait a few more weeks to see if her symptoms subside. Speaking in a bit of code because my daughter was in the room I told him that we were relieved by what he felt she didn’t have as much as his reassurances that it was something minor. He was optimistic and realistic at the same time. He told us that as a precaution if her symptoms didn’t improve in 3 weeks or so, there would be another round of tests and different specialists to see. For now I’m happy that she’s resting easier and getting her energy back. We weren’t given any guarantees but I know that my husband and I are doing the best we can to ensure our daughter’s well being. We left feeling more relieved than anxious.

In the ride home after the appointment I sat quietly, realizing how exhausted I was. I’ve spent much of this summer in an anxious, vigilant state. I dropped my son off at a 6-week summer program at the end of June. The first week he was gone my mind raced with thoughts about his safety. I felt as though I was holding my breath. I caught myself so many times with my fists clenched having to force myself to take a deep breath. In those first weeks of Merrick being away, I decided I wasn’t going to spend the six weeks he was gone tense and afraid while he was experiencing an adventure he was so excited about. I was going to borrow some of his excitement and learn to exhale and let go of some of my fears. I breathed in deeply and exhaled on the way home from the doctor’s appointment releasing some of the anxiety that was travelling with me.

I am still learning to exhale. I am learning that I want my children to live full lives even when it means they travel far from home. I am learning that even after one of my children dies my other children may get sick and I have to care for them and advocate for them; something I can’t do if I’m crouched in fear. I am learning that the quiet that envelops my home when my children are away is not a death knell, even though death has come to call. I am learning that grief takes so many forms and is not on any timetable. I am learning to feel what I’m feeling without fear that grief will destroy me. With my daughter’s illness this summer I’ve cried out of fear and from relief. I’m doing the best I can for my children. Merrick comes home today from his 6 week sojourn. It is a triumph for him, immersing himself in a pre-college program with such passion and dedication. It is a triumph for me that fear has not stopped me from allowing my children adventures. I am learning to exhale.