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’

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.

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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

Waiting For The Repairman

Does anyone remember those, “Baby on Board,” signs that were prevalent in the late ‘80’s and ‘90’s? They seemed to be suction cupped to the window of every other car on the road. I thought about those signs this morning and how I never got one after Jordan was born because it seemed to me that people should drive safely regardless of whether there was a baby in the car or not.

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We’re still waiting to see if the video camera we sent in for repair will come back to us with images of Jordan in the last months before he died. The repairman called again recently to say that they needed to repair the motherboard and wanted our approval because they couldn’t guarantee that our hard drive wouldn’t be lost. If the hard drive is lost in the process of repairing the machine we lose the footage that’s on the camera. When the repairman asked what I wanted to do, proceed, or not with the repairs, my response was silence, then a heavy sigh and then a plea.

“The hard drive holds footage of our son. He was killed in a car accident. We need it.”

“Ma’am, I can’t guarantee that the hard drive won’t be damaged. Can you have your husband call me back and tell me what you want to do?”

Another long silence as I try to keep the tears out of my voice.

“Um, I’m not sure what we should do. I’ll have my husband call you.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

Mark called the repair center and told them to go ahead with the repairs. This morning while I showered I thought about the camera and visualized the repairs being done, hoping that they’re being extra careful so we have more memories of Jordan. I finally shook my head and thought, “Whether you have the footage or not, Jordan’s still gone. Stop putting so much importance on the camera. It doesn’t bring Jordan back.”

I realized how ridiculous it was that I’d poured my heart out to the repairman as though with my camera he’d be extra careful and more professional and with everyone else’s repairs he did slipshod work. That’s how I got to the baby on board signs in my meandering way. I would hope that the repairman always does his best work, just like when I saw the, “Baby on Board,” signs I hoped that everyone drove responsibly. Now I wish I’d wrapped the car Jordan was riding in on October 12th, 2008 in, “MY BABY ON BOARD,”signs and that doing so would have kept him alive. There are no magic formulas of protection or safety. I’m sitting with that harsh reality and waiting again for a box in the mail.

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.

The Need To Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did Jordan cry out in pain?

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

Did he wake up?

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

Was he unconscious the whole time?

Did he ever say anything?

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

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

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

Sweet Honey In The Rock To End The Day

To all of you still visiting my blog I say thank you. Writing has been difficult for me lately. Grief doesn’t follow any specific path and I’m learning to lean into what is happening so that as my friend Tom tells me I can, “Feel what I’m feeling.”

I was fortunate to hear Sweet Honey in the Rock perform this past weekend. If they’re ever in your town make sure to see them. One of their songs put writing in my heart again. Your comments are welcomed and needed. Thanks

My morning started with the thought, “Why did they get to keep their sons and I didn’t.” I sat up straight in bed knowing that no more rest would come. All that day the, “Why them and not me,” feeling latched on invading most of my thoughts. I wanted Jordan. It was snowing out and I wanted to call him, hearing his sleepy voice as I described what home looked like in a blanket of snow.

“Are you warm enough? Are you wearing your heavy coat?”

“Yes Mom, I’m fine.”

That’s the conversation I wanted but there’s no number to call anymore. I stayed in my pajamas most of the day, which is such a rarity for me that my kids asked if I was sick. I told them, “No, I’m just looking at this snowy day and trying to feel cozy.” I knew later in the evening I’d get dressed because Mark and I were going to a concert but the day was spent wrapped in warmth wondering when the hurt of longing would lessen.

The night was icy and the snow had the crunch of cold. As we walked to the car bracing against the wind, Mark and I joked, “This better be the best concert we’ve ever been to.” Sweet Honey in the Rock was singing at a local college and I was excited to see them. Since college I’d missed going to their concerts for a variety of reasons but I was determined to hear them sing. They sing a mixture of folk, gospel, spirituals, jazz, blues and all of it with their voices as the only instruments. My college friend Melissa was the first to rave about their concerts. Everyone who saw them told me that you leave their concerts transformed.

As we settled into our seats a woman we’d met at the reception before the concert sat next to Mark. She was an administrator at the University and we talked at the variety of guests that came to perform. While making small talk she asked, “How many kids do you have?” Mark told her, “We have 4. Twin girls who are 11, a son who is 18 and our oldest boy was 19 when he was killed in a car accident.” I studied my program as he talked knowing the story by heart but still flinching when he said, “killed.” I briefly looked up and made eye contact with our row mate as her eyes offered condolences and then went back to the program. The lights dimmed and the concert began.

After a lively upbeat intro song called “Denko,” one of the singers introduced the song they were about to sing saying, “All of us have plans for what we want to happen after we die. Sometimes those plans are followed, sometimes they’re not.” She then went on to sing, “When I Die,” with the rest of the group repeating in perfect harmony the phrase, “When I Die,” as her, “music.” As the song started, Mark reached over and rested his hand on my knee. I could tell by his touch that he worried about the hard start to my day and if this was a song I could bear to hear. I squeezed his hand, closed my eyes and chose to be a part of the song.

Jordan’s voice was in my head as I sat up straighter swaying to the refrain, “When I Die, When I Die.”

“When I die, I want to be cremated.” That was Jordan’s desire expressed to Mark and me. We filed it away in the far recesses of our hearts because we didn’t think we’d need to carry them out. Gratitude filled me because we’d listened to Jordan and carried out his wishes. Then a perfect voice sang out, “When I die let my spirit breathe, let it soar like an eagle to the highest tree,” and I touched my throat as I imagined Jordan’s spirit soaring higher than it ever could on this earth. I opened my eyes briefly then quickly closed them back tight. I needed to experience this song without distraction. It meant hearing it and feeling it without worrying about what others around me were doing or how I looked to them.

“When I die, when I die,” the song continued and I thought of Jordan’s ashes and our need to spread them far and wide to signify the world traveler he would have been. I feel guilty that it is taking us so long to spread his ashes. It has been two years and we’re only starting to plan the journeys for Jordan’s ashes. The words to the song entered my body interrupting all guilty thoughts, “Well, well when I die you can cast me out into the ocean wide.  Let my spirit cry, let it enter the tears that make the ocean deep and wide.” Eyes still closed I saw Mark and I standing on a beach releasing Jordan’s ashes into the sea saying goodbye and safe travels one last time. The tears started to fall and I did nothing to stop them. The song held a truth that freed me from one of my burdens. I whispered to myself, “What do you believe? What do you believe? Then the answer came, “Jordan is safe. You don’t have to worry about him anymore. Jordan is safe.”

I leaned back into the song and rocked as I heard the next refrain,

“Oh, oh, oh when I die, toss me out into the winds of time

Let my ashes roam, blow here blow there

I know I’m gonna find my true home”

Tears streamed down my face as the song washed over me. The truth was there begging to be accepted. “When I Die.” The when for Jordan was an answered question. There is nothing I can do about the when. I listened to voices covering and comforting me and asked my heart to accept that Jordan is safe. In the long nights when sleep won’t come and all I want is to have my boy home, I can take comfort if I choose to believe Jordan is safe. I don’t have to worry about him any more. Many questions linger but that one can be put to rest if I allow it.

The fact that he is gone and he’s here is settling in and slowly finding it’s rightful spot within me. I feel him in the bright red cardinal that perches outside my window, peering in looking straight at me as I call him Jordan by name. Jordan’s spirit is in the coincidences of his name appearing or being overheard when I miss him most. He is in the emails, texts and notes from his friends reaching out to me when I ache for him. A beautiful song opened a small part of my heart to that truth. My sorrow hasn’t evaporated and my heart is not burden free. But there is a feeling of relief akin to joy to be able to put one of my worries to rest. Jordan is safe. No more harm can come to him.

“When I die, let these bones take root, let the seed that been planted let ‘em come up bearing fruit”