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 ‘birthdays’

Family Reunion- Dreamscape

I rarely have dreams of Jordan. I wake up sometimes with the vague feeling that he’s visited me in my sleep but I can’t remember any details. A few mornings ago the “Jordan was here,” feeling was with me. It wasn’t until I was taking a shower that I remembered my dream.

We’re in our old house. Mark, Lindsay, Merrick, Kendall and I are standing at the base of the stairs in the basement of our old house.

“Where is he?” is the impatient question from Lindsay.

“I don’t know I’ll text him.”

Right as I’ve typed the words, “where are you” into my phone, the door to the basement opens. Standing in the doorway is Jordan with a white, diffused light framing him. I’m facing the door and see him first. I can see him so clearly. The coffee with extra cream complexion, the light brown eyes that everyone says he got from me, his black hair closely cropped, like he’d just come from the barbershop and the smile that is almost as bright as the light.

Just as I’m about to shout, “He’s here,” Jordan raises a finger to his lips to silence me. He wants his entrance to be a surprise. I nod and watch as he starts down the stairs.

All their heads turn at the sound of his feet on the stairs and in unison they cry out, “Jordan,” as I watch, beaming. Mark gets to him first and pulls him in with one arm and plants a kiss on his cheek. Even though I can’t make out what’s being said, their voices are an intermingling of energy and excitement.

Lindsay, Kendall and Merrick rush towards Jordan and he reaches out to them with his right arm never releasing the embrace of his dad. I stumble towards them, smiling so hard that my face hurts. I loop my arm around Mark’s waist and he squeezes me tight. With my left arm I encircle our children and my hand rests on Jordan’s shoulder. I take in the moment, feeling the weight and texture of our entanglement. I breathe in the scents of hair, breath, comfort, safety, and shared joy that infuse our embrace.

WE are here!

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To Jordan On His 23rd Birthday

August 9, 2012

Dear Jordan,

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Mama

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

 

Birthday wishes from afar

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

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

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

Love, Jordan”

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

I woke up.  Composed and sent this email.

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

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

I love you now and obviously, forever. 

Mark

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

Dropping Jordan off at college

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

To Jordan On His 22nd Birthday

Dear Jordan,

This is my 3rd letter to you on your birthday. What I wouldn’t give to be able to hug you and hold you close while saying, “happy birthday.” That dream/wish is no different from years past. Life of course continues to move forward and I feel shifts inside of me that let me know that your absence in our everyday lives has taken nothing away from the fullness I feel of you in my heart. Relationships are eternal and loving you is a fact of my life.

Pop is with you now. Before he died he counseled me on the worry about you that lingers within me. His wisdom helps me be still and find a modicum of peace. “Jordan is okay, you have to believe that so you can move on. He’s alright,” were some of his last words to me. I am learning to accept that fact and find comfort in your grandfather being there to talk jazz with you and maybe even play a little poker.

Your sisters just turned 12 and no one can believe how tall they’re getting and what lovely young ladies they are becoming. They both got braces about a month ago. Every other question they had was about your experience when you got braces. “Did Jordan say it hurt when they put them on?” “Did he ever chew gum?” “How long did he have to wear them?”, and on and on. You remain the benchmark for so many experiences for your siblings.

Merrick will be off to college in a few weeks and has chosen a school in Amherst, MA. When he first approached your dad and I with his first choice we told him, “Merrick this might be hard for us, you going to school so close to where Jordan was.” His response would have made you proud.

“You’ll be alright Mom and Dad. This is the right place for me.”

When we visited I knew he was right. I think too that being close to where you chose to go to school brings him a bit of comfort. During the school year he wore his Amherst College sweatshirt whenever he studied or had a paper to write. He said wearing it made him feel more studious and serious the way you were when you did homework.

Of course I worry about him going away and wonder how I’ll keep myself from “popping into Massachusetts just to check on him. Whenever I have these thoughts I hear your voice in my head.

“Mom, Merrick is gonna be fine. He’ll figure things out.”

I hope you’re right. I know that he misses you so much and all the questions he has about college and what the first year are like, are questions he only wants to ask of you. I ache for him when his longing for you overwhelms him. Please watch over him and find ways to whisper your guidance to your brother. He needs to feel your presence.

You’d be surprised how much you still make your brother and sisters laugh. Their latest thing is trying to imitate that crazy bark laugh that you used to make out of the blue. I watch them, smiling as they stand together loving you as only siblings can.

Missing you will always be a part of my life. Some things are getting easier though. Your dad and I have started spreading your ashes in different places wanting you to be everywhere. Your ashes are on the main campus of your college and when we spread Pop’s ashes in West Virginia, I threw a bit of your ashes into the waterfall watching them mix and flow with your grandfather’s. Before he died, he responded with gladness when I asked him if you could be with him in this way. If there were a way I could toss your ashes into the wind and watch them float high and wide like helium balloons to all corners of the earth I would.

Yesterday I rode my bike to your tree. I had a plastic bag filled with your ashes in my pocket, determined that you would grace the tree and land of the place where you spent so much of your early years. Today I will bury some of your ashes at the base of  the sumac tree we planted in our meditation garden to keep a part of you always at home with us. The garden is now filled with flowers and plants that promise color almost year round. When I sit on the bench in the garden looking at the cherub statue reading I imagine you lounging outside reading as you did so often.

“Jordan would love this garden,” crosses my mind every time I’m out there. I push away thoughts that we probably wouldn’t have the garden if you were still alive. It is enough that you would love it and that I feel close to you when I’m there.

We’ve hung our “Jordan banner” on the front porch again this year. Celebrating you will never grow tiresome. Today you would be 22 years old. I wonder what direction your interests would have taken you. Would you be in NY with Matt guiding the world of hip-hop into the future? Would you be on Capitol Hill continuing to strive for social justice? I’m left with imaginings. As difficult as this day is I know I’ll get through it. That’s something I couldn’t say with much assuredness in the months after you died. Time does bring about a change, as Nanny would say. We keep going and you my beautiful boy will always be in our hearts. You are forever my son and I am forever the mother of four.

Missing you and loving you,

Mama

Jordan with his Pop

Our meditation garden

August 2nd, 2011

A week has gone by and in that week, were the girls’ birthday, their recital for music camp and the unavoidable reality that school will start soon. As the girls’ birthday approached, this year seemed harder than last. Time keeps moving and birthdays are such a testament to that fact. They’re 12 now, about to start 7th grade and I know the drill. Middle school is like catching a tailwind. School years start to go at a dizzying pace and before I know it they will be visiting the high school for orientation and then deciding where they want to go to college. I had the same feeling with Jordan and Merrick. I didn’t expect time to feel so fleeting it just did.

All through the day as I ran around wishing I’d had the energy in the days before to do some of the errands for their birthday, but knowing that sadness had kept me out of the stores. Birthdays are difficult at our house no matter how hard we try to lighten the mood and put on a festive air. Since Jordan’s death, all of us feel his absence and wish that we could hear him singing, “Happy birthday.” We all miss Jordan, and birthdays while special carry a wistfulness that can’t be ignored. Even 12 year olds get the blues.

One of my daughters who’d been struggling at camp because of one harsh and critical teacher started having nightmares that this teacher kept telling her in the dream that her life was easy. She woke up in tears explaining to her dad, “In the dream I had to tell him what happened to Jordan. Just because I’m a kid doesn’t mean life is easy.”

That’s where our family stands. I watch the girls and try to infuse enthusiasm into their birthdays but a part of that over the top glee left when Jordan died. Instead of focusing exclusively on their day, they talk of his birthday being a week after theirs. They ask if we’re having a party for him this year (Not this year). More than ever I take responsibility for making sure that there is a dividing line between August 2nd and August 9th. I can’t change the fact that their birthdays are 7 days apart. They can be encircled on their day focusing on how much more beautiful the world became on the day they were born.

Their birthday was a special day. While they were off at camp, even though they wanted to take the day off (Mark and I explained to them that their birthday was not a national holiday), I ran around buying outfits for each of them, getting balloons (we always have balloons) and not being able to resist buying a purple sock monkey for my daughter who is in love with monkeys. Their big present was tickets to the Chicago Fire professional soccer teams’ game the next night.

We kept our usual tradition and went out to dinner and were home for Sprinkles cupcakes adorned with “L” and “K” candles to blow out while we sang, “Happy Birthday.” They smiled, sitting next to each other, as they always do when they open presents. Hearty laughs erupted from all of us as the girls received their hand drawn card from Merrick which included one, “Annoyance free week” courtesy of him. We sat around the kitchen table with Mark and me stealing glances at each other. So much love in our home and laughter still floating to the rafters. All of our children’s birthdays are special. Sadness weaves in and out of the day, but in the end we celebrate and are grateful for every moment we have together.

For The Birthday Girls

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