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 ‘Fall’

So Grateful For Jordan’s Tree

Jordan's tree with his elementary school in the background

In the days leading up to October 12th, the anniversary of Jordan’s death, I was thrust back into the pain and numbness I felt right after he died. Walking down the hall towards the front door of my house or hearing the phone ring, shifted me back to 2008 and all those traumatic October days. As much as the leaves changing signals fall, it also starts the anniversary days. One thing I knew I needed to do to and I hoped it would make me feel some peace was to visit Jordan’s tree.

Jordan’s tree is a crabapple tree that was donated by his sisters’ Girl Scout Troop through a Park District Program. In the summer of 2009, their troop leader called me asking if they had my family’s permission to have a tree planted in Jordan’s memory. My answer was of course an emotional, “Yes.” I was so touched by their offer and also the courtesy and grace they showed by asking how we felt before proceeding with the tree planting.

On August 8, 2009 the day before what would have been Jordan’s 20th birthday we had a tree dedication ceremony, which was attended by family and friends. The Girl Scout Troop had a plaque made for us to use at the ceremony because the permanent plaque that would be placed at the base of the tree wasn’t ready yet. The plaque given by the Girl Scout Troop starts with a line from a poem by Margueritte Harmon Bro, “We thank thee for special trees which will always stand large in our memory.” The quote so fittingly expressed the sentiment of the day.

To conclude the ceremony, the Pastor of our church said a prayer and also placed a piece of cloth over one of the branches. He called the cloth, “Jordan’s Mantle.” He encouraged all of us to cut a piece from the cloth and keep it with us as a symbol of some aspect of Jordan that we wished to carry forward. He spoke of Jordan’s passion for social justice, his love of music and reading and his dedication to family and friends. Everyone that was there cut a piece of the cloth. Many of our family and friends keep their piece of mantle cloth in their wallets

Last week, I went to see Jordan’s tree for the first time this fall. I walked up on his still young tree thinking of Merrick’s words to me the summer before, “I want to tie a piece of the mantle cloth on one of the branches, so when I’m 80 I can come and stand under the tree and look for the cloth.” The spirit of hope and looking towards the future embodied in Merrick’s words made Jordan’s tree even more of a legacy. I came to visit the tree and to see the permanent plaque that was finally in place. The plaque was supposed to be placed at the base of the tree in the months after it was planted. There were problems with the manufacturer, then the weather made installation impossible. When it was finally installed, it was put at the wrong tree. The irony of the Park District’s placement is that they put the plaque at a mature tree that shaded the baseball diamond. Jordan took many practice swings before going up to bat under the shade of that tree. When I first saw the plaque under the “baseball,” tree, I wondered if Jordan was in on the joke. I know he would have found it funny that the plaque started off at the baseball diamond and not near the park bench.

The plaque stayed at the “baseball,” tree until this fall because cold weather and frozen ground settled in early last year and prevented it from being moved to its rightful place. Unfortunately the Spring thaw did not quicken the actions of the Park District, despite the efforts of a very determined volunteer in charge of the tree dedications. As fall approached this year, I urgently called the volunteer again alerting her that Jordan’s tree still did not have its rightful marker. When October 12th arrived,  I wanted to be able to go and sit near his tree with everything in order. The wonderful volunteer, Mrs. Holmes, must have stood and watched them move the plaque because the day after I called her, she left a voicemail message telling me the plaque was moved.

On October 13th, I sat on the bench near Jordan’s tree as its branches framed the children playing in the distance. It is a tree that overlooks the baseball diamond where he played little league baseball and the field and playground where he ran, jumped and climbed as a little boy. It is the perfect place for his tree.  I look at his elementary school in the distance and remember my son as a boy getting every bit of use out of his 30 minutes of recess. His clothes were always the proof that he played hard. His pants were worn at the knees and he came home with unexplained rips in his shirts. There is also the infamous day that he called me, needing a whole new set of clothes including socks because he and some of his friends couldn’t resist jumping and splashing in a mud puddle. Jordan’s tree anchors those memories now.

As much as fall hurts now with its memories of late night calls and police visits broadcasting loss, it is still a time of  beauty. I am amazed that in the shock and numbness of grief, the Technicolor show of nature still beckons me. Even in the days after Jordan died I couldn’t help picking up beautiful leaves as I walked. Two years later I know that the fears I had right after Jordan died, that fall would annually mock me with its brilliance as I stood with my loss are unfounded. The brilliant colors of all the trees still thrill me just as they did before Jordan died. I don’t look away from all the beauty. I stand beneath the trees looking up at the brilliant golden, red and orange leaves with the sun filtering through them. Beauty can coexist with sorrow.

The plaque at the base of the tree shows a beginning and ending year for my son’s life. It will never feel right or fair that Jordan’s year of death precedes my own. In the midst of my grief, I’m so grateful that I can sit and look at a living monument, honoring Jordan’s memory. Everyone that walks by can look at Jordan’s tree and hopefully pause and read the plaque, knowing that he is loved, honored and remembered. 


Fall is here and I’m not ready. This year as opposed to years past I’m forced to live, breathe, act differently as I struggle to discover a new normal and make it tangible. In the midst of my search life goes on and the seasons continue to change. Ready or not fall is here again, proof that the world keeps turning no matter how hard I want to go back and make things as they were.

I always loved fall. The changing seasons is one of the main reasons I knew I didn’t want to continue living in Southern California. Every January however, when the skies are perpetually gray and the meteorologists feel the need to qualify the cold with harsh adjectives like bitter, raw, and icy; Chicago doesn’t seem like the place for me. But fall has always felt good to me. I like the crispness in the air. I’m a sweateraholic so I love being able to pull a sweater from my collection and put it on feeling warm and cozy but unencumbered by coats, hats and scarves. Fall felt good to me most of all because of the vibrancy of the sky and all the brilliant colors that the trees hand us as gifts. There is something about the brilliance of fall leaves that awes me every year. Walking in my neighborhood looking at the awning of brilliance only fall trees bring made me believe in miracles. It has always felt like a miracle I was allowed to watch. My daughters know how much I love the beautiful colors and since they were small would bring me leaves of varied hues and type that they collected when they were out playing.

My daughters and I had already started our collection last fall. We were keeping them in a folder and I was showing them how to press leaves so that we could display them throughout our house. We took the leaves, put them between sheets of newspaper and then placed the heaviest books we could find on top of them for a few days. When we removed the books and looked at the leaves they were perfect specimens. They were dry without being crumbly and they had a resilience to them that allowed them to bend without breaking apart. We had started our collection.

After October 12th, 2008 the day of Jordan’s death everything was viewed through a haze. Colors, shapes, the brilliance of fall were a backdrop for shock and pain. In the days after Jordan died Mark and I took many long walks together. The only thing we knew for sure was that we couldn’t be far from each other. Neither of us felt able to drive but staying in the house all day amidst our well- meaning families was at times overwhelming. Sometimes we needed it to be just the two of us. The two people who knew and felt like no one else what it was like to lose Jordan, our oldest child. We walked, sometimes in silence, sometimes talking about our beloved son, and sometimes quietly weeping. We would find a park bench sit and allow ourselves to feel the exhaustion and weariness that had taken hold of our bodies and souls. Our boy was gone. We were in shock, and numbness surrounded us.

During our walks I continued my leaf collecting. Even in my haze, I felt purpose. The leaves I collected would be part of a scrapbook I would make. The leaves would sit amongst the many cards and letters we received from family and friends.  So many of the cards and letters detailed special memories that were new to me of Jordan from those that knew, loved and admired him. I cherished every note that we received. I kept them to reread on those days when my worse fears surged and it felt that I was the only one who longed for Jordan and remembered him. Those fall days were the backdrop for my “mother loss” pain.  It seemed only fitting that the earth should say goodbye as well. The leaves were the Earth’s notes to my son.

I couldn’t give up on life as much as I missed my child and wanted to be with him. I needed to touch and feel the good things the world had to offer. Those fall leaves were a symbol of that beauty.  The leaves I collected on those walks were treated the same as the ones my daughters and I collected. I pressed them and then displayed them on the table in my entryway. I happened to look down at one of the leaves and saw that unlike the others that were golden yellows, maroons and reds, there was one that at the center had a

Jordan's leaf

Jordan's leaf

circle of green. It was my Jordan leaf. It still held green. How had I not noticed the green center when I picked it? When I got this leaf home and examined it all I could do was cry. Here was this leaf that had gone against the cycle of nature. The green center the heart of the leaf showed me what I was feeling about my child. The leaf like Jordan fell too soon.


Jordan and his beautiful smile. The way we remember him.

Jordan and his beautiful smile. The way we remember him.

The word anniversary has become a charged word at my house. My husband and I sat on our porch last week talking about the fact that the 1-year anniversary of Jordan’s death is approaching and how we’ll prepare our children and ourselves for this day. As we sat and talked I looked up at him with a sudden memory and said, “We’re skipping September and going straight to October. It’s only September 9th. We’ve forgotten about our wedding anniversary.” We both stopped and looked at each other. Our wedding anniversary is September 17th and we had both forgotten about it. Anniversaries have different meanings now, those to celebrate, and those to endure.

I’m struggling now to figure out how October 12th, the day of Jordan’s death will be spent. I say spent, not remembered or commemorated because it is a day I just want to get through. His birthday was the day we honored and celebrated his life. What do you do on the day your child died? October 12th this year is Columbus Day. All of my children have the day off from school. The fantasy I had was that I’d take the kids to school, and that Mark and I would be home and just be still and let whatever emotions were inside wash over us and spill forth. No, to be honest that scenario is my second choice. My first choice is to find a way to make 10/12 disappear. I don’t want to relive it again even though I relive it regularly. It has become more than a memory it is part of my fiber. As the day approaches my resistance to reliving this day grows fiercer.

I don’t want to remember the phone ringing at 1:33 am with a call from our local police telling us two officers were on their way. The call came because the police showed up at our old address, the address on Jordan’s license. When the dispatcher called she said, “Two officers are at your door.  My husband replied, “No, I’m sorry you’re mistaken.” Then the banter back and forth about addresses and finally the mix-up is fixed and the dispatcher says, “The officers are on their way.” Then she hangs up. Mark gets up throws on sweat pants and goes downstairs to wait for the officers. We have no idea why they’re coming. Had someone tried to vandalize or break into our old house that was currently on the market? Is that what they needed to tell us? A problem with the house was the only thing that entered my mind. Mark went downstairs to wait. I stayed in our bedroom, which is at the top of the stairs near the front door. I laid there thinking-“Why would they come here if it’s about the old house?” “ Wouldn’t they tell us to meet them there? “

The doorbell rang before I got any further into pondering the police. I heard them ask my husband his full name. Then the officer’s voice was so low, a murmur so quiet that I couldn’t make out words. I sat up because the quiet talking was making me nervous. I started to pull on sweat pants so that I could go downstairs. Whatever they were talking about I wasn’t going to stay upstairs. Just as I was pulling on the sweatpants I heard the word “Massachusetts”. Whatever they were talking about was about Jordan. He was our Massachusetts. Nothing else in Massachusetts mattered to us. Thoughts raced through my head, first concern, “had he been hurt in an accident?” The next second it was anger, “that damn boy if he got into trouble and is in jail for something stupid he did with his friends I’m going to kill him.” All of these thoughts raced through my mind but not once did the thought of Jordan being gone ever enter my brain. That thought even now seems impossible. Not Jordan. By the time I was heading down the stairs I heard the tail end of what the officers were saying and I heard Mark scream. Scream isn’t the right word; he let out a guttural moan that I had never heard before. I reached the bottom of the stairs and saw Mark sitting on the bench in our entry with the two officers standing nearby one with his hand on Mark’s shoulder. When Mark saw me he got up to tell me what I’d already heard from the top of the stairs. I put my hand up and in a shaky voice said, “No, they have to tell me.” I stood on the rug under the light in our entry and I looked up into their faces daring them to say it again. I already had my arguments ready to show them they were wrong and they didn’t know for sure. I let them talk.

“Ma’am at around 9:30 pm eastern time your son and three friends were travelling on I-91 in Holyoke MA about 20 minutes from their destination. The car veered off the road crashed through a guardrail, dropped 30 ft and landed on the road below. Your son didn’t make it.”

I challenged them, “How do you know he didn’t make it? How can they be sure it’s Jordan?”

They kept calling me Ma’am. “Ma’am he had identification on him and his friends at the scene identified him.”

I knew it was true when the officer said Jordan had identification on him. Jordan always had his wallet with him. He always had his wallet, Ipod and phone wherever he went. I couldn’t make what they said untrue. I was out of questions and out of stalling tactics. I had to let the news in-Jordan is gone. Somehow Mark was standing beside me. I looked at him as he cried. He told me the other boys were pretty banged up (I later found this to be untrue. All three of Jordan’s friends walked away from the accident) but that Jordan didn’t make it. Then we cried together. We held each other and cried even though all my brain was saying was NOT JORDAN. NOT JORDAN.

Our cries and moans woke our other children and in less than 10 minutes we were telling my son and daughters what happened to their brother. We all stood huddled together crying and comforting. My 16 yr. old son like me tried one last time to make the news untrue. “ He’s just hurt right, he’s not gone.” I had to tell him again, “No baby he died in the accident. He’s gone.” All we could do was cry.

October 12th, 2008 the day Jordan died. Now the anniversary of that day approaches and my mind won’t release me from that night. The day is coming no matter what I do. My husband and I are thinking, praying and consulting with others about how we’ll get through this day for our children and ourselves. I know that we’ll talk as a family about what we’re feeling and not hold anything inside. No matter how much I wish I could shield my children from the pain of this day I know I can’t. They will feel their pain and look to their parents for comfort, and we will absorb as much of their pain as we can. Right now it hurts as much as it did then. Not Jordan. Even as a year without him approaches I still say Not Jordan.