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 ‘winter olympics’ Category

The Need To Know

The back of his skull was crushed, that’s why Edward put his shirt under Jordan’s head not on his forehead like I’ve assumed and imagined he did for two years. The email from Edward that he sent on 8/29/09 told me plain as day, “I put my shirt under Jordan’s head to stop the bleeding.” I came across the email yesterday when I was cleaning up my inbox. Instead of skipping over it as I have for over a year I read it and it was the first time that the events of that evening made their way through my grief.

Jordan was dying when Edward pulled him from the car. The coroner’s report said his brain stem was damaged and that he never had a chance to wake up. My version of the events of that night was tidier. Jordan was asleep during the accident. He hit his head and never regained consciousness. I held that version until I saw the 2009 Winter Olympics and the luge accident where the athlete was killed. There was so much blood around his head. It was the first time I connected a head injury with blood.

My sister commenting on my “Looking Too Soon” post about the luge accident, wrote that her husband cleaned the blood from Jordan’s shoes. Reading her comment brought to my knees, hyperventilating and getting my first true glimpse of how horrific the accident scene must have been. What she knew and how she told me were things I wasn’t prepared to accept so I rejected her comment never allowing it space with the other comments on my blog, as though that would change the truth.

Everything I’ve written about the accident has Edward putting his t-shirt on Jordan’s forehead, a far less serious injury than the one described in the accident report and the coroner’s report. I read both reports and missed the details that gave the accurate depiction. In my version, the fantasy of a mother with a son who died, I wanted Jordan to go to the hospital so I could sit by his bedside and lie next to him and tell him, “Mama and Daddy are here,” until he drew his last breath.

He died on the side of the road and the blood that had to be staved wasn’t from a cut on his forehead but from the base of his crushed skull. It took me a year to realize that the cleaned up body with the bandaged forehead that I viewed at the funeral home wasn’t the body at the accident scene. My heart and mind for some reason are now willing to acknowledge more of  the trauma I blocked out before.

Seeing Edwards’ email yesterday I felt like I was reading it for the first time. It reignited all the questions I had about that night that only he, Christian and Matt can answer. Needing to know has started to overwhelm me. I emailed Edward yesterday unable to wait any longer to ask the questions that keep haunting me:

Did Jordan cry out in pain?

Why didn’t he wake up with all the commotion of you guys screaming when the car went out of control?

Did he wake up?

What did you say to him when you stayed with him while Christian and Matt went up the hill to wait for the ambulance?

Was he unconscious the whole time?

Did he ever say anything?

I’m not sure what I’ll do with the answers or if they’ll ever come, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking. For a while I played a counting game. When Edward, Matt and Christian are 25, no 30, maybe when they’re married or fathers, maybe then they’ll tell me exactly what happened that night. I’ve prevented myself from asking too much so far because the trauma those boys experienced on the side of the road watching their friend die has not escaped me. But it hasn’t changed the fact that trauma happened at home too, when the police came to my door and took safety away from my heart.

Edward is 24 and in my email I tried to explain why I couldn’t wait any longer. I told him: You’re right, Jordan is on my heart and mind everyday. I struggle with the fact that I wasn’t there to hold him, care for him and say goodbye. You did those things for me. But I have all these questions that require your frankness and as much recall as you can muster.

I’m envious of all the parents who got to touch, hold or sing to their children when they knew they were dying. I wonder what kind of person envies another parent who has lost a child? I battle with my shame. Edward is a complex person in my life. He drove the car when the accident occurred but he also carried Jordan from the car, held him and talked to him until the paramedics came. Edward was the driver and Jordan’s last caretaker, facts that are so entangled in my mind I don’t always know if they can be separated. Right now I have so many questions. The trauma of that night retreats at times and then rears up revealing specks of truth that I can no longer ignore. As much as it hurts I have to know what happened to my boy.

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Looking Too Soon

Jordan's candle

I didn’t mean to see the images of the Georgian luger crashing, but I did. Earlier in the day, I’d heard the reports on the radio about 21-year-old, Nodar Kumaritashvili as I went to pick up my daughters from school. The reporter in detailing the luge accident, said the word “crash” repeatedly, and with such force, that I was driven back to my 8th grade English class with Mrs. Hughes explaining “onomatopoeia.” Crash was one of the examples she used to illustrate the meaning of onomatopoeia – a word when spoken implies or suggests it’s meaning. “Crash”, I wondered how I was going to find a way to live with that word. As I pulled up to the school, I changed the station, not wanting my daughters to hear about the tragedy that now was the face of the Winter Olympics. The young luger was the hope of his small village. I felt more in common with his family than I did anyone surrounding me in the carpool lane in my own village.

Later that evening I sat in my living room checking emails as Mark sat next to me and turned on the television. He turned to the national news and there sat Brian Williams, the NBC anchor, cautioning that the video of the Georgian luger was graphic and, “may be difficult for some of our viewers to watch.” I was one of those viewers. I already knew the details of the tragedy from the earlier radio report, I didn’t need to add any visual images. Mark offered to change the channel but I didn’t want him to have to be inconvenienced because of me. I sat with my index fingers in my ears and the rest of my fingers covering my eyes. I have used this same pose since childhood to block out any scary scenes or gory images. Mark knows the routine and at movies always nudges me when it is safe to uncover my face. I sat, waiting for the news piece to be over, repeating the phrase my counselor had given me when I told her I needed to learn how to quiet my mind. I silently repeated my modified version of a Buddhist chant, “May you be at rest, may you be at peace, may you be filled with loving kindness.”  I planned to keep repeating the phrase until the news story was done but I looked too soon.

I opened my eyes just as the luge flipped over the railing and landed on the other side of the track. I saw the crash. I quickly closed my eyes again (why didn’t I leave the room?) and resumed my “blockout” pose. Trying to quiet my mind wasn’t working. I kept asking Mark, “Is it over?” “Is it over?” He hadn’t nudged me but I opened my eyes anyway, only to see the paramedics at the scene giving the luger CPR. There was blood on his face and on the snow. I had forgotten about blood. My eyes stayed open as the news program went to his village. There, sitting at the table head in hands wailing, was his mother. I had no idea what she was saying as she wept and held her head but I knew her sorrow.

I made it through dinner that night, talking with Mark and the kids about their days of school and work. I listened more than talked because I wasn’t sure how much longer I would be able to bear the images swirling in my head. As the girls started to clear the table I went upstairs to my bathroom. I turned on the lights and the exhaust fan while closing the door. I sat on the closed toilet seat and wept. I sobbed with my hand over my mouth to insure that no screams could force their way out. I couldn’t have my children worried about me and have the images and sounds of my grief intrude on their sleep that night.

My mind raced with the image of the luge going over the railing, and then the car Jordan rode in going over the railing and dropping 30 ft. All I kept thinking was, “If the luger died going over that railing, Jordan didn’t have a chance.” I tried to calm myself and realized that the only way calmness was going to happen was if I gave in to the images and thoughts my grief had placed in my head, no matter how frightening. It was as though my counselor was whispering in my ear, reminding me that grief was like a wave. She had instructed me before saying, “If you imagine the thoughts and images of grief coursing through your body, as starting at the top of your head and exiting through your toes, you’ll feel more control than trying to suppress them.” She always told me that there are times when grief is too powerful to be ignored and will find a way to be expressed.

I exhaled and allowed myself to fully envision the accidents, both luge and car. Both were devastating and so graphic in my mind. I wept, I held my head and then I heard sirens coming from the fire station 2 blocks away. “Why sirens, now?” I thought knowing that I couldn’t incorporate the sirens into the devastating images already swirling in my head. For the first few months after Jordan died I wondered if we would have to move because the sound of sirens was unbearable. Every time I heard them I thought, “That’s what it sounded like the night Jordan died.” I held my ears and covered my eyes as I’d done earlier that evening and waited out the sirens.  Over and over I said, “May you be at rest, may you be at peace, may you be filled with loving kindness.” I tentatively dropped my hands from my face and opened my eyes hearing only the fan again.

Grateful that the sirens had stopped, I thought I could get up and wash my face. As I started to stand, the image of the luger with blood on his face and on the snow came into focus for me and I sat back down. I had forgotten about blood. There was blood when Jordan died too. The accident scene wasn’t just the wreckage of the car, crashing from 30 feet, landing on the right side (Jordan’s side) before returning to all four tires; there was blood. I started recalling more details from the accident report. Jordan had a cut on his forehead. The accident report stated that after Jordan’s friend, who was driving, dragged Jordan from the car, he held his t-shirt on the cut. Meanwhile Jordan’s other two friends went up to the road to flag down the police and ambulance. Jordan was lying on the ground unconscious and there was blood. The road was closed for 3 hours that night.

There had to be blood because there was a bandage on the right side of Jordan’s head when we saw his body at the funeral home. I saw him laying there in the coffin, remembering what his face looked like with the bandage on his head. I wept for my boy and felt as though I was standing at the accident site and then the funeral home. My boy is gone. There was blood. I sobbed and wailed with my hand over my mouth until I felt no more tears could come. I sat for a few more minutes and then exhaled and calmed myself while wiping my face and blowing my nose. I tentatively looked in the mirror at parts of my face at a time. I finally connected eyes to eyes with my mirror image, sighed and shed more tears. “How did this happen?” and “Why just Jordan?” were said to my mirror self.

I went to the door of my bedroom and called for Mark, adopting as normal a voice as I could. He came upstairs with a worried look as I lay on my side of the bed. I tried to tell him about the news and my reaction. I was unable to talk without crying and he held me as I repeated, “If the luger died over that railing, Jordan didn’t have a chance. I can’t watch the Olympics anymore, too many crashes. They keep saying crash.” He held me and let me cry and talk. Then the question I’ve only said a few times out loud came out forcefully and repeatedly, “They should have all died, or all lived, why just Jordan? Why just our boy. I miss him. I want him back.”

Mark sat next to me and shared in the injustice of losing our boy. He told me he had the same thoughts about the accident and was trying so hard to deal with his anger. We sat together as I wiped my face and tried to get my breathing back to normal. As we sat, there was a knock and Lindsay came in to tell us she was done with her homework. She looked at me and said, “Mama are you okay?” I told her, “I’m sad right now baby, but I’ll be okay.” She gave me a second look, smiled softly and then told me she was getting her shower. Mark got up, kissed me on the forehead and went back downstairs. I laid back on my pillow able to close my eyes and let the familiar household sounds of Mark’s footsteps creaking down the front staircase, music coming from my daughters’ room and Merrick loading the dishwasher fill my head.