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.

Posts tagged ‘Amherst College’

Good Mourning Commencement

“Dear Ms. Moore,

The Class of 2011 recently had an election to elect Honorary Members of the Class of 2011.

Jordan is fondly remembered by the class and received an overwhelming number of nominations. He has been chosen to be an Honorary Member of the class.

Each honoree receives a cane and a certificate and we would like to send these onto you. Please let us know the appropriate mailing address.

We will be announcing the honorary class members on the campus Intranet and at the Senior Dinner in early May.”

Tears came as I read the email from Jordan’s classmates. They are making sure that he will always be a member of the class of 2011. They haven’t forgotten him and are honoring him at a time when everyday I wish that he is still among them, readying himself for graduation. It has been so hard to come to this time of year and know that 4 years ago at his high school graduation party we all talked about how fast time goes. Merrick was entering high school and Jordan was entering college. My mom said to me, “Just think before you know it, we’ll be having another party sending Merrick off to college and congratulating Jordan on his college graduation. It’ll be here before you know it.”

Four years later we’re still here. Merrick contemplates having a graduation party. He tells me, “All I wanted to be able to do was call Jordan and tell him where I’m going to college. I know exactly what he would have said. I miss him.”

Every morning I wake up with my first thought being of my father sick with lung cancer. “Daddy please live until Merrick graduates. Don’t die before his graduation.”

Dates are looming for Merrick’s graduation but also Amherst’s graduation. I’ve decided that for my own sense of peace I need to mourn not being able to see my son graduate from college on May 22nd. Trying to suppress my disappointment and sadness and throw all of my energy into Merrick’s upcoming graduation is not providing the distraction I thought it would to ease the burden on my heart. I am the mother of four and I need to give all of my children my attention. I must grieve the specific loss of the Amherst College commencement ceremony, which will not include my son in the way I dreamed.

It wasn’t until last week that I knew the official date. The end of May was all I knew. I thought if I didn’t know the official date it would be easier to get through the month, especially as many of Jordan’s friends prepare to graduate. It took courage but I wanted to face my fear and open my heart to the hurt that was orbiting it. I stopped the wondering and  went online to see the date of graduation. There are so many hopes and dreams that May 22nd, 2011 was supposed to capture. All the weeks I’ve tried to ignore it’s coming only brought me anxiety and pain. It is a day to be recognized and for me that means tears not of joy but of sorrow for what doesn’t get to be. I don’t get to see my son throw his cap into the air. There’ll be no pictures of him receiving his diploma. The smile that would have graced his face can only be imagined now. We’ve been kindly and graciously asked by the Amherst administration if we would like to attend the ceremony. I know if we did they would do their best to take good care of us. I can’t go. Hearing the names called and waiting, hoping that somehow Jordan’s name will ring out and he’ll appear ready to take on the world is more heartache than I can bear.

When I was driving home today after taking the girls to school, I didn’t take my usual route and ended up on a street where I passed a series of trees with white ribbons tied around them. “Huh, wonder what the ribbons are for? Are they in memory of someone, solidarity for a sick neighbor….?”
I wasn’t sure but those ribbons helped me with an idea of one of the things I need to do as May 22nd approaches. I’ve decided and I’ve told those around me who I love and I know that love me, that the only way I’ll get through what should have been Jordan’s college graduation is to mourn what can’t be. The huge catalpa tree in front of our house will be wrapped in a purple ribbon as will Jordan’s tree. Purple is Amherst’s school color and it will be our recognition of the day. I would be so honored by any of you that choose to put a purple ribbon on a tree near your home. Please send pictures if you can and I’ll post them here on my blog.

I’m not sure how I’ll spend May 22nd. I’ve given myself permission to cry all day if I need to, to stay in bed or sit amongst Jordan’s things and just remember. Mourning the loss of what would have been is my right as Jordan’s mother. I’m unselfishly loving my child in the only way I know how, by honoring him and grieving my loss. For my family May 22nd will be a commencement, a moving forward, just not in the way we had imagined.

purple ribbon "J"

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Should I have been a helicopter parent?

Helicopter parent: a mother or father that hovers over a child; an overprotective parent.

There are days when I try to change the events of October 12th, 2008 by turning myself into a helicopter parent. I wonder if hovering and being a parental GPS would have saved Jordan’s life. I know it’s useless. “What ifs,” at this point change nothing but I’m still haunted.

I found the writing below on Jordan’s laptop after he died. He gave me another purview into the world of parenting:

“My mother would tell me I had the soul of a poet. She would take my grade school musings, read from the crumpled pieces of yellow lined paper, and tell me how wonderful they were. Her unwavering praise for my puerile prose had the perhaps unintended side effect of imbuing me with an aura of unwarranted confidence.”

The words above are the beginning of a file, which he entitled, “Jordan’s musings.” The story goes on to talk of him bent over a commode as he vomits to the point of dry heaving as his friend chastises him for trying to drink a much larger, more experienced drinker under the table. The friend’s disgust stemmed from the fact that they’d come to the party with a group of girls and Jordan had ruined their chances for the night.

When I first read this story I sat with my hand over my mouth. Not because of the drinking, I knew Jordan was drinking while away at college. I’d told him to be careful. I told him of the history of alcoholism in our family. He always nodded, saying, “I know Mom,” uncomfortable with the conversation. But I persisted wanting to make sure that he knew I’d had a college experience as well and things hadn’t changed that much in 25 years.

My hand gripped my mouth because my son seemed to blame me for making him feel too special. Had I really gone too far in my praise and pride in my child? How much had I contributed to his air of invincibility?

When I was growing up my father’s biggest mandate to my sister and me was, “No matter what, you have to be able to take care of yourselves.” That one sentence meant being able to cook, do laundry, live independently and make choices that enhanced not hindered our lives. I say the same things to my children. Jordan starting doing his laundry at 14 and could cook simple meals before he went away to college. He ran errands, picked his sisters up from school and did his schoolwork without any prodding. He hated that he was the only one of his friends that had a curfew. My only response was, “Every family has their own rules. A curfew is one of ours.” He was a good boy, with good friends. Even though I know from looking at pictures on his cell phone that he experimented with alcohol and pot with his high school friends. I should have asked more questions. Why wasn’t I a helicopter parent?

The events of the weekend that Jordan died replay in my head with an on/off switch that I don’t control. I never know when an image will pop into my head or when I’ll think of what Jordan told me he was going to do that weekend, and what he really ended up doing. His plan was to go to New York, spend the first night with a friend from college who was taking a semester at Columbia, and then spend the rest of the weekend with his childhood friends one of whom attended NYU and another who had taken the train in from Boston. It wasn’t until Saturday when he texted me that he was on his way to Baltimore did I know the plan had changed.

Many months after he died, one of his friends from the car emailed me after much pleading on my behalf to please tell me about their weekend. He told me that they’d gone to Baltimore to go clubbing and attend a concert. The lure of a concert and hanging out with his older college friends pulled Jordan from a weekend that would have kept him safe. I didn’t try to stop him. I wanted to and even thought about telling him to take the bus back to NY and stick to the plan we’d agreed upon. But he was 19 away at college and Mark kept reminding me that we needed to let him make his own decisions. I finally relented hearing the words I’d spoken to Jordan before he went off to school. “I’m not going to be one of those helicopter moms, swooping in and tracking your every move. We’re raising you to be able to take care of yourself and that’s what I expect you to do.”

That’s what I thought was the right thing to do. Now I don’t know anymore. I wish I could find an article that would tell me if helicopter parents children survive in greater numbers than those of us who send our children out into the world hoping and praying that we’ve done right by them.

I’ve had so many arguments in my head with Jordan since he died. “Why didn’t you stay in NY? October 11th was one of your best friends birthdays. You were supposed to celebrate with him. Why did you choose partying with your college friends all 21 and legally able to go to clubs when you had to show your fake ID that I found amongst your things to get into the club?”

I always hear him say back, “But Ma it was a once in a lifetime concert. My friend got the tickets we all wanted to go.”

“How could you leave your friend, especially when it was his birthday. I don’t think I’ll ever understand that. I’m so disappointed that you made that choice. His birthday will never be the same because the next day is the day you died.”

I don’t think I was blind to Jordan’s shortcomings, he was impatient, at times selfish and quick to anger, and sometimes he didn’t think he just did. Jordan knew his shortcomings and was just entering adulthood in a way that we could start the conversations about triumphs and mistakes, both from me as his mother and from him as my son. I’m now left here working through the anger and disappointment that leap out of my grief, putting a chokehold on sorrow and replacing it with shame. Did I do right by my son? Could I have protected him from death? The prisms of grief have so many facets and can be blinding at times. Sorrow, lost, longing, anger, disappointment, shame and love. No matter what, there is never ending love for the boy who seemed to have a perspective on parenting that is now added to my rule book.

Jordan in his own way probably said it best further down in his, “musings”:

“Perhaps it’s a parent’s responsibility to be intensely optimistic when it comes to their children, their legacy. Its natural to hope that what’s left of you once you’re gone is a good representation. It’s even more natural to allow your hope for immortality through the greatness of your children to blind you to their shortcomings.”

Jordan didn’t get to be my legacy and that is the biggest shortcoming of this cautionary tale.

 

 

Getting The Boot

My ankle is officially out of commission for a while. I went to my family physician on Wednesday who took one look at my ankle and said, “I want someone from ortho to take a look at this.” Performing her unique magic, after a phone call she was able to get me in for an appointment an hour later. The ortho doc took x-rays, examined my ankle and prescribed a compression sock to relieve the swelling and one of those boots to keep it immobile. He also scheduled an MRI and wants to see me in 2 weeks. I was a fairly agreeable patient but did tell him, “March 24th is my birthday and my family is headed to Florida for Spring Break. I can’t disappoint them, and we all really need the break.”

He responded with kindness saying, I don’t think that will be a problem, but if it turns out you can’t go, I’m happy to have a little break in Florida.”

We both laughed and then he reassured me that he thought everything would work out fine. I left the hospital trying to learn how to walk in the black clunky boot and remember to, “roll from heel to toe,” as the technician had advised me, even though every step sent daggers through my ankle. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in so much physical pain. I thought back to the first time I had the same problem with my ankle although in a less serious form. It was August of 2008 and Jordan had driven me to the doctor, letting me lean on him as we made our way from the car to the office.

Last night the swirl of Jordan taking me to the doctor back in ’08, having a recurrence of the same ailment and just a few days earlier planning a scholarship fund in his memory became too much. When we sat with the representative from Amherst College talking of our plans for the scholarship we ventured into talk about some of Jordan’s friends and their after college plans. As we talked my discomfort grew. I let Mark engage in conversation and I kept looking at a picture we have in the living room from Jordan’s high school newspaper days taken by his friend Clare. In the photo he’s looking over his shoulder as if someone just called his name and he has that trademark smile on his face.  I kept looking at the picture talking to him in my mind. “Why aren’t you here? I want to tell people what you’ll be doing next year. We’re sitting here planning your memorial fund. Why aren’t you here?”

I made it through the meeting and the kind, young woman who came to meet with us begged me not to get up as she prepared to leave. “Please rest your leg. I hope you feel better soon.” I want to feel better too. Some days I wonder how that will happen. I’m feeling excruciating pain in my ankle and my main thought is, “How can this be? How can I be here hurting, being assured I’ll recover fully and my son didn’t get to live? Jordan took ME to the doctor before and that image is colliding with the sight of this boot on my foot. The physical and emotional pain are so intertwined that they’ve become one.

I continue practicing with the boot, trying to figure the best way to walk with the least amount of pain.

Picture of Jordan we have framed in our living room

Amherst, Massachusetts

I’m sitting on the couch, my right ankle propped up on a pillow with a bag of ice underneath and one to the side of my ankle. I have to check in with my doctor tomorrow to let her know if the antibiotics are working and the swelling in my ankle has subsided or at least not gotten worse. Being forced to be off my feet is not something I do well. Pain is ruling however and I’m listening to my body even though I’ve told it that I have a meeting today at 12:15 that I plan on attending. For me, idle body means overactive mind, taking me to places I’m not sure I’m ready to go. Thinking of the things yet to be done that I desperately want to do. Spreading Jordan’s ashes, turning “Jordan’s Fund,” into an official non-profit and most importantly helping my daughters as the awareness that their brother Merrick will be going off to college soon. None of these thoughts happen in any organized fashion but rather like a racquetball bouncing off of any available wall. I’m still learning how to quiet my mind.

Later today Mark and I are meeting with an alum from Amherst College to officially set up a scholarship fund in Jordan’s memory. I’ve stopped myself from saying, “finally,” set up a scholarship fund because I have felt that after 2 1/2 years we should have already had a scholarship in place. I decided that guilt wasn’t helping the process at all and that my goal of having a scholarship in place by what should be his graduating year has to be good enough.

Jordan’s Fund has been in existence since the week he died. My friend Michele went with me to the bank to set it up so that in lieu of flowers, people would have a resource to honor Jordan and his love of learning. I’ll never forget sitting in that bank officer’s cubicle filling out paperwork and being prompted by Michele to answer questions when my mind would wander to, “What am I doing here? Where’s Jordan?” But we did it and every year since his death we have had a celebration of Jordan’s life where we’ve welcomed donations to Jordan’s Fund. There will be scholarship funds at his high school and his college.

I subscribe online to  the Writer’s Almanac because I like starting my day with a poem. When I opened the email this morning the title of the poem was, “Amherst Massachusetts,” by Jaimee Kuperman. Just seeing the title felt like another validation that we are doing right by our son. In May, my family won’t get to see Jordan receive the college diploma from the school he loved. There will however be scholarships for years to come for incoming students with a love of learning and a thirst for social justice. Jordan will live on through the learning of others.

Jordan just learning of his acceptance to Amherst College

Glimpses of Jordan

I know I’ve shown the video from Jordan’s memorial service before. I watch it occasionally and today is one of those days. I wanted to share some of our wonderful memories of Jordan.

A Fraternity Not of One’s Choosing

As many of you know on February 25th my blog was featured in the NY Times Motherlode column. I assumed that given this is the season when students are hearing or waiting to hear from colleges about their acceptance my post about Merrick’s college wait would resonate with many. Our situation does not mirror everyone’s because while grieving the loss of son while away at college, I’m readying another to leave for school. It is a paradox that shifts the earth beneath me. I had no idea my piece would elicit such strong reactions. Comments ranged from empathy and understanding to pure disdain. At times I wondered if some of the readers read what I wrote before commenting. I was accused of being elitist because Jordan went to Amherst College. Jordan’s school is many things; elitist is not one of them. They welcome students of all backgrounds. There was also innuendo that because Jordan died in a car accident, drugs or alcohol was involved. Jordan died on a clear fall night at 9:30 pm. Fatigue was the culprit not anything else; even though why that matters to a grieving parent fails me at this time.

I know I didn’t have to read the comments but I did and I’m glad. Mixed in with accusatory comments were many that understood the point of my writing. Losing a child upends your world. The family that is left behind learns how to navigate the world with sorrow and loss as a new thread woven into life. We keep going and continue to ready our children to be independent, gracious, honorable human beings.

One commenter in particular gave me pause. He wrote:

I think this mom’s letter reeks of status and privilege. Her kids are going to elite private schools like Amherst and she worries as he “readies himself to be on his own”. Puleeeeze. Places like Amherst bend over backwards to ensure students are happy and successful, providing everything from psychologists to academic advisors to climbing walls to vegan cafeteria options. We have moms in this country who are sending their sons into tough inner-city schools because it is all they can afford. We have moms in this country who are sending their sons into the marines and thus into Iraq or Afghanistan. I want to read their letters.

14 readers recommended his comment. His letter above all others made me feel the need to explain the death of a son or daughter. Recently a dear friend lost his adult sister to cancer. My first thought was of his mother and the heartache that cannot be wholly defined that I knew she was feeling. It was the same reaction I had while watching the Winter Olympics seeing the mother of the Georgian luger holding her head in her hands devastated by the news of her loss. It is the way I felt when Kelly Preston and John Travolta lost their son and the way I feel when I see or read about parents who’ve lost children in combat. We are all members of fraternity not of our choosing. Perhaps the letters of mothers of soldiers lost in combat might be more interesting to some readers. What I know is that no matter whether your child died while away at an elite institution, community college, war or coming home from a party, having police show up at your door at 1:30 in the morning and delivering news that is every parent’s worse fear is an equalizer. There is no hierarchy of trauma from grief.

My husband and I have not hidden our grief from our children but we have been careful to not burden them with our grief either. They know we are here for them and we continue to nurture their spirits and interests wanting them to follow their dreams. A toll has been taken on my heart that may never fully repair. In spite of this fact, my commitment to be present for all of my children is fierce.

I’m grateful for the support and understanding I receive from those who read my blog. I’ve been humbled by those who’ve written to me telling me how my words have helped ease some of their pain. I’ll keep writing. I hope you’ll keep reading.

An Open Letter To My Son’s College Choices

We are playing the waiting game at my house. Merrick has applied to the colleges of his choice and is now waiting to hear back from them. One of the schools he applied to asked for a letter of recommendation from the parents. They wanted the perspective of the person/people who would talk of the early years and personality of the applicant. When I read their request I cried. I was being asked to weigh in and support my son’s application and frankly there are days when I don’t know how I’ll let him go. Sometimes even the thought of Merrick going off to school makes me physically ill, but at the same time I want what’s best for my son. I will not be a hinderance to his dreams. I realized that the only way I would be able to write a letter of recommendation, is to ask a request of all the schools. Below is my open letter to all of them.

Dear College of my son’s choice,

My son Merrick has applied to your school and is hopeful that he will be accepted. You invited parents to write letters of recommendation for their child. Your request is based on the fact that most students when applying concentrate on the ages of 14-17 and parents can give a long-range look and perspective on the applicant. I’m quite willing to write a letter for my child. I appreciate the wisdom and sensitivity in your request. Before I do so however, I have a request of my own. Please watch over my child. He is eager to leave home and enter the world of academia and freedom that college allows. I watch his anticipation and enthusiasm and am confronted with my own mixture of excitement and apprehension.

When his older brother Jordan went off to Amherst College, his dad and I could not have been prouder. Jordan chose a school that was the perfect fit for him. We watched him attenuate to college life with vigor and ease. He entered his sophomore year excited to have a single room, ready to pursue a major in Political Science and looking forward to the future. I often joked with him that I was living vicariously through him as he talked of studying abroad either in Costa Rica or London. His future seemed boundless. Seemed. When we received the news that Jordan had been killed in a car accident just 20 miles from his college campus shock and sorrow took hold of us, the grip of which I still feel today.

Now it is time for another of my children to fulfill their dreams and goals. Merrick has worked so hard to be an attractive candidate for your college. A finer student, scholar, and most importantly compassionate human being you won’t find. As he readies himself to, “be on his own,” I try and ready my heart to give the world another one of my children. Merrick comes to you an eager vessel of learning. He also comes bearing the weight of sorrow that losing his big brother and best friend brings. So, I’m finding a way, no matter how hard it is, to continue trusting that the world is a giving, safe place for my children. As unwieldy and irrational my plea is I ask you to remember it. When you see my son walking through campus, treat him with care as he fulfills his dreams and honors the legacy of his brother.

Sincerely,

Always Mom of Four