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 ‘prayer’ Category

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

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Honoring Last Wishes

To give more insight into the idea of honoring requests and giving my new readers a fuller picture of my dad who was/is so instrumental on my mourning journey I offer again the post below.

The last few months I feel like I’ve been in a whirlwind. Traveling back and forth to Ohio when my Dad was ill, preparing for his memorial service after his death, honoring what would have been Jordan’s commencement with purple ribbons, and then Memorial Day weekend honoring Daddy’s final wish of spreading his ashes in his hometown in West Virginia. The part of West Virginia where my parents and their parents lived is fit for any postcard. The summer mountains are filled with lush green trees and roll on and on for as far as the eye can see. The area where Daddy lived was a mining town and everyone called it “#9” because that was the number of the mine that the men worked in and they lived in company owned housing and shopped at the company store.

It took us an hour to get there from our hotel and as we drove winding on too small roads that seemed to at any bend curve right into a mountain, Mark the kids and I all wondered, “Are we there yet?” Finally my brother-in-law who was leading the way pulled over on a patch of gravel off the side of the road.

“There’s the creek with the waterfall, exactly like Daddy said. It’s right here.”

My hand covered my mouth as I wept thinking back to our very last conversation when I asked him if he was sure the creek was still there and he replied, “Shoot girl, of course it’s still there.” The creek was there and he was right, Mama knew how to get there. My great-uncle who had driven with my cousin said as he got out of the car, “I thought I’d seen all of West Virginia, but I’ve never been out here.”

The area was overgrown and I looked up from the creek to all the trees and tall grass, trying to imagine what it looked like when it was dotted with small houses. What dotted the area now were yellow and black butterflies everywhere. Their presence was as if to say, “You’re in the right place. We’re here to make sure it’s special for you.” None of us had every seen so many butterflies in one place. I joked, “Daddy wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the place.” After we’d all had a chance to look around and take pictures of the waterfall and creek and the mountains as the backdrop it was time to do the task that had brought us to the spot. Mark carefully pulled the metal container from the back of the car.

I asked, “Do you have something to cut the plastic bag?” Remembering our struggle when we tried to spread Jordan’s ashes and didn’t have anything to cut the zip tie that held the bag closed.

Mark nodded and continued over to the creek just under the waterfall. Mama asked for a word of prayer and we all gathered, holding hands and my Uncle prayed for us and for the task we were undertaking. As we dropped hands I looked over to see Lindsay and Kendall crying and put an arm around each one of them holding them close. The bag was opened and Mark began to pour the ashes and we all watched as the ashes mingled and churned with the water cascading from the waterfall before drifting downstream.

I called out, “Daddy thank you for being so wise and letting us know what your final wishes were. We are so proud to honor them.”

Mark poured a bit more in and then I reached into my pocket and removed the small container that held some of Jordan’s ashes. With a high arc I flung them into the water. “Thank you Daddy for letting Jordan be with you.”

The only sounds were weeping. My mother wailed as she watched the remains of the man she’d loved since high school drift down the creek he’d played in as a boy. Suddenly we were all together hugging and crying as the sunshine warmed our backs. Mama began to quiet down and we all stepped back a little to give her space. I went back to the waterfall and just watched the water no longer clear but muddied with the ashes. As I walked back to the car, I searched the ground for rocks that weren’t broken pieces of gravel and found a coral colored rock and one stone with specks of glittering green. I put them in my pocket thinking of all the rock Daddy had skipped in that same creek.

Our day wasn’t done, Mama wanted to spread some of Daddy’s ashes around the graves of her parents and that of his oldest sister. We loaded back into the car for the next sojourn. As we pulled away from the creek Mark suddenly stopped the car.

“Look at that sign. Take a picture of it.”

I hurriedly got the camera and snapped the picture. After I read the sign I whispered, “and Daddy too.”

Wait Until A Decent Hour

“Let’s wait until a decent hour.”

That was the request of my mom to my sister about calling to tell me that Daddy was in the hospital. They’d been at the emergency room since around 4am knowing that Daddy was going to be admitted. Even as they waited my mother didn’t break her weekly ritual with Merrick. Twice a week she calls him at 6:30am gives him a little pep talk so that he can get up and be at school an hour early to meet with teachers or study in the library. Mama made a pact with Merrick after Jordan died that on days when his spirits would be so low but he still wanted to excel that, “You do the work, I’ll do the worrying.” She extended that care to me, waiting until 7am to have my sister call. Julie in her calm soothing voice called me at 7am to tell me, “We’re at the hospital with Daddy and he’s pretty bad.” My first reaction was a sob and then, “I’ll be there today.”

“I know you will. They’re trying to get him stabilized.”

We’d just found out Daddy was seriously ill on Saturday. I’d missed a call from my mom earlier in the day and when I returned her  call  she immediately said, “Hold on a second I have to get Julie on the line. Your Daddy wants to talk to you.” Those words alone were enough to make me brace myself for bad news. My father hates talking on the phone and rarely initiates a call. Mark and I had just dropped the girls off at a birthday party and as soon as I told him what Mama said he pulled the car over to the side of the road.

He told us his news and my screaming, “NO,” and “Not my Daddy,” over and over marked my devastation until Mark took the phone so they knew he was there with me. I exhaled the last scream and shakily told Daddy, “I’m here. I’m sorry.”

In a quiet voice Daddy responded, “I just need to know you’re here with me. I’m sorry this happened. But I just need you with me that’s all.”

“We are Daddy. That’s how we’ve always done things.”

“I’m sorry to put you through this. I just don’t understand how this happened. I’ve never missed a doctor’s appointment.”

“You’re not putting us through anything. We’re here and we’ll do whatever we need to.”

“I know you will.  I know you will.”

Daddy saw a specialist  on Monday and all of us are trying to wrap our minds around the disease that is ravaging his body and the prognosis, which is poor. Tuesday morning jettisoned our family to another level of fear and shock as he was rushed to the emergency room. When I arrived Tuesday afternoon I went immediately to the hospital needing to see Daddy for myself.

From Tuesday on Mama, Julie and I adopted our hospital routine. Every morning I was dropped off at the front entrance so I didn’t have to walk as far with my booted foot. Then, my mom, sister and I sit vigil with Daddy, with my mother always taking the chair closest to his bed. I watch Mama closely looking for signs of weariness and fatigue, and all I see is resolve and commitment to her husband. When she leaves the room Daddy will ask Julie or I, “How’s your Mama doing? You watch her eyes that’s where she’ll show when she’s not okay. Watch her eyes.”

I reassure him that she’s taking things a day at a time and is not hiding anything from him. As we sit in his room, we listen to him make jokes with the nurses and other staff, complain about the food and bargain with the nurses to let him have one little packet of salt to make the food semi-edible. We also watch as he tries to maneuver in bed and pain grips his body with such force that we wait, holding our breaths, until the wave of pain subsides. Everything is still surreal. New routines and worries are now in the works, setting up home nurse care, wondering how Daddy will navigate a home with stairs and praying that he handles the medication without too many side effects.

I came home today hugging Daddy and today telling him I’ll be back soon.

“You go home and take care of your family. I’ll see you next time.”

Daddy is a strong man. He is the one who reminded me after Jordan died to say his name everyday. He continues to teach me so much. Here is the post, “Say His Name,” to give you a glimpse of just how amazing my father is.

Say His Name (9/28/2009)

I’ve never seen a picture of my father as a boy, yet I’ve heard so many of the stories of him growing up in a coal mining community in West Virginia, third youngest of thirteen children, that I have a distinct picture of him in my mind. My father is quite the storyteller and I’ve sat in rapt attention as he’s told me of his boyhood antics as well as those of his siblings. I’ve also listened as he’s shared the sorrow his family endured. As a young man in college, Daddy in less than 14 months, lost a sister to illness, a brother to murder, and his mother after making the statement to my father as they sat on their front porch following the death of her son-“I will not live to bury another one of my children.” She died a few months later.

Every time Daddy shared the story of losing so many loved ones in such a short span of time, I looked at him with compassion and awe. How do you keep going when you lose so much in such a short amount of time? Daddy had survived unimaginable loss and yet didn’t seem haunted by what he endured. His life had gone on with a college degree, marriage, work and family. He spoke lovingly of his family. He told funny and poignant stories of relatives that were long gone by the time I was born. Because of him I felt I knew them. Their deaths did not erase them from Daddy’s heart. He talked about them all the time. I watched him because as untouched as I was by the death of someone close to me, I knew it would happen eventually. Daddy provided my first road map on mourning loved ones.

My “eventually” came with the unexpected, shocking news of Jordan’s death. When I made the call to my parents in the middle of the night to tell them that Jordan their oldest grandchild had been killed in a car accident my mother screamed and cried, and then my father was on the phone. He told me they would be there as soon as they could and they were. By Monday afternoon they were sitting at our kitchen table. The friends who had held watch over us since early that morning quietly left once our family arrived. We sat, cried and talked. Daddy’s words to me were simple and direct, “Don’t stop talking about him. You say his name everyday.” I’m not sure if I would have taken such direct advice from just anyone, but I knew my father’s experiences with loss. Daddy’s advice was him speaking what he had lived. The way I knew about my aunts, uncles and paternal grandparents was because Daddy didn’t stop talking about them. He said their names and his eyes lit up with the memories they invoked.

Every time I called him in the weeks and months after Jordan died sometimes barely able to speak because I couldn’t catch my breath from crying he would calm me, soothe me, always telling me he wished he could take some of the pain away. He never failed to remind me of his feeling that holding in my grief would make me sick.  Then he would ask, “Are you talking about Jordan? You make sure you keep talking about him.” I always told him, “yes we talk about him everyday.”

My children know by the example of their father and I that it’s okay to cry and miss Jordan, but it is also okay to remember all the funny Jordan stories and talk about him as much as they want and need to. We sit at the dinner table and one of my daughters will say “remember the time Jordan raced into the bathroom right before I was going in to take a shower and jumped in the tub with all his clothes on and starting singing in that high voice “I’m taking a shower” as he pretended he was really taking a shower. We would all nod in remembrance and laugh. That story would remind another one of us of some other Jordan story and the love in remembering would grow. There would be other times when something happened at school and one of them would ask Mark or I “did that ever happen to Jordan?” We never turned away from an opportunity to talk about our son/their brother. He always will have a seat at the table.

Even almost a year after Jordan’s death my father still reminds me to “Say his name.” Now with the clarity of my own experience I know what he means. His philosophy about loss has become my own. The person we lose cannot become a taboo subject. Holding in our pain is also holding in our memories and ultimately the joy that person brought us. I knew about my aunt, uncle and grandparents long gone before I came along because of Daddy. They are etched in my heart as though they told me their stories themselves.

My children freely talk about their brother. They laugh together, imitating him and remembering. The way my children talk about their brother assures me that their children will know their Uncle Jordan. And one day in the distant future I pray that I’ll live to have my grandchildren sitting at my knee as I sat at my father’s and have them ask to hear about their uncle, my son. Without hesitation I will openly, wistfully, freely “Say his Name.”

Jordan with his Pop - High school graduation 2007


Waiting For The Repairman

Does anyone remember those, “Baby on Board,” signs that were prevalent in the late ‘80’s and ‘90’s? They seemed to be suction cupped to the window of every other car on the road. I thought about those signs this morning and how I never got one after Jordan was born because it seemed to me that people should drive safely regardless of whether there was a baby in the car or not.

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We’re still waiting to see if the video camera we sent in for repair will come back to us with images of Jordan in the last months before he died. The repairman called again recently to say that they needed to repair the motherboard and wanted our approval because they couldn’t guarantee that our hard drive wouldn’t be lost. If the hard drive is lost in the process of repairing the machine we lose the footage that’s on the camera. When the repairman asked what I wanted to do, proceed, or not with the repairs, my response was silence, then a heavy sigh and then a plea.

“The hard drive holds footage of our son. He was killed in a car accident. We need it.”

“Ma’am, I can’t guarantee that the hard drive won’t be damaged. Can you have your husband call me back and tell me what you want to do?”

Another long silence as I try to keep the tears out of my voice.

“Um, I’m not sure what we should do. I’ll have my husband call you.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

Mark called the repair center and told them to go ahead with the repairs. This morning while I showered I thought about the camera and visualized the repairs being done, hoping that they’re being extra careful so we have more memories of Jordan. I finally shook my head and thought, “Whether you have the footage or not, Jordan’s still gone. Stop putting so much importance on the camera. It doesn’t bring Jordan back.”

I realized how ridiculous it was that I’d poured my heart out to the repairman as though with my camera he’d be extra careful and more professional and with everyone else’s repairs he did slipshod work. That’s how I got to the baby on board signs in my meandering way. I would hope that the repairman always does his best work, just like when I saw the, “Baby on Board,” signs I hoped that everyone drove responsibly. Now I wish I’d wrapped the car Jordan was riding in on October 12th, 2008 in, “MY BABY ON BOARD,”signs and that doing so would have kept him alive. There are no magic formulas of protection or safety. I’m sitting with that harsh reality and waiting again for a box in the mail.

Fall Is Here and I’m Trying Not To Fall

Fall is here. October is here. Today, Saturday, I’m at home after going to my daughters’ soccer game and I feel melancholy starting to cling to my heart. It is the same routine kind of Saturday that it was when Jordan sent me a text message saying he was on his way to Baltimore, a trip that would end with a car accident and the death of my son.

I realized it was October when I wrote a check earlier today. It is the second of the month and I wondered why it didn’t register yesterday that the month had changed. The anniversary of the day Jordan died is October 12th. For some reason I’d gotten it into my head that this year marked the 3rd year since Jordan died. It wasn’t until I received a card from a friend on Friday who said she was thinking of me as the 2nd anniversary approached that I reconciled the year. I read her words at first and disputed her claim.

“It’s been three years.”

The only way I was sure of how many years it has been was by doing the math. “Okay it’s 2010 and the accident happened in 2008. Oh my God, she’s right it’s only 2 years.”

I’m not sure how I measure time anymore. I told Mark of thinking we were approaching the 3rd year anniversary of Jordan’s death. He immediately understood my confusion. He told me, “Maybe you were counting impacts instead of years. That night when we heard the news was one, then marking two years since the accident makes it feel like 3 years.”

I nodded my head in assent as my throat ached with tears.

My family is in the season when thoughts of, “Before Jordan died,” and “Since Jordan died,” are the subtitles to our experiences, bringing with them an encroaching pain that shoves aside recent joy. It is October and the 12th will come. The pain and images of late night calls, police officers at the door and moans and screams of unimaginable loss threaten to shove aside recent joy.  We keep going knowing that not far from October 12th is the 20th a day to celebrate life and the birthday of my son Merrick. Please send us your love, your light and your prayers.

Family pictures

Joking for the camera as Jordan was off to his Senior prom

Trusting Again

Jordan in the newspaper room

Jordan's great smile captured by his friend Clare at school. This picture sits in our family room. I love that Jordan is looking back smiling at me every morning when I come downstairs.

I had coffee with a dear friend the other day. She asked how I was doing. As we talked further she wondered did I believe that as time passed I’d be able to have joy in my heart again. I told her I didn’t know. I hoped that I would believe in feeling joy again, that is as far as my commitment can go, the hope that joy might happen. I told her that at least once every day the thought, “I can’t believe someone came to my door and told me my son is dead” crosses my mind. She understood how surreal life continues to be as my family and I mourn and learn to live without Jordan.

Right now, glimpses of joy, real joy are tethered to guilt. Joy feels like leaving Jordan behind. Joy right now means accepting new memories, traditions, and a life that doesn’t include my boy. As my friend listened to why “hoping to believe” was all I could muster she responded by saying, “I’ll pray for you. Specifically I’ll pray that you embrace the belief that you’ll feel real joy again.” These were my friend’s words as she listened to my conflict and pain. Her faith was so strong and I was so grateful for her compassion and grace. She would pray for me. I clung to her words, even as I struggle to regain my faith, to have it be the anchor it once was in my life. She knows my struggle and has put joy reentering my heart on her prayer list.

My reluctance to believe that life holds joy that is not intertwined with guilt and sorrow are not new feelings for me. In the weeks after Jordan died, I was in regular contact via email with my friend Tom who knows loss intimately after losing his wife and two of his children over the last 20 years. I asked him the following question,

“Everyone who has lost a child says, “You don’t get over it, you get through it” and that grief is hard work and takes time. How do you get through the days and sleep at night without feeling eviscerated and numb at the same time?”

Tom responded,

“You don’t.  You try and allow yourself to feel everything there is to feel, as you are able.  Try to observe it all. Try to allow it to flow through you.  Every feeling and emotion will have a beginning, middle and an end.  I am living proof that you can learn to live WITH the death of your beloved son …and that your life will be filled with joy, again…impossible as that probably is to believe right now.  Try to hang on to that.”

The parents of one of my high school friends who was killed suddenly in a car accident in 1987 at the age of 23 sent me these words in the weeks after Jordan’s death:

“As your peers in this terrible fraternity, we want to help you. Time, distance and love have made us more understanding of the loss.” They then went on to write, “I can promise you that brighter days will follow. The days will never be the same but they will be bright, often illuminated by Jordan’s spirit.”

The words of my “fraternity members” echo in my head and I pull their words from my mind like reference books from a shelf and just sit with them sometimes; hoping that their words will wash over me and help me make it through the unbearable moments. Brighter days illuminated by Jordan’s spirit, what a wonderful peaceful image.

I am hanging on, as incredulous as it feels. Some days I live in disbelief  that I’m still a functioning human being. Death has torn me apart and I’m still here. The surreal moments in which I’m moving forward without the physical presence of my son, my children’s brother, feel like a strange fantasy, it has to be. I know it’s not. For now I hope, and I’m trying to learn to pray again. Prayer doesn’t come as easily since Jordan died. I told a friend and pastor who was my family’s spiritual mentor, and comfort in the days after Jordan died, “My faith is shaken. What does God do?” I revealed to him that every night when our family said grace we prayed the same prayer:

“Graciously heavenly Father, we thank you for this day and for the food we’re about to receive for the nourishment and strength of our bodies, in Jesus’ name we pray, and please keep Jordan safe. Amen.

No matter whose turn it was to pray, the prayer always ended the same way, “and please keep Jordan safe.” Every night that prayer was said. We prayed that prayer the night Jordan died. It didn’t work. When my friend said she would pray such a specific prayer for me about believing in joy again, I nodded grateful for her compassion, but left wondering, which prayers get answered? There are of course no easy answers to my questions.

Mark and I attended a grief workshop last spring and the woman sitting next to me articulated the feelings I had been struggling to grasp. She said, “I still believe in God, I just don’t know if I trust him.” As soon as she said the words I straightened up in my seat. She had put words to the internal struggle I faced daily. I didn’t trust God, because my most important prayer had gone unanswered. Jordan was gone even though we prayed for his safety. He was gone and his friends remained unharmed.

I have to figure out how to trust God again. My belief is still present, I know this because in the days and weeks after Jordan died when the pain of grief made me feel like I was suffocating I cried out the only word that my mouth could form, “Mercy”. I would lay curled up on my bed too exhausted and distraught to move, feeling like I could explode at any moment. With the bit of strength I had, I said over and over again, “mercy”, “mercy”, “mercy, Lord please.” Mercy was my plea until I felt my heartbeat calm, and I was able to catch my breath. I would finally feel soothed and able to face the next moment.

My distrust of God did not prevent me from praying for Jordan’s friends who survived the accident. In the hours after Jordan died, I got on my knees and asked God to be with them, to ease their guilt and give them the strength and peace they would need to live full lives.

As the days wore on and my heart was consumed with grief, my doubts grew and my trust in God waned. My pastor told Mark and I that being angry with God is completely understandable and that we should rail at God as much as we need.  He emphatically said to us, “Don’t worry, God can take it.” I needed to vent my anger and disappointment at God. I still had questions about why my prayers for Jordan’s safety had gone unanswered. I wrote to God hoping the answer would come. In December of 2008 I made this entry in my journal:

God,

You’ve made it so that I know my prayers don’t matter.

I can’t pray for the safety of my children it doesn’t work.

What is prayer for?

I pray for mercy

My heart still hurts

I pray for peace

I still can’t sleep

Prayer doesn’t soothe

It doesn’t benefit

It doesn’t protect

I prayed for safety

It didn’t work

I need to sleep

I want my son

My son has been taken from this life; words like trust, faith, and joy are incongruent with the surreal feeling of loss. For now I hope, I read, I rely on friends and clergy whose faith is stronger than mine to see me through. I want peace in my heart. My family still says grace every night and typically the person praying ends with, “and please keep Jordan in our hearts.” I know he’s always in our hearts, that fact I will always believe.

Even as I struggle to regain my faith, God still whispers to me in the most unexpected ways. The other night, with Mark out of town on business, my daughter said grace and ended with, “And please bring Daddy home safely.” With all that we’ve lost her prayer requested safe passage home for her father. The faith of my child is instructional in its honesty and simplicity. Her faith is still wide enough to include prayers of safety. She still believes.

What does God do? I think the answers are all around me. I’m slowly reaching out to explore trust again. It is not a linear path, but the diversions I have, bring lessons and I pray they bring me closer to my faith.