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 ‘gifts’

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

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To Jordan On His 23rd Birthday

August 9, 2012

Dear Jordan,

It’s cloudy today, which makes your birthday without you here to celebrate even harder to bear. You would be 23 today, a grown man! I have so many moments that I imagine what you would look like now and what direction life would haven taken you. I always imagine great things because you always dreamed big without reservation. I miss you. It’s been almost 4 years since you died and though time has mellowed the grief, the sorrow in my heart has a pulse and an ache to it that truly makes me know that as your mother I will always long for you.

For some reason writing to you this year is harder than in years past. I hope it’s not because time is blurring my memories of you. I keep you forefront in my heart and pray everyday to feel the nearness of your spirit. You continue to be an inspiration to me. I want to leave my mark on this world just as you were able to do in just 19 short years. Your name is never far from the lips of your family. Merrick I think will always talk about you the most.  He has so many stories that start with, “Hey Ma, remember the time Jordan…..”

Merrick just came into the office where I’m sitting by the window writing to you. I told him I was writing my annual birthday letter and he told me that he’d posted his happy birthday message to you on your Facebook page at 12:01am, wanting to be the first. I know you are proud of your brother and sisters. They are growing and each of them has some of your mannerisms that make me smile. When Merrick comes into the house he yells out, “Mom, where are ya?” sounding exactly like you used to. The first couple of times it happened I had to hold back tears because for the briefest of moments I thought you’d come home. Lindsay holds her mouth the same way you used to when given a compliment as she tries to hold back a smile. And Kendall’s quick wit has all of us laughing at the dinner table just as you did. I see you in all of them and know that as their big brother your arms of protection and love still guide them.

This year we will do as we have since you died. Your banner hangs in front of the house announcing to the world that today is your birthday and we celebrate you! And we’ll light your candle as a comforting reminder that your spirit lives within all of us.

Thank you for being my son and teaching me so much. You are always in my heart.

Love,

Mama

Jordan on his way to his dorm his sophomore year of college.

 

Birthday wishes from afar

As most of you know, I have an amazing husband who loves and cares for me unconditionally. What you may not know is that today is my birthday. I woke this morning thinking of Jordan and my Dad and how much I miss hearing their voices and that they won’t be here to wish me a happy birthday. This time last year Daddy was sick, and lay dying in the hospital. They found a way through Mark to reach out to me. Here is the first email I read (sent at 5:34 am) this morning as the house is still and quiet:

Hi my Love:
Our son came to me in my dreams tonight and asked if he could be the first one today to wish you a Happy Birthday.  When I told him he couldn’t he insisted he could through me as long as I didn’t utter the words before the time stamp on this email.  This way, technically of course he would be first.  Who can argue with Jordan?  So..

“Happy Birthday, Mom.  I’m your first, and will always be.  Today, hear my voice in your heart as I celebrate you and this day.  I miss you too.   

Love, Jordan”

Now, not to be undone, I heard noise downstairs and the aroma of coffee brewing filled my nose.  An older Presence was downstairs making coffee at an hour at only which He would be awake.  I came down the back stairs of our house, warily because it was dark outside,.  When I got downstairs, Pop was there, in the big chair in the corner with a piping hot cup of coffee, in his robe, his legs stretched out on the ottoman, white socks, slippers to one side.. The blinds had been pulled up, Nessie was under her covers, undisturbed by the hour or the Presence.  He was looking out the window.  I sat on the couch, looking at him.  When I started to speak he raised his hand and commanded my silence. “Do you hear the birds singing?”  he asked.  “Yes,”. “Did you do what the Boy asked?”. “Yes, Daddy.”  I replied. He looked at me and asked again, “Do you hear the birds singing?” “Yes, but…”. Once again, hand raised, he said, “Well, tell her I said it second.  She’s my first too, you know.”  I nodded.  I saw a piece of paper with small handwriting on it.

I woke up.  Composed and sent this email.

So, I’m third, and You are so loved.  

I hope you find peace today, and hear the birds singing in the morning. It’s quite a racket now.  In the quiet hours.

I love you now and obviously, forever. 

Mark

Birthday gifts come in so many forms. I have to say that already today I’m feeling blessed and so grateful for the love that surrounds me.

Dropping Jordan off at college

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.

Hearts and Flowers 2/14/12

To all who visit here I say thank you. I never imagined I’d be away from my blog this long after having foot surgery. Who knew that my entire body and mind would feel compelled to participate so fully in my recovery. I imagined myself alternating between writing furiously, reading a stack of books and catching up on movies with my leg propped on a pillow. One appendage was repaired and healing, and the parts of me I need for writing were unscathed or so I thought. Recuperation in the first weeks took all of my energy. I’m back to writing now and so glad you’re hear to share my journey.

Valentine’s Day 2012

“I hate Valentine’s Day.”

I’ve been hearing these words from my 7th grade daughters for the last week. When I push for a reason why, I’m met with,

“Because it’s a made-up holiday.”

“In middle school it’s dumb. We don’t have parties anymore like when we were little. It’s just another day.”

My reply has been, “Well it may feel dumb now but I hope you know that it can be about whatever kind of love you want to express.”

I was met with begrudged mumbles of agreement. I’m not sure if they really agreed with me or just wanted me to be quiet. It’s hard to tell with adolescents exactly what’s going through their minds. I know my girls are romantics at heart and love sappy movies as much as they love watching football with their dad and playing soccer. I was the same way growing up, minus the football, so I know that their expectations for Valentine’s day are liable to exceed the reality. I think they both would love to find that they each have a secret admirer or a boy that’s gutsy enough to express his feelings. The travails of middle school.

I remember the valentines of elementary school. Picking a special one for the boy I had a crush on and hoping he’d notice me. By junior high my anticipation of the day waned. I still looked forward to one part though. Every year there would be  small heart-shaped boxes of chocolates on my sister’s and my pillows, with a huge heart-shaped box given to my mom. Daddy never forgot. He made sure we felt special every year. Daddy even surprised me one year when I was in grad school in Los Angeles and feeling lonely. He had my roommate place a  box of candy on my pillow. Daddy was never the overtly emotional or affectionate type but he taught me how much gestures made out of love mean.

Today despite their misgivings both girls came downstairs wearing necklaces with heart charms, revealing their true feelings and showing that they’d give the day a chance. In spite of themselves they anticipated the flower deliveries that would happen at school. Every year the student council sold flowers for friends on Valentine’s Day. L and K had both bought flowers for their buddies and each other. I knew they were eager to see the reactions of their friends but also secretly hoped for flowers of their own. How perfect that they remembered each other. I’ve watched them grow so close since Jordan died. They take care of each other in a way that channels a lifelong friendship beyond their sisterhood. Love is in the air and it is the sustainable, grounded kind that sees you through tough times and rejoices with you in celebration.

When they come home today they’ll also find a surprise. As I was writing this piece the doorbell rang and there was a delivery for me. Inside was a large box of chocolates and two small heart-shaped boxes sent by my wonderful husband. I cried as I saw the boxes remembering my Dad and how special he made me feel. L and K will find hearts on their pillows just like I did growing up. My daughters are learning about love. There are many love lessons to come but one thing is certain, their foundation is one of kindness, generosity and respect.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

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

Christmas Lights and Music

Christmas 2010

Every Christmas carol you can name, my father had a jazz version of it. By far though, the saxophonist Dexter Gordon’s version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was always Daddy’s favorite Christmas tune. He would play it repeatedly, interspersed with Dave Brubeck, Gene Ammons, the Drifters, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and others. But Dexter Gordon popped up in the rotation more often.  Every time I’d hear it I always sang the words in my head and felt the melancholy of the line, “Through the years we all will be together if the fates allow.”

Last year as Christmas music filled our house for the first time since Jordan died, the “fates” felt closer than ever. Daddy had already told Mark and I that 2010 would probably be the last year he’d be able to make the trip to our house for Christmas. “These old legs can’t take too much traveling anymore.”

Mark assured him, “It doesn’t matter where we have Christmas as long as we’re together. We’ll come to you. The kids are older now. We can make it work.”

And that was the plan. I’ve been steeling myself for the holidays since Daddy died in April. Christmas was by far his favorite holiday. He always stood at the bottom of the stairs so that he could see his grandchildren race down to see what was under the tree. As the kids got older and slept later he’d complain, “What’s wrong with these kids? I’m giving them 15 more minutes and then I’m waking them up. It’s Christmas!” His child like exuberance filled our house and is a tradition that will be so missed. I must now put that tradition in my heart alongside listening to Jordan sing, “This Christmas,” over and over.

Time if you let it can be a teacher. I’m learning that no matter how much my heart feels broken, it is not beyond repair. I put Christmas music on today as I begin to pull out the decorations that always grace our home. The olive wood nativity scene, the angel with the capiz shell wings and many others will be displayed throughout the house making me smile and wistful all at the same time. I put the music on shuffle and was doing fine until Dexter Gordon’s horn started to play. I could see Daddy sitting whistling along in his perfect pitch. A part of me couldn’t help but cry out, “Why couldn’t the fates allow us one more Christmas together?” Three years ago I didn’t think I’d ever be able to listen to Christmas music especially Jordan’s favorites, “This Christmas,” by Donny Hathaway and Luther Vandross’ version of “My Favorite Things.” Each year has brought a little more comfort, sprinkles of peace even as heartache so clearly still resides within me.

Mark is outside taking advantage of an unseasonably warm day to put up the Christmas lights. This year I asked him to decorate the trees outside the window of the seat I occupy most, especially when I’m sad. I asked for light and it will glow through the many nights as Christmas approaches.  I’ll never stop missing Jordan and the thought of my first Christmas without my father can only be felt in small bits. But there is light, and it is finding its way into my heart.

Jordan on our tree-2010

Daddy listening to his music-Christmas 2010

 

 

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