In the months prior to Jordan’s death, my father was diagnosed with a serious illness. During the summer of 2008, he had outpatient surgery and a round of chemotherapy. After his chemo treatment we counted the weeks until his follow-up appointment, which would determine if his treatment had been successful. During the waiting period he reassured all of his family, “Don’t worry about me, I feel good.” I believed him. My mother’s side reports also conveyed that the doctors were optimistic and that he was feeling fine. His diagnosis however brought a reality I couldn’t shove away; I didn’t want to lose my parents. I felt like a 10-year-old again. I still needed them and knew they had so much more to offer their family and friends. Hints of illness and mortality didn’t jibe with the vitality they displayed, and the roles they fulfilled for each other as a couple and for their children and grandchildren.
Daddy’s diagnosis forced the fact of mortality into my field of vision and I couldn’t look away. During the time we waited for my father’s follow-up appointment I spent time with my counselor dealing with all the health scares I’d had as well as those of family members and how they were heightening my fear of death. As my parents aged I knew that mortality was an issue we all faced. My grandmother was the closest person to me to die. Her death came as she was gripped with pain and suffering, and all of us that love her, knew she wouldn’t want to live in that way.
In the weeks after I learned of Daddy’s health issues, I prayed for his full recovery wanting him to have more years of living and living well. As with others of my generation, my perspective on aging has changed, as I’ve grown older. Years that used to seem “old” are now young to me. When I hear that someone in their 60’s or 70’s has died, my first reaction is, “they weren’t that old.” Even as I prayed for Daddy, I did my own research on his illness. I asked friends who were doctors their opinions about my father’s health. I did online research and I settled into an uneasy peace that everything was going to be okay.
Then October 12th, 2008 came and every fear and worry that occupied my mind seemed absurd and self-indulgent. October 12th took my child away. In my grief I chastised myself for not putting my full focus on my son. While I prayed for Daddy, I lost Jordan. My mother instincts lead me down a path of blame. How could I have let this happen to my son? Grief told me that my lack of vigilance caused Jordan to die. I should have prayed more fervently for Jordan’s safety and kept him tighter control of his activities. I felt I had taken my focus off my son. Had I been praying for the wrong thing? I didn’t trust my instincts anymore.
When we received the news of Jordan’s death at 1:30 in the morning, Mark and I immediately called our parents and siblings and tried our best to comfort our children. I lay on my bed with Lindsay and Kendall for a while, holding them close. When they grew tired they went to their room and slept together in Kendall’s bed, which is closest to the door. I checked on Merrick who was in his room with the door closed and the lights off. He kept telling me he was tired and was going to try to sleep. I could see how haunted he was by the news of losing his brother but knew I had to respect his wish to be alone. My only request was that he leave his door slightly ajar so he could call out to me if he needed to. He agreed and I hugged him and went downstairs. Later that morning I learned that before Merrick went to his room to mourn alone, he posted on Facebook at 2:48am, “Merrick is lifeless. A piece of him died.”
After settling the kids into an uneasy rest, Mark and I sat in our family room, willing a “decent” hour to come so that we could notify our friends of our loss. While we waited, we cried softly, trying to make sense of the information the State Trooper had given us. We kept repeating to each other our fervent hope that Jordan hadn’t suffered during the crash. After all the hopes and dreams we had for him in life our greatest one at the end of his life was that death came quickly and without pain. As we talked, our phone rang. The caller ID showed Jordan’s cell phone number. For the briefest second I held the hope that the news of him being gone was wrong.
Mark answered the phone and I heard him explaining to the person on the other end that the phone was our son’s and that he had been killed in a car accident. He asked the man to please get the phone to the State Trooper who would get it back to us. I then heard Mark say, “Thank you.” Mark hung up the phone and explained that the man had been fishing and as he walked along the side of the road he’d found the phone. From his description the phone was more than 50 ft from the accident site. The phone landed fifty feet from the car. The impact of the crash sent items careening everywhere. The impact killed my son. The man said to Mark, “There are papers and stuff everywhere down here, it’s a mess.” I screamed repeatedly as Mark relayed the call to me. Mark stood over me as I tried to muffle my screams against him. “How did this happen to us?” kept circling through my mind.
As dawn approached we started calling our friends. By 7:30am our friends started to fill our home, bringing food and solace. I remember trying to be a good hostess offering people water, juice, and coffee, and being repeatedly told to sit down. All of them saying, “We’re here to take care of you” as I tried to make the most horrible, unthinkable day seem less awful. If I sat down, if I let my friends take care of me, my hands would shake too much and the tiny thread of composure I kept, so as not to worry my children would disappear.
Mark and I repeated for everyone that came through the door the limited details of the accident that we knew. I felt that if I repeated the details of the accident enough times, it would start to make sense to me; even when I knew it would never make sense. I know now what people mean when they say they’re in shock. The morning after learning of my son’s death, I sat at my kitchen table, I talked even as I wanted to be unconscious and wake up with the horror of loss being erased. The only time I was alone was when I would go in the bathroom. I would stand and try and focus on what had happened to my world. “How did this happen?” “Not Jordan”, “Jordan where are you?” were repeatedly said aloud by me. I fought against the part of me that said, “You don’t have to believe it’s true, Jordan doesn’t have to be gone.” I knew he was gone, no matter how strong the impulse was to deny such an ugly truth.
The day wore on and friends came by to take Lindsay and Kendall to their home to play. Merrick kept to himself, playing video games and then briefly went over to a friend’s house. Two friends went to the airport to pick up my parents. Upon their return, I greeted Mama and Daddy at the door, I let them envelope me. No words other than, “I’m glad you’re here” were spoken by me. Mark’s parents were the next to arrive and just as quickly as our house had filled with friends earlier in the day they quietly exited and made room for our family and our shared grief. In the evening my dear sister-friend Michele came and offered me the care and sisterhood I needed. We talked privately and she managed the people who came to drop off food and cards. She was as surprised as I when the pastor of her church arrived. We both discovered that her husband had called Pastor Wilson upon hearing of Jordan’s death.
Pastor Wilson came to minister to our family. He sat at our kitchen table, drinking tea, eating coffee cake and providing a calming presence to all of us. He spoke with Mark and I privately, never trying to offer answers to the unanswerable question of “Why.” Before he left he asked if he could pray with all of us. We all stood holding hands around our circular kitchen table. Pastor Wilson asked if any of us had something they wanted to say before we prayed. Through tears we went around the table and each offered our pleas, prayers, and words to our sweet Jordan. I remember Merrick saying, “I’m going to miss you Jordan.” Lindsay cried uncontrollably and simply shook her head no when the circle came to her. Kendall through tears said, “Rest in peace Jordan.” My mother, my in-laws, Mark and I spoke and I don’t remember what words we said. I do remember with impeccable clarity what Daddy said when it was his turn. With his head bowed he quietly but strongly said, “I wish it was me.” At the sound of his voice and his words I gasped and sobbed. No trades or deals are made when death enters your world. No parent should have to lose a child. No grandparent should have to lose a grandchild and see their child filled with a pain they can’t fix. All of those thoughts were embodied in Daddy’s simple plea, “I wish it was me.”