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 ‘brothers’

Changing Traditions And A Christmas Gift From Beyond

Our last Christmas with Jordan, 2007

Our last Christmas with Jordan, 2007

Dear Jordan,

It is Christmas day, 2012 and it has been 5 years since our family tradition of you shepherding your brother and sisters down the stairs so that your dad could get that first reaction picture of Christmas morning. Of course the holidays bring out the longing for you in a most poignant way. Time has eased some of the pain and I’m able to listen to your favorite Christmas songs this year for the first time, even though it isn’t without tears. Donny Hathaway’s, “This Christmas” and Coltrane’s, “Favorite Things,” transplant me back to the days of you crooning your way through the house decked out in your Santa hat, sipping eggnog. I’m able to smile through some of these tears and I pray that you hear me when I talk to you. We are changed, as of course we should be, and there has been growth and grace that has infused all of us. We speak your name everyday. You always live in our hearts and your name and a Jordan story is never far from our lips.

We are making our way through the holidays and learning to keep you with us as well as find new ways to learn to celebrate and feel joy, with the knowledge that we’ll be united again. We’ve changed some traditions because the weight of attempting them without you here to participate was too great. The Christmas tree is now adorned with lights and a few ornaments, although while I don’t push anyone else, I’ve taken over a good deal of the tree decorating. I even have a special “Jordan” section where I hang pictures of you, ornaments that Julie made, as well as all of the ornaments you always insisted on putting on the tree. Don’t worry the nutcracker is in your section.

Jordan's version of Santa

Jordan’s version of Santa

Your brother and sisters have the most trouble with the tree which just exemplifies how much you were/are their beacon for certain things. We no longer go as a family to pick out the tree. Merrick, Lindsay and Kendall politely respond, “No thank you,” when we ask them if they’d like to go with us to tree shop. Your dad and I have found a new lot to go to where we spend less than ten minutes, always finding the perfect tree in record time. I always feel like you’re steering us to just the right place. Gone too are the days of all of us decorating the tree together with Christmas music playing in the background. Merrick asked on the first Christmas we spent without you if we could just leave the ornaments out and when you felt like it, you could place one on the tree. That has turned into our new tradition. Your siblings make their way to the tree in solitude, I’m sure thinking of you. I’ll go into the living room periodically and see that they’ve hung their photo ornaments and maybe a jingle bell or two.

In the midst of the season I’ve had my moments of doubt as to whether I could make it through without falling apart. I said to a few friends that I wish I could just sleep until January 3rd and not have to feel the anxiety and angst of missing you that always creeps into my spirit no matter how hard I try to breathe through the pain. All of these thoughts occurred in the frenzy of the Christmas rush when I was shopping, thinking of the tree and wondering how I would muster cheer when the greatest gift I wanted was you ambling down the stairs with the rest of the kids. I took a moment to imagine such a plan and realized it would leave me missing out on so much of the life force that are our family, friends and even me. Plus, I’d never want to miss a glimpse of you and your spirit.

I’m getting better, feeling the heaviness of sorrow less and accepting healing more. Healing comes in so many forms and this year it was allowing myself to weep openly in front of your dad instead of retreating to the bathroom before we came downstairs this Christmas morning, saying aloud what I think so many times, “How did we lose a son?” The tears are cleansing and every year finds me stronger and more resolute in the fact that I indeed am the mother of four with three surviving children.

One present I gave myself this year was the decision that I don’t have to think of you as forever 19. You would be 23 years old now and when I sit and close my eyes, I see your beautiful brown eyes, the way your jaw would have become more angled with age, the bass that has settled into your voice and of course your smile. You will grow older with me. It is a perfect solution to a problem that felt unsolvable.  Thank you for my Christmas gift.

Love,

Mama

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.

 

Quote

A Question For God

I didn’t recognize him at first. The sun was in my eyes and the girls were the first to point him out. “There he is Mama. Merrick’s right there.” I squinted and looked closer and there was my boy waiting to be picked up from the airport, home for spring break. My heart raced and ached at the same time. This situation was one I’d grown accustomed to. Picking Jordan up from the airport while he was away at school I was met with the same stance. There Merrick stood looking so much like his brother, hands in his pockets, backpack slung over one shoulder, nodding his head to let me know he saw me. It was all so familiar. As he got into the car mobbed by his sisters and reaching out to hug me I felt relief that he was home, gratitude that he looked well and sadness that I’d never get to pick his brother up from the airport again. All those emotions coursing through me at the same time, barely able to recognize one before the next bombarded me. Merrick is home and I’m so glad. I get to feed him and care for him and listen to all that has happened since he was home last, just like I did with Jordan. My joy is weighted down with the heaviness of longing and I can’t deny it. I would have given anything to have the girls as we pulled up at the airport point and say, “There they are Mama, there they are.”

I know Jordan can’t come home like he used to but the eerie familiarity of going through the same routine with Merrick that I did with Jordan takes more energy than I have sometimes. I miss Jordan and am overjoyed to see Merrick at the same time. Those two feelings housed inside me overflowed yesterday and all I could do was sit on the patio and cry. I cried and I asked God, “Why? Why did Jordan have to die?” The “whys” haven’t surfaced in a long time. But yesterday for a little while I wanted an answer from God. I wanted to know why I can’t sit around my kitchen table and look at the faces of all of my children and my husband. I wanted all of my family back. It was a why me moment that I gave into and let the tears fall.

As the tears subsided I remembered back to the day after Jordan died when I first asked God, “Why Jordan?” The answer I received came from a surprising voice. Jordan clearly spoke to me and simply said, “Why not me?”

Jordan’s response gave me my answer as unsettling as it was and is. My family has not been spared the death of a loved one. Jordan’s answer is one that grounds me to the fact that we aren’t alone. There are many families just like us longing to have that seat at the table filled again.

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

Finding Different Ways To Mother My Children

A new friend made this button for my blog so that even as I mourn not being able to see Jordan graduate from college I can proudly honor him and show how proud I am of my son. I invite all of you to help me commemorate Jordan’s graduation by tying a purple ribbon on a tree in your yard on May 22nd(graduation day) and/or place this “button” on your blog or Facebook page. Thank you all for the support, kindness and love you continue to give me.

One of the things my father said to me before he died was, “Jordan is alright. You have to believe that, so you can move on with your life. I know you hurt, and the hurt doesn’t just go away, but he was a good boy and he’s alright.” Daddy’s words tug at the part of me that now holds the, “shoulds.” Jordan should still be alive like the other boys in the car. Jordan should be graduating from college. Jordan should be sharing in Merrick’s excitement about going off to school.

As much as I feel the weight of the “shoulds,” there is a gradual lessening of the heartache that paralyzed me for so long. Acceptance sidles up next to me like a timid but persistent bird looking for a perch. There are times when it stays for a little while but then scampers off when I turn suddenly, feeling something foreign sitting too close. The trick I think is to not be afraid of being still and letting all the hurt and longing that need to flow do so at will. Then my heart which is the perch for acceptance can receive it without fear that even though my son is gone from this earth, I can always keep him with me. It is a mighty, exhausting task and some days I wonder if my perch will ever be ready.

Steps are being taken that make me feel able to bring forth the pride I have in Jordan without so much of the regret that he’s not here. The weekend of April 15th  a week after visiting my dad in the hospital, Mark, Merrick and I traveled to Amherst, MA. It was our first time back since Jordan died. Our trip was for Merrick who has decided upon a college that is in the same town where his brother went to school. Merrick deliberated and made his choice with wisdom and much thought. Merrick’s story will be told at another time.

While Merrick had his Accepted Students overnight at his new school, Mark faced many of the memories he had when he dropped Jordan off for his sophomore year.

“That’s the movie theatre we went to after we got Jordan’s stuff out of storage. I had to run to Best Buy while he was setting up his room because he needed another cable for his computer.”

With each remark I’d nod or give an, “uh huh,’ as I kept my hand on his arm while we drove back to the hotel after the parent reception. The drive we took from the airport led us into town a different route than when we dropped Jordan off at school. We didn’t have to pass Amherst College that first day and I was so relieved. That first day, just being in the town was enough to make me tremble. I wanted my attention to be on being Merrick’s parent as he visited his new school.

I knew we’d see the school the next day because we brought some of Jordan’s ashes with us to spread on campus. It was a last minute decision which meant that I searched frantically online for an appropriate travel urn and then paid dearly for it to be shipped overnight so we would have it before our trip. This trip was our first time spreading any of Jordan’s ashes and as Amherst’s commencement draws near I wanted a part of Jordan to be on campus. I asked Mark to look up where the ceremony would be held and he found out it would be on the Main Quad. The other urgency I felt in taking Jordan’s ashes with us on this trip is because I knew the next time we would be in Amherst would be to settle Merrick into his new dorm. The two events could not coincide, not if I want Merrick to feel and know that soon this little town that our oldest boy loved will be our youngest son’s place too. He will have our full attention as we go through the ritual so many parents do as they take their child to college.

We told Merrick ahead of time that we were bringing Jordan’s ashes with us. The Saturday of our visit there were sessions for students and parents at Merrick’s new school. We met him there that morning and sat in on a Q & A for parents while Merrick attended one of the student panels. I sat there partially amazed and partially dumbfounded that not only was I sending my second child off to school but that he was just a few miles from where his brother used to go. Looking around the room I saw the anxiety and pride that all of the parents shared. I then marveled that I was able to sit and listen without having to flee the room in tears. As much as I couldn’t imagine the moment of fully accepting Merrick being a college student, there I sat becoming informed about the journey and adventure that lay ahead for him. Mark and I sat in the front row, even though we got there a bit late. We squeezed each other’s hands as we sat down. Having that deja vu feeling, both of us remembering sitting in a similar room a lifetime ago when Jordan started school. Mark in typical fashion pulled out a notepad and pen, took notes and asked a few questions. I sat watching and listening as the other parents asked questions about meal plan, first year courses and dorm selection. With every answer given by the faculty and administration I felt more and more comfortable that Merrick was right, this was the school for him.

When he first told us that it was his first choice his dad said to him, “Merrick, I don’t know about this. You going to school in the same town that Jordan went to would be hard on your mom and I. I don’t know if we can do it.”

Merrick thought for a moment and then explained to his dad all the wonderful opportunities the school held for him and that he’d found it not because of its location but because of what it had to offer. He ended by saying, “Dad, you and Mom will be all right.” Somehow we are, because we made our way back for the first time to Amherst and are starting to see it through Merrick’s eyes.

After the panel discussion we met Merrick in the lobby of the building and told him we were going over to Amherst to spread Jordan’s ashes. I asked him, “It’s totally up to you. I know there’s another seminar on music you want to go to, but you can come with us if you like. Whatever you decide is okay.”

“No, I didn’t get to see Jordan’s body after he died. I want to go with you.”

We walked to the car with Merrick animatedly recounting his evening and the students he’d met. We all piled into the car and silence overtook us. We made the quick drive to, “Jordan’s school” and got out of the car with Mark holding the travel urn which is shaped like a book with images of Copernicus’ drawings on it. I looked up as we walked and realized we’d parked right by the library. I reached for the urn,

“I want to spread some ashes here. Jordan always called me when he was on his way to the library. I want a part of him to always be here. I took the plastic bag out of the urn and spread ashes in the bushes by the library saying,

“Jordan, I love you and I miss you.”

When I finished, tears already falling, we walked up the steps and made our way to the main quad. Mark looked at me and asked, “Where do you want to spread them?”

“Let’s put them around the trees right here.”

Mark took the bag first, “Jordan, we will always be proud of you,” and shook some of the ashes around one of the trees. The wind blew slightly and the ashes mingled with the air.

I took the bag next, “Even though we don’t get to see you graduate I’m so glad a part of you will always be here.”

Turning towards Merrick, I asked, “Do you want to spread some of his ashes?”

Merrick shook his head, “yes,” and took the bag from my hands.

As he bent over carefully shaking ashes at the base of one of the trees he quietly said, “Thanks for always believing in me.”

Mark and I openly cried with Merrick standing between us, putting his hands on our shoulders. We continued walking to the place where we’d taken the first picture of Jordan as an Amherst freshman. Students walked by in groups laughing and talking and some of them stealing looks at this threesome with such solemn expressions. We reached the memorial honoring veterans who’d attended Amherst with the beautiful mountain range in the background. As we reached the spot Mark openly sobbed. I guided him to a bench by the memorial and sat next to him rubbing his back as we both cried. I looked at him and realized that there were splotches of ashes visible on his black trench coat. I started to brush them off but Mark leaned into me and I wrapped my arms around him telling him, “It’s okay we can take as long as we need.”

Merrick stood a few feet away from us then came over and said, “Dad, I can do it for you. Just tell me where you want me to spread them.”

Mark wiped his eyes. “No son, thank you, I need to do this.”

Merrick and I sat together on the bench as Mark went to the shrubs by the memorial whispering something we couldn’t hear and spreading the remainder of the bag of ashes. After he was done he came and sat with us, the three of us looking out at the horizon. I stole a look at my watch and realized we needed to get going back to the airport. Mark stood, pulled out his camera and took one last picture of the memorial where Jordan proudly stood as an incoming freshman. The space where Jordan once stood was now empty.  Jordan wasn’t there to frame the view in the distance. But he was there. We made sure of it. He’ll always have a place at, “his school.”

Picture of memorial taken after we spread Jordan's ashes 4/2011

Jordan standing atop a memorial during his first day at Amherst College. 8/07