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 ‘graduation’

Old Habits and New Routines

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

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

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

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

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

“Why would you do that?”

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

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

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

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

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

“So we’ll do it.”

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

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

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

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Back to the Writing Life

I had to look at my blog stats to realize it’s been almost 2 months since I’ve written in my blog, After we spread my father’s ashes in West Virginia I spent almost two weeks with my mom in Ohio and found it hard to do anything except rest and be with her doing whatever she wanted. I watched her favorite game shows, I went out to dinner with her friends and her, and for the first time in months I realized how tired and weary I was. I’m glad to be back writing. I hope you’ll keep reading.

I don’t know where to start. March 11th set me on a path that I didn’t anticipate or want. Then again who wants to hear that one of their parents has cancer and only has weeks to live. Intermingled with this still ungraspable news were the parental duties that I had to find a way to manage while doing whatever I could to help my mom help my dad. Talk about the sandwich generation.

As all of these duties were unfolding and I was getting into a routine of traveling to Ohio every week or so to hear for myself what the doctors had to say and to make sure my mom wasn’t coming home to an empty house, my own personal loss made a grand appearance. The date of what would have been Jordan’s college graduation was approaching and I was steeling myself for how I would make it through May 22nd. Merrick’s last day of high school was upon us and as he waited to hear from colleges where he would be accepted I tried my best to ease his fears, repeating, “You will go to college and it will be a place you want to attend.”

I’m thinking, “ Merrick’s going off to college and right now I can’t even imagine letting him go. Daddy’s not going to see him graduate from high school and that’s breaking my heart. How am I going to get through this day?”

As life would have it, we are making it through. Merrick’s graduation was beautiful. Hearing his name being read and seeing him walk to receive his diploma brought such pride knowing how many burdens he carried to get to that point. Cameras flashed as we took all configurations of pictures with Merrick as the centerpiece.

I have to admit that I had to look away when Mark called out, “Okay, now a picture of the graduate with the grandparents.” Those words told our family’s story better and more succinctly than anything else. Four years ago Jordan was receiving his diploma and his four grandparents proudly flanked him. This year our family portrait is of 5 not 6 and the call for grandparents rings out and “Pop” isn’t in the picture. Four years have created so much change. Moments before the grandparents picture I hugged my mother, as she wept, no words necessary. Then I watched her dry her eyes and proudly take her place next to her grandson. She managed a smile even though her eyes still held sadness. Sorrow and loss have touched my family  in profound ways. But joy and celebration also find their ways into our hearts.

Merrick and his proud family at his HS graduation

Purple Ribbons Were Everywhere

My family started on Friday evening adorning the trees around our home with purple ribbons and the placards I’d ordered. It was a labor of love that encompassed all five of us as we all took part whether it was affixing the ribbons to the trees, tying bows or threading the ribboned placards through a portion of the bow. The weather forecast called for rain all weekend and Mark and I were up early on Saturday to continue our task. We tied a ribbon on a tree near a fast food hangout of all the high school kids. The day was sunny and as soon as we would tie a ribbon there would be someone walking by to read it. Kendall was with us and she watched beaming every time someone stopped to read the cards. “They’re reading about Jordan. It’s working.” Her pride engulfed me and we made a roundabout circle of our neighborhood placing ribbons on the trees by the park near our public library. One of our neighbors from our old block drove up and asked what we were doing. When we explained about honoring Jordan on that would have been his graduation her only response was, “Can I help?” Mark grabbed a spool of ribbon and handed it to her through the car window. As she drove off she said, “I’ll make sure Linden is covered with purple ribbons.” As we walked back home planning to put ribbons on Jordan’s tree, in front of his elementary, junior high and high school another friend found us on our path.

“I wanted to know if you needed help with the ribbons?”

“Yes, that would be great.”
“Oh good, Giancarlo (her son) told me he wants to help.”

“I love that boy he is so sweet. Please tell him thank you.”

Many people already knew of our ribbon project because of a short article that was in our community paper, The Wednesday Journal. I’d emailed the editor asking if there was a way he could inform community members about the significance of the ribbons. The article written exceeded all of my expectations:

Family honors late son, OPRF alum with purple ribbons
written by Terry Dean

Jordan Moore-Fields would’ve been among the graduates walking across the stage this June at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

This weekend, his family will honor his memory with a special tribute that many in Oak Park will get a chance to see. On Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22, his family will place purple ribbons around town to mark what would have been his graduation from college. Moore-Fields, an Oak Park and River Forest High School alum, died in a car accident in fall 2008 while on his way back to Amherst. The three other passengers in the car, his college friends, survived with minor injuries. Moore-Fields, 19, was a passenger during the ride.

“As I proudly watch his friends take the next step in their journeys, my family needed to show our forever pride in Jordan,” his mother, Jackie Moore, said in an email to Wednesday Journal on Monday.

Moore-Fields, one of four children, was a sophomore at Amherst, studying political science. In 2007, Wednesday Journal named him one of its Student Citizen Award winners, an annual honor that recognized high school students in Oak Park and River Forest. He graduated from OPRF that year with 3.5 GPA, worked on the school’s student newspaper, the Trapeze, and also was a mentor to other students while serving on the Minority Achievement Committee (MAC), a group for black male students.

Neighbors and friends expressed themselves in so many ways. My former next door neighbor and forever friend had the following blogspot in one of our community papers:

I am remembering Jordan this weekend.

He would have graduated from Amherst College today had he not tragically been killed in a car crash his sophomore year. He would have graduated top in his class, no doubt, same as he did when he graduated from OPRF in 2007. Jordan was a shining star in all that he did. His death did not mythologize his achievements and character, as can sometimes happen. He earned his kudos while he was still with us.

Jordan was my next-door neighbor for much of his life.  Often he would help be out by baby sitting in a pinch. He was raised to be involved in his community. To pitch in. To make a difference. Sometimes I couldn’t even get him to take money for his service. He did, however, appreciate payment in homemade cookies.

I am thinking  too of his family.

A family that produced four children of extraordinary integrity. A family with the heavy burden of burying a son and brother. A family simultaneously celebrating the graduation of another son and mourning the loss of what Jordan might have become. I follow their journey via Jordan’s mom, Jackie’s blog (alwaysmomof4.wordpress.com). Maybe you do too?

I wrote back to Muriel on Sunday morning after reading the post telling her how wonderful it was on such a tricky day emotionally to see Jordan through someone else’s eyes and share their memory of him. Later that same day I received the following email and picture from a dear high school friend of Jordan’s:

Hi Mrs. Moore,

Jordan was on my mind all day yesterday. When my roommates saw me struggling to tie the ribbon around the front tree by myself, they came out to help.  I explained what I was doing and why, then Nick, Shanza and Eric helped me tie the ribbon and take a photo. My friends never met Jordan, but I talk about him enough that they know in what high esteem I hold him and how important he is to me. We stood in silence for a minute after Nick took the picture, and yesterday at around 7:00 last night four kids in Urbana, IL were thinking of both Jordan and your family. 
Thank you so much for organizing the ribbon program, this was a great way to honor and remember Jordan.
Only the best,
Erin

Erin's ribbon for Jordan

Pictures started to come in from different people both family and friends from around the country. My cyber friend Claire sent the following astonishing photo accompanied by this note:

Dear Jackie,
It poured most of today; I thought it appropriate.   Early this evening, the sun came out and I was able to take a purple ribbon to my front yard.  My plans for a big, elaborate display in the maple tree were thwarted by the weather and the soaking grass beneath my feet.  Instead, I took a smaller, shiny purple ribbon and placed it over the shoulders of the statue of the woman that feeds my birds, under the dogwood tree.  I called Jordan’s name into the sky and wished for peace for you, Mark, and your three earthbound children.

Then I recited this poem, by Robert Desnos, translated from the French by X.J. Kennedy.

LAST POEM

I have so fiercely dreamed of you
And walked so far and spoken of you so,
Loved a shade of you so hard
That now I’ve no more left of you.
I’m left to be a shade among shades
A hundred times more shade than shade
To be a shade cast time and time again into your sun-transfigured life.

I’m sorry, Jackie, so very sorry.  I hope the attached photo is a help.
Please feel free to use any of this on your blog, if you wish.
With love on this most difficult day,
Claire

In Claire's garden

I caught my breath with one of the pictures I received. It was from the mother of one of Jordan’s friends, Christian who was in the car with him the night of the accident. She wrote:

Dear Jackie and Mark,

Please know that we remember Jordan today and every day!
Attached is a picture of Christian placing an Amherst purple ribbon on our tree today to honor Jordan.
We are thinking about you and your family and we wish you peace!

Christian standing next to purple ribboned tree in his yard.

Mark’s cousin who lives in North Carolina also sent a picture of her beautiful tree:

And yet another picture emailed to me from a friend whose name is also Jackie, whom I met in a grief support group:

Jackie's garden

There were also so many words of encouragement and grace given to me by my Facebook friends and family. Many of them changed their profile picture to the Jordan Button for the day. 

 Our family and friends near and wide helped us to get through a tough day. I was glad the sun was shining and that there were many people out and about stopping to look at the ribbons and read about my boy. Thank you all for being so understanding of my need to pay tribute to Jordan in this way. I am blessed to be thought of and cared about by such wonderful people. If there are more pictures out there please feel free to email them to me or add them in the comments section and I’ll include them in my Purple Ribbon Album.

Here are some of the neighborhood pictures that we took and we only got to a portion of the ribbons that dotted our community:

Outside the high school

The ribbon on the giant Catalpa in our front yard

Kendall standing next to a tree outside of the elementary school that all my kids attended.

The most fancy and first ribbon that adorned our neighborhood. Thank you Cynthia and family.

A view down our old block ribbons were placed on every other tree. Mark made sure to put a placard on the tree in front of our old house.

Off To Measure Trees

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


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

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

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

In Lieu Of

I knew I’d be better off not looking but I couldn’t help myself. Facebook friends that posted a picture with their son or daughter celebrating their college graduation made me sink a little deeper. I looked at their beaming faces and smiled in spite of my pain. They had what I wanted and I am jealous. I’m also angry with myself that I’m jealous, and wake up every day hoping the feeling won’t be as strong. I’ve never wanted to be petty but the jealousy and flashes of resentment have brought on moments of, “Why me” as I watch what I can’t have. I can’t help it though. If I’m going to be honest about my feelings then I have to admit that they’re not all gracious.

I sat in the car today at the grocery store for 15 minutes after I’d parked deciding if I had the strength to go in. What if I saw someone I knew? After sitting and crying I was not in a talkative mood. What if I saw a parent with a graduating child? Would I be able to even say hello? Small talk was out of the question and I didn’t think I even had it in me to say, “Congratulations.” I did will myself out of the car determined to be bigger than my fears and sorrow and I made my way through the aisles and back to the car before having to cry again.

I’m standing in the, “In lieu of,” space typically seen at times of loss. I just used the phrase 2 weeks ago in the obituary for my father. “In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to Jordan’s fund, a scholarship fund in memory of [My Dad’s] eldest grandson. Now in lieu of will be purple ribbons tied on trees around town and in places around the world to honor what would have been Jordan’s graduation. I’ve purchased my ribbon. I’ve even notified our local paper what all the purple ribbons tied around trees will represent so that they can lessen the wonder of our community.

I’m busying myself with these tasks because there is no ceremony to attend. No new outfit to buy and suitcase to pack. There are hopes and wishes floating around that were Jordan’s dreams, that I pray will land someplace viable. The preparations I’m making to recognize Jordan’s graduation are far from anything I imagined. But doing nothing on the day of his commencement filled me with too much sorrow. My pride in him has not diminished and my need to express my love for him will never go away. So I find myself in this awkward, “In lieu of,” place, helpless but for purple ribbons, trees and family and friends who love my family enough to help us celebrate Jordan. Through it all even as I wonder how much I can stand, I’m learning my heart won’t break and that I’ll keep going, finding ways to honor life and the memory of my son.

**

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.

Tying Ribbons, Making Buttons, Remembering Jordan

On the program at Jordan’s memorial service, the poem I chose for the front was one by Henry Dumas:

The universe shrank

            When you went away

            Everytime I thought your name,

            Stars fell upon me.

For me, the universe did shrink when Jordan died. I felt it every time I had to remind myself to breathe when I didn’t realize I was holding my breath. I felt it every time I looked outside and wondered how people still knew how to walk and converse and laugh. I felt it every morning when I opened my eyes, looked around my bedroom and then closed my eyes again, because having a dead son makes it hard to imagine how you’ll fill your day.

In my last post I talked about consciously mourning the fact that my family doesn’t get to see Jordan graduate from college and that to honor the Amherst commencement we will tie purple ribbons around the trees in our yard and on Jordan’s tree and I asked others to do the same. Since that post, a very kind and generous woman named Dafeenah who found my blog through She Writes has given me a way that others can honor Jordan and help him to be remembered. She wrote saying she didn’t have a tree to which she could tie a ribbon, but she could make a button that she could place on her blog. She asked my permission to design the button. I cry every time I come to the part of her asking permission. It reminds me of Jordan’s friend Sean asking permission to wear Jordan’s birthday as his football jersey number.  The respect and grace people have shown me in the face of my sorrow as they help me honor my son is so humbling and helps tilt the earth just a little bit back to the axis of beauty that I knew before Jordan died. I am forever grateful.

2 ½ years have passed since Jordan’s death. It is a short amount of time and a lifetime all at once. The passage of time and the constancy of love are teaching me important lessons about keeping my heart open to the present and the future. The fear I had that my son would be forgotten is unfounded. Family, friends, and strangers who quickly become friends because of their compassion, are showing me that a shrinking universe can expand again and that I can be a part of it.

The button is displayed below and will be on my blog through May 22nd the date of Amherst College’s commencement. Any of you that would like to display it on your blogs; Facebook pages or wherever you feel is appropriate I would be honored. The button says a “life of consequence” which aptly describes Jordan’s life, and are also the commemorative words associated with the Jordan Moore-Fields’ Amherst Scholarship fund.

Good Mourning Commencement

“Dear Ms. Moore,

The Class of 2011 recently had an election to elect Honorary Members of the Class of 2011.

Jordan is fondly remembered by the class and received an overwhelming number of nominations. He has been chosen to be an Honorary Member of the class.

Each honoree receives a cane and a certificate and we would like to send these onto you. Please let us know the appropriate mailing address.

We will be announcing the honorary class members on the campus Intranet and at the Senior Dinner in early May.”

Tears came as I read the email from Jordan’s classmates. They are making sure that he will always be a member of the class of 2011. They haven’t forgotten him and are honoring him at a time when everyday I wish that he is still among them, readying himself for graduation. It has been so hard to come to this time of year and know that 4 years ago at his high school graduation party we all talked about how fast time goes. Merrick was entering high school and Jordan was entering college. My mom said to me, “Just think before you know it, we’ll be having another party sending Merrick off to college and congratulating Jordan on his college graduation. It’ll be here before you know it.”

Four years later we’re still here. Merrick contemplates having a graduation party. He tells me, “All I wanted to be able to do was call Jordan and tell him where I’m going to college. I know exactly what he would have said. I miss him.”

Every morning I wake up with my first thought being of my father sick with lung cancer. “Daddy please live until Merrick graduates. Don’t die before his graduation.”

Dates are looming for Merrick’s graduation but also Amherst’s graduation. I’ve decided that for my own sense of peace I need to mourn not being able to see my son graduate from college on May 22nd. Trying to suppress my disappointment and sadness and throw all of my energy into Merrick’s upcoming graduation is not providing the distraction I thought it would to ease the burden on my heart. I am the mother of four and I need to give all of my children my attention. I must grieve the specific loss of the Amherst College commencement ceremony, which will not include my son in the way I dreamed.

It wasn’t until last week that I knew the official date. The end of May was all I knew. I thought if I didn’t know the official date it would be easier to get through the month, especially as many of Jordan’s friends prepare to graduate. It took courage but I wanted to face my fear and open my heart to the hurt that was orbiting it. I stopped the wondering and  went online to see the date of graduation. There are so many hopes and dreams that May 22nd, 2011 was supposed to capture. All the weeks I’ve tried to ignore it’s coming only brought me anxiety and pain. It is a day to be recognized and for me that means tears not of joy but of sorrow for what doesn’t get to be. I don’t get to see my son throw his cap into the air. There’ll be no pictures of him receiving his diploma. The smile that would have graced his face can only be imagined now. We’ve been kindly and graciously asked by the Amherst administration if we would like to attend the ceremony. I know if we did they would do their best to take good care of us. I can’t go. Hearing the names called and waiting, hoping that somehow Jordan’s name will ring out and he’ll appear ready to take on the world is more heartache than I can bear.

When I was driving home today after taking the girls to school, I didn’t take my usual route and ended up on a street where I passed a series of trees with white ribbons tied around them. “Huh, wonder what the ribbons are for? Are they in memory of someone, solidarity for a sick neighbor….?”
I wasn’t sure but those ribbons helped me with an idea of one of the things I need to do as May 22nd approaches. I’ve decided and I’ve told those around me who I love and I know that love me, that the only way I’ll get through what should have been Jordan’s college graduation is to mourn what can’t be. The huge catalpa tree in front of our house will be wrapped in a purple ribbon as will Jordan’s tree. Purple is Amherst’s school color and it will be our recognition of the day. I would be so honored by any of you that choose to put a purple ribbon on a tree near your home. Please send pictures if you can and I’ll post them here on my blog.

I’m not sure how I’ll spend May 22nd. I’ve given myself permission to cry all day if I need to, to stay in bed or sit amongst Jordan’s things and just remember. Mourning the loss of what would have been is my right as Jordan’s mother. I’m unselfishly loving my child in the only way I know how, by honoring him and grieving my loss. For my family May 22nd will be a commencement, a moving forward, just not in the way we had imagined.

purple ribbon "J"