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 ‘kid’s grief’

One Day At A Time

I realized this morning that my last post was on Jordan’s birthday. What a time it’s been. Writing hasn’t come easy as my tactic of, “One day at a time,” started to fall apart the closer I got to Merrick going away to school. I’m not sure if my anxiety would have lessened if he had chosen a school somewhere other than the same town his brother attended school. All I know is that as the weeks started to slip away and the day of departure was upon us I was a wreck. I didn’t want him to go. But I knew he couldn’t stay and I knew I would never stand in the way of his goals and dreams. There were a lot of late night tears shared with Mark as we both grappled with how to send a second child away to school when the first one didn’t come home.

The doubts and fears swirled through our home. My daughter came into my room to say goodnight and she brought her fears to light.

“Mama, can I talk to you.”

“Yes baby, what’s the matter.”

“I’m scared that what happened to Jordan is going to happen to Merrick.”

And then the tears flow, from both of our eyes. I stand holding her so tightly wanting to banish her fears but at the same time knowing that words like, “Don’t worry,” ring hollow because this isn’t the first brother or for me the first son that has gone off to college. Jordan didn’t come home. Accidents happen and this time they happened to our family.

“I know you’re worried about Merrick and I can’t tell you not to worry. But Merrick has picked the place that is right for him and it’s time for him to have his adventure. Just know that we wouldn’t let your brother go away if we didn’t think it was a good idea.”

After a few more moments of me holding her as we lie on my bed, she takes a deep breath and says, “Good night.”

I watch her walk down the hall and then collapse in tears. “Is it a good idea? Please don’t let anything happen to my boy. I can’t have two empty bedrooms. I need him to come home.”

The next morning when I come downstairs Lindsay is making her breakfast.

Looking down she says, “I had a hard time sleeping.”

“Were you thinking about Merrick?”

Tears pool in her eyes as she shakes her head yes.

“Oh honey, he’s going to be alright.”

“How do you know?”

That question hung in the air and all I could muster was a shrug. When words came to me I reminded her that Merrick would be home for his Fall break and that we would visit him for Family weekend.

“Let’s not look too far into the future. We’re going to live one day at a time and try not to worry too much.”

My words were for me as much as her.

August 2nd, 2011

A week has gone by and in that week, were the girls’ birthday, their recital for music camp and the unavoidable reality that school will start soon. As the girls’ birthday approached, this year seemed harder than last. Time keeps moving and birthdays are such a testament to that fact. They’re 12 now, about to start 7th grade and I know the drill. Middle school is like catching a tailwind. School years start to go at a dizzying pace and before I know it they will be visiting the high school for orientation and then deciding where they want to go to college. I had the same feeling with Jordan and Merrick. I didn’t expect time to feel so fleeting it just did.

All through the day as I ran around wishing I’d had the energy in the days before to do some of the errands for their birthday, but knowing that sadness had kept me out of the stores. Birthdays are difficult at our house no matter how hard we try to lighten the mood and put on a festive air. Since Jordan’s death, all of us feel his absence and wish that we could hear him singing, “Happy birthday.” We all miss Jordan, and birthdays while special carry a wistfulness that can’t be ignored. Even 12 year olds get the blues.

One of my daughters who’d been struggling at camp because of one harsh and critical teacher started having nightmares that this teacher kept telling her in the dream that her life was easy. She woke up in tears explaining to her dad, “In the dream I had to tell him what happened to Jordan. Just because I’m a kid doesn’t mean life is easy.”

That’s where our family stands. I watch the girls and try to infuse enthusiasm into their birthdays but a part of that over the top glee left when Jordan died. Instead of focusing exclusively on their day, they talk of his birthday being a week after theirs. They ask if we’re having a party for him this year (Not this year). More than ever I take responsibility for making sure that there is a dividing line between August 2nd and August 9th. I can’t change the fact that their birthdays are 7 days apart. They can be encircled on their day focusing on how much more beautiful the world became on the day they were born.

Their birthday was a special day. While they were off at camp, even though they wanted to take the day off (Mark and I explained to them that their birthday was not a national holiday), I ran around buying outfits for each of them, getting balloons (we always have balloons) and not being able to resist buying a purple sock monkey for my daughter who is in love with monkeys. Their big present was tickets to the Chicago Fire professional soccer teams’ game the next night.

We kept our usual tradition and went out to dinner and were home for Sprinkles cupcakes adorned with “L” and “K” candles to blow out while we sang, “Happy Birthday.” They smiled, sitting next to each other, as they always do when they open presents. Hearty laughs erupted from all of us as the girls received their hand drawn card from Merrick which included one, “Annoyance free week” courtesy of him. We sat around the kitchen table with Mark and me stealing glances at each other. So much love in our home and laughter still floating to the rafters. All of our children’s birthdays are special. Sadness weaves in and out of the day, but in the end we celebrate and are grateful for every moment we have together.

For The Birthday Girls

Time for, “The Talk”

I frequently read other parenting blogs and have a couple of my favorites on my blogroll. Katie Granju is a mom who has several blogs. I became acquainted with her Mamapundit blog after the death of her oldest son Henry. Yesterday I commented on her Babble blog about what to tell your kids when they ask questions usually out of the blue that don’t always have comforting answers. Questions like, “Can we visit heaven?” I commented as a parent and as a person with a background in developmental psychology. Part of my answer to her regarding her preschooler was, “Answer only what question they ask in the simplest way possible. You don’t want to overwhelm them.” I’ve found that kids want the truth and usually find a way to ask for it. Usually.

I’m stuck right now because Mark and I are faced with bringing our children to another level of awareness about loss and grief. I keep waiting for them to ask a question about Jordan’s ashes, any opening that will lead to a discussion of our plans to keep some of his ashes in an urn at home. They know we plan to spread some of his ashes as we travel but even this is an abstract concept. I don’t want them to be afraid of Jordan’s urn, especially when Mark and I need to have part of Jordan stay at home with us. What will we do if any one of our kids can’t handle an urn at home when it is something that will give Mark and I solace?

I’m afraid of scaring and scarring my kids by even bringing up the subject of the urn to them. And I’m afraid of them hurting in a way that I can’t help them. But I have to admit I’m also feeling a little selfish too. Jordan is also my child  and I want part of him at home with me.

I’ll get the perspecitve and suggestions from therapists and counselors. I’d like to know though how others in my situation have dealt with this issue. I’m asking for help from anyone who has experience talking with their kids or knows someone who has. How do you prepare your child/children to accept that the sibling that once laughed and played with them is partially, yet symbolically represented as ashes in an urn? It is a conversation quite frankly I’m dreading. I don’t want them to hurt anymore than they already do and yet it’s a conversation that must be had.

Jordan and his siblings on his 19th birthday. The last picture taken of all of them together.

Tell Your Story

It’s been several days since I’ve written on my blog. I’ve been trapped in a warp of sadness since my children started school that has finally eased enough for me to write.

The first week of school for my kids was last week. Since Jordan’s death, transitions are harder and I’m more preoccupied with the coping mechanisms of my kids. They carry the burden of loss with them and stay on guard against thoughtless and/or cruel comments. As my husband and I have learned to prepare ourselves for the “How many kids do you have?” question, my children have also learned to prepare for the “How many siblings?” question. Depending on the situation their strategies as does mine, differs. My daughters have stammered and trailed off while speaking when someone has questioned their math when they say they have two brothers. They’ve heard responses like, “I thought you only had one brother. Where’s your other brother?”

As the girls are starting at a new school this year, I made sure that I informed the school administration of our family’s loss. Even though we live in a tight-knit community and they are attending the same middle school that both of their brothers attended, I didn’t want to assume that Jordan’s death was known to all. I just want to provide as much cushion and buffering that I can for my kids when they’re out in the world. The girls first day of school went well. The only anxiety and angst was the typical middle school variety, nothing out of the ordinary.

Merrick’s first day unfortunately was not the same. At the end of the school day as I drove to pick up my daughters, I saw Merrick walking home from school. I waved and slowed down to tell him where I was going. He surprised me when he said, “Can I come with?” I of course agreed but felt that something had to be wrong for him to be so close to home and want to run an errand with me.

He hopped into the car and started telling me about his first day. He told me about his teachers and that his first day went “okay.” He talked a little longer about which of his friends was in his lunch period and then the reason for his accompanying me came out. He told me that one of his teachers recognized his last name and asked him if he had an older brother. He responded by saying, “Jordan?” The teacher then asked, “How is Jordan doing?”

As Merrick talked, I shouted, “Oh No!” and pulled the car over to the curb.

“Oh Merrick, I’m so sorry. God, on your first day. What did you say?”

“I didn’t really say anything. I just kinda’ mumbled and looked down.”

“Well what did your teacher do?”

“Finally moved to the next person and started talking to them. I almost came home. I didn’t know what to do.”

“It would have been okay if you came home. Talk about  minefields. You could have come home if you wanted to.”

“I know. I still felt weird but I stayed. Can you tell my teacher about Jordan?”

“Of course I will.  I’ll make sure all of them know. I didn’t think I needed to notify the school this year. I guess I should have.“

“Thanks Mom. I just don’t want any big display in front of the class. I just want them to know.”

After I assured Merrick all of his teachers would be notified about Jordan’s loss, our talk turned to other parts of his school day. I asked him if he got a new lock for his locker, and what he had for lunch. I gripped the steering wheel trying to stay calm. Inside I was screaming. In the midst of our conversation Merrick suddenly changed the subject and asked, “Do other kids who’ve lost somebody go through stuff like this?” I took a breath and told him yes.  I then told him about a woman who is a member of the same online writers’ group as I. I’d received an email from her that same day commenting on one of my blog entries. I told Merrick that she lost her brother in a bus crash when she was 14. I hoped that Merrick would gain some solace and feel less alone hearing of someone else that lost a sibling.

Later that same evening I emailed my new friend to tell her about Merrick’s experience on his first day. She responded saying she knew the feeling and that unfortunately the same thing happened to her all the time when she was in school. She offered to talk with Merrick whenever he needed. Her offer got me thinking about the best way for my kids through the stories of others to feel less alone.

Please Help

I have a request of all of my readers that I hope you can honor. My children need something I can’t give them. They need to know from those of you who have lost a sibling or parent, what your experience was like and how you cope (d). We’ve been to family support groups and they have met other children who have lost a parent or a sibling. They’ve read books on kid’s grief and my husband and I have read to them.

I’ve done the things I know to do to ease their pain and to help them understand they’re not alone in their feelings. I know the upending grief of losing a child. As much as I offer comfort, I can’t give my children the perspective of someone who suffered a traumatic loss as a child. I feel helpless and heartbroken as I watch my children ache with sorrow. I know I can’t take away their pain anymore than my parents can take away mine. I’m hoping that their sorrow can be eased as they search for reassurance that the experiences and feelings they have are not unnatural or theirs alone.

Those of you who lost a parent or sibling as a child are needed as guides. My children need to hear from those who know the pain of losing such a loved one during your childhood or adolescence. Please share your stories in my comments section. On days that bring Lindsay, Kendall and Merrick confusion and pain, I know they will gain solace and reassurance from being able to read or have read to them the experiences and feelings of those of you who have coped and learned to live with loss. Please pass this post along to others who you think can help. I thank all of you willing to help ease the heartache of my kids.

Senior Moments

Jordan and Merrick walking to school on the first day. This was the last year they would be at the same school together.

Today is the first full day of school for my kids. My daughters are excited middle-schoolers, and my son Merrick is a senior in high school. As is our tradition Mark videotaped each of our children individually, asking them what they expected this school year to bring. He then took pictures of them as they headed out the door.

The typical back to school shopping has also of course occurred. We have notebooks in every color, new backpacks and new shoes. Mark took the girls to buy their school supplies guided by  the long list provided by the school. Merrick and I went yesterday to get the things he needed. He resisted getting things for school earlier and now we were doing last-minute shopping. Merrick has not exhibited the excitement I hoped being a senior would bring for him. His level of enthusiasm is tamped down by his longing for his brother to share the “senior moments.”

As we drove to the office supply store Merrick spoke often of Jordan. He remembered stories I had forgotten about their exploits from the days that they walked to school together as elementary school children. Merrick then voiced the anxiety that has weighed on his mind since his first day of Kindergarten. In elementary school the question was, “Will my teachers be nice.” Now as he sat beside me in the car he said, “I just don’t want any bad teachers.” Before I could respond he asked me, “Did Jordan have any bad teachers in high school?” I told him there were teachers that weren’t the best fit for Jordan. Jordan could be less than respectful of condescending teachers who didn’t challenge him. He would question  why they had to do certain assignments. I relayed to Merrick that there were a couple of times that I met with Jordan’s teachers to insure that their was an optimal learning environment. I also told Jordan that questioning authority was fine, but we expected him to be respectful of his teachers.

Merrick continued to pepper me with questions about Jordan’s experiences his senior year. I answered them as best I could. As we drove, the space between us held the longing and the need to have Jordan sitting with us. Merrick needs his brother so much right now. They were supposed to be seniors together, one in high school and one in college. They used to talk about this day teasing each other about whose school started first (“sucker!”) but then the comeback was always, “Yeah, but I’ll be home sleeping while you’re still in school.”

Every question Merrick asked me, I knew he wanted to ask his brother. The excitement and enthusiasm which we all expected senior year to hold for Merrick has been changed to a time of reflection and solitude. As we were about to get out of the car, I looked at Merrick and told him, “You have worried and wondered about your teachers since you started school. You’ve learned how to deal with all kind of teachers. Think back on all you’ve dealt with and adjusted to. You are amazing. Your dad and I are here for you.” Merrick in his typical style looked at me and quietly said, “Thanks Mom.”

We made our way through the store, splitting up at points as Merrick gathered school supplies he needed and I retrieved extra items for his sisters. I tried so hard not to cry. I have always been sentimental and this occasion was no less so. Every aisle was a reminder of how much I had looked forward to this pivotal year. My daughters entering middle school and my boys being seniors. I chastised myself as I walked through the aisles. “Stop being so emotional. You’re in Office Max, get a grip!” I tried not to think too much about what this year was supposed to bring. Every aisle I walked down put me closer not further away from my heartache and what I want. I want Jordan to be a senior in college. Most of his friends are already off to school. They are excited and stunned that they’re in their senior year of college. “Where did the time go?”

I composed myself, willing back any tears that threatened to fall when I rounded a corner and saw Merrick coming towards me. We finished our shopping and then were off to buy sneakers. Several times on our way to the car, I almost said to Merrick, “Can buying shoes wait?” I was so tired and so emotional. I finally decided to keep going. I didn’t know if breaking the errands up into smaller parts would make it easier. We’d put off this shopping trip long enough. Merrick needed shoes more than he needed school supplies so I found a reserve of strength and we went to Foot Locker.

Merrick has never been an enthusiastic shopper. I typically buy his “uniform” of jeans, t-shirts and hoodies with no complaint from him. Shoes are the only things he has to be present for me to buy. As we entered the shoe store I did my best not to look too long at the polo shirts that hung on racks in the middle of the store. Polo shirts and jeans were Jordan’s uniform; so much so that his friend Billy asked me if it was okay to wear a polo shirt to Jordan’s memorial service because that’s how he wanted to honor him.

As I stood trying to stay focused on Merrick’s shoes, telling him to select a couple of pairs to try on, he reached for the ones he said he wanted. He picked up black “Air Force One’s.” I nodded my head, knowing who he was thinking about and said, “Whatever you want to try is fine.” The salesman returned with the box and Merrick tried on the shoes. Merrick stood up and said, “I see why Jordan liked these. They are really comfortable.” Merrick continued talking about memories of his brother but I had to stop listening even though I continued to nod my head and say, “uh huh.” My thoughts rebounded to the place they go when my heart grows too heavy,

“How can Jordan be gone when we need him so much?”

“ I want him to be a phone call away.”

“ I want him advising his brother about applying to colleges and getting the most out of his last year of high school. “ I want, I want, I want.

I paid for Merrick’s shoes and we made our way to the car. I sat, put my seatbelt and sunglasses on and started to put the key in the ignition. Then I stopped and said to Merrick in a trembling voice, “seeing all those polo shirts made me sad. I miss Jordan.” Merrick quietly responded, “I know, me too.” I couldn’t hold my sorrow in any longer. I sat, sighed a few times and then quietly wept as Merrick sat beside me staring out the window. I wept for all we’ve lost and for all we’re trying so hard to do. After a few moments, I took a breath, wiped my eyes underneath my sunglasses and started the car. I told Merrick we had one more stop, to get a few groceries and then we’d go home. We rode silently. When we pulled into the parking lot I touched his arm and said, “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay.”

We got out of the car and made our way inside, looking to all the world like a mother and son having a typical day.

SCHOOL DAYS

Jordan on 1st day of Kindergarten

Excited high school freshman

High school senior

Back to school- L & K in elementary school, M in middle school and Jordan in high school

Amherst College Freshman

Jordan walking to his dorm sophomore year

We’re Together

“I feel sad for no reason. I feel sad all the time, even when I feel happy. I can feel it right in my gut.” Lindsay 7/13/10

As Lindsay says “gut” she fiercely pushes her stomach with the palm of her hand. We are sitting in Panera’s having lunch and when Kendall gets up to get her forgotten piece of bread Lindsay looks at me and without warning tells me about her sadness. Before I have time to weigh what I should say, I look at her and blurt out, “That’s how I feel too.” Her look as I speak is one of relief but still questioning. I know how much it took for her to be so vulnerable and reveal the depths of her sadness. She’s looking to me to ease her pain and provide some understanding. I take a breath and hope I can make her realize that she’s not alone in her feelings. I tell her, “What you’re feeling is grief.” As I say these words Kendall slides back into her chair and hearing the word “grief” is instantly caught up with the conversation. She knows without asking that we’re talking about Jordan and how we miss him and long for him. I tell them both that sometimes grief feels like it is inside you and won’t ever go away.

I look at my girls and I tell them what on this day I’m not sure I fully believe, but I say it anyway, “We won’t always feel this sad. It will get better.”

Even as I navigate my own feelings of grief, I shore myself up hoping to be prepared for moments such as these. I stand watch, vigilant to the needs of my children who have been traumatized by the unimaginable loss of their big brother. My energy stores are for my children who need a mother that is emotionally present and with whom they can reveal their hearts without fear or worry. For our family, grief is a shared experience. They’ve seen me on days when grief and sorrow weigh me down and all I can do is cry. I’m honest with them when they come to me with worried looks and ask, “What’s wrong?” I always truthfully answer and say, “I’m having a tough time, I miss your brother.” Childhood does not mean that they don’t know what grief looks like or how it feels. As much as I wish I could take all of their pain and sadness away, I know I can’t. Even so, I never want them to think that the grief they feel is wrong or unnatural.  Mother love drives me to ensure that Lindsay, Kendall and Merrick know that they never have to carry their burdens alone.

As we sit quietly for a moment in our booth all lost in our own thoughts, I steal looks at my almost 11- year old daughters. I tell them of an idea I have for their upcoming birthday party and I watch as smiles almost reach their eyes. They tell me they like my idea. We sit and take some time to plan their party focusing our attention on celebration.

My love for them is immeasurable. My prayer that grief not fully rob them of their childhoods is prayed daily. I watch my daughters and I silently repeat to myself what I said to them earlier, “We won’t always feel this sad. It will get better.”

“Mama What Do You Want For Mother’s Day?”

I’ve been feeling so tired and vulnerable thinking about my children and how to love them and protect them as they navigate their way through their days with grief as a companion. So many of my thoughts too, have been of Jordan. It is my second Mother’s Day without him and it is no easier than the first. I’d fooled myself into thinking that this year would be easier but it’s not. Grief has circled around and put me in a raw place. Every bud and flower of spring serves as a reminder that the world goes on whether I’m ready or not.

“Mama, what do you want for Mother’s Day?”  My daughter Lindsay posed this question to me a few weeks ago and she caught me unprepared. I was not ready to answer because I’d been putting off thinking about Mother’s day, as though that would make the day further away. I told her I didn’t know yet but I would think about it. She wanted to know what gift she could buy me. All I could think of were the things that I want and need that can’t be gift-wrapped.

Mother’s day has a new representation for me now. I am the mother of four. My oldest son is gone, killed in a car accident on October 12th, 2008. My other son is 17 and wears his weariness and grief like a backpack. He misses his brother so much. When he does share his sorrow with me he talks of the things he and Jordan won’t get to do together. On days when his friend’s complaints about mundane things make him angry and he wants to tell them, “Shut up. There are bigger things going on in the world” he instead wishes for his brother to talk with and counsel him.

What do I want for Mother’s Day? I want to know that my children can sleep without fear of bad thoughts or dreams. I want the longing and ache that has taken residence inside our home to go away for a while. As composed as my children are, able to attend school and do well, I’m occasionally jarred by an image that lets me know how close to the surface their fears and grief are. Just days ago I was driving home with my daughters when we had to pull over because of a fire truck passing us, sirens blaring. It continued up the street and then we started to drive again. As I made the left turn onto our block, fire trucks, ambulances and police cars blocked the corner where our house sits. Lindsay looked at the scene and said, “Merrick.” I touched her arm and saw the fear in her eyes and the vein in her neck pulsing. I told her, “It’s not Merrick. Merrick is fine. You don’t have to worry about your brother.” She then exhaled and said, “As long as it’s not Merrick.” I reassured her again still stroking her arm. We made our way to the driveway and I asked Lindsay before she got out of the car if she was okay. She told me she was.  She tried to recover by making jokes and talking fast but I could tell she was still unsettled. The girls let themselves into the house, and I sat in the car for a few more minutes.  I rested my head on the steering wheel trying to make sense of what just happened. Of all the places for a congregation of emergency vehicles to happen, it happened in front of my house and my daughters. It brought back all the painful memories of my imaginings of Jordan’s accident scene and I admitted to myself that when I told Lindsay that, “It’s not Merrick,” I was telling myself that too.  I fought back tears because I didn’t know if I’d be able to stop once I started. My daughter had just uttered her brother’s name when she saw emergency vehicles. She’s carrying right under the surface so much fear.

What do I want for Mother’s Day? I want to be present for my family. Right now, my insides are swabbed to saturation with the responsibilities, doubts, fears and sorrows that being a mother who has lost a child bring. Vigilance has not allowed me many opportunities to sit with myself and find respite. I need to remember how to be Jackie, how to nurture myself so that I can care for my family. I’ll talk with friends, I’ll read and maybe see a movie with Mark. I need to reconnect with the person I am. The person who believes that “joy comes in the morning.” I hope to continue to be strong even when weariness sets in. I resolve to honor my authentic self, to give that part of me the same nurturance and love I give others. I will try to find peace in who I am.  I take it as my right.

 

What do I want for Mother’s Day? I want my 3 living children to always love and respect each other. I see them reconfiguring their relationship with each other, having to find an internal place for their love for Jordan but also a new way of being siblings without their oldest brother as guide. I want my daughters’ fears to be eased when their dad or brother are late coming home. I want my children to always feel comfortable talking to their dad or me when they are troubled or sad. I want to be available to them when they need to express their sorrow. I want to continue to normalize our life and routine, to set limits for them so that they grow up understanding they have to earn what they get.

What do I want for Mother’s Day? I want my children to feel real joy without guilt. They are too young to live a life without real joy. I want to be a good mother to my children. For my second Mother’s Day proclaiming I am the mother of four and having three children to hold and have look at me expectantly for signs of  surprise and gratitude. I want them to see me be joyous. They need to know that they matter to me as equally as their brother Jordan. I will not let grief rob me of mothering my children and sharing a life of love and joy with them. On Mother’s Day, I will stand in that space reminding myself of the eternal relationship I have with Jordan, hoping to again feel his presence. In the midst of my sorrow, I will find the joy in what motherhood has given me. My gifts are eternal ones- Jordan, Merrick, Lindsay and Kendall.

Mother’s Day 2006