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 ‘college dorms’

The Snowy Day and a Friendly Intervention

 

I was outside with the kids on their snow day as they attempted to turn a 5 ft snowdrift located right in front of the garage into a sledding hill, while Mark used the snow blower to clear our driveway and sidewalks. Merrick’s first comment when he came outside was, “Hey Mom, this is the kind of day Jordan and I dreamed about. A snow day like this where we could build tunnels and snow forts, a day just like this.”

I stood watching him for a second imagining what he was imagining and found that my only reply was, “uh huh.” I thought about saying, well your sisters would love to build a fort with you, but I’m so glad I didn’t. When I thought about how saying that would sound, it reminded me of one of those well-meaning comments like, “At least you have the other children to keep you busy.” Merrick had a specific image in mind and the people in it were he and Jordan.

The kids and Mark ended up staying outside much longer than I did. After shoveling part of the deck and snapping pictures of the blizzard aftermath, I was ready to come inside. The cold was making it’s way to my fingertips always a sign that lupus was at work. After pulling off my boots and hanging up my coat, I assigned myself to chuck wagon duty.  I found a container of turkey hash in the freezer that my parents made when they were here for Christmas. It would be the perfect warm-up meal and give me something to do so I didn’t feel like I was wimping out by not being outside.

The hash was going to take a while to warm so I found some leftover spaghetti in the fridge and heated that up for myself even though I was tempted to wait by the aroma of the turkey, potatoes and onions. I could hear Lindsay and Kendall playing and the steady sound of the snow blower so I knew it would be awhile before everyone came in. Everyone. Kendall said earlier in the day when she realized her dad was staying home too, “We’re all here together.” Her words wandered through my head as I ate and then I just laid my fork down and put my head in my hands. I sat at the table and tears filled my voice as I said aloud, “I miss you Jordan. I want to call you and talk to you today.” I invited all the lurking sadness to sit with me awhile without fear of being shooed away.

Sitting and crying I knew I couldn’t have what I wanted. I wanted to send Jordan pictures of his siblings trying to sled down the 5 ft snowdrift in front of the garage and of his dad snow blowing the driveway so bundled, that all you could see was his nose. Jordan knew how much his dad hated the cold. I wanted to call him and make sure he was prepared for the storm coming his way and that he was safe and warm and dry.

While I sat, I allowed myself to imagine what Jordan would be doing, something I haven’t been able to do very often anymore. With eyes closed, I saw him studying and hanging out in the hallway of his dorm talking to friends. The images came so readily and then just as quickly they dissipated.  I got up and cleared my lunch dishes and resigned myself to a wistful day.

I wandered over to the couch and sat down with my laptop.  I looked at my emails to find that Jordan’s friend Kathryn had emailed me with, “just checking in,” as the subject line. She told me about her classes and how she’d been thinking of the family and me. I wrote her back immediately telling her she was the warmth and sunshine I needed at just the right time. My melancholy was getting mixed with a little joy. After I emailed Kathryn I decided to email Jordan’s friend Matt. Kathryn told me that she’d spoken with him a few days before. In my email to her I closed by saying, “I’m so glad two of Jordan’s favorite people are becoming such good friends.”

I didn’t get to see Matt over the holidays and it felt like the right time to reach out to him, so I extended the check-in started by Kathryn. After asking about his classes and after graduation plans, on an impulse I sent him hometown pictures of all the snow and one of Merrick in an, “American Gothic,” pose, shovel in hand.

When I closed my laptop after writing the emails I noticed the difference in how I felt. I said a silent thank you to Jordan for sending his friends to me, so that missing him hurt a little less.

Jordan’s Snow Days

Christmas in Ohio 1990 Jordan's first snow. Mark is shovelling in the background.

Still loving playing in the snow as a teenager

 

Trial Run

“We’ll take him there. We’ll get him settled and he’ll have a good time.” I wake up in the middle of the night repeating what has become my new mantra. Merrick is off to a pre-college program for 6 weeks and I’m trying to figure out how I will allow my son to leave home for most of the summer without going mad. Jordan is gone, and can’t come back home. Everyday I live with the loss of my son. I’m stuck in a paradox of knowing that a lifetime ago, Jordan went away to college and didn’t come home. On this new journey the scars of loss cloud my judgment about what are the right experiences for my children to have. Merrick wants to go away and I don’t know if I can give the world another one of my children. I can’t lose another son and yet I know I have to let him go. I’m helping him prepare to go.

I’m filling out health forms, signing residence hall forms and buying supplies. I’ve done all of these things before. I helped Jordan prepare for college and for a summer program when he was in high school. Merrick in his excitement about his own pre-college program when he saw hesitation on my face countered with, “But Jordan went away when he was in high school.”  I watch Merrick’s face, seeing the excitement and anticipation. I remember back to Jordan’s summer away and how much it enriched him. I take in all of this information and know that it is Merrick’s turn to get the trial run at the college experience.

Merrick’s words are ringing in my ears as I try to ready myself to have him gone for 6 weeks this summer. He is so excited and rightfully so. It’s his turn to experience life as an almost college student. Jordan will forever be his role model and he looks forward to following in his footsteps by having his own adventure. I can’t tell him not to go without exposing the selfishness behind the act. “Stay home so I don’t worry every time the phone rings.”

“Stay home so I can hug you when I say goodnight to you.”

“Stay home because I can’t lose anymore children.”

“Stay home so I can feel like you’re safe.”

I could keep him home, find a program in Chicago that would suit his needs. But I know that if I start changing the trajectory of my children’s dreams I’m limiting their lives. I don’t want them to live afraid or to refuse opportunities for fear of worrying me. I have to adapt to my new reality. A reality that has an oldest child killed in a car accident and three younger children with full lives ahead of them learning how to be excited about life. I watch myself as I talk to Merrick about his time away. I encourage him to take advantage of the weekend getaways. I tell him, “You’re in a part of the country you’ve never been to before. Make sure you explore and see new things.” I caution him against spending too much time alone in his room. “Interact with your peers. Spending too much time alone will lead to feeling depressed. Take advantage of this opportunity.” I say all of these things to my son all the while wondering if I’m doing the right thing. A part of me wants to watch over him every moment. To tell him to come home at the first signs of homesickness, but I don’t. I tell him I’m excited for him, that he’ll need adjustment time but his experience will be good. I cheer him on even though my mind is screaming at me to make him stay home as though I can ward off danger if I keep him close.

In spite of my fears and because of faith we drive Merrick to his summer program. Mark, the girls and I help him get settled into his room and tour the campus with him. We meet his roommate and the Resident Assistants on his floor. We are in so many ways the typical family. As we prepare to leave to drive back to Chicago we all give Merrick one last hug and tell him we’ll call him when we’re home. Lindsay bursts into tears as soon as Merrick walks back to his dorm. I hold her close telling her I know she’ll miss him. I look back to see Merrick loping up the steps back into his dorm without a backward glance. His adventure begins.

My mind and heart continue to be in conflict. There are no quick fixes or instruction manuals on learning how to live, love and parent after losing a child. My mind nags me, making me question the wisdom of letting Merrick go away. It says “keep him home at all costs. Letting go is how you lost Jordan.” My heart even though it is bathed in sorrow still makes room for hope and pockets of joy. I won’t let my fears derail my children’s futures. I have to lead with my heart, summoning strength and courage to be the mother my children need. I’ll cheer them on and applaud all their accomplishments hoping for safe travels and always, always hoping that they come home.

Facebook-Generation Y Keeps In Touch

Right now I’m trying to prepare myself to wistfully watch college kids trickle back home for the summer. I know I’ll do my usual double take at young men that remind me of my son Jordan. I know they’re not he but my gaze will linger on their walk or the backs of their heads. I will imagine for just a moment that it is my boy and he’s come home.

Jordan can’t come home anymore and some days that fact is easier to bear than others. One day a few weeks ago I was cleaning out my inbox on our main computer. I’d hesitated to do this task because I wasn’t sure how I’d react to seeing old messages from Jordan. I shouldn’t have worried. Every message I found from him made me smile. I sat at the computer reading his sometimes too brief notes with such contentment. I felt as if I’d rediscovered a cache of letters buried deep in a drawer. Every email was a treasure no matter how banal. They were notes from my boy to me; nothing could be more priceless.

Email was one way I kept in touch with Jordan while he was away at Amherst College. Some of his emails were his paper assignments from his History or Political Science classes for my review. I was so honored that he trusted my opinion. It marked a milestone in our relationship, him seeking out my advice. He like most adolescents went through the phase where any suggestion I offered had to be debated or rejected. Looking over his papers in middle school and high school were torturous sessions. College though, was different. The maturity Jordan was showing made me so proud. We shared a love of reading and then he allowing me into his world of writing.

Jordan and I also routinely emailed articles we thought the other would find interesting. Jordan’s wit and his opinion of my generation were exemplified in the articles he chose to send me. I found emails from Jordan in my inbox that included an article from the July/August 2008 Atlantic Monthly, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/6868/, also articles from his college newspaper, and my favorite, an article from the NY Times entitled, /Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK) by Laura M. Holson.

I have never been very technically savvy. My husband and children lead the way in all things new and computers are no exception. Jordan and I had the same type of cell phone and he taught me as best he could how to send text messages. I realized that if I didn’t learn how to text I wouldn’t have much contact with him when he was away at school. He rarely checked voicemail messages but would respond quickly if I left him a text message. I used the cell phone to make calls; he used it to send text messages. I remember asking him about the feature that showed in “ghost writing” an anticipation of the word you were typing. I asked him to show me how to text faster by using this feature. He explained how it worked and I must have looked as confused as I felt because he finally said, “That’s the advanced class, just work on regular texting for now.” I still haven’t made it to the “advanced class.”

Jordan and his friends used forms of communication that at times led me to wonder how close their friendships were. Everything seemed virtual. They texted in clipped abbreviated grammar, they “talked” on Facebook but rarely unless they were face-to-face did they hear each other’s voices and hold conversations. Jordan and I would debate the lack of what I considered “real” talk between he and his friends. I teased him that their lack of talking and writing, would make it hard for them to communicate more broadly when they needed to. He always gave me the same response; I didn’t understand his generation. They didn’t need to communicate the way I did with my friends he would tell me. They stayed in touch with each other and that in his mind was the important thing. He also predicted that my mode of communication would become outdated and I would find myself texting more and talking via phone less. Time will tell.

When my sons were younger, I signed up for Facebook after reading about and hearing from friends how it could be misused for bullying and harassment. Jordan and I were never Facebook friends though I did attempt once when he was in high school to “friend” him. My friend request to both of my sons was ignored. When I gullibly asked them if they got my request they told me as politely as they could that letting me into their Facebook world wasn’t something they planned to willingly do. I quickly learned from Jordan and Merrick that they would have to be forced to let me into their virtual friend space. I didn’t press the issue. My relationship with each of them was open and strong. I told them I trusted them and would continue to do so unless they gave me a reason not to. They understood my meaning and my Facebook page lay dormant until well after Jordan died.

“jordy! been blastin the cool thinkin bout u, missin u and lovin u.”

I have now become a voyeur in my late son’s world. Messages like the one above greet me when I go to visit my 19-year-old son Jordan’s Facebook page. Looking through the messages left by Jordan’s friends since his death on October 12th, 2008 have provided comfort and community on days when all I want is for Jordan to be a sophomore in college preparing like his friends to come home. I am so gratified to know that by dropping in on his Facebook page I’m connected to his friends who let me know with heartbreaking beauty that they miss him too and that he has not been forgotten.

After Jordan died I learned first hand about what Jordan meant about his friend’s communication skills. They’ve reached out to my family with grace and a maturity that belies their years. His close friends who were unable to attend the memorial service, some we’d never met before, made a point of coming to our home to sit with us and pay their respects. Remembrances of Jordan in the college newspaper also let us know how he was thought of:

“[Jordan] was one of the coolest, most chill dudes on campus. He had a way about him that was quiet, but he never let you forget he was in the room. He just never said anything that didn’t need to be said. He was real at all times and he was an honorable person that was fair and loyal.”

Those that weren’t able to visit, sent cards or letters with their own fond memories of Jordan that I wouldn’t otherwise know. One letter from Jordan’s friend who couldn’t attend the memorial service talked of her time working with Jordan on their high school newspaper. She wrote of a time travel game they used to play in their down time. The game involved describing what era you’d like to visit and what you would do when you got there. She ended the letter by telling me she would never forget Jordan and that all of those who played the time travel game voted Jordan most likely to fit in no matter where he landed. I treasured her words and have my moments thinking of Jordan time travelling and fitting in oh so well.

I’m still learning of the impact Jordan had on his family and friends in his time on this earth. In the hours after Jordan died I learned by accident that his younger brother posted a plaintive message on Facebook page that was the virtual equivalent of a wail. His post read, “Merrick is lifeless. A piece of him died.” Merrick left our computer open to this page and I found his message the morning of Jordan’s death by accident. I sat numbly after reading his words and for a moment was taken back to my conversations with Jordan about his generation’s way of communicating. Here in two sentences were the echoes of grief that Merrick had been unable to verbalize directly to his parents. On Facebook he laid his soul bare. Merrick expressed his sorrow and reached out to his and Jordan’s friends using the medium that reached many quickly without concern for showing his vulnerability. I ached for my son and knew by reading his words the depths of his pain. I also knew that we had to quickly find a way to let Jordan’s close friends know of his death before they learned of it virtually without benefit of comfort by family or friends. I didn’t want any of them sitting alone facing a computer screen when they learned their friend had died. My husband and I placed calls to the parents of Jordan’s closest friends who informed their children and I assume spread the word. Jordan’s college sent out a mass email alerting everyone to his death. Word spread the way of Jordan’s generation and that is one of the ways they chose to pay their respects.

After hearing of Jordan’s death, two of his friends set up a public R.I.P. page on Facebook so that his friends could post messages. I went to this page expecting to see it filled with messages honoring Jordan. I was so disappointed and confused to find it empty except for information about the memorial service. Where were Jordan’s friends? Then it hit me. They had gone to the place they always went to communicate with Jordan, his profile page. Since Jordan and I were never Facebook friends my only entry was due to Merrick leaving his Facebook page open. I went from his Facebook page to Jordan’s and was met with a flurry of postings from Jordan’s friends and acquaintances who as they said had, “dropped by.” Here was the place that held the messages meant for Jordan.

The virtual reality that is Facebook allowed Jordan’s friends to stay in touch with him in a metaphysical way that is so fittingly a part of their generation. Their shock and disbelief leapt off the page. For so many of them, Jordan’s death marked the first loss of one of their own. They came to his page to try and make sense of the unfathomable, and also I think to try and be with Jordan. There was no hint of self-consciousness as both male and female friends openly expressed their love for Jordan and their sorrow. Their vulnerability and pain were evident in all of their posts.

His friends paid their respects with transparent eloquence:

“i dont know how or why this happened to you. You were one of the nicest people Ive ever met and your smile could light up any room. you will be missed”

“Damn this is crazy Rest in peace man…”

“Jordan you are the kind of guy that no one could ever say anything negative about. A quality man I know your already making a positive impact somewhere and you will continue to do so here.”

“I don’t know if this counts, but I lit a candle for you and said the mourner’s Kaddish. I’m sure I was terrible with the Hebrew, but I don’t think you’d mind (hah, you ain’t even Jewish). You are in my thoughts and my prayers. I hope that we’ll meet again somewhere.

Sincerely, respectfully, sadly,”

The earnestness and sorrow with which they spoke to Jordan surprised and touched me. Jordan was right. There were things about the way his friends communicated that I didn’t understand. I prayed as I read their messages that they would take the time to read the messages left by others. I needed them to know that they weren’t alone in their grief. Jordan would not want them to suffer alone. In spite of the virtual nature of their contact there were tangible benefits. They like I could drop by anytime and not have to grieve alone. These children/young people/friends were spread all across the country but when they visited Jordan’s page they grieved together and celebrated Jordan’s life together. The miles that separated them didn’t matter. They didn’t need to see each other’s faces or hear each other’s voices. Their words were enough. Their words meant everything because they took the time to drop by to the one place where they all knew that they could come together and talk to and about a life well lived.

After the initial rest in peace messages, the Facebook communications did not stop. For Election Day 2008, messages to Jordan showed how well his friends knew him and his love of politics. It was a day where my husband and I casted our votes with tears in our eyes. We voted thinking of our Political Science major son Jordan and how he’d voted early via mail-in ballot. How he watched every debate with the same intensity and fervor that he watched sports on television. As we stood in disbelief casting our votes for Obama, knowing how much Jordan had been looking forward to this day, his friends posted notes on his page showing they too were thinking of him:

“Jordan as I went to the polls this morning bright and early at 6am… i thought about u… i kno u were right over me watchin witnessing this legacy that has taken place…. our votes counted and we helped change the world…. we in here Jordan -Love always and 4ever”

“Your legacy has been made. Ill see u in heaven someday. Catch u on the flip side son, Im gonna miss ya. Your vote is what changed the country.”

“JORDY!!!!!!!!!! i kno how happy you are to kno that we have a black president!!!!!! miss u much!”

I continue to be comforted every time I visit Jordan’s Facebook page. His friends wish him Happy Birthday, Happy Holidays and update him on their lives. I love that they bring Jordan forward with them in their lives. I hope they don’t mind that I drop by to gather a bit of the love they leave for my son. Some days it is what keeps me going.

Since Jordan’s death there are days when my biggest fear of him being forgotten comes forth and overpowers me. Even as I’m reassured that he won’t be by the outpouring of love towards him by his friends, my mother heart is still uncertain. When I’m having my doubts all I have to do is visit his Facebook page. There plain as day are the many notes of love, longing and good wishes from his friends. As one of his friends put it, “See you in the later.”

I’ll see you in the later too sweet son. You are missed by so many.

Jordan’s Room

I came home from my exercise class a few Saturdays ago to find Mark sitting tensely while eating lunch. He chewed mechanically as my daughters flanked him at our kitchen table. Both of them were having lunch as well but were animatedly talking to each other. As I wearily sat down to take another drink from my water bottle both girls started talking to me at the same time, “Daddy said we can have our own rooms.” I looked at Mark not knowing how to take this latest development. He looked at me with a mixture of exasperation and battle fatigue. Before I could speak Kendall said, “I’m gonna move into Jordan’s room.” “Jordan’s room,” how could she move into his room and it still be Jordan’s room? I told them their Dad and I would talk and figure out the best time for them to have separate rooms. I added, “It will probably be this summer or after your first semester of middle school.” They were in agreement with this plan and left the table talking about paint colors and how they would arrange their new rooms.

I knew the day would come when my twin daughters would want and be ready for their own rooms. I had several friends with twins older than my own, and I looked to them for guidance as to what to expect with certain situations. I knew that my daughters wouldn’t always want to share a room. One day their individual needs for privacy would override having a comrade to face fear of darkness, or a partner for late night chats. Space for them to have their own rooms wasn’t the issue. I’d just imagined it and planned it so differently than how it has turned out.

Jordan often talked about what he wanted to do after graduating from college. He wanted adventures while travelling the world and then going to grad school. I often joked with him that I would vicariously accompany him because he was living his young adult life with such excitement and voracity; exactly what his father and I wanted for him. When Jordan was away at college he typically called us on Saturday afternoons, usually with a sleepy voice. His Saturday routine was to awaken in time to make it to the dining hall before it closed and then call us when he got back to his room. He was so excited about being a sophomore and having a single room, but more excited that his dorm also housed the dining hall. He figured he could add at least fifteen minutes to his sleep regimen. When he made his Saturday calls, I usually asked him what his plans were for the weekend.  He talked of campus parties, “chillin’ in a friend’s crib” or occasionally going away for a long weekend with friends from his school or to visit friends at other colleges. One outing I remember in particular. He and his friends were going on a day trip to a park with a lake that was a few hours from school. Jordan recounted the day to me telling me that they bought food, hung out, and swam in the lake. I remember asking him why they would want to swim, because it was only May and the water in New England was still cold. He replied to me, “It was cold, but it was fun.” He then told me he was the first to jump into the water from a group of rocks that bordered the lake. Jordan brushed off my concerns reminding me that he was a certified lifeguard. I said to him, “You’re not certified to jump off rocks. Please be careful.” Whenever I told Jordan to be careful his reply was always the same, “Yes Mom, I know.”

Living life to the fullest

Jordan wanted to spend the second semester of his junior year abroad. His college had a wonderful international program and he planned to take advantage of it’s offerings. He wanted to see the world before as he said he, “got married and had kids.” Jordan’s freshman year of college  had been so good for him. He studied hard, played hard and was making lasting friendships. Whenever people asked Mark or I how Jordan was doing in school, our reply was always the same,” he’s doing well and he picked the school that’s perfect for him.”

We didn’t get the scenario we planned or prayed for. College graduation, travel adventures, marriage, and family are not to be for Jordan. His room sits empty most of the time. I look into his room and my eyes always gravitate to a poster we had in the vestibule during the Memorial Service. It is the picture of Jordan with his acceptance packet from Amherst mounted on poster board. All around the picture are messages from family and friends. There are messages from his friends that I’ve read so much I feel I know them by heart:

  • Jordan, I love you and miss you. R.I.P.
  • You are always with me.
  • You were so much in so little time.
  • R.I.P. Jordan keep making moves.
  • Your spirit lives on through those who knew you.
  • Keep smiling up there, the world needs that.

The poster sits atop his dresser, but is becoming overshadowed by clothes from the dry cleaners hanging on the door knob and Mark’s suitcase from his latest business trip on the bed. Jordan’s desk holds remnants of worksheets when one of the girls used his room to study. The girls when asked about Jordan’s room respond, “It’s kind of a storage room.”

In many respect Jordan’s room will always be at our old house. That bedroom at “1116” was the one Jordan claimed and made his own. It is the room that took him from elementary school, all the way through high school and his first semester of college. It is the room I remember when I close my eyes and think of Jordan “at home.” I remember when Jordan was packing his things as he prepared for his freshman year at Amherst. He sat at his desk gathering items he planned to take with him. When Jordan was home he usually had music playing. Mark and I would joke that, Jordan came with a soundtrack. On this particular day, “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway played as he looked over the dorm checklist he’d downloaded from the Internet. I remember peering into his room with a puzzled look and saying, “Dude Christmas carols in August? What’s going on?” His reply to me was straightforward, “Christmas songs remind me of home, and I just want to feel home right now.” I left his room that day aware of how much I was going to miss him but also feeling assured that he was ready to go.

When we moved into our new house, our old house hadn’t yet sold. After Jordan died, as “1116” languished on the market I couldn’t bear to go inside. It was Jordan’s house and he was gone. Any minor repairs or checks of the house were left to Mark. There were times that I sat in the car while he went in to turn off lights left on by a realtor, or to check the thermostat. I would wait in the car barely able to look at the house. The day came however, when I had to go into our old house. My journal entry about that experience is below:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Our old house is on the market. It looks like we will close soon and it will belong to another family. Our old address was 1116. I went inside 1116 today. It was the first time I had been inside since Jordan died. 1116 was Jordan’s house. We moved there when he was six. Most of his childhood years were there. All of his teenage years were there. This house was the one he remembered, the one he called home. We didn’t move into our current house until January of 2007 when he was a freshman in college. He always said our old house was “his house”.

I hadn’t been back to the house since Jordan died because I wasn’t sure I could walk in without having an ache for him bigger than the one I already am trying to bear. I didn’t know if I could. I didn’t know if I wanted to.

Necessity finally trumped fear and emotion. I had to let the handyman in to ready the house for the final walk-through. My first thought was to open the door as I stood on the porch and point him upstairs. But, I opened the door walked in and felt-no pain, no fear. I showed him up the stairs and what needed to be done. When it was time to go downstairs he went ahead of me to get supplies from his truck and I told him I would be down in a moment. I turned down the hall and went into Jordan’s room. I walked directly to the far wall, kneeled down and read what he had written as a pre-teen. “Jordan was here”.

I touched the wall because it was a place Jordan had touched. I wasn’t afraid. I was so grateful for what truth was written on that wall- JORDAN was here! 1116 has been demystified. There is no place that Jordan isn’t. He’s with me always.

Picture I took of wall in Jordan's room-"Jordan was here"

Opening the Boxes

Jordan on his way to check out his new dorm room sophomore year.

Jordan on his way to check out his new dorm room sophomore year.

We knew they were coming. Jordan’s college dean had given us almost to the hour the time when FedEx would deliver the boxes that held all of Jordan’s belongings. His dean has told us that at some point between 10am and 12pm the boxes would arrive. The clothing, books, school supplies, all the things a 19-year-old needs to live away from home, were winding their way back to us separate from him. To ease the arrival of the boxes, the dean had told us how the Amherst staff that packed the boxes had labeled them. We had already made special arrangements to donate certain items. His refrigerator, rug, lamp, etc. would go to the A Better Chance (ABC) program. Jordan volunteered there his freshman year, mentoring and tutoring high school boys and had planned to do the same his sophomore year. We knew Jordan would want ABC to have things that would benefit the boys in that program.

Out of denial, bravado or plain shock, Mark and I decided we needed to be alone when the boxes came. We had gone back and forth as to whether we should have someone with us when the boxes were delivered. We knew it was going to rip our hearts out to stand and watch as the possessions of our 19-year-old son came home without him. Mark insisted that placing these boxes in our basement was something he needed to do. He cleared a space in the basement to make room for the boxes and then we waited. We had helped Jordan buy, pack and unpack all of his college things for the last two years.  In our grieving parental logic it made sense to us that we should bear the responsibility and the honor of putting them away.

Mark had taken Jordan back to school for his sophomore year. It had been just the two of them. The first time they had extended time together in such a long while without Jordan having the distractions of competing for his father’s attention from siblings or another parent. Once they got to Amherst, Mark took Jordan to Target to buy toiletries, school supplies, snacks for his refrigerator and anything else they could think of, or whatever I called to remind them to get.

Father and Son together.

Father and Son together.

The two of them also had time to just be together, hanging out as father and son. Mark let Jordan choose where they ate every night and came home gulping down Tums after all the junk food he forced down. They went to the movies together and as Mark said, “Talked for the first time man to man about anything and everything without reservation or embarrassment.” Mark glimpsed the adult friendship he would have with his son.

Jordan indulging his dad's need to capture every moment. Here he is about to open the door to his dorm room.

Jordan indulging his dad's need to capture every moment. Here he is about to open the door to his dorm room.

Mark was there with Jordan as he got to his new single room and unpacked the boxes that had been in storage. Jordan unpacked, Mark forever the photographer catalogued every moment, much to Jordan’s annoyance. When most of the boxes were unpacked they took a break and had lunch together before Mark made his way to the airport and back home. They hugged goodbye knowing Jordan would be home for Thanksgiving. We would all see him then.

At the beginning of October as Jordan’s sisters missed their brother more and more, I suggested they write him letters to help tide them over until they saw him in November. One sister wrote about how she couldn’t wait until Thanksgiving because she missed him so much and added a drawing of our family, complete with sunshine, flowers and a rainbow. Jordan’s other sister wrote him a song entitled, “Miss You”, called him and sang it to him before we mailed the letters. We all eagerly awaited Thanksgiving when our whole family would be together again. Thanksgiving held out a promise that would not be fulfilled. October 12th, 2008 forever changed our trust in events happening as we assume they will. Jordan wouldn’t be coming home for Thanksgiving. We wouldn’t sit at a table as family of 6 again.

Even though Mark and I decided that only the two of us would be home when the boxes came, I decided I couldn’t watch them being unloaded and stored. I didn’t want to see them. They represented remnants of a life, my child’s life that shouldn’t be packed away but should still be flourishing. I told Mark, I wasn’t ready to see the boxes and would busy myself in another part of the house until they were stacked in the basement. Fate had other plans. The doorbell rang with that double/triple ring of deliverymen as I was downstairs and Mark was finishing a call. I was willing to wait for Mark to open the door until I heard the thud of the first box on the front porch. I had to tell the FedEx deliveryman that we needed the boxes unloaded around back at our basement entrance not on our front porch. He looked at me with annoyance and I had to let him know this wasn’t an ordinary delivery and we needed gentleness. I explained, “Our son was killed in a car accident while he was away at school. These are all of his possessions. I know it’s extra work for you to take them around back, but if you wouldn’t mind we’d appreciate it. My husband is waiting for you back there.” Tears caught in my throat and compassion covered his face. He apologized, told me he was sorry for my loss and quickly started taking the boxes to the basement entrance. I looked out the kitchen window to make sure Mark was back there and I saw one of the boxes. There it was, labeled, “Jordan Moore-Fields ’11” on the first line and “Shoes” on the second line. Class of 2011 was how he was still known at Amherst, even though that dream was gone. The box marked shoes contained the shoes Jordan and I had bought at the beginning of the summer before he set off for DC for his internship. Once again glimpses of the man he would be as he chose styles appropriate for the workplace and extended his fashion beyond sneakers.  That memory flooded back by reading the word shoes on a box. I never made it upstairs. I sat at our kitchen table and wept as I heard box after box being loaded into the basement. Finally tears turned to screams as I called out Jordan’s name and just kept saying, “No!” Soon Mark was beside me and we wept together for all we had lost and the irony that these boxes labeled with Jordan’s name could never contain all that he had or was. The deliveryman finally called out to us and told us everything was unloaded. He left a note on the receipt again expressing his condolences.

My younger son came home the day the boxes arrived asking if he could go through them. I kept saying, “No your dad and I aren’t ready to go through them yet. Give us a little time.” He would let a day or so pass and then ask again. It took me days before I could look in the direction of the basement where the boxes were stored. I finally asked my son, “Is there something specific that you’re looking for?” All he said was, “I want his clothes. I want to wear them.” I realized that we were all grieving Jordan’s loss differently. What I wasn’t ready to face, my son need to have close to him as a symbol of comfort from his brother. The next day I went downstairs and opened one of the boxes marked clothes knowing that giving Merrick a few items until we went through all of the boxes was necessary. I found what I was looking for and took them up to his room and placed them on his bed. When he came home from school I told him as he ambled up the stairs, “I put a couple of Jordan’s shirts on your bed.” He looked at me and asked, “Is it the Malcolm X t-shirt?” I said, “Yes, and the Run DMC.” He gave me a grateful, relieved look and said, “Thanks mom.”

The weekend after I gave my son the t-shirts, Mark decided he would unpack some of the boxes. He wanted to make sure Jordan’s laptop, mpc and other electronic equipment were in working order. These items held the links to Jordan’s thoughts and creativity. Mark unpacked these things and then decided to keep going and open the box marked desk items. He was stopped short as he opened the desk items box and there on top laid the letters from Jordan’s sisters. The letters that talked about seeing him for Thanksgiving had been sitting on Jordan’s desk. Mark came upstairs weeping, needing to be held as we both sat, grateful that we’d raised a son who was not ashamed to display the letters of his younger sisters for all his friends to see.  Jordan loved his family, it is a truth that will always bring us comfort.

Weeks passed and one day I decided it was time to demystify the box corner and go through my son’s things. I went through box after box. Making piles of things I knew Merrick would want, books that we would keep because we knew they were special to Jordan, and a box of toiletries and cleaning supplies that brought me to tears. That box beyond all others showed just how little time Jordan got to be a sophomore in college. Most of the items were still unopened. An entire box filled with unopened bottles of lotion, deodorant, laundry detergent, tissues, soap, etc. We didn’t want him to run out of anything. He never got to use them.

Then I came to the box that made me laugh and talk out loud to my son. I opened a box labeled clothes that contained his dirty laundry.  That box brought back the running discussion Jordan and I had on a weekly basis, and all the wonderful talks we had. Jordan would typically call me during the day a few times a week as he walked back to his room after class. He would call me with his trademark deep-voiced, “what’s up”, telling me about his classes, his assignments and how nasty the lunch selections were in the cafeteria. I would listen and laugh then ask my trademark question of when he last did laundry. He always evaded the question or spoke of the amazing powers of Febreze. Now, here I sat in our basement with a box of his dirty laundry. I said out loud, “Boy I told you to do this before you went away for the weekend. I knew you weren’t going to finish it even when you said you would.”

I dragged the box into our laundry room, and started sorting it so I could wash his clothes. Mark called while I was starting this task to check in and see how I was doing. I told him I was going through Jordan’s boxes and was washing his clothes. He immediately became alarmed begging me to wait until he got home. I told him I was okay and I needed to go through the boxes, for me it was time. He still worried about me doing the laundry wanting to spare me any undue pain. He suggested that we get someone to do the laundry because it seemed like it would be too much for me. I took a breath and told Mark, “I have to do this. Don’t you realize this is the last time I’ll ever be able to do his laundry, to do something maternal like this for him? I can’t cook for him, or send him care packages or shop for him anymore. Doing these loads of laundry is the last thing I can do for Jordan.” I knew I would probably cry as I folded every piece, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing this job. It was my last maternal act of caring for my son.