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 ‘high school’

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


Honor Roll Please

My children are amazing. I know most parents feel this way and rightfully so, but I am learning so much from my kids about perseverance, determination, grace under pressure, and just grace. Merrick is home today still asleep as he’s finished with final exams and gets today and Monday off. He worked so hard. Even when he was exhausted and started to doubt his abilities, he kept pushing wanting to do his best. The last two weeks for him have included, applying to colleges and taking finals. The stress of college applications and the weight of having to do well on finals made him falter and wonder if he could do it. He wanted Jordan to talk to, to tell him it was going to be okay. He cried out for his brother.

“He’s the only person I want to talk to.”

“I know honey. I know you’re hurting and you miss him so much. You’re doing so much right now. I know this sounds simplistic, but it is going to get better. You’re not always going to feel so sad.”

Merrick looked at me with a mixture of weariness and hope and said, “I believe it’s going to get better. I just don’t know how to get there.”

The only words I could find were, “You’re already getting there. Just keep going. Jordan’s here with you.”

And he did keep going. He came home  after his last final so proud of himself and how prepared he felt for every exam. He fought through loneliness, sorrow and longing to achieve his goals.


Today Mark and I got the girls off to school early today so that we could attend the 6th grade honor roll breakfast. As we entered the building I thought about all the prayers I prayed that they would have an easy transition to middle school. I needed for this transition to be without too great an emotional cost.

I am so proud of them not only because of their accomplishments, but because they made the transition from elementary school to middle school with nervousness and a bit of angst but no trepidation. They looked forward to a new challenge and they are handling themselves so well.

They’re learning a lot in middle school. They’re realizing that grown-ups don’t always know what to say and sometimes say the wrong thing about grief and loss. Lindsay had to do an in class writing assignment  on a person she admired. She picked Jordan and wrote about his preparation for the lifeguard test. In the midst of the writing assignment her teacher called out, “Your assignment will be something you can read to the person you admire.” Lindsay kept working, head down knowing for her that wasn’t true. A few minutes later a boy in her class went up to the teacher and said, “I can’t read mine to the person I admire, he died.” The teacher’s response was, “Well read it to someone else who’ll appreciate it.”

Lindsay came home that day fuming, so angry that her teacher wasn’t sensitive to the kids who may be writing about someone who wasn’t here for them to read to.

“Mom the worse part was she didn’t even get it until someone reminded her that not everybody’s person was still alive.”

All I could do was agree with her and ask how she wanted to handle the situation. She told me that at the next parent-teacher conference she’d like to talk to her teacher about remembering everybody has different circumstances and no one likes to be made to feel left out or different. I told her, “Daddy and I will be right there with you. I think it’s great you’re letting your teacher know how you feel.”

Today  In the mass of 6th graders piling their plates with bagels, pastries and fruit I searched out and found my daughters. They explained that they were going to sit with their friends, “If that’s alright.” Mark and I made our way to another cafeteria table and sat with the some of the other parents who’d been ditched by their kids in favor of hanging out with friends. I stole glances at my girls watching as they giggled and chatted with their friends. I watched them, my heart bursting with pride at their resilience, energy, laughter and love of life.  Mark with the ever-present camera captured the joy on their faces as they stood to be recognized.

I hope and pray everyday that I’m doing right by my children. That my instincts lead me to give them the balance of firmness, understanding, love and needed relief when grief’s hold is too tight. As my auntie told me after Jordan died, “Jackie, just do the best you can.” I’m watching my children do their best and am so inspired.

No Such Thing As An Ordinary Day

I’m sitting near a space heater wearing two pairs of socks, fleece pants, an undershirt, thermal shirt, sweater and gloves. Oh yeah, and the dog is thankfully nuzzled next to my legs. To be honest, this is one day when I’d give anything for a hot flash.The furnace quit last night and according to the repairman it, “should,” be fixed tomorrow when the replacement part for the motor comes in. It’s 25 degrees outside with a mix of snow and freezing rain and everyone’s home because of the MLK holiday. I seem to be the only one in a funk about the day’s events, probably because I’ll be the one waiting tomorrow for the repairman with his 8 hour window. I’m cold. I’m bored and finding it hard to get motivated about anything.

I forgot to mention that Merrick has final exams starting tomorrow so he’s home studying because the libraries are closed and won’t go to a friends because, in his words, “I don’t like to study with other people.” I’m worried about Merrick’s finals hoping, praying that he does well but at the same time not wanting to put too much pressure on him. Providing a balance of guidance and freedom with a teenager when grief is in the mix is a powerful potion I don’t always handle well.

He knows how important his schoolwork is. He doesn’t need me telling him how much these grades matter for college. I worry all the same. As soon as I think college I get anxious. What if he doesn’t get into college, what will we do? What if he does get into college, what will we do?

Freezing rain and a broken furnace have turned this day into a different one altogether than I imagined. There’ll be no trips to museums or movies yet the girls are perfectly content to read and play Just Dance on the Wii. I have had a cynical laugh or two at how bent out of shape I am over today’s events.

I’m sitting quietly for now trying to ease my racing mind and not get too far ahead of myself. Soon I’ll quiz Merrick for his history final and I’ll need the patience of Job to help me when he answers every suggestion I have with, “I know.” I think I’ll take a turn on, “Just Dance,” before the quizzing begins.

Thanks for listening to my rant.

Still Going

The girls’ open house is tonight. They are so excited for Mark and I to go to each of their classes. Kendall has told me more than once not to lose the schedule she filled out for me. “Mom it has the room numbers for all of my classrooms. It’s very important.” I tell her I have her schedule and don’t plan to lose it. I’m laughing inside because while the middle school is new for my daughters it’s old ground for me. They know that both of their brothers attended the same school, and one of their brothers had the same teachers they now have. It’s new to them and that’s what matters. I’m feeding off of their excitement. I’m taking this opportunity to look at the open house and “their” middle school from the perspective of excited 6th graders’. My daughters have no need to expect  less from their parents.

Thanks to you for all of the comments, compliments, which I sheepishly accept, and offers to come with me to the high school open house. I am fed emotionally by the support of my online community and neighborhood friends. All of you are gifts. Just knowing that I have such a strong, wide net of support is comforting. I do believe my online friend Claire, would travel here to go with me to the high school  even though we’ve never met in person.

I’m not sure why I’m so haunted by the high school and the memories of Jordan that may pop out at any time. Jordan always loved “his” school. He like most teenagers was excited for the independence high school would bestow. Four quick years (and they do go by so fast) and then he’d be off to college. High school is the place where I witnessed the beginning of Jordan’s transformation from child to young adult. Having my oldest child start high school was symbolic for me as well. It was a new adventure for both of us. At the beginning of Jordan’s freshman year of high school, I wrote the following in my journal,

We’re turning a corner I’m not sure I’m ready to turn. Suddenly you’re pulling me along, eager to see what lies ahead. You’re not my little boy anymore. There are so many glimpses of the man you’ll become. The set of your jaw, the shape of your mouth and eyebrows, especially the bass that is pushing it’s way into your voice.

I can’t hold you back. I don’t want to. But your pace and mine have suddenly changed. You’re turning the corner and you still check in to see if I’m watching and following. But you had to let go of my hand to make the turn. I’ve got to let you explore and embrace this time, even if it means you’re not my little boy anymore. I’ll always be here for you, to support you and love you. Don’t forget to turn and wave.

Jordan in the high school newspaper room

The high school holds much symbolism, rewarding memories and reminders of the changes to come for my family and me. I have a son who is now a senior in high school and has college on the horizon. Just as I did with Jordan, I’ve got to let him explore and have his adventures. I’ve never been one to let my fears rule me for too long. Mark and I will attend the open house with the other parents tomorrow night. I may clutch his arm tighter than usual but my husband understands me, which is my blessing. I’m hoping this year will be easier than last; it certainly can’t get much worse! I’ll keep walking the grounds and the halls of the high school. By the time my daughters are freshman there it will feel so good to say, even if a bit wistfully, “My kids school.”

Picture Day

My son Merrick was supposed to schedule the appointment for his high school senior portrait during the last weeks of school but repeatedly forgot. As I called to schedule his appointment last week, I remembered that I had gone through this same routine with Jordan. As I sat on the phone with the photography studio waiting to be transferred to the appropriate department to make Merrick’s appointment, I struggled not to let superstition and foreboding overcome me. I thought back to when I made the call to schedule Jordan’s appointment. I’d been annoyed that he forgot to handle it, but I was more excited about him entering his last year of high school. The senior portrait was the first milestone of that last year and marked the burgeoning college student to come.

Not only did Jordan forget to schedule his appointment, he almost forgot to go to the appointment. The day of his portrait sitting he raced into the house from playing basketball to quickly shower and change clothes. He called out to me, “Ma what should I wear? Matt is wearing a tie. Should I wear a suit?”

I yelled up the stairs, “Only if you want to. I don’t think you have to be that formal. Senior pictures always look a little unnatural to me. Wear something you like, that you feel comfortable in.”

Jordan came downstairs 30 minutes later wearing dark slacks and his goldenrod dress shirt. “Is this okay?”

“Yes, you look great. Now hurry up so you don’t miss your appointment.” I watched him out the back door and to the garage to the car.

I carried Jordan’s senior picture in my wallet and proudly showed it off. The last time I pulled it from my wallet was the day after his accident. I gave it to my friend Jeanne so she could scan it and email it to the Boston Globe for the article they were doing about the accident(Amherst Sophomore Dies in Crash). The picture ran with the article in the Boston Globe and then was the picture blown up and placed at the front of the church for the memorial service. Jordan’s senior portrait with his smiling, hope-filled face was the first thing I saw as my family and I made our way to the front row of the church.

I can’t lose another child. I contemplated not scheduling Merrick’s senior portrait as a way of safeguarding him against harm. Irrational thoughts filled my head. I reasoned, “I could take a picture of Merrick, he doesn’t need anything so formal. He doesn’t like formal portraits anyway, he probably won’t care if he doesn’t have one.” I calmed my fears enough to let my love for Merrick prevail. I don’t want Merrick to miss out on the high school rites of passage that he’ll cherish and remember. He’ll want to flip through his yearbook and see the faces of his friends and him. I’ll want to keep his picture in my wallet, just as I did Jordan’s.

I can only allow small bursts of thoughts on Merrick entering his final year of high school. I know that beyond this year lies his time away at college. This summer he’s been away for six weeks in New England at a pre-college arts program. When we talk he tells me, “I like college. I like the independence. I’m ready.” I listen to his words and give all the appropriate affirmations. “I’m so glad you’re having a good summer. It’s good to stretch yourself to see what your interests are. I’m glad you’re excited about college.”

I say all the right things and inside I struggle with my fears. I must let another son go away to college. He’s ready and excited to do his best this last year of high school to further his dreams. Part of me hoped and admittedly still hopes that he’ll feel the need to slow his pace. Maybe he’ll take a year off and work or do an internship close to home. He knows these are options but I can tell by the passionate way he speaks of his summer experience that he can’t wait for college. I won’t stand in his way. My husband always says, “You put all your hopes and dreams in your children.” He is right. My breath catches in my throat every time I fully think about another child of mine going away to college and the possibility that Merrick might not come home. I won’t let my fear be an impediment to any of his hopes and dreams. Breath by breath we keep going.

Merrick and I on his 17th birthday

Brother Talk

Brothers and confidantes

Merrick stayed home from school the other day. He wasn’t sick, except with grief. I saw the signs that weariness was settling in on him as the week wore on and I told his dad, “I don’t know if he’s going to make it through this week. He looks like he’s barely making it.” After practicing and performing in the Spoken Word Showcase at school, doing a history project, studying and taking an English quiz and a Physics test all in one week, he hit the wall. He came to me Friday morning and said, “Mom, I don’t feel good, I can’t go to school today.”

“What’s the matter?”

“I just don’t feel good, my stomach is bothering me.”

“Merrick you’ve got to talk to me honestly. I need to know what’s going on if you are staying home.”

I went into Merrick’s room and sat on his bed. He was lying down on his side and we started to really talk. It finally all spills out. He tells me how his mind has been racing about school and about the upcoming holidays. He hasn’t slept well in days and the night before he didn’t fall asleep until around 3am. He is exhausted and can’t stop thinking about how different everything feels without Jordan.

The day before when Merrick came home from school I took advantage of the fact that his sisters were staying after school for a project. I knew we could talk without being interrupted and I chose this time to ask him simply, “How are you feeling? We haven’t talked in awhile about how things are going at school and what your thinking about Thanksgiving this year.” Merrick looked at me and gave me a vague response about school starting to “get crazy” and he was just trying to deal with that. I probed and was finally able to get a description of what “get crazy,” meant. He finally gave me examples of the types of things that were on his mind.

He talked about his distaste for how kids in remedial classes are treated differently when they get in trouble as opposed to their more achieving counterparts. Earlier in the week he witnessed one of the security guards tell a white male student to go to the detention center. Moments later he saw the same security guard grab a black male student by the collar and forcibly take him to the detention center. Merrick has always internalized the inequities and injustices he sees around him. He is one of those individuals that worry about the world. Merrick worries about the incidents that occur in the microcosm of his high school world and how these incidents shape the larger world.

As I listened to Merrick I recognized the angst brewing inside him. I had seen it before. Merrick has always been shy and slow to warm up around his peers. Seeing others bullied or treated unfairly has always made Merrick uncomfortable and made him shrink inside himself a bit so as not to be targeted. The times his quietness has been misjudged as weakness and he has been the target of bullies, he has quickly let his strength both physical and inner be known. Those who targeted him realized how much they have underestimated him. Regardless of how he handles himself, when school situations are overwhelming he stays close to the wall and keeps his head down. He doesn’t like confrontations and has a term for how he handles them, “ghosting”. Last year he was starting to come to terms with these “ghosting” behaviors and learn to not take high school and it’s occasional unfortunate but inherent culture so seriously. Jordan had been his mentor and confidante on that journey.

As he relayed his worries, I said to Merrick, “I know you’ve always had these worries about bullying and kids being targeted.  You and Jordan used to have long talks about your feelings about high school. What did Jordan say to you about your worries and fears.” Merrick looked at me, exhaled and then with a far off look that held such longing told me about his “brother talks.” He said Jordan always told him that he had too much “righteous anger” inside of him. Jordan wanted Merrick to understand that certain aspects of high school were wrong, rude, and unfair, but trying to absorb and figure them all out was not Merrick’s responsibility. Merrick said to me, “Jordan always told me to let go of some of my righteous anger so that I wouldn’t miss out on the good things that high school also had to offer.” Merrick thought a moment and then continued, “He told me that college would be different and I would have more freedom and choices; I’d see the difference and be more comfortable.”

I looked at my son and told him all the things Jordan had told him still held true. I begged him not to forget the advice his brother had given him. How much he missed his brother filled the room. All I wanted was to suggest ways for Merrick’s loneliness and longing for his brother to be eased. I  told him to keep talking to Jordan, write to him, write poems about him, and express his feelings in his freestyle and spoken word. I reminded him that I talked to Jordan all the time. I wrote him letters and felt connected to Jordan because of these actions. I told him the reason I started my blog was to share my thoughts and feelings about my love for and loss of Jordan. Merrick’s weariness made him  wary of my suggestions but he said he would try. Merrick then revealed that his biggest sadness was that the holidays were approaching and he blurted out, “I feel worse this year than I did last year. It’s not the same without Jordan.” All I could say to him was, “I know, it’s not the same. But, I don’t want you to think there’s anything wrong with you because you feel worse this Thanksgiving than you did last year.” I wanted him to understand that grief is not a straight path that we walk on where everyday is a progression that leads us to a destination. I assured Merrick that he is not alone in feeling it is hard learning to live without Jordan.

I didn’t tell Merrick, but I knew that last year shock and numbness had enveloped our family and allowed us to move through the days without facing the full rawness the pain of not having Jordan with us brought. Feeling worse this year was a sign of the numbness of our grief wearing off. As hard as it is we are moving closer to acceptance. It is not a linear path and it does not follow any calendar ever invented. As those on the grief journey longer than my family have been reminded me, time eases the pain but time is relative and personalized to each mourner’s heart. I hugged my son and offered this same promise.

My family goes into this holiday season  longing for a son, brother, grandson, nephew, and friend. For my family I know that what I remind my children when they are sad and weeping over our loss still holds true, we will love Jordan together, and we can miss him together.  Jordan will always be in our hearts.

Merrick always keep Jordan close to your heart.