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 ‘anniversary’

October is Here

I don’t know where to start except to say that it is October again and the 12th, the day Jordan died is approaching. I don’t have the same dread as I’ve had in years past but my heart is heavy. The 12th will never be an ordinary day and why should it be? Heartache is encroaching and I’m allowing it in, welcoming it almost. I know that to push away the sadness or pretend like it’s just any day will not serve me well. I will acknowledge, express and care for my feelings as steps on the path to healing. For now it is a hard week, it has been a hard month and through my grief and pain I know that my family and I will remember what it was like to receive the news of Jordan’s death and the after effects. But, I’m blessed to have family and friends who I can count on to listen, even if all they hear are the sounds of weeping. The day will and come and then it will be the next day. We keep going always with Jordan in our hearts.

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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.

October Snow and Long Distance Parenting

My newly minted freshman in college is a part of the October snowstorm that hit the northeast this past weekend. The town where Merrick’s school is located lost power on Saturday and is still in the dark. Merrick called home Saturday night to update us and we advised him to conserve his phone’s battery even as we peppered him with questions.

“Do you have a flashlight?”

“Um, no.”

“Are you sure? How could we have bought half of Target and not bought a flashlight?”

“I don’t know but I don’t have one.”

“Look in the bottom drawer of your desk. Your dad put tools and things like that in there when we were helping you unpack.”

“Alright Mom, I’ll check but I don’t think I have one.”

Turning to my husband Mark I say, “How could we not buy him a flashlight. That should have been one of the main things on the list.”

“Mom, I’ve got a wrench, no flashlight.”

“Okay, okay. Well hopefully the power will be back on when you wake up tomorrow.”

“It’s okay right now. The generator is lighting the hallway and the bathroom so it’s not too bad.”

“Just be careful okay.”
“I am.”

We said our goodbyes and as Merrick went off to make a snowman with friends and then play his saxophone in a band thrown together for the occasion, I tossed and turned waiting for morning. Who could imagine such a snowstorm in October? The month was so close to being over and for my family it is a month fraught with emotions. We marked the 3rd anniversary of our oldest son Jordan’s death on the 12th and made our way through the 18th the date of his memorial service and then celebrated and consoled Merrick on the 20th the day he turned 19, the same age Jordan was when he died. October already held enough upheaval and Merrick was just starting to find a rhythm again and not be so weighted down with grief. In the days right after his birthday he’d said things like, “Why did Jordan have to die a week before my birthday? And “Jordan died when he was 19, I’ve got to make it through this year.”

Struggling for comforting words I gave him what I could, “ I know your birthday is hard now. It may never feel the way it did before Jordan died. But that doesn’t mean that one day you won’t feel pockets of joy. My prayer for you is that as time goes on those pockets will grow deeper. We’re here for you and we will always celebrate the day you were born. That day gave us you. You’re not Jordan and what happened to him was an accident. Each day, every year is to be lived, not gotten through. Please try to take in what I’m saying.”

“I’ll try.”

Then the tears came and I sat cradling the phone making sure he knew I was there but allowing him to vet every emotion coursing through him as he sobbed for all he’s lost and all the longing he has for his brother. The week wore on and I’d talk to him every other day, “Just checking in,” were my words when I couldn’t keep myself from calling. I didn’t want him to feel like I was worrying too much about him but I was, and the only thing that made me able to cope was hearing his voice.

*

On Sunday morning after the storm, Mark and I were both awake by 7:30 and Mark immediately reached for his Ipad to check the outages on the East Coast. Merrick’s town still had no power. I was grateful he was still asleep and hoped that maybe by the time he woke up the power would be back. Later that morning we got a call from Merrick from the cellphone of one of his friend’s saying that the campus had run out of food and they were strongly encouraging students to evacuate the campus. The administration suggested they go to a neighboring school that did not lose power or home if they lived close enough. Merrick then went on a rant about AT&T and how he had no “bars” and the only people that did were those with Verizon and T-Mobile.

“Dad we’ve got to change cellphone carriers. This is crazy.”

He ranted about his phone but we heard the panic in his voice and his need for us to help him figure out what to do. He was weary from October. We had to decide what was the best option so that he could feel safe. Realizing that soon we wouldn’t have any connection with him if his friends all scattered because some were going to Boston to stay with friends and some were going to neighboring schools, we had to help our kid figure out the best place for him. Thankfully he knew us well enough that he didn’t impulsively just go someplace without letting us know.

Jordan’s trip during his Fall break from college took a detour from New York to Baltimore which he texted us about as he rode to Baltimore. I never got a chance to tell him, “That wasn’t the plan,” or “No, stay in NY.” I wonder if I could have kept him safe, kept him alive. On the drive back, just 20 minutes from campus is where the car accident occurred and he was pronounced dead at the scene. He was riding with 3 friends when the driver fell asleep and the car careened off the interstate falling 40 feet onto the service road below. As much as we want Merrick to have freedom as a college student and be responsible for making decisions, Jordan’s death has cast a veil of vigilance over the rest of our children. Merrick choosing the same small town as his brother to go to school has heightened our anxiety.

As we scrambled to figure out where Merrick should go until he could return to campus he uttered, “I could carpool with some friends to Boston.”

The word, “No,” was out of my mouth as Merrick finished his sentence. “I don’t want you carpooling. We’ll figure out how to get you someplace safe.”

Before I could speak further Merrick jumped in, “Okay Mom, I know. I won’t.”

This wasn’t the first time that riding with friends had come up with Merrick. As I reminded him to make his reservation early for the airport shuttle for Thanksgiving his response was, “My friend and I were thinking about grabbing a ride with some other people going to the airport.”

“Merrick, NO. I don’t want you carpooling. I’ll pay for the shuttle. I don’t want you riding in someone’s car. Do you understand?”

“Mom I got you.”

He says he understands but how long can my fear of young people and road trips determine my son’s actions? He is 19 and I want him to be 20,21 and on and on. There will come a day when he does take a trip with friends and I’ll have to grit my way through it. My feeling now is that I won’t breathe until he’s safely at his destination and then safely back. It’s not how I want to live. I hope I’ll regain some calm and faith, but I’ve become a maven of safety statistics of buses, planes and trains vs. cars. Cars lose every time.

*

For anyone observing Mark and I as we tried to figure out the best and yes, safest place for Merrick to be until he could return to campus, you would have thought we were planning a reconnaissance mission. Mark paced the family room as I sat with my laptop googling hotels, looking up friends on Facebook trying to remember who lived in Boston.

Mark throws out, “Could you call your friend Doreen in Boston?”

“I’m not even sure she’s in town. Besides how’s he going to get there?”

“Well we told him we’d call him back and we need to before his friend leaves. That was the only way we had to stay in contact with him.”

“I know that,” I snapped. Then the obvious became the plan. “Let’s call Jordan’s dean. He said if we ever needed anything to call him.”

With that Mark picked up the phone and both of us started to feel we were doing something to help Merrick. Jordan’s dean was more than happy to help us and would pick Merrick up from campus then take him to his house. We texted Merrick the dean’s telephone number so he could arrange to get picked up. I felt foolish for talking to him like a 10 year old but I repeatedly reminded him to call me when he was with Jordan’s dean. When he finally called a mere 20 minutes later sounding relieved I felt the weight of the night and the panic of the day leave. After our call was complete, I continued to hold the phone, my forehead on my knees. Mark came over and sat on the ottoman across from me and held my legs. “He’s okay.”

Tears were all I could muster as a reply as the words, “Merrick is not Jordan,” were the mantra on my mind.

October!

Having another child in college is turning out to be the roller coaster I imagined. Merrick was home for his Fall break two weekends ago. When I made his reservations to come home all I could do was cry when I finished. I thought of Jordan and how life would be so very different now if he had come home for his Fall break in 2008. He and I talked about it, given that he had 5 days off from school. A part of him wanted to come home but he was trying to budget his money and be responsible and told me, “Thanksgiving is soon. I’ll wait until then.”

When Merrick’s fall break came up, in my mind there were two choices, stay at school or come home. Neither he nor his dad and I could imagine any other possibilities. We’re all skittish about travel, remembering what happened to Jordan. Merrick was home until October 11th and my heart ached having to send him back to school knowing he wouldn’t be with family on the anniversary of Jordan’s death. I told him he could stay another day if he needed to, but he didn’t want to miss his classes. He left worried but steady and my words to him were, “Please confide in your friends. Let them know about your brother and what October 12th means to you. You don’t have to be alone on that day. If they are the friends you say they are then take a leap and trust at least one of them.”

“Maybe you’re right Mom. I’ll think about it.”

Later on the night of the 12th he told me that he’d talked with one of his friends and they were able to console each other. Her grandfather had died in the days that Merrick was away and she hadn’t told anyone either.

“We talked for a long time and I was glad I told her about Jordan. It made me feel better.”

Long distance parenting is tricky stuff. I worry so much about Merrick, knowing all the mixed feelings October brings for him. His birthday is coming up and he’d forgotten until a call from his grandmother asking him what he wanted. His 19th birthday is on Thursday and the memory of losing Jordan clouds and threatens to cover a day of celebrating life. Merrick has had to grow up and rectify in his heart the loss, longing and need for his big brother with the reality that he has a life to live and he wants it to be long and filled with goodness and prosperity. I watch him struggle with these emotions knowing there are days when all he wants is Jordan, only Jordan to be his sounding board as he navigates college. Gratefully he shares his concerns and anguish with me even though most of the time all I can do is listen and tell him his feelings are perfectly normal. I wish I could do more.

I have another son about to be 19 and I’m praying that it won’t be a year to simply get through so that we can usher in age 20 and feel some superstitious relief. It is Merrick’s time and my greatest prayer and hope is that he continues to thrive and that he learns to trust that Jordan hasn’t left him completely, but is so close, still ready to be a big brother to him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jordan lighting the candle's on Merrick's 13th birthday

Columbus Day

“Mama do I have to go to school on Columbus Day?”

“No, honey your school is closed that day remember?”

“Oh yeah, but I thought that was the day, you know…”

And then my daughter trailed off not able to finish her thought and looking at me with pleading eyes hoping I’d rescue her from having to complete her words. Of course she was talking about the anniversary of Jordan’s death.

“Are you talking about October 12th, the day Jordan died?”

She shakes her head.

“It’s okay to say the day Jordan died.”

“I know, I thought it was Columbus Day.”

“That was the day we found out in 2008. It won’t be on that day every year. That’s just how you remember it. This year it’s on a Wednesday.”

“Should I go to school that day?”

“It might feel better to stick to your regular routine. But if you wake up that day and feel too sad to go then you can stay home. Let’s wait and see.”

“You’re right. Plus I won’t be at school on Friday because we’re going to see Merrick. I should go to school Wednesday.”

We found out Jordan had died the night before in the wee hours of Columbus day. Every year since, that day has been the bellwether for friends and family clanging its reminder that if the anniversary isn’t that day, it’s coming.

My family continues having the good fortune of compassionate, caring friends and family. We’ve received emails, cards, calls, invitations to meals, all to say, “We’re thinking of you all. We miss Jordan too.” The grace of others is a lifeline on what can be very dark days. Times of “what ifs,” and “if onlys” that serve no purpose beyond deepening the pain of loss. It will be 3 years tomorrow since Jordan’s death. My apprehension about the approach of the day fluctuates but isn’t as visceral as it was that first year when I wondered if I would remember to breathe as images of cars careening off of overpasses and my son being pulled lifeless from a car swirled in my head. Those images don’t appear as frequently. But the ache of loss is still as palpable. The days leading up to the 12th are fraught with thoughts of what used to be. Three years ago today my son was still living life fully and so was I. Thinkinking back on that time, I wish I could have the clarity to fully remember each moment of those early days of October when Jordan exuded energy and life. I miss him so much. I yearn to hear his voice, see what he would look like, just see him moving and being.

Three years later life is different. With each passing year there is a sadness that I’m being pulled further away from the time of Jordan’s life. I’ll always hate marking time by the death of my son, it is a cruelty that needs a name other than anniversary. Yet, I don’t dread the anniversary of Jordan’s death the way I did the first two years. I know the day will come and I will mourn and weep for what could have been and the reality that my son is dead will push forth through my soul in ways that are painful to imagine.

But I also know that after October 12th, the next day will follow and I’ll be on the path to continuing my journey of living and finding joy in my work, my family and connections with the spirit of my beautiful firstborn son.

Mind Over Matter

I’m downstairs, listening to my daughters who are upstairs simultaneously practicing flute and clarinet. They’re in separate rooms but I have no idea how they can practice without messing up the other’s timing. Tomorrow is a snow day! It is the first my daughters have ever had since being in school. They are beyond excited. Merrick found out his high school is closed tomorrow as well, the first time since the mid 1970’s. Before he could fully relax he asked me, “Mom, they really said school is closed. You’re sure?” So we’re all hunkered down for the storm. Mark is home and aside from the howling winds our house feels safe.

I’m working to bring safety back to my spirit. When I emailed Edward to ask about the accident I did so without letting anyone know. Mark wishes I’d stop, not wanting me to hurt anymore than I do now. He thinks we know enough and that any additional details will only hurt me more. He may be right. The mother in me, Jordan’s mother, can’t rest without understanding the whole of the truth of that night. Mark’s afraid I’ll be haunted by what I find out. I’m afraid I’ll be haunted if I don’t. I check my email as usual everyday, not expecting to see a response from Edward but bracing myself just in case there is one. So far he has not responded or acknowledged my query of him. There may never be a response.

I did fantasize when I saw the mailman across the street today that perhaps Edward was writing a real letter and that was why I hadn’t heard from him yet. I know I’ve asked a lot of him. What I’m learning from my own experience about trauma and PTSD are that the things the mind does to protect the heart are astounding. Edward may be in full protection mode and unable to even go back to that night.

Mark reminded me when I told him about finally realizing that Edward put his t-shirt to the back of Jordan’s head not to his forehead, that I’d know that all along. So gently he said to me, “Remember, the coroner and James (a family friend who is an ER doc) told us that he couldn’t survive an impact like that to the back of the head.”

I remember that Mark talked to the coroner in MA by phone and James was also on the line. He told me afterwards what they said. What I remember from that conversation is him saying, “Jordan was asleep. He didn’t feel any pain.” That’s what my mind took in and that’s what my heart could handle. Almost 2 1/2 years later the shock and blur of Jordan’s accident are not as constant and I can’t explain to anyone why I crave details now.

I read a short story a while ago entitled, “The Girlfriend.” It is in a book by Maile Meloy called,Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It. In the story a father seeks out the girlfriend of the man who murdered his daughter after the trial where the man is found guilty. He wants to know every detail of that night that he can find. What the father ultimately finds out makes him feel worse, almost a party to the crime instead of somehow more settled. I’ve thought about that story  a lot wondering if I’ll end up like the father having too much information that will have to somehow keep house with my pain not ease it. I just don’t know.

I found an entry in one of my journals from 11/10. The entry is entitled, “Why Do This.” Meaning why write a blog, why am I writing a book? I had a long list of reasons some of which are:

  1. To feel closer to Jordan
  2. To stop being afraid of being happy
  3. To accept that my boy is gone
  4. To figure out how to diffuse some of this pain

The last item on my list was:

5.To ask all the questions that I want answers to, even if there aren’t any answers.

Worldwide Candle Lighting

December 12th was the Worldwide Candle Lightning ceremony which is sponsored by The Compassionate Friends organization. At 7pm, your local time, they asked that you light a candle for a child that died so that around the world, there will be 24 hours of light in remembrance .I posted their “poster” on my Facebook page asking friends and family to join in the ceremony.

We have a Jordan candle that we bought in 2008 specifically for the candle lighting ceremony. A couple of hours before 7 pm sadness started to seep in and the ceremonial candle lighting felt more onerous than comforting. Mark and I got were out most of the afternoon  running errands and the thought of one light flickering to honor Jordan made me think of the first year we lit the candle.  Mark the girls and I sat numbly and cried, while Merrick stood pacing as the candle flickered. Merrick finally asked to be excused and escaped to his room. Last year was less ceremonial. I lit the candle on my own and when one of the kids asked why, I told them, “It’s for the candle lighting ceremony to honor children who died.” From each of them I received an, “Oh,” as they went about their way.

I didn’t want to light Jordan’s candle if it meant adding to our sadness. Many days Mark or I will light the candle when we are missing Jordan and have no place to focus our longing. The flame gives us peace. We’ve both held  our daughters after they’ve lit Jordan’s candle because they miss him so much. Each time the lit candle was a point of comfort and connection. But on the ceremonial day it started to make me feel like I was slipping deeper into mourning.

Anxiety about lighting the candle started to bother me. I finally told myself, “You don’t have to wait until 7. It’s your house, light it when you’re ready.” I also felt like that one candle wasn’t enough to illuminate the spirit of Jordan. Jordan loved Christmas and as our house slowly takes on the air of the season the spirit of Christmas needed to be intertwined with Jordan’s spirit so I could imagine him singing Christmas carols in his silly falsetto voice and feeling him close. I gathered all the tea light holders that we have and placed them on the mantel of the fireplace and around our family room. Well before 7 I lit them all including Jordan’s candle. Mark came into the house after shoveling snow and said, “Oh it looks nice. You lit the candles already?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t wait until 7 it was making me too sad. I figured it’s 7 o’clock somewhere. Plus, Jordan needed more than one candle.”

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know. I miss so much. Why isn’t he here?”

“I miss him too. We’re going to be alright.”

I nodded my head and gazed at Jordan’s candle. As I felt sadness filling me I reminded myself, “You’re doing this to honor Jordan. If it makes you too sad, then don’t do it.”

I thought of all the ways I kept myself afloat when I went to doctors’ appointments for lupus. Every time I walked in the door of the hospital I reminded myself, “Remember how you’re feeling right now, no matter what the lab work says you won’t come out feeling sicker than you did when you went in.”

I used the same logic for the Candle Lighting ceremony. “Remember how you’ve felt today. You miss Jordan but today has been okay.”

I intently gazed at Jordan’s candle reminding myself that I’d lit it because I wanted our family to honor his memory not to bring on additional sadness.  The flames flickered and I thought of other children I knew who were gone but forever loved: Dougie, Dawn, Paige, Marcus, Larry Jr., Rory, Max, Hudson, Henry, Heather, Trina, Matt and so many others. After a sweeping look around the room at all the candles burning and a, “I love you Jordan,” I got up and checked on dinner. The candles burned in the background filling the room with light.