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 ‘death of son’

Wedding Vows and Compromise

From the moment one says, “I do,” and commits her life to another the whole notion of sacrifice and compromise become a part of her vocabulary. In our early days of dating Mark and I were both weary from energy depleting relationships and wanted nothing more than to find someone with whom we could truly be ourselves. During our first date we talked of hating the game playing that had defined previous relationships we each had. We went so far as to make a pact that we’d have truth and honesty as our foundation and then we shook on it. It seemed so simple. We were on the same page and looking for the same things, a committed relationship, a partner that shared our values, someone to make us laugh and listen when we needed to unburden and cry. We have found that in each other.

I love when Mark tells the story of asking my dad for my hand in marriage. We’d met my parents in Vegas and Mark’s parents were there as well so that we could introduce everyone. Mark found himself in a difficult position. His dad was insisting he do the traditional thing and speak with my father about our impending engagement. Mark knew from talking to me that if he asked my dad for my hand, the response would be, “I don’t have anything to give away.”

Sandwiched between two strong-willed fathers, I wished Mark the best as he went off to talk to my dad. True to form as soon as he began to ask for my hand my dad interrupted him saying, “Boy, I don’t want to hear that kind of talk. It’s not for me.”

Mark nervously replied, “You’ve got to understand. My dad is pressuring me to do what men in our family have done for generations. I’m stuck so please let me finish.”

With those words Daddy softened and told Mark to take a look at me standing across the room. “What did Jackie have to say about this?”

“Well she warned me you would react this way.”

Daddy grabbed him by the shoulder and said, “Do you see that smile on her face? As long as you can help keep that smile there you’ll never have any problems with me.”

Mark and I have been married now for close to 24 years. We still watch our wedding video from time to time and my favorite part is after we’ve been announced to the congregation and our making our way back down the aisle, Daddy briefly stands with this huge smile on his face and pats Mark on the back. He knew I’d found my life partner.

Life has caused Mark and I to face and stand by every vow that we said those many years ago. We’ve faced sickness and health, richer and poorer and during our wedding ceremony said in strong voices, “Til death do us part.” Death has come to visit, not leaving either of us widowed but taking our oldest child and testing all the promises we made to each other. Would we still be honest and open with each other? Would grief drive a wedge between us or allow us to grow closer even as we mourned in different ways. We’ve held each other in sorrow, weeping until no more tears would fall. We’ve flipped through pictures of before Jordan died reminiscing and breathing the blessing that was his life. But there are times when our expressions of grief and love for our son take divergent paths. I regularly watch the video of Jordan from the memorial service. I cry every time and they are sweet cleansing tears. Mark hasn’t watched it since the memorial service. Mark occasionally wears some of Jordan’s shirts and sweatshirts and I can barely breathe thinking, “Those clothes aren’t for you.” But I stay silent because I know they bring him comfort and a connection to Jordan.

Now we’ve come to another crossroad and it has to do with the picture of Jordan we used for the memorial service. It was a poster-sized version of Jordan’s high school senior portrait. My extended family each has copies and they are proudly displayed in their homes. I never got around to framing Jordan’s portrait and after he died for me it was no longer his senior portrait but the memorial service picture. I couldn’t look at it anymore. But Mark wanted to put it up next to Merrick’s senior portrait. “Merrick looks so lonely. His brother should be next to him.”

“I’m not ready to do that. Can you take it to work and have the picture there?”

“If it’s too much for you, I’ll take it to work.”

That was the plan and even though it still felt unresolved I felt less anxious about having to look at the picture everyday. I didn’t want to let Mark down and I hated that the portrait no longer represented the sweet memory of watching Jordan hurriedly tuck in his shirt as he rushed out the door to get his picture taken. I wanted to reclaim that feeling but I didn’t know how. Thursday evening I was walking upstairs and glanced in the living room to see Jordan’s senior picture displayed on the coffee table. Shock and betrayal filled me. “He promised he wouldn’t put it up but he did.”

It was like the picture had some force field around it. I couldn’t even go into the living room and remove it from the table. I ran upstairs and confronted Mark.

“You said you were taking the picture to work. Why is it on the table in the living room?”

“What are you talking about, oh wait a minute I had the picture face down by my briefcase. Irena (our cleaning lady) must have put it up. I wouldn’t do that to you. I’ll go get it right now.”

“Thank you.”

It wasn’t sitting well with me that I was thanking Mark for removing a picture of Jordan. I needed that picture to be transformed and I didn’t know what it would take for it to be his senior portrait again. I walked by it face down on the dining room table for a couple of days. Then on a day that I needed a reminder that there were those out there who remembered that grieving lasted longer than a season, I received a card from my friend Sue who I haven’t spoken to in ages. The front of the card read, “Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.” St John Chrysostom Sue wrote an inspiring message inside to me and signed the card writing, “Shine on sweet sister.”

I realized as I read the card that I do want to shine on and part of that for me is taking away any negative aspects connected to looking at my son. His memorial service was beautiful and as I’ve said before I wish that we’d recorded it. During the service my thoughts were far from wanting any visual reminders of the event. The first moments of walking into the church were traumatic and I gasped when I saw the picture of Jordan haunted by the too big image of him on the dais. I tried to make it through the service by not gazing directly at his picture, thinking that I could somehow preserve it as what it was before if I didn’t look at it. But I did look at it as he looked out on the congregation with a perpetual smile. That beautiful smile that everyone who knew him commented on and all I could see at the time was a picture spoiled, totally ruined by death. How dare death make us choose a picture for a memorial service when all everyone wanted was for Jordan’s death to be a horrible mistake? So I chose instead to listen, keeping my eyes closed for most of the service and letting the sounds fill me with a peaceful connection to all that had gathered to pay tribute to Jordan.

The card from Sue reminded me of two things. One no matter how alone I feel sometimes, there are so many family and friends sending, prayers, love and light to my family and me. Two, Jordan is with me always and I choose to embrace him by watching videos, listening to his voicemail message, rereading old cards and letters from him, writing to him, talking to him and yes erecting his senior portrait where it should have been all along. I took the picture of Jordan examined it closely, looking deeply into his eyes and planted a kiss on his cheek before placing it on the table next to Merrick’s picture. Mark saw it a little later and asked what made me change my mind? I responded, “I don’t want to be afraid of anything connected with Jordan and I love you and think you should be able to see your boys side by side in our home.”

I have two boys that graduated high school and their pictures will always hold a place of honor.

Senior Portraits

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Please Keep In Touch: The Grief Does Not Stop Here

Everyday I miss Jordan. I wake up missing him, and I go to sleep missing him. Sure there are times when our spiritual connection is strong and I feel his presence, but those times have not served to negate that intense almost feral desire I have to see his life continue to unfold. I still need to talk about Jordan. I want to share both the great and the not so great memories of all the times we had together, times when we laughed together or shared our favorite scenes from movies, times when my voice went hoarse from screaming at him when he’d pushed me too far because my answer of, ”No” wasn’t enough and he had to have the last word.

I need to say his name and know that I’m being heard and that he isn’t being forgotten. And when despair sets in the thing I crave most is to be able to cry the same way I cried in the early days after he died. Crying hot tears of grief, anger, bewilderment and pure sadness without having to explain that even though it’s been 3 ½ years since he died, some days my hurt is like it happened yesterday. Grief surges and pulls at me in physical ways that make me want to scream.

Mark and I were at the car wash a week ago and as we sat in the car being herded through the line watching the sudsy cloths flow across the windshield I said to him, “this is the perfect place to scream. I could scream here and I wouldn’t have to worry about upsetting anyone.” Sometimes when I’m out in the world attending to mundane tasks of running errands or even when I’m engaged in a meeting or having lunch with friends I feel a surge of pain so powerful that I bow my head for a moment hoping that the scream I feel within won’t be released. At these moments I can tell you that all I’m thinking about is how do I keep going when my son is dead and I miss him so much? I want Jordan. I want the actual blood and tissue and heart pumping Jordan. I’m not content to sit knowing his spirit is with me. These are times that border on insanity and I wonder how long they’ll last.

I have to miss watching what so many of the parents of his friends are allowed to witness. I don’t get to see him get his first apartment, fall in love, find a career that thrills him, butt into his business and have him say, “Mom, I’ve got this, don’t worry.”  I don’t get to see him grow older. As a parent there are days when not being able to call him or touch him make me wail out in pain. Grief has not left the building.

My heart was shattered when I heard the words that Jordan was dead. Even now there are days when the improbability of me outliving my child makes me shake my head in disbelief. I know that part of my longing to see him and be with him is because March is here, the month of my birthday. I’ll grow another year older and have to accept that it is a gift my son will never know again. There’s always the whisper from inside me as my birthday approaches, “Jordan, you take my birthdays I want you here.” Even birthday wishes can’t bring my son back. As much as I know that life goes on and that I want mine to be meaningful, oh there are days when the hurt takes over. It is on these days that I wonder how to let the world know I’m not doing as well as you may think. My heart is mending but it carries a scar that feels like it may never heal. The calls and cards and all the communication I received in the first year have dwindled but not completely gone away. I guess the only way people know how you feel is if you tell them. The problem is I’m not always sure that the notion that I’m still mourning and have days where the tears won’t stop falling may be hard for others to understand. The trouble is I don’t always want to be alone as I mourn. I still need to cry and say out loud how much it hurts that Jordan is gone. I’m not looking for answers just the understanding that it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since the death of a loved one. I need to know that those that care about me can call, email, send a card, be here for me in whatever way feels right, without undue discomfort.

I’m pleading for understanding. I’m better than I was a year ago but my mourning journey still takes me to the depths of heartache and longing. Most of us seem to accept that there is no time limit on grief but be aware, that as the string of days grows longer and functioning in this world grows easier it takes a long time for a shattered soul to be fixed back into something that resembles a functioning heart. Please, think of me, pray for me and ask me how I’m doing if you can. Just be patient in my halted reply.

Searching Out Memories With The Help Of Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston’s death sent me on a search for memories. I’m not talking about anything metaphysical but an actual looking through my stuff search. Mark videotaped so many moments of our children’s lives. The video camera was not just for birthdays, recitals and holidays, but everyday occurrences as well. It used to drive me crazy that his desire to capture even the most mundane of our family’s history. Now all I have is gratitude for his foresight.

When Jordan was 3, he had a favorite Whitney Houston song that he sang regularly. Since her death, I desperately need to hear Jordan singing his favorite song of hers. I’ve been culling our old DVD’s of Jordan when he was younger. I’m looking for a specific video of him singing Whitney Houston’s song, “I Have Nothing.” Jordan loved that song and sang it so sweetly in his high-pitched little boy voice. He was funny with his song choices. He gravitated towards the music he heard his dad and I playing. He was just as likely to sing “Gotta Be,” by Desiree as he was to sing songs from the “Baby Songs,” repertoire. When he got in the car with his dad he always asked to hear Chubb Rock a rapper from the ‘80s.

So far my search has been fruitless. Whitney Houston was my generation. She was born in the same year as I and shared a birth date with Jordan. Her death brought back a flood of memories of Jordan as a little boy. Every video I’ve watched I’m struck by how strong his personality was from his earliest years. In one Christmas video he got a tent and eagerly crawled into it. As I opened the flap so that Mark could film him he politely asked, “Please close the flap, I need my privacy.” That was my 3-year-old boy asserting his independence and guarding his privacy as he did until the day he died.

A dear friend just observed the 7th anniversary of his son’s death. One of the things he did to mark the day was to watch the memorial service video. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to film Jordan’s memorial service. My regret at not having the memorial recorded started during the service. As I sat in the pew, listening to Merrick speak so passionately about his love for his brother, watching the video compiled by one of Jordan’s best friends, taking in the words of the eulogy, speaking of living with the roses and the thorns and having the service end with the sweet sound of another of Jordan’s friends playing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” on the saxophone I thought, “We should be capturing this time.” Being able to revisit that beautiful service and the celebration we had of Jordan’s life is all I want some days.

It’s funny how time and circumstances can change you. About 7 years ago one of my great grandfather’s brother died at a ripe old age. My sister had been in contact with him and they wrote letters back and forth. After his death, his family sent Julie a DVD of the funeral service. She called me surprised and unsure of what to do with the DVD. She like I found it morbid that a funeral would be memorialized. Morbid was the word that stuck in my head. Why would anyone want to rewatch a funeral? It was hard enough attending them. That was back when I was afraid of death, feeling that if I got to close to it I’d be changed and not for the better. Well, I have been changed and the biggest change is that death doesn’t have a hold on me anymore. I held the hand of my dead son as he lay in his casket. I kissed his too cold cheek. I laid my head on my Daddy’s chest in the minutes after he died calling out his name and still feeling the warmth emanating from his body.

Jordan’s death was a traumatic middle of the night horror that still reverberates with shock and despair. His memorial service though was a grace filled occasion and every chance I have to see him in motion from infancy through the last videos we have of him as a young man are gifts. I embrace his life and the legacy he continues to provide. Death took a part of him away, but I’ll never grow tired of remembering him, talking to him and staying connected to my son.

Learning to look forward-2012

Happy New Year and thank you to all who visit and comment on my blog.

I’m still getting used to the notion of a new year making its entrance without Jordan here to experience it with me. Tears have flowed already this morning as I learn to live in a world where I don’t get to see my oldest son grow and prosper. Even as I wiped the tears away my heart was grateful to have family and friends that I can share my deepest feelings with and not feel misunderstood. With every year I feel a part of my grief being transformed into a powerful love that comes from being able to mother such a wonderful son as Jordan. For that gift I always say, “Thank you.”

To all of you I wish peace, time for quiet reflection and experiences of real joy in 2012.

My family on Christmas Eve

My Christmas Letter

Dear Jordan,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Mama

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

Jordan on our tree-2010

Thinking of You

“I’ll be thinking of you, thinking of you

Though we’re far apart, you’re in my heart

And there you’ll always stay

Till we meet again someday

I’ll be thinking of you”

Andrae Crouch

Jordan is always on my mind, always. Some days the comfort I get from feeling his presence in my heart and surroundings is like light and warmth all at the same time. I freely talk to him telling him about my days and asking him to watch over and encourage his siblings. I remember silly things he’s done and am able to laugh, feeling his laughter too.

On other days, thinking of him makes me wish that there were some way that he could come back, that a horrible mistake has been made and he’ll find a way to return. I’ve even gone so far as to chastise myself for having him cremated. “He doesn’t have a body to come back to, what were we thinking?”

Still more, are the days when I’m so angry not only at the accident that caused his death or at his friends who lived, but at Jordan. A litany of  “Why” outbursts cascade through my mind as I lash out at him for not surviving.

  • Why were you sitting in the rear passenger seat?
  • Why did you fall asleep?
  • Why didn’t you stay in NY instead of tagging along to Baltimore?
  • Why didn’t you stick with friends your own age?
  • Why didn’t you listen to your dad and I and stay vigilant when you’re riding in the car on long trips?
  • Why didn’t you tell me how tired everyone was on the day you were going back to school?

And then the anger fixed on Jordan turns to me.

  • Why didn’t I listen to my gut and call you to check-in while you were on the road?
  • Why didn’t I buy you a bus ticket for NY instead of allowing you to drive with your friends?
  • Why didn’t I get angry when you changed plans and off-handedly told me about it in a text message?
  • Why did I let you make your own choices and decisions?

The last why is the conundrum that threatens me most. I’m raising my surviving children to be just as independent and to live fully the way Mark and I taught their brother. Am I doing right by them? I pray they will live long, happy lives. I’m proud of them for their resilience and that they continue to embrace life with exuberance and hope. The love and pride I have for my children doesn’t change the nagging thoughts that undermine my beliefs in what being a good mother means.  It still stings when people tell me I’m a good mom. Sometimes all I can give in response is a nod as I lower my head. They’re saying, “Good mom.” I’m thinking, “Cautionary tale.”

My oldest boy is gone and as hard as I try I can’t completely shake the feeling that I should have been able to save him. Yes, it was an accident that took his life but there are so many intersections of time where things could have been different. A bus ticket, a phone call, saying, “No, you can’t go,” would have changed the trajectory of my family’s life. I know his death can’t be undone and facing that reality is a part of who I am now. Yes, I think about my son everyday and today happens to be a “Why” day.

Always Mom of 4

Columbus Day

“Mama do I have to go to school on Columbus Day?”

“No, honey your school is closed that day remember?”

“Oh yeah, but I thought that was the day, you know…”

And then my daughter trailed off not able to finish her thought and looking at me with pleading eyes hoping I’d rescue her from having to complete her words. Of course she was talking about the anniversary of Jordan’s death.

“Are you talking about October 12th, the day Jordan died?”

She shakes her head.

“It’s okay to say the day Jordan died.”

“I know, I thought it was Columbus Day.”

“That was the day we found out in 2008. It won’t be on that day every year. That’s just how you remember it. This year it’s on a Wednesday.”

“Should I go to school that day?”

“It might feel better to stick to your regular routine. But if you wake up that day and feel too sad to go then you can stay home. Let’s wait and see.”

“You’re right. Plus I won’t be at school on Friday because we’re going to see Merrick. I should go to school Wednesday.”

We found out Jordan had died the night before in the wee hours of Columbus day. Every year since, that day has been the bellwether for friends and family clanging its reminder that if the anniversary isn’t that day, it’s coming.

My family continues having the good fortune of compassionate, caring friends and family. We’ve received emails, cards, calls, invitations to meals, all to say, “We’re thinking of you all. We miss Jordan too.” The grace of others is a lifeline on what can be very dark days. Times of “what ifs,” and “if onlys” that serve no purpose beyond deepening the pain of loss. It will be 3 years tomorrow since Jordan’s death. My apprehension about the approach of the day fluctuates but isn’t as visceral as it was that first year when I wondered if I would remember to breathe as images of cars careening off of overpasses and my son being pulled lifeless from a car swirled in my head. Those images don’t appear as frequently. But the ache of loss is still as palpable. The days leading up to the 12th are fraught with thoughts of what used to be. Three years ago today my son was still living life fully and so was I. Thinkinking back on that time, I wish I could have the clarity to fully remember each moment of those early days of October when Jordan exuded energy and life. I miss him so much. I yearn to hear his voice, see what he would look like, just see him moving and being.

Three years later life is different. With each passing year there is a sadness that I’m being pulled further away from the time of Jordan’s life. I’ll always hate marking time by the death of my son, it is a cruelty that needs a name other than anniversary. Yet, I don’t dread the anniversary of Jordan’s death the way I did the first two years. I know the day will come and I will mourn and weep for what could have been and the reality that my son is dead will push forth through my soul in ways that are painful to imagine.

But I also know that after October 12th, the next day will follow and I’ll be on the path to continuing my journey of living and finding joy in my work, my family and connections with the spirit of my beautiful firstborn son.