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’

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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

One Day At A Time

I realized this morning that my last post was on Jordan’s birthday. What a time it’s been. Writing hasn’t come easy as my tactic of, “One day at a time,” started to fall apart the closer I got to Merrick going away to school. I’m not sure if my anxiety would have lessened if he had chosen a school somewhere other than the same town his brother attended school. All I know is that as the weeks started to slip away and the day of departure was upon us I was a wreck. I didn’t want him to go. But I knew he couldn’t stay and I knew I would never stand in the way of his goals and dreams. There were a lot of late night tears shared with Mark as we both grappled with how to send a second child away to school when the first one didn’t come home.

The doubts and fears swirled through our home. My daughter came into my room to say goodnight and she brought her fears to light.

“Mama, can I talk to you.”

“Yes baby, what’s the matter.”

“I’m scared that what happened to Jordan is going to happen to Merrick.”

And then the tears flow, from both of our eyes. I stand holding her so tightly wanting to banish her fears but at the same time knowing that words like, “Don’t worry,” ring hollow because this isn’t the first brother or for me the first son that has gone off to college. Jordan didn’t come home. Accidents happen and this time they happened to our family.

“I know you’re worried about Merrick and I can’t tell you not to worry. But Merrick has picked the place that is right for him and it’s time for him to have his adventure. Just know that we wouldn’t let your brother go away if we didn’t think it was a good idea.”

After a few more moments of me holding her as we lie on my bed, she takes a deep breath and says, “Good night.”

I watch her walk down the hall and then collapse in tears. “Is it a good idea? Please don’t let anything happen to my boy. I can’t have two empty bedrooms. I need him to come home.”

The next morning when I come downstairs Lindsay is making her breakfast.

Looking down she says, “I had a hard time sleeping.”

“Were you thinking about Merrick?”

Tears pool in her eyes as she shakes her head yes.

“Oh honey, he’s going to be alright.”

“How do you know?”

That question hung in the air and all I could muster was a shrug. When words came to me I reminded her that Merrick would be home for his Fall break and that we would visit him for Family weekend.

“Let’s not look too far into the future. We’re going to live one day at a time and try not to worry too much.”

My words were for me as much as her.

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

Old Habits and New Routines

The 4th of July has come and gone and in the days that followed I was finally able to grasp the enormity of my grief. Subconsciously I’d put myself on a restricted grief program with regards to my Dad. The loss of Jordan is still so palpable, especially this summer as I wished for him to be at his brother’s graduation and I see Merrick wishing Jordan were here to provide instruction and advice on going off to college. Circling back to a place of pain that felt so remote for so many months still takes my breath. Grief moves in so many directions but for me there has never been a linear path.

In a way I decided that helping my mother through her own loss of her companion and love would assuage my grief in some way. We have a new routine of talking to each other every night before she goes to bed. She stays busy during the day, not able to be still too long. For my mom who has always been an active person knowing what she has planned for each day soothes her and helps her through. Nighttime is when the house she and my dad shared for 46 years seems too quiet. She has a list of family and friends whom she speaks to every night, all of us needing to hear her voice before we’re able to sleep.

Over the 4th of July weekend, I realized that putting levels on grief was a mistake. Yes I deal with the loss of Jordan everyday and I’m stronger now (most days) than I was in the months after he died. My logic that the unbearable grief of losing a child should make me strong enough to endure losing a father without too much emotional upheaval turned out to be a huge misstep. I miss my Daddy. I miss my son. The grief I feel for each is different but no less present. They both beg to be felt.

When Daddy was briefly in a rehab center and we thought he’d be able to go home for at least a few days he asked Julie and I to throw him a party. The first date he threw out was the 4th of July. Some of his nieces and nephews and his sisters and brother were also in the room and we all agreed that a party with Daddy, which we all knew would be his last was a great idea. Time was not on our side. As Daddy got sicker he didn’t forget his party idea, he just changed the date to Memorial Day. There was nothing Daddy loved more than grilling ribs, chicken, beef, you name it and having family and friends over to eat. Music always played in the background and you knew where the party was by the sound of laughter and jazz music wafting from the backyard.

On the 4th I told Mark I’d made a mistake. “I’ve been acting as though I have to be stronger and not fully give in to my feelings about losing Daddy.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because longing for Jordan and missing Daddy at the same time hurt too much. I realize now that it’s going to hurt and I have to let it happen.”

“I know, I’ve been thinking about Pop a lot too. You know the 4th is when he wanted his party.”

“That’s what’s wrong with me. All day I’ve been imagining him at the helm of the grill, totally in his element. I’d forgotten we promised him a party. I just keep seeing him healthy and his old self, asking Julie and I to be his taste testers.”

“It’s okay. Everything happened so fast. Pop was too sick to have any kind of party. It doesn’t mean we can’t have one for him next 4th of July.”

“He would have liked that. All he wanted was for people to eat and have a good time.”

“So we’ll do it.”

I tearily shake my head yes. “But today I’m so sad. I miss him for me and I miss him for Mama. I know she feels so alone.”

“You’re doing everything you can to help your Mom. But you can’t keep denying how much you hurt.”

I sat on the porch a while longer with Mark and then came inside, went upstairs and lied down. Accepting the grief meant accepting the weariness and fatigue from all the sleepless nights. Next year we’ll have a party. This year I allowed myself all the tears to flow as they formed their own parallel river to the tears I’ve cried for Jordan.

Off To Measure Trees

It is a beautiful day in my town today. For the first time in a while the sky is blue and the weather is warm. I’m off to get some sun on my face and busy myself with measuring tree circumferences to see how much ribbon the trees we’ve picked will need. I ordered bookplates to serve as information cards for each ribbon:


It’s hard not to think about what I’d be doing right now if Jordan were alive. Suitcases would be lined up and we’d be off to the airport to ready ourselves for his graduation. I vacillate between feeling like such an obsessed oddball for choosing this task as my way of honoring Jordan and then in the next instant I’m proud that I found a way to remember what would have been a magnificent day. With each passing day the obsessed feeling recedes and the anticipation of keeping Jordan’s memory alive boosts my energy and spirit.

The weather this weekend is iffy here, with chances of rain both Saturday and Sunday. A bright spot for me at least will be purple ribbons dotted throughout my village, providing a little light on what might feel like a dark day.

I would really appreciate pictures of the purple ribbons from those of you who will be tying them on your trees. Thank you