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 ‘motherhood’ Category

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

August-Taking A Day At A Time

It is the first day of August and I’m reminding myself to breathe. It is a month filled with birthdays, back to school activities, joys, sorrows and goodbyes. August 2nd is my daughters’ 12th birthday and starting the month celebrating them is quickly followed by the reality of Jordan’s birthday being 7 days later.

Controlling my urge to scream and desire to sleep the month away are taking far too much of my focus and energy. Facing another August without Jordan brings pain as fresh as in the days after he died. He should be here, I want him here, singing happy birthday to his sisters and then having them reciprocate along with the rest of our family a week later.

This year is harder than last. Days have become intertwined as my mind ticks off my daughters’ birthday, Jordan’s birthday, preparing Merrick for college and then taking him to school at the end of August. The time and energy it takes for me to untangle all these so that each day can be felt and honored feels like it is slipping away. My daughters’ birthday is tomorrow and I want so much to feel nothing but joy in my heart, concentrating on the miracles that they are.

I went into preterm labor with them at 24 weeks. After spending 30 days in the hospital and 30 days at home on bed rest, they made their entrance into the world 2 months early, small but healthy, only needing to stay in the hospital until they reached the 5 pound mark. While I incubated with them growing inside me, I talked to them everyday, “Keep growing. We’re waiting for you, but don’t come too soon. Keep growing. Mama loves you.”

I look at them now and I see these two beautiful young ladies on the cusp of their teenage years and they make me so proud. They are kind, generous, funny and so loving. The care and love they show each other is something I’m learning is unique to twins. I’m spending today, buying their presents, planning surprises and praying that my heart and mind will breathe with me and take just one day at a time. August 9th will come and it will be a very different day, where stringing the words, “happy” and “birthday” together will feel impossible.

Tomorrow is my two favorite girls’ birthday. I want them to have a mother who is present for them and able to share in all their joy and excitement. This is my prayer.

Sister talk

Off To Measure Trees

It is a beautiful day in my town today. For the first time in a while the sky is blue and the weather is warm. I’m off to get some sun on my face and busy myself with measuring tree circumferences to see how much ribbon the trees we’ve picked will need. I ordered bookplates to serve as information cards for each ribbon:

It’s hard not to think about what I’d be doing right now if Jordan were alive. Suitcases would be lined up and we’d be off to the airport to ready ourselves for his graduation. I vacillate between feeling like such an obsessed oddball for choosing this task as my way of honoring Jordan and then in the next instant I’m proud that I found a way to remember what would have been a magnificent day. With each passing day the obsessed feeling recedes and the anticipation of keeping Jordan’s memory alive boosts my energy and spirit.

The weather this weekend is iffy here, with chances of rain both Saturday and Sunday. A bright spot for me at least will be purple ribbons dotted throughout my village, providing a little light on what might feel like a dark day.

I would really appreciate pictures of the purple ribbons from those of you who will be tying them on your trees. Thank you

Time for, “The Talk”

I frequently read other parenting blogs and have a couple of my favorites on my blogroll. Katie Granju is a mom who has several blogs. I became acquainted with her Mamapundit blog after the death of her oldest son Henry. Yesterday I commented on her Babble blog about what to tell your kids when they ask questions usually out of the blue that don’t always have comforting answers. Questions like, “Can we visit heaven?” I commented as a parent and as a person with a background in developmental psychology. Part of my answer to her regarding her preschooler was, “Answer only what question they ask in the simplest way possible. You don’t want to overwhelm them.” I’ve found that kids want the truth and usually find a way to ask for it. Usually.

I’m stuck right now because Mark and I are faced with bringing our children to another level of awareness about loss and grief. I keep waiting for them to ask a question about Jordan’s ashes, any opening that will lead to a discussion of our plans to keep some of his ashes in an urn at home. They know we plan to spread some of his ashes as we travel but even this is an abstract concept. I don’t want them to be afraid of Jordan’s urn, especially when Mark and I need to have part of Jordan stay at home with us. What will we do if any one of our kids can’t handle an urn at home when it is something that will give Mark and I solace?

I’m afraid of scaring and scarring my kids by even bringing up the subject of the urn to them. And I’m afraid of them hurting in a way that I can’t help them. But I have to admit I’m also feeling a little selfish too. Jordan is also my child  and I want part of him at home with me.

I’ll get the perspecitve and suggestions from therapists and counselors. I’d like to know though how others in my situation have dealt with this issue. I’m asking for help from anyone who has experience talking with their kids or knows someone who has. How do you prepare your child/children to accept that the sibling that once laughed and played with them is partially, yet symbolically represented as ashes in an urn? It is a conversation quite frankly I’m dreading. I don’t want them to hurt anymore than they already do and yet it’s a conversation that must be had.

Jordan and his siblings on his 19th birthday. The last picture taken of all of them together.

Christmas Time Is Here

My sister Julie is one of the most creative people I know. She and her husband couldn’t be with us in Chicago to celebrate Christmas this year, but she sent her presents ahead with our parents.

A few days ago she said to me, “There’s one gift I want you to open before Christmas. It may make you a little emotional. I just wanted you to be prepared.”

“Okay, thanks for helping me get ready.”

I knew her gift would be something connected to Jordan. I wondered what it would be and figured it would be a picture she’d found and framed.

When I woke up this morning before I opened my eyes I said, “It’s Christmas Eve,” and I started to cry. Another Christmas Eve and Jordan isn’t here. I wondered, “How are we going to keep doing this without him?”

I moved closer to Mark and laid my head on his shoulder. In his sleep he made room for me and put his arm around my shoulder. He woke up as he felt my shoulders shake from sobs. No words were needed. He held me until I reached for a tissue.

“Where are you going,” he asked.

“I have to go out and get pastries for breakfast. Mama and Daddy want those carrot cake teacakes from Bleeding Heart Bakery.”

“Can I go with you?”

“Yeah, that would be good.”

“Let’s stick closer together today okay?”

Through tears I nodded and said, “Okay, that sounds good.”

When we came home with the pastries I asked my mom about the gift Julie wanted me to open early. Mom retrieved the gift from a shopping bag and handed it to me. I started to cry as soon as I saw Julie’s customized wrapping paper. Here is the paper:

Jordan and Lego Santa

Paper is emblazoned with a line from, "My Favorite Things."

If you look closely there is a picture of Jordan taken by one of his friends next to a Lego Santa. The paper also has the words, “Brown paper packages tied up in string,” a line from, “My Favorite Things.” Jordan loved listening to Coltrane’s version of this song, especially at Christmas time.

I gazed at the paper taking in every detail and carefully opened it truly feeling that old adage, “It’s too pretty to open,” but I’m so glad I did. Over an orange cranberry teacake and a cup of coffee, I felt Jordan next to me as I opened the beautiful package. Inside the box was an ornament that Julie made for our Jordan section of the tree. She took a small canvas and made a beach scene complete with sand and shells. It has a beach chair beckoning Jordan to come and sit awhile. On the edge of the chair is a miniature version of the book, “Holler If You Hear Me, “ by one of Jordan’s favorite authors Michael Eric Dyson. Every time I look at the ornament I imagine Jordan approaching the beach chair ready to resume his reading and soak up the sun. Thank you Julie for helping me feel Jordan on Christmas Eve.

Jordan's Ornament

Sweet Honey In The Rock To End The Day

To all of you still visiting my blog I say thank you. Writing has been difficult for me lately. Grief doesn’t follow any specific path and I’m learning to lean into what is happening so that as my friend Tom tells me I can, “Feel what I’m feeling.”

I was fortunate to hear Sweet Honey in the Rock perform this past weekend. If they’re ever in your town make sure to see them. One of their songs put writing in my heart again. Your comments are welcomed and needed. Thanks

My morning started with the thought, “Why did they get to keep their sons and I didn’t.” I sat up straight in bed knowing that no more rest would come. All that day the, “Why them and not me,” feeling latched on invading most of my thoughts. I wanted Jordan. It was snowing out and I wanted to call him, hearing his sleepy voice as I described what home looked like in a blanket of snow.

“Are you warm enough? Are you wearing your heavy coat?”

“Yes Mom, I’m fine.”

That’s the conversation I wanted but there’s no number to call anymore. I stayed in my pajamas most of the day, which is such a rarity for me that my kids asked if I was sick. I told them, “No, I’m just looking at this snowy day and trying to feel cozy.” I knew later in the evening I’d get dressed because Mark and I were going to a concert but the day was spent wrapped in warmth wondering when the hurt of longing would lessen.

The night was icy and the snow had the crunch of cold. As we walked to the car bracing against the wind, Mark and I joked, “This better be the best concert we’ve ever been to.” Sweet Honey in the Rock was singing at a local college and I was excited to see them. Since college I’d missed going to their concerts for a variety of reasons but I was determined to hear them sing. They sing a mixture of folk, gospel, spirituals, jazz, blues and all of it with their voices as the only instruments. My college friend Melissa was the first to rave about their concerts. Everyone who saw them told me that you leave their concerts transformed.

As we settled into our seats a woman we’d met at the reception before the concert sat next to Mark. She was an administrator at the University and we talked at the variety of guests that came to perform. While making small talk she asked, “How many kids do you have?” Mark told her, “We have 4. Twin girls who are 11, a son who is 18 and our oldest boy was 19 when he was killed in a car accident.” I studied my program as he talked knowing the story by heart but still flinching when he said, “killed.” I briefly looked up and made eye contact with our row mate as her eyes offered condolences and then went back to the program. The lights dimmed and the concert began.

After a lively upbeat intro song called “Denko,” one of the singers introduced the song they were about to sing saying, “All of us have plans for what we want to happen after we die. Sometimes those plans are followed, sometimes they’re not.” She then went on to sing, “When I Die,” with the rest of the group repeating in perfect harmony the phrase, “When I Die,” as her, “music.” As the song started, Mark reached over and rested his hand on my knee. I could tell by his touch that he worried about the hard start to my day and if this was a song I could bear to hear. I squeezed his hand, closed my eyes and chose to be a part of the song.

Jordan’s voice was in my head as I sat up straighter swaying to the refrain, “When I Die, When I Die.”

“When I die, I want to be cremated.” That was Jordan’s desire expressed to Mark and me. We filed it away in the far recesses of our hearts because we didn’t think we’d need to carry them out. Gratitude filled me because we’d listened to Jordan and carried out his wishes. Then a perfect voice sang out, “When I die let my spirit breathe, let it soar like an eagle to the highest tree,” and I touched my throat as I imagined Jordan’s spirit soaring higher than it ever could on this earth. I opened my eyes briefly then quickly closed them back tight. I needed to experience this song without distraction. It meant hearing it and feeling it without worrying about what others around me were doing or how I looked to them.

“When I die, when I die,” the song continued and I thought of Jordan’s ashes and our need to spread them far and wide to signify the world traveler he would have been. I feel guilty that it is taking us so long to spread his ashes. It has been two years and we’re only starting to plan the journeys for Jordan’s ashes. The words to the song entered my body interrupting all guilty thoughts, “Well, well when I die you can cast me out into the ocean wide.  Let my spirit cry, let it enter the tears that make the ocean deep and wide.” Eyes still closed I saw Mark and I standing on a beach releasing Jordan’s ashes into the sea saying goodbye and safe travels one last time. The tears started to fall and I did nothing to stop them. The song held a truth that freed me from one of my burdens. I whispered to myself, “What do you believe? What do you believe? Then the answer came, “Jordan is safe. You don’t have to worry about him anymore. Jordan is safe.”

I leaned back into the song and rocked as I heard the next refrain,

“Oh, oh, oh when I die, toss me out into the winds of time

Let my ashes roam, blow here blow there

I know I’m gonna find my true home”

Tears streamed down my face as the song washed over me. The truth was there begging to be accepted. “When I Die.” The when for Jordan was an answered question. There is nothing I can do about the when. I listened to voices covering and comforting me and asked my heart to accept that Jordan is safe. In the long nights when sleep won’t come and all I want is to have my boy home, I can take comfort if I choose to believe Jordan is safe. I don’t have to worry about him any more. Many questions linger but that one can be put to rest if I allow it.

The fact that he is gone and he’s here is settling in and slowly finding it’s rightful spot within me. I feel him in the bright red cardinal that perches outside my window, peering in looking straight at me as I call him Jordan by name. Jordan’s spirit is in the coincidences of his name appearing or being overheard when I miss him most. He is in the emails, texts and notes from his friends reaching out to me when I ache for him. A beautiful song opened a small part of my heart to that truth. My sorrow hasn’t evaporated and my heart is not burden free. But there is a feeling of relief akin to joy to be able to put one of my worries to rest. Jordan is safe. No more harm can come to him.

“When I die, let these bones take root, let the seed that been planted let ‘em come up bearing fruit”

Glimpses of Senior year and wondering, “What if?”

Jordan’s friends are seniors in college. They are at the points in their lives when it is decision-making time, job hunting or grad school applications? One of Jordan’s best friends came out to support Merrick last night as he performed in his high school’s Spoken Word showcase. Merrick told Q about his performance and invited him to come.

After the showcase, I watched Q interacting with Merrick, congratulating him on his performance and reminding Merrick, “Let me know when you’re performing and I’ll be here.” Q is a man now. I hope I didn’t stare but I intently watched him, his maturity exuding from his easy banter with Mark and I and his comfort in his own skin. Where was the shy boy who used to play video games in my basement? Time does not stand still. Even though Jordan only got  to spend 6 heartbreakingly sweet weeks as a sophomore in college, his friends are now making plans for the next stages of their lives.

When I got home later that night I checked my email and saw that another of Jordan’s friends had sent me a message. K excitedly told me that she had been accepted in the Teach for America program and had been assigned to the city she’d requested. I’m so honored that she shared her news with me and that finally she is comfortable enough to call me Jackie although I love when she introduces me as, “Jordan’s mom.”

Reading her email it is clear that I’m on the sidelines. I’ve been left wondering about Jordan and what his next steps would be. What would he look like now? Would the mustache he was earnestly trying to grow be a part of his look now? Would he have shifted from jeans and a hoody to a different style of dress? Would he be applying to law school? Would he be following his love of music and seeking out an internship in the music industry? Would the pull of politics have him travelling back to DC to further his social justice and policy reform interests or would this be the year that he travelled abroad? Jordan what would you be doing now?

Jordan’s amazing friends pull me to the present and future that I otherwise could only imagine my son occupying. At the same time they are a haunting reminder of what Jordan is missing, of what my family is missing. Flashes of pride, envy, anger, and joy strobe inside of me as I wonder, “what if,” and “why,” about my son and stay connected with these children who are now young adults. They give me glimpses, a small enticing taste of what Jordan’s senior year in college may have been like. It is a beautiful, delicate, sometimes burdensome gift, but I would never reject it.

Jordan is forever 19. His friends have futures that are promising and bright. Their love for Jordan and care of my family is a glimpse of God’s grace that I’m embracing. Gratitude, sorrow, tears and respect commingle as I willingly witness the passage of time in the form of Jordan’s friends. As our pastor friend who eulogized Jordan said, “It is living with the roses and the thorns.”

11-18-49 Hike!


Halloween circa 2002

It is the last day of October. In the shower this morning I stood and cried, thinking of Jordan, freshly feeling the pain of losing him, and how we lost him. Water fell around me as the intrusions of traumatic days and dates surged causing me to sob. In 2008, October 11th was the day Jordan told me he was going to Baltimore. The 12th is the day he died in a car accident. On October 13th, in the early morning hours the news of his death was forced upon us. The 16th is the day we viewed his body one last time at the funeral home. The 17th was the day he was cremated and the 18th was the day of his Memorial service.

On the heels of all these days comes October 20th, Merrick’s birthday. A bright spot that feels flung at us after the pounding traumatic remembrances early October brings. The 20th is the gasp of air given to my family after being held underwater for days by shock, flashbacks, turmoil and grief. I got to breathe a little knowing there was life to celebrate even though it was swirling with the vestiges of death and loss that wafted around us.

Merrick approached his 18th birthday with resolve and reflection. I asked him what he thought about such a milestone birthday, being able to vote, society’s view of him as a quasi adult? He felt more circumspect than excited. “This time next year my friends and I will be scattered around the country, attending different colleges. Our time as, “the guys” hanging out together like we do now will be over. “ I listened to his words, hearing no cynicism only the matter-of-factness that is a by-product of facing the loss of his brother. “The world is yours,” promise, so giddy and hopeful in it’s bumper sticker mentality doesn’t resonate the hopefulness the way I always imagined it would for all of my children. Merrick has firsthand knowledge that nothing is really promised. I selfishly wanted Merrick to proudly declare, “I’m 18,” with excitement. He didn’t and he wasn’t. I watched him try to find traction for celebration after days of lost sleep, quiet contemplation and wanting. The ultimate and unreachable gift, his brother to congratulate him on being 18 was unattainable. Awareness of mortality, embracing moments, and a loss of innocence were firmly placed in Merrick’s path in the month of October.

Yesterday my parents were here briefly as they started a train trip to the West Coast. They’ve always wanted to travel cross-country by train, replete with sleeper car and the luxury of time. October 28th was their 49th wedding anniversary and after years of talking about travelling by train, this year they are doing it. They sat at my kitchen table talking about the books and movies they brought along with them for their trip. I go through my checklist and they tell me they remembered the camera and look forward to sitting in the observation car watching the landscape float by. They’re finally taking one of their dream trips and a part of me senses how final it feels. As independent as they are, Daddy needs a wheelchair to get him onto the train. I ask him if he has his medication and how his arthritis plagued ankles are holding up? His response is as it always is, “Oh girl, I feel good. The doctor says I’m fine.” I ask who is picking them up from the train station and they tell me their high school friend will be there to meet them. Daddy laughs, excited about catching up with old friends. He tells me that his friend wanted him to bring him a taste of moonshine. I laugh along with him but am relieved that none of them will be drinking moonshine. Clearly their West Virginia roots are still firmly entrenched. Mark takes them to the train station and I stand in the driveway waving and yelling, “Have fun.” I walk back inside thinking and praying, “I hope they have a good time. Don’t let anyone get sick.  Bring them home safely.”

Today is Halloween and I witness my 11 year old daughters pour bags of candy into a basket that will be empty by the end of the evening after all the trick-or-treaters make their way by our home. The girls’ excitement this year is less about running from house to house filling their candy bags to the brim, than it is about attending their friend’s haunted house party. Wanly I watch them, glimpsing the teenagers they will soon be. They are my youngest and my wish to have time stand still, to keep their youthful exuberance about costumes and counting their candy at the end of the evening, “Mama, I got 3 BIG candy bars,” is overpowering. I’m stuck in a nostalgia time warp that is making me teary in wanting things I cannot have. The days of having a parent accompany my daughters, waiting on the sidewalk as they run from house to house, racing to ring the doorbell are over. They look forward to trick-or treating with a group of their friends. If I want to hear them say, “Trick or treat,” this year I’ll have to force myself on them or follow them from a distance. They are acting like typical “middle schoolers” and my gratitude that they embrace normal activities without being too weighted down by grief is tempered by wariness and melancholy. What am I doing letting them explore the world and have independence? Am I insane? I’ve lost a child, yet I keep encouraging my others to find their way in the world.

I made it through October again. A new month beckons and as ceremonial as it is, I’m relieved that the calendar page is about to turn. I need the surges of grief and middle of the night weeping that are now hallmarks of October to be quieted.

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.”

Back To School

When my kids go back to school, it is always an anxious time for me. When I was working quasi part-time (4 days a week) I chalked my anxiety up to the stress of working and keeping track of all the beginning of the year activities like, open houses, parent “meet and greets” and the start of soccer season. It’s been over 10 years since I worked outside of the home and I still react to the beginning of the school year the same way. I know that my angst stems from more than just an overloaded schedule.

The physical energy needed to obtain what everybody needs always brings on distress for me. Heralding the school year with the lunch boxes and school supplies, carpooling and homework assistance typically brings on a lupus flare. In years past, because of being ill from lupus, I missed one open houses. On these occasions, Mark would go without me, taking copious notes knowing what questions I would ask of him about the teachers and the curriculum when he got home.  It didn’t matter how well he handled the task alone. It didn’t matter how quickly my kids got over their disappointment that I wasn’t going to meet their teachers that particular night. I felt guilty that I wasn’t going. My inner critic badgered me with questions like,  “What’s wrong with you?” “Can’t you suck it up for a couple of hours?”  The guilt and self-criticism got worse once I stopped working. “You’re not even working and you still can’t pull it together to go to your kids’ schools.” Even though one of the best remedies for a lupus flare is rest, for me it was hard to come by with such a harsh inner critic at the helm.

With time and help, I’ve learned to quiet but not silence my very intense inner critic. When I feel myself going down the, “You should be able to…” path, I’m quicker now to take care of myself and remember to do what I always urge others to, “Be good to yourself.” Still, I’m wrestling with my “back to school” demons as Open Houses kickoff this week for my kids. At both the middle school and the high school, the open houses are conducted the same way. Parents/Guardians follow their child’s daily, albeit abbreviated, schedule and meet all of their teachers. Going to my daughters’ school, which was also Jordan and Merrick’s middle school isn’t presenting any problems for me. It is going to the high school that has me paralyzed. Mark isn’t sure he’ll be able to go this year and I’m not sure I can go alone.

For Jordan’s freshman year at the high school, Mark went to the first open house by himself. That first year he came home to tell me of all of Jordan’s teachers and his workload. I listened eagerly, liking what I heard and determined not to miss another open house. In the years that followed, Mark and I went to the high school open houses, bumbling along with all the other parents through the 4-story building with its mazes of hallways. It was easy to get turned around because the numbering of rooms follows no logical order. Walking the halls of that massive high school trying to find classrooms has always been difficult for me. I am self-diagnosed as spatially and directionally challenged. Offering me assistance by telling me to travel east or that a building is on the northwest corner sounds like a foreign language. When Mark and I lived in Houston I called him from work during one of our first days there to give me directions to the supermarket. This time was before cell phones or I would have kept him on the line until I reached my destination. Instead I relied on directions written on a scrap of paper. He started his directions with, “When you get to the top of the street, make a left.” I immediately stopped him. I snapped, “Remember who you’re talking to. When I get to the end of the driveway which way do I turn?” I’ve always needed “left”, “right” directions with plenty of landmarks thrown in for cushion. Each time I’m at the high school for a meeting I ask for directions along with the room number and allow myself “getting lost” time.

Last year was our first open house at the high school for Merrick even though he was a junior. He did a mid-year transfer from a private school his sophomore year, so we missed the previous year’s open house. While I’d been as far as the “Welcome Center” to drop off Merrick’s registration forms, the open house was the first time back, walking the halls of the high school since Jordan died. There was trepidation for both Mark and I, wondering how it would feel to bump into teachers we hadn’t seen since Jordan died or even sit in classrooms that he once occupied.  With all of our sorrow and fear, we were determined to go. Our children need to know that we are fully invested in their presents and their futures. I kept telling Mark, “It’s Merrick’s school now too.”

We walked from our home to the high school holding hands while catching each other up on our days. We entered the school and were forced into the crush of other parents angling for a place in line to pick up their child’s schedule. There wouldn’t be much time to reminisce. I was relieved. I wanted my focus to be on Merrick, even though every thought had as its backdrop images of Jordan walking the halls. I was hoping too that we wouldn’t run into any well-meaning friends or acquaintances that would ask with pity filled eyes, “How are you?” Pity is hard to accept. Loves, concern, compassion, even discomfort from others are feelings I understand. Pity makes me angry. For me someone showing pity presupposes knowledge and understanding about how I’m feeling and what the grief I’m enduring. It always feels laced with relief that the loss didn’t happen to them. I had my guard up, staying vigilant and hoping that no one would say anything inappropriate about my loss (“He’s in a better place”) or feel the need to update me on their children’s lives even though I hadn’t asked. Hearing people talk about how much their children loved being away at college and that they were planning to see them for parents’ weekend hurt so much in the first year after Jordan died. I was so traumatized by grief that I rarely did more than stand and nod when people would update me on the college experiences of their children even though I wanted to turn and run.

After Mark and I went to several of Merrick’s classes we started to relax a bit. As we stopped to look at the schedule to see where Merrick’s next class was, an acquaintance with whom we shared several mutual friends stopped us in the hall to say hello.. We’ve known each other since Merrick and her son went to preschool together. She wanted the update on Merrick’s transfer to the high school and asked how our daughters were doing. We talked of how big the girls were getting and yes how time flies given that both of our sons are in high school. We stood smiling and then she said, “You have a son in college too, right?” In the seconds after the questions Mark and I looked at each other wondering which of us would answer. How could she not know about Jordan? I stayed mute knowing that the only other gear I had was rage. Mark calmly said to her, “Jordan was killed in a car accident last October.” Her hand flew to her mouth and she said, “Oh my God, I knew that. I’m so sorry.”

Mark told her not to worry. I stayed silent and focused my attention on her right ear. I didn’t want my eyes to meet hers anymore. She kept talking, nervously saying how dangerous the roads were and how she always tells her son to be careful. I thought but didn’t say, “Yeah that was our mistake. We didn’t tell Jordan to be careful. PLEASE STOP TALKING!” The last thing I heard her say was that she almost got into a car accident earlier that day. She said, “Almost”, I didn’t want to hear the word almost and accident strung together, not when my son is dead. Panic was rising in me and it finally dawned on me that I didn’t have to keep standing there listening to her. I had to get away, so I started moving towards the water fountain. An old neighbor of mine popped into my path, hugging me and asking who Merrick had for his guidance counselor. I looked up to see that my acquaintance had vanished. She no doubt couldn’t find a way out of the conversation either and was relieved to have a quick exit. After briefly speaking with my neighbor, Mark and I looked at each other and exhaled deeply. The bell for the next class was ringing and we both wanted to meet the rest of Merrick’s teachers. As we started to walk towards the next class I gripped Mark’s arm in panic, remembering the one place I didn’t want to happen upon, the newspaper room. Jordan was on the newspaper staff starting his sophomore year. He loved the work and the camaraderie and would often be at school until very late into the night when they were doing layout. Thinking about Jordan’s connection to that room and knowing how fragile I was I whispered in Mark’s ear, “I don’t want to go by the newspaper room. I can’t handle that tonight. That’s too much.” I was shaking my head and trying not to cry. Mark asked one of the student guides in the hall where the newspaper room was. She pointed in the direction and told him how to get there, assuming that was our next destination. Mark thanked her and we set off in the opposite direction. He held my hand and said, “We know where it is. I don’t want to go there either. Now we won’t accidentally go by it.”

Going to the rest of Merrick’s classes I was reeling from the trauma of being asked, “You have a son in college right?” and trying to stave off all the reminders of before Jordan died, that being at the school was bringing up. I wondered as I sat at the desks, “How do my kids do make it through school everyday?” I was fidgety and could barely sit still let alone focus on what the teacher was saying. I am amazed at their strength and resilience. At the end of the evening, Mark and I left the school through the door closest to our home. We took a few steps and then I began to weep. Mark put his arm around me as I said repeatedly, “You have a son in college, right?” and then bitterly answered the question, “No we don’t. We used to, but he’s gone. Our son is dead.” I cried and spewed out a variety of responses to the question we’d been asked until we were in front of our house. Mark and I stood there for a moment catching our breath and preparing to enter our home. As we walked in, Merrick met us in the entry. With eager eyes he asked, “So how was it? What did you think of my teachers?” Without pausing Mark and I both said great and gave him the details of our evening he needed to hear.

I’m keenly aware of my desire to be emotionally present and available for my children. The vigilance I carry for my kids and me to ward off unintentional but still hurtful comments is on high alert. I haven’t decided what I’ll do about Merrick’s open house if Mark can’t come. I’ve thought about contacting Merrick’s teachers to see if there’s an alternate time they’re available to meet. Maybe I’ll still go. It’s not as though I haven’t walked the halls of the high school by myself since Merrick started there; I have, numerous times. It’s still hard. Each time I visit, I whisper the same thing to ready myself, “It’s Merrick’s school too.”