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 ‘auto accidents’

Honoring Last Wishes- Another Look 2013

To give more insight into the idea of honoring requests and giving my new readers a fuller picture of my dad who was/is so instrumental on my mourning journey I offer again the post below.

The last few months I feel like I’ve been in a whirlwind. Traveling back and forth to Ohio when my Dad was ill, preparing for his memorial service after his death, honoring what would have been Jordan’s commencement with purple ribbons, and then Memorial Day weekend honoring Daddy’s final wish of spreading his ashes in his hometown in West Virginia. The part of West Virginia where my parents and their parents lived is fit for any postcard. The summer mountains are filled with lush green trees and roll on and on for as far as the eye can see. The area where Daddy lived was a mining town and everyone called it “#9” because that was the number of the mine that the men worked in and they lived in company owned housing and shopped at the company store.

It took us an hour to get there from our hotel and as we drove winding on too small roads that seemed to at any bend curve right into a mountain, Mark the kids and I all wondered, “Are we there yet?” Finally my brother-in-law who was leading the way pulled over on a patch of gravel off the side of the road.

“There’s the creek with the waterfall, exactly like Daddy said. It’s right here.”

My hand covered my mouth as I wept thinking back to our very last conversation when I asked him if he was sure the creek was still there and he replied, “Shoot girl, of course it’s still there.” The creek was there and he was right, Mama knew how to get there. My great-uncle who had driven with my cousin said as he got out of the car, “I thought I’d seen all of West Virginia, but I’ve never been out here.”

The area was overgrown and I looked up from the creek to all the trees and tall grass, trying to imagine what it looked like when it was dotted with small houses. What dotted the area now were yellow and black butterflies everywhere.Their presence was as if to say, “You’re in the right place. We’re here to make sure it’s special for you.” None of us had every seen so many butterflies in one place. I joked, “Daddy wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the place.” After we’d all had a chance to look around and take pictures of the waterfall and creek and the mountains as the backdrop it was time to do the task that had brought us to the spot. Mark carefully pulled the metal container from the back of the car.

I asked, “Do you have something to cut the plastic bag?” Remembering our struggle when we tried to spread Jordan’s ashes and didn’t have anything to cut the zip tie that held the bag closed.

Mark nodded and continued over to the creek just under the waterfall. Mama asked for a word of prayer and we all gathered, holding hands and my Uncle prayed for us and for the task we were undertaking. As we dropped hands I looked over to see Lindsay and Kendall crying and put an arm around each one of them holding them close. The bag was opened and Mark began to pour the ashes and we all watched as the ashes mingled and churned with the water cascading from the waterfall before drifting downstream.

I called out, “Daddy thank you for being so wise and letting us know what your final wishes were. We are so proud to honor them.”

Mark poured a bit more in and then I reached into my pocket and removed the small container that held some of Jordan’s ashes. With a high arc I flung them into the water. “Thank you Daddy for letting Jordan be with you.”

The only sounds were weeping. My mother wailed as she watched the remains of the man she’d loved since high school drift down the creek he’d played in as a boy. Suddenly we were all together hugging and crying as the sunshine warmed our backs. Mama began to quiet down and we all stepped back a little to give her space. I went back to the waterfall and just watched the water no longer clear but muddied with the ashes. As I walked back to the car, I searched the ground for rocks that weren’t broken pieces of gravel and found a coral colored rock and one stone with specks of glittering green. I put them in my pocket thinking of all the rock Daddy had skipped in that same creek.

Our day wasn’t done, Mama wanted to spread some of Daddy’s ashes around the graves of her parents and that of his oldest sister. We loaded back into the car for the next sojourn. As we pulled away from the creek Mark suddenly stopped the car.

“Look at that sign. Take a picture of it.”

I hurriedly got the camera and snapped the picture.After I read the sign I whispered, “and Daddy too.”

We’ll Miss Him and Celebrate Him Together

Numbness, longing, heartache, sadness, triumph (yes triumph), and even a bit of fear are coursing through me as I mark another year without Jordan. His death, so sudden, catapulted me into depths of despair that was never even fathomable until I found myself there. It is four years since Jordan died and as every October 12th nears, I hate that time must be marked and acknowledged by the death of my son. It is the day more than any other when I flip through all the events leading up to the police officers at the door telling us Jordan was dead and I like untangling a physics problem I wonder what event could have been injected to the day to make things turn out differently?

There are things I wish had happened. I wish that he’d stayed in New York hanging out with his childhood friends and celebrating his friend Luc’s birthday. I wish I’d called him while he was on the road, telling him to be mindful of the traffic and waking him from his slumber. As many times as I collect all my what ifs and wishes and lay them out before me the same conclusion is drawn every time. I’ll never know if there was anything I could have done to change the trajectory of the events that led to Jordan’s death.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m not dreading the anniversary of Jordan’s death as I have in the past and that is my triumph! The passage of time and how I’m using my time is helping me to make peace with that fact. (Thank you Tom)

Feeling less dread means that instead of turning my back to October 12th, I face it head on knowing there will be tears and sorrow but that I can also open myself up to grace and all the beauty that surrounded my wonderful boys’ life. As I’ve said to my children many times when the ache of missing Jordan seems unbearable, “We’ll miss him together.” The security of the companionship that is captured in those words also applies to our love for him. It is attainable, sustainable, and above all else eternal.

On the first anniversary of Jordan’s death Kendall suggested we commemorate it by going to Wendy’s and getting frosty’s because, as she said, “Jordan liked frosty’s.” Thinking back on the sweetness of her gesture I know that pockets of joy can be coaxed through even the most powerful grief. I’m learning that I can celebrate Jordan’s life any time I choose, even on the day he died. His last day on this earth was spent with friends and having fun, what a thing to proclaim. My son died at 9:32pm October 12th, 2008, but prior to that time he lived with a fullness that not many can match.

The hard work of living with loss is leaving me open to doing more than reliving the trauma of that day, but also capturing the precious gifts that day gave me. I heard my son’s voice for the last time and it held no regret. I told him I loved him and he replied, “I love you too.”

I’ve already asked Mark if he’ll go to the movies with me, something that Jordan loved. Maybe after the movie we’ll make our way to Wendy’s and order frosty’s, just because Jordan liked them.

Jordan Alexander Moore-Fields
August 9, 1989- October 12, 2008
A Life Well Lived

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.

Thinking of You

“I’ll be thinking of you, thinking of you

Though we’re far apart, you’re in my heart

And there you’ll always stay

Till we meet again someday

I’ll be thinking of you”

Andrae Crouch

Jordan is always on my mind, always. Some days the comfort I get from feeling his presence in my heart and surroundings is like light and warmth all at the same time. I freely talk to him telling him about my days and asking him to watch over and encourage his siblings. I remember silly things he’s done and am able to laugh, feeling his laughter too.

On other days, thinking of him makes me wish that there were some way that he could come back, that a horrible mistake has been made and he’ll find a way to return. I’ve even gone so far as to chastise myself for having him cremated. “He doesn’t have a body to come back to, what were we thinking?”

Still more, are the days when I’m so angry not only at the accident that caused his death or at his friends who lived, but at Jordan. A litany of  “Why” outbursts cascade through my mind as I lash out at him for not surviving.

  • Why were you sitting in the rear passenger seat?
  • Why did you fall asleep?
  • Why didn’t you stay in NY instead of tagging along to Baltimore?
  • Why didn’t you stick with friends your own age?
  • Why didn’t you listen to your dad and I and stay vigilant when you’re riding in the car on long trips?
  • Why didn’t you tell me how tired everyone was on the day you were going back to school?

And then the anger fixed on Jordan turns to me.

  • Why didn’t I listen to my gut and call you to check-in while you were on the road?
  • Why didn’t I buy you a bus ticket for NY instead of allowing you to drive with your friends?
  • Why didn’t I get angry when you changed plans and off-handedly told me about it in a text message?
  • Why did I let you make your own choices and decisions?

The last why is the conundrum that threatens me most. I’m raising my surviving children to be just as independent and to live fully the way Mark and I taught their brother. Am I doing right by them? I pray they will live long, happy lives. I’m proud of them for their resilience and that they continue to embrace life with exuberance and hope. The love and pride I have for my children doesn’t change the nagging thoughts that undermine my beliefs in what being a good mother means.  It still stings when people tell me I’m a good mom. Sometimes all I can give in response is a nod as I lower my head. They’re saying, “Good mom.” I’m thinking, “Cautionary tale.”

My oldest boy is gone and as hard as I try I can’t completely shake the feeling that I should have been able to save him. Yes, it was an accident that took his life but there are so many intersections of time where things could have been different. A bus ticket, a phone call, saying, “No, you can’t go,” would have changed the trajectory of my family’s life. I know his death can’t be undone and facing that reality is a part of who I am now. Yes, I think about my son everyday and today happens to be a “Why” day.

Always Mom of 4

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.

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.

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.