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 ‘seeking joy’ 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

Putting The IPod On Shuffle-Finding Joy

Jordan, who I’ve been asking to visit me in my dreams or give me some sense of his presence made himself known in such a Jordan way last week. I rarely dream of Jordan and it still makes me so sad. The times I have dreamed of him even if he’s in the background and doesn’t speak, but I get a glimpse of him I wake up feeling rested and smiling inside. “I got to see my boy.”

I’ve been revisiting an incident that happened last week that gave me such joy and I’m trying with all my might to hold onto it, to make it the broom that sweeps away some of the sorrow that has taken hold of my heart and mind.

Mark and I were driving back from a night out at dinner, listening to my IPod, which was on shuffle. We talked with the music in the background when suddenly one of Jordan’s favorite songs, “My Favorite Things,” by John Coltrane came on. Mark glanced at me, “Do you want to hear this right now?” I shook my head no and he advanced to the next song. Suddenly we were listening to, “My Favorite Things,” by Luther VanDross, once again Mark hit forward pushing us to the next song. Well, there was Julie Andrews brightly singing, “Rain drops on roses…” Mark and I looked at each other in disbelief and he once again advanced to the next song. Then, there he was filling the car with his voice. Jordan’s Rap filled the car. Jordan loved making beats and rapping over them, and this particular song, which is my favorite of his, he made his senior year in high school. Mark motioned to change the song and I grabbed his hand.

“No, he’s been trying to talk to us this whole time and we didn’t listen. “My Favorite Things” was Jordan’s Christmas song that he listened to even in July. You know how stubborn Jordan was he’s going to make sure we hear him. Let’s just listen.”

And we sat in the garage hearing the booming voice of my gone too soon son loving his lyricism, wit and talent. What would he have become? He had so many gifts.

When the song ended we left the car, walking towards the house hand in hand. I smiled thinking of how strongly I felt Jordan’s presence and thanking him for another visit.

Every time since listening to his song in the car, on the “random” play of songs, I smile and think of how happy my boy made me. I don’t want to lose that feeling. I’m keeping it in a corner of my heart, making a big space for it so that some of the gloom and darkness that has kept me from smiling can be overtaken by the joy, pure joy that I felt that night when Jordan so clearly let us know, I am here. Look for me, listen for me, I’m still here.

Wedding Vows and Compromise

From the moment one says, “I do,” and commits her life to another the whole notion of sacrifice and compromise become a part of her vocabulary. In our early days of dating Mark and I were both weary from energy depleting relationships and wanted nothing more than to find someone with whom we could truly be ourselves. During our first date we talked of hating the game playing that had defined previous relationships we each had. We went so far as to make a pact that we’d have truth and honesty as our foundation and then we shook on it. It seemed so simple. We were on the same page and looking for the same things, a committed relationship, a partner that shared our values, someone to make us laugh and listen when we needed to unburden and cry. We have found that in each other.

I love when Mark tells the story of asking my dad for my hand in marriage. We’d met my parents in Vegas and Mark’s parents were there as well so that we could introduce everyone. Mark found himself in a difficult position. His dad was insisting he do the traditional thing and speak with my father about our impending engagement. Mark knew from talking to me that if he asked my dad for my hand, the response would be, “I don’t have anything to give away.”

Sandwiched between two strong-willed fathers, I wished Mark the best as he went off to talk to my dad. True to form as soon as he began to ask for my hand my dad interrupted him saying, “Boy, I don’t want to hear that kind of talk. It’s not for me.”

Mark nervously replied, “You’ve got to understand. My dad is pressuring me to do what men in our family have done for generations. I’m stuck so please let me finish.”

With those words Daddy softened and told Mark to take a look at me standing across the room. “What did Jackie have to say about this?”

“Well she warned me you would react this way.”

Daddy grabbed him by the shoulder and said, “Do you see that smile on her face? As long as you can help keep that smile there you’ll never have any problems with me.”

Mark and I have been married now for close to 24 years. We still watch our wedding video from time to time and my favorite part is after we’ve been announced to the congregation and our making our way back down the aisle, Daddy briefly stands with this huge smile on his face and pats Mark on the back. He knew I’d found my life partner.

Life has caused Mark and I to face and stand by every vow that we said those many years ago. We’ve faced sickness and health, richer and poorer and during our wedding ceremony said in strong voices, “Til death do us part.” Death has come to visit, not leaving either of us widowed but taking our oldest child and testing all the promises we made to each other. Would we still be honest and open with each other? Would grief drive a wedge between us or allow us to grow closer even as we mourned in different ways. We’ve held each other in sorrow, weeping until no more tears would fall. We’ve flipped through pictures of before Jordan died reminiscing and breathing the blessing that was his life. But there are times when our expressions of grief and love for our son take divergent paths. I regularly watch the video of Jordan from the memorial service. I cry every time and they are sweet cleansing tears. Mark hasn’t watched it since the memorial service. Mark occasionally wears some of Jordan’s shirts and sweatshirts and I can barely breathe thinking, “Those clothes aren’t for you.” But I stay silent because I know they bring him comfort and a connection to Jordan.

Now we’ve come to another crossroad and it has to do with the picture of Jordan we used for the memorial service. It was a poster-sized version of Jordan’s high school senior portrait. My extended family each has copies and they are proudly displayed in their homes. I never got around to framing Jordan’s portrait and after he died for me it was no longer his senior portrait but the memorial service picture. I couldn’t look at it anymore. But Mark wanted to put it up next to Merrick’s senior portrait. “Merrick looks so lonely. His brother should be next to him.”

“I’m not ready to do that. Can you take it to work and have the picture there?”

“If it’s too much for you, I’ll take it to work.”

That was the plan and even though it still felt unresolved I felt less anxious about having to look at the picture everyday. I didn’t want to let Mark down and I hated that the portrait no longer represented the sweet memory of watching Jordan hurriedly tuck in his shirt as he rushed out the door to get his picture taken. I wanted to reclaim that feeling but I didn’t know how. Thursday evening I was walking upstairs and glanced in the living room to see Jordan’s senior picture displayed on the coffee table. Shock and betrayal filled me. “He promised he wouldn’t put it up but he did.”

It was like the picture had some force field around it. I couldn’t even go into the living room and remove it from the table. I ran upstairs and confronted Mark.

“You said you were taking the picture to work. Why is it on the table in the living room?”

“What are you talking about, oh wait a minute I had the picture face down by my briefcase. Irena (our cleaning lady) must have put it up. I wouldn’t do that to you. I’ll go get it right now.”

“Thank you.”

It wasn’t sitting well with me that I was thanking Mark for removing a picture of Jordan. I needed that picture to be transformed and I didn’t know what it would take for it to be his senior portrait again. I walked by it face down on the dining room table for a couple of days. Then on a day that I needed a reminder that there were those out there who remembered that grieving lasted longer than a season, I received a card from my friend Sue who I haven’t spoken to in ages. The front of the card read, “Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.” St John Chrysostom Sue wrote an inspiring message inside to me and signed the card writing, “Shine on sweet sister.”

I realized as I read the card that I do want to shine on and part of that for me is taking away any negative aspects connected to looking at my son. His memorial service was beautiful and as I’ve said before I wish that we’d recorded it. During the service my thoughts were far from wanting any visual reminders of the event. The first moments of walking into the church were traumatic and I gasped when I saw the picture of Jordan haunted by the too big image of him on the dais. I tried to make it through the service by not gazing directly at his picture, thinking that I could somehow preserve it as what it was before if I didn’t look at it. But I did look at it as he looked out on the congregation with a perpetual smile. That beautiful smile that everyone who knew him commented on and all I could see at the time was a picture spoiled, totally ruined by death. How dare death make us choose a picture for a memorial service when all everyone wanted was for Jordan’s death to be a horrible mistake? So I chose instead to listen, keeping my eyes closed for most of the service and letting the sounds fill me with a peaceful connection to all that had gathered to pay tribute to Jordan.

The card from Sue reminded me of two things. One no matter how alone I feel sometimes, there are so many family and friends sending, prayers, love and light to my family and me. Two, Jordan is with me always and I choose to embrace him by watching videos, listening to his voicemail message, rereading old cards and letters from him, writing to him, talking to him and yes erecting his senior portrait where it should have been all along. I took the picture of Jordan examined it closely, looking deeply into his eyes and planted a kiss on his cheek before placing it on the table next to Merrick’s picture. Mark saw it a little later and asked what made me change my mind? I responded, “I don’t want to be afraid of anything connected with Jordan and I love you and think you should be able to see your boys side by side in our home.”

I have two boys that graduated high school and their pictures will always hold a place of honor.

Senior Portraits

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

Family Vacations- Joy and Grief Together

Not why, what now? That’s the question I try to remember as each birthday approaches. After Jordan died every birthday leaves me stunned for a moment. How can I be growing older and one of my children has died? I’ve tried to schedule a vacation for the kid’s spring break, which coincides with my birthday since Jordan’s death. It feels like the only way to quiet the buzz of loss that throttles my mind on March 24th. Planning, packing, and being on our way to a warm place help me to accept with grace the exuberance of my family has in wishing me happy birthday. The smile of gratitude I give to them with each passing year is slowly becoming my own as well.

*

“We shake with joy, we shake with grief. What a time they have, these two, housed as they are in the same body.”

Mary Oliver

Every time we travel as a family without Jordan, we’re relearning what a family vacation is. When we boarded the Southwest flight, I scoped out two rows like I always do, made my mental count and said to Merrick as I pointed at two rows across from each other, ”Okay, you save those three seats and I’ll save these three so we can all sit together.” He nodded. It wasn’t until we were all seated, Kendall at the window, I sitting in the middle, and Mark on the aisle. I looked across to see Lindsay at the window and Merrick on the aisle an empty seat between them. I’d miscounted again. I seem to do it every flight we take. We don’t need 6 seats anymore. We travel as five. We’re a family of six learning to live as a family of 5, slowly with twists and turns along the way.

Grief and joy have taken root in my heart and I know they’re both here to stay. As we get set with chairs and umbrellas on the beach, the attendant tells us they rent chairs in sets of two or four. Mark blurts out, “We need an odd number,” and gives me a look I can’t quite decipher. We don’t ever want our children to feel odd as a family of five. The attendant looks at us and quickly says, “We’ll just add an extra chair, no problem.”

Merrick and Mark decide to jet ski. I watch Merrick jet ski for the first time and then come back to shore with a broad smile that is rare these days.

“That was ballin.’”

“So you had a good time?”

“Yea, it’s great out there?”

“I’m glad you tried it?”

“I pushed it full throttle. It felt good going so fast. I caught air.”

“I know I saw you. You looked like you were having a great time.”

As he strolls to his chair, I can’t help but notice how he and Jordan have the same body type. They both have the same small waist and broad shoulders. Merrick would have loved jet skiing with his brother.

The attendant at the rental stand sees Merrick coming.

“He sure looks more relaxed, look at that beautiful smile.”

“He’s worried about when he’ll hear from colleges so I’m glad he tried something he’s always wanted to, but never did before.”

We stand watching him approach for a moment and I start to tear up glad to have sunglasses hiding my eyes. I look over at the attendant and tell her, “You know this is the first real family vacation we’ve taken that all of us were excited about since my oldest son died.”

“I’m so sorry.”

Nodding my head, “It’s just good to see him smile.”

I settle down in my beach chair and watch as Merrick shows his sister how to use a boogie board, the activity that he and Jordan did for hours until we would call them back to shore. He’s teaching his sisters now, letting them know the carefree feeling of riding a wave and letting it carry you, no hesitation, just freedom.

In between looks at the horizon with the waves softly crashing, I text my sister, “How was Daddy’s morning?”

She texts back, “Woke up in pain, but doing better now.”

“Thanks”

My mind flashes to the MRI scans that showed all the places cancer has taken hold of Daddy’s body. I send love and light my father’s way praying that pain won’t rule his day. As I lift my gaze I smile, catching sight of Mark and Merrick making their way back to shore after playing in the waves. With the sun behind them and their strides matching, I see a glimpse of Jordan flanking his dad on one side. I smile and cry knowing I’ve conjured up my son and settle into joy and grief housed together.

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.