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 ‘immunity clause’

To Be A Sweet Offering

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately. The truth is I always read poetry.  For me it is a form of meditation. Yesterday I read for the first time the poem, “Self-Portrait” by David Whyte. One stanza leapt out at me:

I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world with its harsh need to change you. If you can look back with firm eyes saying this is where I stand.

The last few weeks have been challenging for me and my family. The challenge and the pain got an unexpected new dose yesterday with some very troubling family news. I ask for your prayers.

I heard a song last night called, “Encourage Yourself.” One of the lines of the song is, ‎”Sometimes you have to speak victory during the test.”

Mark and I talked last night about the bombardment of pain and bad news that has come our way in rapid fashion. I told him, “Weariness is setting in. I wake up every night at least once where my thought is Jordan is dead and I have to learn to keep going. I’m working hard to live life with a positive outlook.”

“I know, we both are. We’ll make it. We have each other, always.”

“Things are happening so fast. We don’t get a chance to catch our breath, to process what’s happening before something else happens. I don’t want to live my life always on guard. I want to live life with a positive outlook. Life can’t feel like a chore, something to be endured.”

Even in the midst of worry and sorrow there is a piece of my heart that tugs at my soul saying, “Hold on, Spring is coming.” It beckons me but in a voice oh so faint. I’m holding on, wanting to be a sweet offering to my family, friends, the universe and me.

Here is an excerpt from, \”Let It Be Me\,” a post I wrote back in 2010.

I work so hard to stay sane and not slip too far into darkness and depression. Jordan’s life held virtue, humor, caring and so much light. Each day I make a choice to keep going for my family and for me. The future can’t be predicted. I can’t mystically shelter my children from all harm. The shock of loss has slowed my acceptance of the fact that complete protection is an illusion-even if it is fueled by the fiercest love. My vigilance towards my children is still strong. But a parallel vigilance is burgeoning. It still whispers, “let it be me” but the meaning has shifted. Let it be me who remembers all aspects of my son’s too short life. Let it be me that honors in my own way the zeal Jordan had for life. Let it be me that loves life and hopes for joy to come in the morning.

Spring is coming

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Let It Be Me

Being diagnosed with lupus(www.lupus.org) at the age of 23 turned my “carefree 20’s” into a time of tests, lifestyle changes and medications. It was also however, a time of graduate school, love, marriage and my sons. My husband Mark knew of my illness well before we were engaged. In my attempt at full disclosure to whom he was marrying, I made sure he understood that I had an illness that I and now he would have to deal with for the rest of our lives. His only response to me was to quote a line from an Anita Baker song(\”Just Because\”) and tell me “it was a welcome sacrifice.” He loved me and anything that happened would be “our” problem.

Health issues have always been a part of my adult life. I’ve had numerous surgeries including the most traumatic one when I lived in Houston, TX. In 1995 I was told that an MRI showed a tumor on my spinal cord. My doctor at the time came into the exam room, looked at me and quietly said, “It’s not good news.” During the week between diagnosis and surgery the doctors had no doubt that the MRI scan showed an astrocytoma- a cancerous tumor with a typical life expectancy of 5-7 years.

In the week before my surgery I obsessively added and re-added those 5-7 years to my 32 years of age. My counting was always done in terms of how old my boys would be when I died. I counted and recounted determined to live long enough so that my then 5 and almost 3-year old boys would have their own memories of me. If I couldn’t live to raise them I wanted them to at least be able to recall special moments we had together; to remember what it felt like to have me as their mother. I poured all of my prayer and positive energy into a full recovery. I wanted Mark and I to raise our sons together. The surgery was successful and showed that the surgeons initial diagnosis was incorrect. The tumor was benign. I’d been given my life back.

In 1999 after the birth of my twin daughters, complications arose and I awoke from general anesthesia to hear Mark whispering in my ear that the doctors had to perform emergency surgery to stop the bleeding that started during delivery. In a soothing but shaky voice he told me that I’d suffered tremendous blood loss. He quietly said, “We almost lost you.” I listened to his words and my first question to him was, “Are the babies alright?” He assured me our daughters were premature but doing well. I drifted back to sleep relieved that my children were okay. I was grateful to be alive for all of my children.

Every time I had doctor’s appointments or hospital stays I was keenly aware of the sick children that were there. Any moments of self-pity I had were erased as soon as I saw a sick child. I would silently pray for the child and their family and then be grateful that I was the one enduring the unknown with painful tests and hospital stays. If it had to be someone in my family that was sick, I wanted it to be me. I felt that I had an unspoken pact with God that any suffering to befall my family should come to me.

I never shared my feelings about my pact with anyone. I held it close as my way of keeping my children from harm. Like most parents I wanted my children protected and free from as much danger and pain as possible. Even those times when I was faced with death, I knew should anything happen to me, I had no doubt that Mark would love and care for our children. My silent pact boiled down to its essence simply put was, “let it be me. “

I know how foolish, superstitious and naïve I was to believe that I could have a contract with God that included an immunity clause for my children.  It was still the deal that I wanted. I was to be the sponge that dealt with pain, my children would be spared. Intellectually I knew every time I whispered,” I glad it’s me and not the kids,” that I was operating under an illusion of control. There are no deals with God and he doesn’t offer immunity clauses. The fierceness of my Mother Love however, prevailed over logic and reason. Time and time again I truly believed that I was cocooning my children from harm. “Let it be me.”

Then the illusion that was my pact shattered. Our phone rings late at night and two police officers come to our door telling us the words no parent wants to hear. Our son was dead. Jordan was killed in a car accident. He was gone and all of the notions I had about my accumulated pain and suffering being the buffer that would provide my family some immunity from further tragedy was nullified. Even in my haze of shock and grief I felt so stupid. There are no bargains or immunity clauses. All I had to do was look around to see all the tragedy in the world to know that my family is not exempt because I made a one-sided deal with God.

My son is gone. Since Jordan’s death I struggle not to veer to the extreme and feel that my children will never truly be safe.  I still have my moments, my days when the thought heaviest on my mind is, “Let it be me.” I work so hard to stay sane and not slip too far into darkness and depression. Jordan’s life held virtue, humor, caring and so much light. Each day I make a choice to keep going for my family and for me. The future can’t be predicted. I can’t mystically shelter my children from all harm. The shock of loss has slowed my acceptance of the fact that complete protection is an illusion-even if it is fueled by the fiercest love. My vigilance towards my children is still strong. But a parallel vigilance is burgeoning. It still whispers, “let it be me” but the meaning has shifted. Let it be me who remembers all aspects of my son’s too short life. Let it be me that honors in my own way the zeal Jordan had for life. Let it be me that loves life and hopes for joy to come in the morning.

Mother Skills

When Jordan was in 6th grade he read a biography of Grant Hill and Grant became one of his heroes. Jordan liked Grant Hill’s work ethic, his generosity and athleticism. In Jordan’s mind, he was the consummate student/athlete and Jordan wanted to emulate him both on and off the court. I liked the parts of the book that Jordan read to me which talked of Grant’s mother and her strictness. The book talked of how Grant was teased by his friends because he couldn’t do all of the things his friends did and had a stricter curfew. According to the book Grant’s friends called his mother the “Sergeant” when he was in junior high school and she was promoted to “General” by the time Grant was in high school. As Jordan talked about the book I told him I liked Grant’s mother’s style. I always told him to expect the same from me that Grant expected from his mother.

The times that Jordan especially as a teen pushed the limits on his curfew or started a sentence with, “But all of my friends can,” I had no problem being the strict mother within his group of friends. I always told Jordan that as he got older he would be allowed greater freedom and responsibility.  I would sometimes remind him of Grant Hill by saying, “It worked for Grant Hill, and it can work for you too.” He would roll his eyes and storm off but I felt comfortable in trusting my instincts for my children’s futures.

I don’t trust my mother radar anymore. Losing Jordan without warning when I thought he was safe has altered my trust of my instincts. I ask myself all the time, “Why didn’t I know he was going to die? I could have stopped it from happening. Why didn’t I know?”

Grief colors every part of my world and I’m not the same person I was before October 12th, 2008. I have declared repeatedly that I will always be the mother of four. While I grieve the loss of my oldest child, my three living, learning, playing and mourning children need their mother. There are days when I’m here for them, and I’m not all at the same time. Numbness still lurks at the edges, and sometimes seeps in to share a place inside of me with grief. Guilt has overtaken me many times as well. Especially times when I realize that I forgot to check over a homework packet for my 10- year old twin daughters, or that my 17- year old son had a test and I didn’t quiz him, the way I used too before Jordan died.

For the first time since I’ve been a mother, I forgot about Easter baskets. Seven o’clock at night on the Saturday before Easter and the notion of our usual traditions hadn’t crossed my mind. I was exhausted from our spring break vacation. The suitcases lay in Jordan’s room still packed. Lupus had taken any energy I would normally have away. I was in the middle of a flare and was having trouble understanding how to make room for my chronic illness when my chronic grief was also flaring. Thoughts of college basketball, Easter Sunday, Spring break without Jordan were all swirling around in my head. How dare my body also betray me? I felt as if the marrow has been sucked from my bones. Rest is the only real remedy for fatigue that takes a stranglehold on my life but guilt at feeling neglectful wouldn’t let me rest.

I tell myself that being forgetful and not having the same attention to details as I had before losing Jordan is expected. My self-critic however is harsh and adds more doubt to whether I’ll trust my maternal instincts again. Even as I try to reprogram my instincts, sorrow clouds my judgment and makes me doubt my decision-making abilities. I was in Walgreen’s with my daughters the other day and stood chatting with a friend as my daughters perused the magazine section. As my girls came over to me I saw a lump behind the ear of one of them. How had I missed a marble sized lump? I finished up my conversation with my friend but my mind was already calling the doctor to schedule an appointment. I have a veneer of calm but inside of me a panicked voice is saying, “Please don’t let it be anything serious. Her gland is swollen and she doesn’t have any other symptoms. What if she has cancer?” When we see the doctor the next day, she assures us it’s nothing serious, just as I had assured my daughter the night before. She asks my daughter to wait out in the waiting room so that she can talk with me for a minute.

Marian, our family physician, and I have been friends for a long time. She looks at me and says, “You thought it was cancer didn’t you?” With tear-filled eyes I shake my head yes, not trusting my voice. She goes on to tell me that if she thought it was serious she would be running tests and scheduling biopsies. She knows that my greatest fear is that I’ll lose another child. Even as she tries to calm me by saying, “You’re not going to lose another child,” my vigilant part is whispering, “No one can tell you that.” I needed to hear her words though, as a counter-action for the fear that resides in my heart. I know living with the fear of losing another child occupying such a large part of me is not good for my family or me.

My vigilant part stays on high alert. When the girls walk the dog, when my son is late coming home, I tell myself everything is fine, but I don’t fully breathe again until I see them and hear their voices. Now with Merrick away for the summer what I thought was my most vigilant self has been pushed to a more extreme level. Nothing that happens with my kids feels routine. Taking my daughter to the doctor exposed how fully my greatest fear has taken hold inside me. I walk around attending to chores, errands and even fun with a wariness that is exhausting. I know I can’t continue living and behaving this way. I am consciously trying to regain my balance. It’s so hard to feel centered when at the edges grief, vigilance, anxiety and sorrow pull at me and demand attention.

Right now I’m reaching out to family and friends to help steady me as I relearn my balance, especially on the days when I sway so far from center that it feels like I can’t recover. Slowly ever so slowly I’m taking deep breaths in and exhaling fully. I’m trying to learn to do the best I can without so much fear, breath-by- breath.

Hopes and Wishes

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.”