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 ‘Christmas’

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

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My Christmas Letter

Dear Jordan,

I sat down many times in the last month trying to write a holiday letter to send out to friends and family. This year like last, I wasn’t up to sending out Christmas cards and felt so guilty about it. Every time I tried to write, the words wouldn’t come. I finally realized why. The person I most want to write to is you. I miss you. It is Christmas again and I’d give anything to hear you singing your way through the holidays. I’m finally able to listen to “This Christmas.” For the past 2 years if I heard it on the radio or my Ipod I immediately switched it off. It hurt too much to think of that song as timeless and you’re not here to share Christmas with us.

Merrick is home from his first semester of college. I know you are so proud of him. He loves his school and is making genuine friends who care about him. You know Merrick. He was so worried that he wouldn’t fit in. I know you are part of the reason that he stayed true to himself and let friendships evolve naturally. You always told him to, “Keep it real,” and that’s what he is doing. His spoken word poetry is a big love and you are a mainstay in his poems. He misses you so much and talks about you all the time. The other day he reminded me of how you used to act out the “Little Drummer Boy,” song. You loved Christmas so much!

Your sisters are flourishing. As they get older their memories of you seem to get stronger, not fade away as I had feared. I know you reside in their hearts and I thank you for holding them close. They both just tried out for the volleyball team and are waiting to hear the results. They’ve also followed in your acting footsteps and have been in a couple of plays.

Your dad is as busy as ever with work. He’s traveling a lot but he’s so good at finding a balance between work and home. You know your dad, family man all the way. You’ll be happy to know that all your encouraging and cajoling paid off. Your dad works out regularly and always says he wants to make you proud of him.

As for me, well like the rest of us I have good days and bad days. But the good days are starting to stretch out in frequency as I make peace in my heart that you are safe. I continue to write and hope one day soon to have my book finished. Your words, “Mom, when are you going to write your book?” echo in my head and fuel me to forge ahead writing about my precious son who left too soon.

The Christmas tree is up and all the stockings are on the mantel. Like every year past, yours is hung between Merrick’s and mine. I’ll write my little note to you on Christmas Eve as I have since you died and place it in your stocking. I imagine that one day, when my time to join you is drawing near I’ll sit and read all the notes knowing they’re filled with the love, pride and longing I have for you.

Thank you for being my son and for continuing to help me know what is good and honorable in this world. You are such a bright light.

Love,

Mama

(P.S. Hug Pop for me and tell him we’re taking care of Oma, doing the best we can to muddle through this first Christmas without him.)

Jordan on our tree-2010

Christmas Lights and Music

Christmas 2010

Every Christmas carol you can name, my father had a jazz version of it. By far though, the saxophonist Dexter Gordon’s version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was always Daddy’s favorite Christmas tune. He would play it repeatedly, interspersed with Dave Brubeck, Gene Ammons, the Drifters, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and others. But Dexter Gordon popped up in the rotation more often.  Every time I’d hear it I always sang the words in my head and felt the melancholy of the line, “Through the years we all will be together if the fates allow.”

Last year as Christmas music filled our house for the first time since Jordan died, the “fates” felt closer than ever. Daddy had already told Mark and I that 2010 would probably be the last year he’d be able to make the trip to our house for Christmas. “These old legs can’t take too much traveling anymore.”

Mark assured him, “It doesn’t matter where we have Christmas as long as we’re together. We’ll come to you. The kids are older now. We can make it work.”

And that was the plan. I’ve been steeling myself for the holidays since Daddy died in April. Christmas was by far his favorite holiday. He always stood at the bottom of the stairs so that he could see his grandchildren race down to see what was under the tree. As the kids got older and slept later he’d complain, “What’s wrong with these kids? I’m giving them 15 more minutes and then I’m waking them up. It’s Christmas!” His child like exuberance filled our house and is a tradition that will be so missed. I must now put that tradition in my heart alongside listening to Jordan sing, “This Christmas,” over and over.

Time if you let it can be a teacher. I’m learning that no matter how much my heart feels broken, it is not beyond repair. I put Christmas music on today as I begin to pull out the decorations that always grace our home. The olive wood nativity scene, the angel with the capiz shell wings and many others will be displayed throughout the house making me smile and wistful all at the same time. I put the music on shuffle and was doing fine until Dexter Gordon’s horn started to play. I could see Daddy sitting whistling along in his perfect pitch. A part of me couldn’t help but cry out, “Why couldn’t the fates allow us one more Christmas together?” Three years ago I didn’t think I’d ever be able to listen to Christmas music especially Jordan’s favorites, “This Christmas,” by Donny Hathaway and Luther Vandross’ version of “My Favorite Things.” Each year has brought a little more comfort, sprinkles of peace even as heartache so clearly still resides within me.

Mark is outside taking advantage of an unseasonably warm day to put up the Christmas lights. This year I asked him to decorate the trees outside the window of the seat I occupy most, especially when I’m sad. I asked for light and it will glow through the many nights as Christmas approaches.  I’ll never stop missing Jordan and the thought of my first Christmas without my father can only be felt in small bits. But there is light, and it is finding its way into my heart.

Jordan on our tree-2010

Daddy listening to his music-Christmas 2010

 

 

A New Year Day By Day

Well, I’m not quite sure where to begin except to say thank you to all of you who continue to visit and comment on my blog. My last post was before Christmas and the days since then have been filled with longing, bursts of  energy, sorrow, and glimpses of  hope. My parents came for Christmas as they have almost every year since Merrick was a baby. Their time here was brief, but anchored the holidays for Mark, the kids and I. They were a constant that we needed as we navigated our way through shopping, gift opening and Christmas dinner without Jordan.

The days after Christmas were spent watching, helping and encouraging Merrick as he plowed through college applications. Watching his focus and determination as he wrote about his goals and dreams, and the influence Jordan was and continues to be made me proud and weary at the same time. Merrick will be ready to go to college next year if he chooses. I wonder if I’ll ever feel right about giving the world another one of my children?  At the end of each day after reading drafts of his essay and offering comments I went to bed early needing the day to be over and wept. Jordan where are you, crossed my mind every night.

Mark and I took down the Christmas tree on January 2nd. As he stood by the tree handing me ornaments to put back in storage he said, “We did it.” I nodded knowing immediately what he meant. We made it through another holiday season, watching another year pass and trying to figure how to welcome in a new year. But he was right, we did it. We continue to live a day at a time. We toasted with champagne and sparkling cider at midnight and I said as I have every year starting in 2008, “Jordan we love you, stay with us.” And he has made his presence known. One morning during the kids’ break I woke up smiling realizing I’d dreamed of hugging Jordan. Merrick told me just yesterday that he dreamed of Jordan the night before. He said in his dream he walked downstairs and Jordan was sitting on the couch reading a book. When Jordan saw Merrick he looked up at him and gave him his, “What’s up,” nod. Lindsay  came home from school yesterday  excitedly telling me,”I got Jordan’s book in Language Arts.” A boy sitting at her table had the book Jordan used when he was in 6th grade. When Lindsay saw it she asked if they could trade. He asked, “Why?” Her reply, “It was my brother’s book,” and with a shrug he handed it to her. She was so happy to write her name on the same page as her brother.  It doesn’t feel like coincidence that of the 100’s of 6th graders, Jordan’s book would be at his sister’s table.

Relief mixed with longing are the emotions I feel as January continues. During the holidays Jordan’s absence was glaring. Being able to catch my breath and not feel so guarded against pain has been a struggle but I’m learning it is a part of the meandering path of  grief. My days are starting to regain a rhythm that isn’t measured by so many tears. We keep going.

Christmas Time Is Here

My sister Julie is one of the most creative people I know. She and her husband couldn’t be with us in Chicago to celebrate Christmas this year, but she sent her presents ahead with our parents.

A few days ago she said to me, “There’s one gift I want you to open before Christmas. It may make you a little emotional. I just wanted you to be prepared.”

“Okay, thanks for helping me get ready.”

I knew her gift would be something connected to Jordan. I wondered what it would be and figured it would be a picture she’d found and framed.

When I woke up this morning before I opened my eyes I said, “It’s Christmas Eve,” and I started to cry. Another Christmas Eve and Jordan isn’t here. I wondered, “How are we going to keep doing this without him?”

I moved closer to Mark and laid my head on his shoulder. In his sleep he made room for me and put his arm around my shoulder. He woke up as he felt my shoulders shake from sobs. No words were needed. He held me until I reached for a tissue.

“Where are you going,” he asked.

“I have to go out and get pastries for breakfast. Mama and Daddy want those carrot cake teacakes from Bleeding Heart Bakery.”

“Can I go with you?”

“Yeah, that would be good.”

“Let’s stick closer together today okay?”

Through tears I nodded and said, “Okay, that sounds good.”

When we came home with the pastries I asked my mom about the gift Julie wanted me to open early. Mom retrieved the gift from a shopping bag and handed it to me. I started to cry as soon as I saw Julie’s customized wrapping paper. Here is the paper:

Jordan and Lego Santa

Paper is emblazoned with a line from, "My Favorite Things."

If you look closely there is a picture of Jordan taken by one of his friends next to a Lego Santa. The paper also has the words, “Brown paper packages tied up in string,” a line from, “My Favorite Things.” Jordan loved listening to Coltrane’s version of this song, especially at Christmas time.

I gazed at the paper taking in every detail and carefully opened it truly feeling that old adage, “It’s too pretty to open,” but I’m so glad I did. Over an orange cranberry teacake and a cup of coffee, I felt Jordan next to me as I opened the beautiful package. Inside the box was an ornament that Julie made for our Jordan section of the tree. She took a small canvas and made a beach scene complete with sand and shells. It has a beach chair beckoning Jordan to come and sit awhile. On the edge of the chair is a miniature version of the book, “Holler If You Hear Me, “ by one of Jordan’s favorite authors Michael Eric Dyson. Every time I look at the ornament I imagine Jordan approaching the beach chair ready to resume his reading and soak up the sun. Thank you Julie for helping me feel Jordan on Christmas Eve.

Jordan's Ornament

Worldwide Candle Lighting

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Decorate A Christmas Tree

While driving my daughters home from school the other day, one of my daughters asked, “Mama, can we put all of the ornaments that Jordan made in a box and then have one special section of the tree that’s just for his ornaments?”

Luckily I was at a red light because tears sprang to my eyes as I said, “I think that’s a beautiful idea.”

Both girls asked at the same time, “Why are you crying?”

“Because I’m imagining our tree and I like your idea so much. It’s beautiful. I’m crying too because I miss Jordan.”

One daughter handed me a tissue, as the other rubbed my back.

“It’s okay, Mama.”

“I know. Thank you”

 

We’ve yet to get our Christmas tree. Before Jordan died we went as a family to pick out a tree. Everyone weighed in before we would make our final decision on our perfect tree. Jordan always liked the fuller trees with the feathery leaves. Mark wanted the tallest tree our house could hold. Merrick, the girls and I liked the trees with the firmer branches that were taller and not as wide. Every year after we’d picked a tree I would race back to the car, fleeing the cold. I’d sit and watch Mark with the kids trailing behind him or swirling around him.

The family ritual of all of us piling into the car and heading to the same lot every year to choose a tree has changed. Since Jordan died, just Mark and I go to pick out a tree. Our first Christmas, Mark and I went to a tree lot we had never been to before and picked up our Christmas tree on the way home from the grocery store. It wasn’t a decision we discussed, but as we turned onto Chicago Avenue I looked at Mark and said, “Let’s just get the tree here.” He made a quick right turn and parked. We hadn’t talked to the kids about changing our ritual but neither one of us could bear to go as a family to pick out a tree without Jordan.

Our first Christmas tree without Jordan was decorated only with lights. None of us could bear our usual tradition of gathering around the tree, adding ornaments while Mark played Christmas carol DJ, responding to the shouted out requests, “Play Rudolph,” “No, it my turn, Jackson 5, “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.” Invariably Jordan would sneak over and switch the music to, “This Christmas,” by Donny Hathaway and his siblings would shout out together, “Jordan!”

Last year Merrick suggested a new Christmas ritual. “How about if we put an ornament on the tree whenever we feel like it instead of doing it together. We can just do it when we’re walking by the tree if we feel like it. Let’s not make a big deal out of it.”  We all agreed and over several days our tree was slowly filled with ornaments. There was even a moment when I went into the living room

After listening to Lindsay’s suggestions for our tree this year, I thought of other “ornaments,” that can adorn our tree. Jordan’s key ring, which still holds his house keys, will be hung from a branch. A set of ear buds will be on the tree too representing the way Jordan carried music with him all the time. And an ornament will be made out of a picture of Jordan wearing one of his favorite hoodies, the way we remember him best. All of these ornaments will be in a box near the tree. Each of us in our own time and communion with Jordan will add them to the tree keeping him close and a part of our Christmas.

 

Christmas 2007

Jordan breaking out in song

 

 

 

The picture of Jordan that will made into an ornament