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.

August 9, 2012

Dear Jordan,

It’s cloudy today, which makes your birthday without you here to celebrate even harder to bear. You would be 23 today, a grown man! I have so many moments that I imagine what you would look like now and what direction life would haven taken you. I always imagine great things because you always dreamed big without reservation. I miss you. It’s been almost 4 years since you died and though time has mellowed the grief, the sorrow in my heart has a pulse and an ache to it that truly makes me know that as your mother I will always long for you.

For some reason writing to you this year is harder than in years past. I hope it’s not because time is blurring my memories of you. I keep you forefront in my heart and pray everyday to feel the nearness of your spirit. You continue to be an inspiration to me. I want to leave my mark on this world just as you were able to do in just 19 short years. Your name is never far from the lips of your family. Merrick I think will always talk about you the most.  He has so many stories that start with, “Hey Ma, remember the time Jordan…..”

Merrick just came into the office where I’m sitting by the window writing to you. I told him I was writing my annual birthday letter and he told me that he’d posted his happy birthday message to you on your Facebook page at 12:01am, wanting to be the first. I know you are proud of your brother and sisters. They are growing and each of them has some of your mannerisms that make me smile. When Merrick comes into the house he yells out, “Mom, where are ya?” sounding exactly like you used to. The first couple of times it happened I had to hold back tears because for the briefest of moments I thought you’d come home. Lindsay holds her mouth the same way you used to when given a compliment as she tries to hold back a smile. And Kendall’s quick wit has all of us laughing at the dinner table just as you did. I see you in all of them and know that as their big brother your arms of protection and love still guide them.

This year we will do as we have since you died. Your banner hangs in front of the house announcing to the world that today is your birthday and we celebrate you! And we’ll light your candle as a comforting reminder that your spirit lives within all of us.

Thank you for being my son and teaching me so much. You are always in my heart.

Love,

Mama

Jordan on his way to his dorm his sophomore year of college.

 

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.

My First Easter

The last month has been challenging the closer it came to Easter. Daddy died on Easter Sunday and even though last year that date was April 24th, it didn’t matter that the date didn’t fall on the same day. Easter brought up all the memories of getting the call from hospice that Daddy was in his final moments and we should hurry if we wanted to see him before he died. We got there 10 minutes too late, which I think Daddy would have been relieved about. He didn’t want us to watch him die. We all filed in to his room to see him, all tubes removed and him lying in bed with no signs of pain on his face. I laid my head on his chest and called out, “Oh my daddy, my daddy, my daddy,” marveling all the while that his body was still warm and it didn’t feel like we got there too late.

This year, all the days leading up to Easter brought flashes of visiting him in the hospital, watching his fast deterioration, having a slideshow in my head of the MRI scans that showed picture after picture of all the places the cancer had invaded his body. I was dreading Easter and wanting to quicken its arrival at the same time. “Lord let me get through this day.”

I worried about Mama and was relieved when my sister told me she would be going down on Saturday to be with her on Sunday. But Mama, always the planner had already mapped out her day. She would observe her usual Easter rituals. There would be Sunrise service at 6am with her friend Mrs. Bradley, and then Sunday school before coming home and later having dinner at a friends. The last part was the different ending to the day. Dinner with Daddy was always how Easter Sunday wound its way down in years past. But she found a way to make it through the day on her own terms. I was flailing around, wanting to be with her, wanting to be with Merrick who loved his Pop so much and was showing his own signs of missing him and us.

“Mom, I wish I could come home and go to church with you for Easter.”

“I know honey, but you’ve got a few more weeks and then you’ll be home for the summer.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Can you find a church service there you can go to?”

“Probably, my friend Jeremy said he would go with me.”

“That’s a good friend. I’m glad he’s there for you.”

“Mom, I was feeling bad on Friday and I listened to “Sugar” by Stanley Turrentine.”

“Oh believe me I know the song. That was one of Pop’s favorites.”

“I just missed him and started listening to it and I love how it starts off kind of slow and then builds and then rolls between all these different rhythms. By the end of the song it was like Pop was talking to me, “Boy get on up and do what you need to do.”

“That sounds like Pop.”

“Well I felt better so I got up and went to my Spoken Word Club meeting like I was supposed to.”

“I’m glad he was there for you. I think I may need to take a listen to some Stanley Turrentine myself. It’s gonna be okay baby. I know it’s hard.”

And Easter was hard. My family went to a friend’s church with her family choosing not to go to our home church even though I’d bought a lily to sit at the base of the altar in memory of Daddy and Jordan. I couldn’t bear the part of the service where they ring a bell after saying the name of each person who died in the previous year. The sound of the bell they rang when they said Jordan’s name in 2008 still echoes in my heart.

The service at my friend’s church was beautiful and uplifting but mostly I felt numb, still so torn that I wasn’t with my mom or with Merrick. After church when we came home I did the only thing I could. I changed clothes and lied down on my bed curling up waiting for sleep to come. Mark came into the room telling me not to worry about dinner.

“Stay here as long as you need to. I understand.”

The most comforting part is that I knew he truly did understand. I talked to Daddy for a while telling him how much I loved and missed him and before I knew it I was asleep and I slept better than I had in weeks.

As most of you know, I have an amazing husband who loves and cares for me unconditionally. What you may not know is that today is my birthday. I woke this morning thinking of Jordan and my Dad and how much I miss hearing their voices and that they won’t be here to wish me a happy birthday. This time last year Daddy was sick, and lay dying in the hospital. They found a way through Mark to reach out to me. Here is the first email I read (sent at 5:34 am) this morning as the house is still and quiet:

Hi my Love:
Our son came to me in my dreams tonight and asked if he could be the first one today to wish you a Happy Birthday.  When I told him he couldn’t he insisted he could through me as long as I didn’t utter the words before the time stamp on this email.  This way, technically of course he would be first.  Who can argue with Jordan?  So..

“Happy Birthday, Mom.  I’m your first, and will always be.  Today, hear my voice in your heart as I celebrate you and this day.  I miss you too.   

Love, Jordan”

Now, not to be undone, I heard noise downstairs and the aroma of coffee brewing filled my nose.  An older Presence was downstairs making coffee at an hour at only which He would be awake.  I came down the back stairs of our house, warily because it was dark outside,.  When I got downstairs, Pop was there, in the big chair in the corner with a piping hot cup of coffee, in his robe, his legs stretched out on the ottoman, white socks, slippers to one side.. The blinds had been pulled up, Nessie was under her covers, undisturbed by the hour or the Presence.  He was looking out the window.  I sat on the couch, looking at him.  When I started to speak he raised his hand and commanded my silence. “Do you hear the birds singing?”  he asked.  “Yes,”. “Did you do what the Boy asked?”. “Yes, Daddy.”  I replied. He looked at me and asked again, “Do you hear the birds singing?” “Yes, but…”. Once again, hand raised, he said, “Well, tell her I said it second.  She’s my first too, you know.”  I nodded.  I saw a piece of paper with small handwriting on it.

I woke up.  Composed and sent this email.

So, I’m third, and You are so loved.  

I hope you find peace today, and hear the birds singing in the morning. It’s quite a racket now.  In the quiet hours.

I love you now and obviously, forever. 

Mark

Birthday gifts come in so many forms. I have to say that already today I’m feeling blessed and so grateful for the love that surrounds me.

Dropping Jordan off at college

I didn’t recognize him at first. The sun was in my eyes and the girls were the first to point him out. “There he is Mama. Merrick’s right there.” I squinted and looked closer and there was my boy waiting to be picked up from the airport, home for spring break. My heart raced and ached at the same time. This situation was one I’d grown accustomed to. Picking Jordan up from the airport while he was away at school I was met with the same stance. There Merrick stood looking so much like his brother, hands in his pockets, backpack slung over one shoulder, nodding his head to let me know he saw me. It was all so familiar. As he got into the car mobbed by his sisters and reaching out to hug me I felt relief that he was home, gratitude that he looked well and sadness that I’d never get to pick his brother up from the airport again. All those emotions coursing through me at the same time, barely able to recognize one before the next bombarded me. Merrick is home and I’m so glad. I get to feed him and care for him and listen to all that has happened since he was home last, just like I did with Jordan. My joy is weighted down with the heaviness of longing and I can’t deny it. I would have given anything to have the girls as we pulled up at the airport point and say, “There they are Mama, there they are.”

I know Jordan can’t come home like he used to but the eerie familiarity of going through the same routine with Merrick that I did with Jordan takes more energy than I have sometimes. I miss Jordan and am overjoyed to see Merrick at the same time. Those two feelings housed inside me overflowed yesterday and all I could do was sit on the patio and cry. I cried and I asked God, “Why? Why did Jordan have to die?” The “whys” haven’t surfaced in a long time. But yesterday for a little while I wanted an answer from God. I wanted to know why I can’t sit around my kitchen table and look at the faces of all of my children and my husband. I wanted all of my family back. It was a why me moment that I gave into and let the tears fall.

As the tears subsided I remembered back to the day after Jordan died when I first asked God, “Why Jordan?” The answer I received came from a surprising voice. Jordan clearly spoke to me and simply said, “Why not me?”

Jordan’s response gave me my answer as unsettling as it was and is. My family has not been spared the death of a loved one. Jordan’s answer is one that grounds me to the fact that we aren’t alone. There are many families just like us longing to have that seat at the table filled again.

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

Everyday I miss Jordan. I wake up missing him, and I go to sleep missing him. Sure there are times when our spiritual connection is strong and I feel his presence, but those times have not served to negate that intense almost feral desire I have to see his life continue to unfold. I still need to talk about Jordan. I want to share both the great and the not so great memories of all the times we had together, times when we laughed together or shared our favorite scenes from movies, times when my voice went hoarse from screaming at him when he’d pushed me too far because my answer of, ”No” wasn’t enough and he had to have the last word.

I need to say his name and know that I’m being heard and that he isn’t being forgotten. And when despair sets in the thing I crave most is to be able to cry the same way I cried in the early days after he died. Crying hot tears of grief, anger, bewilderment and pure sadness without having to explain that even though it’s been 3 ½ years since he died, some days my hurt is like it happened yesterday. Grief surges and pulls at me in physical ways that make me want to scream.

Mark and I were at the car wash a week ago and as we sat in the car being herded through the line watching the sudsy cloths flow across the windshield I said to him, “this is the perfect place to scream. I could scream here and I wouldn’t have to worry about upsetting anyone.” Sometimes when I’m out in the world attending to mundane tasks of running errands or even when I’m engaged in a meeting or having lunch with friends I feel a surge of pain so powerful that I bow my head for a moment hoping that the scream I feel within won’t be released. At these moments I can tell you that all I’m thinking about is how do I keep going when my son is dead and I miss him so much? I want Jordan. I want the actual blood and tissue and heart pumping Jordan. I’m not content to sit knowing his spirit is with me. These are times that border on insanity and I wonder how long they’ll last.

I have to miss watching what so many of the parents of his friends are allowed to witness. I don’t get to see him get his first apartment, fall in love, find a career that thrills him, butt into his business and have him say, “Mom, I’ve got this, don’t worry.”  I don’t get to see him grow older. As a parent there are days when not being able to call him or touch him make me wail out in pain. Grief has not left the building.

My heart was shattered when I heard the words that Jordan was dead. Even now there are days when the improbability of me outliving my child makes me shake my head in disbelief. I know that part of my longing to see him and be with him is because March is here, the month of my birthday. I’ll grow another year older and have to accept that it is a gift my son will never know again. There’s always the whisper from inside me as my birthday approaches, “Jordan, you take my birthdays I want you here.” Even birthday wishes can’t bring my son back. As much as I know that life goes on and that I want mine to be meaningful, oh there are days when the hurt takes over. It is on these days that I wonder how to let the world know I’m not doing as well as you may think. My heart is mending but it carries a scar that feels like it may never heal. The calls and cards and all the communication I received in the first year have dwindled but not completely gone away. I guess the only way people know how you feel is if you tell them. The problem is I’m not always sure that the notion that I’m still mourning and have days where the tears won’t stop falling may be hard for others to understand. The trouble is I don’t always want to be alone as I mourn. I still need to cry and say out loud how much it hurts that Jordan is gone. I’m not looking for answers just the understanding that it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since the death of a loved one. I need to know that those that care about me can call, email, send a card, be here for me in whatever way feels right, without undue discomfort.

I’m pleading for understanding. I’m better than I was a year ago but my mourning journey still takes me to the depths of heartache and longing. Most of us seem to accept that there is no time limit on grief but be aware, that as the string of days grows longer and functioning in this world grows easier it takes a long time for a shattered soul to be fixed back into something that resembles a functioning heart. Please, think of me, pray for me and ask me how I’m doing if you can. Just be patient in my halted reply.

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