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 ‘cremation’

Honoring Last Wishes- Another Look 2013

To give more insight into the idea of honoring requests and giving my new readers a fuller picture of my dad who was/is so instrumental on my mourning journey I offer again the post below.

The last few months I feel like I’ve been in a whirlwind. Traveling back and forth to Ohio when my Dad was ill, preparing for his memorial service after his death, honoring what would have been Jordan’s commencement with purple ribbons, and then Memorial Day weekend honoring Daddy’s final wish of spreading his ashes in his hometown in West Virginia. The part of West Virginia where my parents and their parents lived is fit for any postcard. The summer mountains are filled with lush green trees and roll on and on for as far as the eye can see. The area where Daddy lived was a mining town and everyone called it “#9” because that was the number of the mine that the men worked in and they lived in company owned housing and shopped at the company store.

It took us an hour to get there from our hotel and as we drove winding on too small roads that seemed to at any bend curve right into a mountain, Mark the kids and I all wondered, “Are we there yet?” Finally my brother-in-law who was leading the way pulled over on a patch of gravel off the side of the road.

“There’s the creek with the waterfall, exactly like Daddy said. It’s right here.”

My hand covered my mouth as I wept thinking back to our very last conversation when I asked him if he was sure the creek was still there and he replied, “Shoot girl, of course it’s still there.” The creek was there and he was right, Mama knew how to get there. My great-uncle who had driven with my cousin said as he got out of the car, “I thought I’d seen all of West Virginia, but I’ve never been out here.”

The area was overgrown and I looked up from the creek to all the trees and tall grass, trying to imagine what it looked like when it was dotted with small houses. What dotted the area now were yellow and black butterflies everywhere.Their presence was as if to say, “You’re in the right place. We’re here to make sure it’s special for you.” None of us had every seen so many butterflies in one place. I joked, “Daddy wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the place.” After we’d all had a chance to look around and take pictures of the waterfall and creek and the mountains as the backdrop it was time to do the task that had brought us to the spot. Mark carefully pulled the metal container from the back of the car.

I asked, “Do you have something to cut the plastic bag?” Remembering our struggle when we tried to spread Jordan’s ashes and didn’t have anything to cut the zip tie that held the bag closed.

Mark nodded and continued over to the creek just under the waterfall. Mama asked for a word of prayer and we all gathered, holding hands and my Uncle prayed for us and for the task we were undertaking. As we dropped hands I looked over to see Lindsay and Kendall crying and put an arm around each one of them holding them close. The bag was opened and Mark began to pour the ashes and we all watched as the ashes mingled and churned with the water cascading from the waterfall before drifting downstream.

I called out, “Daddy thank you for being so wise and letting us know what your final wishes were. We are so proud to honor them.”

Mark poured a bit more in and then I reached into my pocket and removed the small container that held some of Jordan’s ashes. With a high arc I flung them into the water. “Thank you Daddy for letting Jordan be with you.”

The only sounds were weeping. My mother wailed as she watched the remains of the man she’d loved since high school drift down the creek he’d played in as a boy. Suddenly we were all together hugging and crying as the sunshine warmed our backs. Mama began to quiet down and we all stepped back a little to give her space. I went back to the waterfall and just watched the water no longer clear but muddied with the ashes. As I walked back to the car, I searched the ground for rocks that weren’t broken pieces of gravel and found a coral colored rock and one stone with specks of glittering green. I put them in my pocket thinking of all the rock Daddy had skipped in that same creek.

Our day wasn’t done, Mama wanted to spread some of Daddy’s ashes around the graves of her parents and that of his oldest sister. We loaded back into the car for the next sojourn. As we pulled away from the creek Mark suddenly stopped the car.

“Look at that sign. Take a picture of it.”

I hurriedly got the camera and snapped the picture.After I read the sign I whispered, “and Daddy too.”

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While Sam Cooke Sang

Many of you have found my blog through my piece on the Huffington Post and to you all I say thank you and welcome. I feel the need to repost a few posts about my dad so that those new to my blog can have a true sense of who he was. I say was because Daddy died on Easter Sunday, 2011 after a brief battle with metastasized lung cancer. Below is the piece I wrote about saying goodbye.

I have been away from my blog for a while as I’ve been in Ohio with my family during my father’s illness. Sadly, I have to tell you that my father passed away on April 24th, 2011. I was able to be in Ohio with him before he died. We sat and talked and he told me what he wanted for his memorial service, who he wanted to speak and of course a saxophone playing. Daddy loved jazz and the saxophone was his favorite instrument. He had 10’s of thousands of songs that he catalogued on his computer. His jazz library could rival any formal library in the world.

As we talked I had one question for my dad.

“Daddy I know you want your ashes spread in West Virginia.”

“Yeah, your mama knows what I want. There’s a creek where I used to play when I was a little boy and that’s where I want the ashes.”

“Is the creek still there?”

With his typical eye roll, “Oh shoot girl, yes it’s still there.”

“Well I was just wondering if it would be okay to have some of Jordan’s ashes mixed with yours when we spread them.”

“Of course you can, even if it’s just a teaspoonful. You know Jordan is my boy. Now you notice I said is, not was.”

“I know Daddy.”

Daddy handing Jordan(age 2) a rock when they both got restless at church and went outside.

“Shoot, that boy and I threw rocks together when he was little down in West Virginia. Of course he can be with me.”

“Thank you Daddy.”

We sat quietly for a while after talking and I looked over and Daddy had fallen asleep.

Later that day he was moved from the hospital to an inpatient hospice facility. Our hope was that he would be able to come home in a few days after they  transferred him to oral medications. Unfortunately, his condition deteriorated rapidly and by Friday he wasn’t talking anymore but didn’t seem to be in much pain. When my mom and I walked into his room on Friday as part of our new routine I asked him what music he wanted to hear.I rolled out the usuals, Stanley Turrentine, Gene Ammons, Jimmy Smith. He shook his head “no” until I came to Sam Cooke.He wasn’t in the mood for jazz, but for gospel.
I stood rubbing his shoulder as he seemed a bit restless and then he reached out for my hand. I took his hand and told my mother to hold his other. All the while Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers played, “Nearer To Thee,” in the background. After a few minutes of standing at his bedside holding his hands he gently pulled his hands away. Mama and I went to sit down. I looked over at my exhausted mother and saw that she had drifted off to sleep. Daddy would close his eyes for a few minutes and then open them again, putting his hands behind his head and then trying to turn in bed. He was too weak to turn and shook his head “no” when I asked if he wanted help. I looked over at him as he lay with his eyes closed and suddenly he opened his eyes and with perfect clarity winked at me which brought me to the edge of my seat. I smiled back, so familiar with that wink and knowing this time all the words that it conveyed, “I’m alright”, “Take care of yourself” ,”Take care of your Mama”, “Goodbye.”

That was the last time Daddy opened his eyes and his gift of a wink was the perfect goodbye. He was an amazing man who taught me so much about life and not fearing death. Sleep well my wonderful father. You have earned your rest.

June 7, 1936-April 24, 2011

Honoring Last Wishes

To give more insight into the idea of honoring requests and giving my new readers a fuller picture of my dad who was/is so instrumental on my mourning journey I offer again the post below.

The last few months I feel like I’ve been in a whirlwind. Traveling back and forth to Ohio when my Dad was ill, preparing for his memorial service after his death, honoring what would have been Jordan’s commencement with purple ribbons, and then Memorial Day weekend honoring Daddy’s final wish of spreading his ashes in his hometown in West Virginia. The part of West Virginia where my parents and their parents lived is fit for any postcard. The summer mountains are filled with lush green trees and roll on and on for as far as the eye can see. The area where Daddy lived was a mining town and everyone called it “#9” because that was the number of the mine that the men worked in and they lived in company owned housing and shopped at the company store.

It took us an hour to get there from our hotel and as we drove winding on too small roads that seemed to at any bend curve right into a mountain, Mark the kids and I all wondered, “Are we there yet?” Finally my brother-in-law who was leading the way pulled over on a patch of gravel off the side of the road.

“There’s the creek with the waterfall, exactly like Daddy said. It’s right here.”

My hand covered my mouth as I wept thinking back to our very last conversation when I asked him if he was sure the creek was still there and he replied, “Shoot girl, of course it’s still there.” The creek was there and he was right, Mama knew how to get there. My great-uncle who had driven with my cousin said as he got out of the car, “I thought I’d seen all of West Virginia, but I’ve never been out here.”

The area was overgrown and I looked up from the creek to all the trees and tall grass, trying to imagine what it looked like when it was dotted with small houses. What dotted the area now were yellow and black butterflies everywhere. Their presence was as if to say, “You’re in the right place. We’re here to make sure it’s special for you.” None of us had every seen so many butterflies in one place. I joked, “Daddy wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the place.” After we’d all had a chance to look around and take pictures of the waterfall and creek and the mountains as the backdrop it was time to do the task that had brought us to the spot. Mark carefully pulled the metal container from the back of the car.

I asked, “Do you have something to cut the plastic bag?” Remembering our struggle when we tried to spread Jordan’s ashes and didn’t have anything to cut the zip tie that held the bag closed.

Mark nodded and continued over to the creek just under the waterfall. Mama asked for a word of prayer and we all gathered, holding hands and my Uncle prayed for us and for the task we were undertaking. As we dropped hands I looked over to see Lindsay and Kendall crying and put an arm around each one of them holding them close. The bag was opened and Mark began to pour the ashes and we all watched as the ashes mingled and churned with the water cascading from the waterfall before drifting downstream.

I called out, “Daddy thank you for being so wise and letting us know what your final wishes were. We are so proud to honor them.”

Mark poured a bit more in and then I reached into my pocket and removed the small container that held some of Jordan’s ashes. With a high arc I flung them into the water. “Thank you Daddy for letting Jordan be with you.”

The only sounds were weeping. My mother wailed as she watched the remains of the man she’d loved since high school drift down the creek he’d played in as a boy. Suddenly we were all together hugging and crying as the sunshine warmed our backs. Mama began to quiet down and we all stepped back a little to give her space. I went back to the waterfall and just watched the water no longer clear but muddied with the ashes. As I walked back to the car, I searched the ground for rocks that weren’t broken pieces of gravel and found a coral colored rock and one stone with specks of glittering green. I put them in my pocket thinking of all the rock Daddy had skipped in that same creek.

Our day wasn’t done, Mama wanted to spread some of Daddy’s ashes around the graves of her parents and that of his oldest sister. We loaded back into the car for the next sojourn. As we pulled away from the creek Mark suddenly stopped the car.

“Look at that sign. Take a picture of it.”

I hurriedly got the camera and snapped the picture. After I read the sign I whispered, “and Daddy too.”

Finding Different Ways To Mother My Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jordan, I love you and I miss you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While Sam Cooke Sang

I have been away from my blog for a while as I’ve been in Ohio with my family during my father’s illness. Sadly, I have to tell you that my father passed away on April 24th, 2011. I was able to be in Ohio with him before he died. We sat and talked and he told me what he wanted for his memorial service, who he wanted to speak and of course a saxophone playing. Daddy loved jazz and the saxophone was his favorite instrument. He had 10’s of thousands of songs that he catalogued on his computer. His jazz library could rival any formal library in the world.

As we talked I had one question for my dad.

“Daddy I know you want your ashes spread in West Virginia.”

“Yeah, your mama knows what I want. There’s a creek where I used to play when I was a little boy and that’s where I want the ashes.”

“Is the creek still there?”

With his typical eye roll, “Oh shoot girl, yes it’s still there.”

“Well I was just wondering if it would be okay to have some of Jordan’s ashes mixed with yours when we spread them.”

“Of course you can, even if it’s just a teaspoonful. You know Jordan is my boy. Now you notice I said is, not was.”

“I know Daddy.”

Daddy handing Jordan(age 2) a rock when they both got restless at church and went outside.

“Shoot, that boy and I threw rocks together when he was little down in West Virginia. Of course he can be with me.”

“Thank you Daddy.”

We sat quietly for a while after talking and I looked over and Daddy had fallen asleep.

Later that day he was moved from the hospital to an inpatient hospice facility. Our hope was that he would be able to come home in a few days after they  transferred him to oral medications. Unfortunately, his condition deteriorated rapidly and by Friday he wasn’t talking anymore but didn’t seem to be in much pain. When my mom and I walked into his room on Friday as part of our new routine I asked him what music he wanted to hear.I rolled out the usuals, Stanley Turrentine, Gene Ammons, Jimmy Smith. He shook his head “no” until I came to Sam Cooke.He wasn’t in the mood for jazz, but for gospel.
I stood rubbing his shoulder as he seemed a bit restless and then he reached out for my hand. I took his hand and told my mother to hold his other. All the while Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers played, “Nearer To Thee,” in the background. After a few minutes of standing at his bedside holding his hands he gently pulled his hands away. Mama and I went to sit down. I looked over at my exhausted mother and saw that she had drifted off to sleep. Daddy would close his eyes for a few minutes and then open them again, putting his hands behind his head and then trying to turn in bed. He was too weak to turn and shook his head “no” when I asked if he wanted help. I looked over at him as he lay with his eyes closed and suddenly he opened his eyes and with perfect clarity winked at me which brought me to the edge of my seat. I smiled back, so familiar with that wink and knowing this time all the words that it conveyed, “I’m alright”, “Take care of yourself” ,”Take care of your Mama”, “Goodbye.”

That was the last time Daddy opened his eyes and his gift of a wink was the perfect goodbye. He was an amazing man who taught me so much about life and not fearing death. Sleep well my wonderful father. You have earned your rest.

June 7, 1936-April 24, 2011

Time for, “The Talk”

I frequently read other parenting blogs and have a couple of my favorites on my blogroll. Katie Granju is a mom who has several blogs. I became acquainted with her Mamapundit blog after the death of her oldest son Henry. Yesterday I commented on her Babble blog about what to tell your kids when they ask questions usually out of the blue that don’t always have comforting answers. Questions like, “Can we visit heaven?” I commented as a parent and as a person with a background in developmental psychology. Part of my answer to her regarding her preschooler was, “Answer only what question they ask in the simplest way possible. You don’t want to overwhelm them.” I’ve found that kids want the truth and usually find a way to ask for it. Usually.

I’m stuck right now because Mark and I are faced with bringing our children to another level of awareness about loss and grief. I keep waiting for them to ask a question about Jordan’s ashes, any opening that will lead to a discussion of our plans to keep some of his ashes in an urn at home. They know we plan to spread some of his ashes as we travel but even this is an abstract concept. I don’t want them to be afraid of Jordan’s urn, especially when Mark and I need to have part of Jordan stay at home with us. What will we do if any one of our kids can’t handle an urn at home when it is something that will give Mark and I solace?

I’m afraid of scaring and scarring my kids by even bringing up the subject of the urn to them. And I’m afraid of them hurting in a way that I can’t help them. But I have to admit I’m also feeling a little selfish too. Jordan is also my child  and I want part of him at home with me.

I’ll get the perspecitve and suggestions from therapists and counselors. I’d like to know though how others in my situation have dealt with this issue. I’m asking for help from anyone who has experience talking with their kids or knows someone who has. How do you prepare your child/children to accept that the sibling that once laughed and played with them is partially, yet symbolically represented as ashes in an urn? It is a conversation quite frankly I’m dreading. I don’t want them to hurt anymore than they already do and yet it’s a conversation that must be had.

Jordan and his siblings on his 19th birthday. The last picture taken of all of them together.

Getting Jordan Ready

Jordan and I at his sixth grade graduation ceremony.

I had always shopped for my family’s clothes. There were family jokes about my shopping prowess, even with my extended family when we were all together. I remember one Thanksgiving when my brother-in-law looked around my parents’ family room and observed, “Jackie dressed all of us.” Everybody looked down and realized they were wearing some article of clothing I had picked out for them as a gift.

I always liked the fact that I could shop for my teenage sons and they trusted my taste. Jordan would seem a bit surprised at times when I would come home with a t-shirt or sweatshirt that was exactly the kind of thing he would have picked for himself. I still remember when I bought him a t-shirt with a picture of Tupac Shakur on the front. Jordan loved the shirt and asked how I knew he was, “Into Tupac?” I told him, “I’ve known you for a long time. I notice what you’re listening to and reading.” I would also jokingly add, “I wasn’t born with the name “Mama”, I used to be a teenager too.”

“The funeral home needs the clothes for Jordan.” My sister-in-law Cheryl leaned down and gently whispered these words to me when she came back from running an errand. Cheryl had told me before that they needed the clothes by Tuesday, but I had been unable to collect them or ask anyone else to do it. The time had come for me to dress my son for the last time. When Cheryl came in, Mark and I were sitting in the living room with our family friend Larry who had come over to meet with my sister Julie. She was going to assist Larry in writing the obituary for the memorial service program. Julie could provide details that only family would know. When Larry arrived, Julie was at our church with Mark’s other sister Leslie. They were meeting with our Pastor to finalize arrangements for the memorial service.

We’d asked Larry to write Jordan’s obituary not because he was a professional writer, but because his son Matt was one of Jordan’s best friends and Jordan spent a good part of most weekends at their home. Matt’s house, more correctly, Matt’s basement was the hangout for Jordan and all of his friends. I used to tease Larry and his wife saying that there were times that they saw more of Jordan than Mark and I did. I knew they loved and respected Jordan. Larry was Jordan’s little league baseball coach and took as much pride as we did in his academic accomplishments. He was the first person to come to mind to handle the task of giving account of the life of our sweet boy. We knew that Larry would do Jordan’s short, but full life on this earth justice. Jordan had vacationed with Matt and his parents on a trip to Mexico when they were in elementary school. For the trip, we had to fill out forms giving Larry and his wife permission to carry our son to a foreign country. They were Jordan’s “In Loco Parentis (in the place of a parent)” for the trip, and trusted caregivers for the rest of his life.

“The funeral home needs the clothes for Jordan.” I knew that when Cheryl made the request this time, I could no longer avoid picking out clothes for my son. We were having a private family viewing of Jordan’s body on Thursday before the cremation and before the memorial service on Saturday. Cheryl had to take the clothes to the funeral home that same day when she and my in-laws went to make sure everything was in order for the viewing. There was no time left. For me it was the first of many things that I would deem as my “last time as his mother” gesture. I understood the finality of my task but I didn’t know how I was going to get through it. With all of my apprehension I didn’t ask for help. I needed to get the clothes alone. I knew that picking out clothes this time did not signal a party or celebration no matter how hard I tried to will away October 12th.  My “mother self” was in control and compelled me for this last time to pick out clothes for my son the way I always had.

Mark and I had decided Jordan would wear a suit because we knew that is what he would have wanted. Even as a boy, Jordan was transformed when he put on a suit. He stood taller, acted more mature and emulated his dad. The first suit Jordan wore that wasn’t from the boys’ department was for his eighth grade dance. He had to accompany me to the store because he had grown taller and needed to be measured for his first suit in the men’s department. He and I went to Men’s Wearhouse and I explained to him how they would take measurements to determine his suit size. As we looked around, Jordan picked out a black suit with a grey pinstripe. I was surprised at the conservativeness of his choice, thinking that he would pick something more colorful and flashy that matched the suits of the athletes and hip- hop stars that he liked and saw on television. When I expressed my surprise to him about his choice, he just shrugged and explained he liked the way his Dad looked in a suit and that was the look he was going for. The evening of the dance, Jordan came downstairs tie in hand asking his dad for help. Prior to this occasion Mark or I would tie the boys’ ties, but this time, Jordan wanted to learn so that he would be able to do it himself. I sat watching for a few moments as Mark simultaneously tied Jordan’s tie and provided verbal instructions. I jumped up to get the camera realizing that this was a special father/son moment-Mark showing his oldest son how to tie a tie- that we’d want to capture and be able to look back on as a milestone moment.

Jordan getting ready for 8th grade dance.

For every occasion after that initial “man’s” suit, Jordan held true to form and always went for a look that could have easily taken him to any courtroom, or boardroom. He always looked so grown up and so handsome in a suit and he knew it. I used to tease him about learning how to accept compliments. Whenever he would come downstairs preparing to go to a dance at school or church, or other special occasions, we would all tell him how nice he looked and he would reply in his deepening voice with an exaggerated, “Yes I know” and we would laugh. I always told him how much like my father he was at these times. Daddy’s response to the same compliment was always with mock indignation, “You don’t have to tell me, I know I look good.”

“The funeral home needs the clothes for Jordan,” echoed in my head as I walked up the stairs, leaving Mark talking with Larry. “You can do this, just get the things and give them to Cheryl. You’re okay.” I repeated that phrase over and over as I went up to Jordan’s room and opened his closet door. I knew exactly what he would wear and that there would be a set of headphones in his pocket. Jordan never went anywhere without his Ipod. I wanted to make sure he would have headphones in his pocket to symbolize that fact. I immediately went to Jordan’s dresser hoping he’d left a spare set of headphones in his room. I looked in his dresser, feeling uncomfortable like I was snooping. In his top drawer I quickly found a spare set of headphones and placed them on top of the dresser so I wouldn’t forget them. I stood for a moment and then opened his closet door. I picked up the hanger that held the black suit he had worn to his high school graduation. I then picked out his goldenrod colored shirt that he wore for his Senior High School portrait.

He loved that shirt. That past summer he told me that one day during his internship in DC while on the train he had been complimented by a lady who told him that the color looked really nice on him. I then pulled a tie from the rack on the side of his closet. It was a tie that he picked out for a “Sadie Hawkins” dance at his high school and had worn numerous times after that occasion. All of these clothes were still in Jordan’s closet because he had left them behind when going back to college in August. His intent was to take his more formal clothes to school when he came home for Thanksgiving.

I touched his suit and shirt and was overcome remembering all the occasions Jordan had worn a suit. My mind started racing, “What am I doing?”, “How did this happen?”, “Not Jordan, not Jordan.”  I leaned against the closet door clutching the hangers that held his clothes and tried not to fall down. One small moan escaped my lips and then I said, “No” directed forcefully to me.  I was determined that I would dress my child for the last time. I was his mother and I needed to have this last chance of doing what I had always enjoyed doing, but what was now so heartbreakingly ceremonial and final.

I looked through Jordan’s dresser trying to find a white t-shirt to go under his shirt because that is how he always wore his shirts. I couldn’t find one in his drawer and thought to myself, “He probably took all of his to school with him. I’ll just get one of Mark’s.” As I walked across the hall to my bedroom the absurdity played out in my head, “He doesn’t need a t-shirt, it doesn’t matter anymore.” I shook my head as if that would knock loose the reality that these clothes would be the ones we saw when we walked into the funeral home viewing room, and they would be the ones he wore when he was cremated.

Just as these thoughts overpowered any notion I had that I could do this task alone, my sister came upstairs and asked me what I was doing. I told her that Cheryl needed to take Jordan’s clothes to the funeral home and I was getting them together. She asked how she could help and I told her I couldn’t find his dress shoes. Once again the voice in my head said, “He doesn’t need them anymore.” I continued looking for a t-shirt and black socks with, “He doesn’t need them anymore” ringing in my head. I met Julie outside of Jordan’s room where she held the shoes. She shakily said to me, “When I bent down to get his shoes, I smelled the clothes that were on the floor and they still smell like him. I tried to make a joke and said, “Those are dirty clothes he left behind, be careful.” She continued in her somber, trembling tone, “I don’t care they smell like Jordan.” I tried to keep going.

For some reason I couldn’t find black socks in Jordan’s dresser or in Mark’s dresser. I was becoming manic, turning over the socks in Jordan’s drawer trying to find a plain black pair, then going to Merrick’s room looking for plain black socks. I was on my way back into my bedroom when Mark came upstairs and asked what I was doing. I told him, “Cheryl needs Jordan’s clothes to take to the funeral home.” Mark quickly replied, “Baby why are you trying to do that by yourself I would have helped you.” I was adamant but had started to tremble; I shakily said to him, “No, I always got his clothes and I have to do it this time too.” I then said to Mark, “I can’t find black socks, I can’t find black socks.” It was too much. I couldn’t keep going. I couldn’t gather my son’s funeral clothes as though I was helping him prepare for a special occasion. I remember Julie saying, “She’s gonna fall Mark do you have her?” As I crumpled down, Mark grabbed me, holding me so tightly and gently at the same time and carried me to our bed. All I could do was scream “no”, “no”, “no.” Mark lay on the bed with me. We faced each other and clung to each other as he soothed me and whispered in my ear, “I know how you feel”, “I know how you feel.” My screams brought both of our families into our bedroom. I felt hands touching my hair and face and rubbing my back as I wailed and moaned and asked Jesus to help me.

As I began to calm down I felt Mark’s grip on me tighten and he suddenly moaned and said, “I always tied his ties. You weren’t supposed to get his tie. I’m his dad I tied his ties.” I held him as he had held me moments before. I whispered in his ear, “I know how you feel”, “I know how you feel.” We lay that way clinging to each other on the middle of our bed with our families touching and soothing us. Suddenly I heard my sister’s voice in my ear as she hummed a song from our childhood church that she used to sing. As she hummed, “Everything Will be Alright”, I felt my breathing returning to normal and the words of the song easing the sorrow that was weighing me down. The words to the song echoed in my head,

“If you put your trust in Him, although your candle may grow dim. After the storm clouds all pass over everything will be alright.”

Mark and I lay there hearing the humming and the soothing, loving voices of our family. We were able to release each other and sit up. They laid hands on us, encircled us and gave us strength to keep going.

Jordan's senior portrait

Jordan and I after his high school graduation ceremony