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 ‘minefields’

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.

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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.

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The Need To Know

The back of his skull was crushed, that’s why Edward put his shirt under Jordan’s head not on his forehead like I’ve assumed and imagined he did for two years. The email from Edward that he sent on 8/29/09 told me plain as day, “I put my shirt under Jordan’s head to stop the bleeding.” I came across the email yesterday when I was cleaning up my inbox. Instead of skipping over it as I have for over a year I read it and it was the first time that the events of that evening made their way through my grief.

Jordan was dying when Edward pulled him from the car. The coroner’s report said his brain stem was damaged and that he never had a chance to wake up. My version of the events of that night was tidier. Jordan was asleep during the accident. He hit his head and never regained consciousness. I held that version until I saw the 2009 Winter Olympics and the luge accident where the athlete was killed. There was so much blood around his head. It was the first time I connected a head injury with blood.

My sister commenting on my “Looking Too Soon” post about the luge accident, wrote that her husband cleaned the blood from Jordan’s shoes. Reading her comment brought to my knees, hyperventilating and getting my first true glimpse of how horrific the accident scene must have been. What she knew and how she told me were things I wasn’t prepared to accept so I rejected her comment never allowing it space with the other comments on my blog, as though that would change the truth.

Everything I’ve written about the accident has Edward putting his t-shirt on Jordan’s forehead, a far less serious injury than the one described in the accident report and the coroner’s report. I read both reports and missed the details that gave the accurate depiction. In my version, the fantasy of a mother with a son who died, I wanted Jordan to go to the hospital so I could sit by his bedside and lie next to him and tell him, “Mama and Daddy are here,” until he drew his last breath.

He died on the side of the road and the blood that had to be staved wasn’t from a cut on his forehead but from the base of his crushed skull. It took me a year to realize that the cleaned up body with the bandaged forehead that I viewed at the funeral home wasn’t the body at the accident scene. My heart and mind for some reason are now willing to acknowledge more of  the trauma I blocked out before.

Seeing Edwards’ email yesterday I felt like I was reading it for the first time. It reignited all the questions I had about that night that only he, Christian and Matt can answer. Needing to know has started to overwhelm me. I emailed Edward yesterday unable to wait any longer to ask the questions that keep haunting me:

Did Jordan cry out in pain?

Why didn’t he wake up with all the commotion of you guys screaming when the car went out of control?

Did he wake up?

What did you say to him when you stayed with him while Christian and Matt went up the hill to wait for the ambulance?

Was he unconscious the whole time?

Did he ever say anything?

I’m not sure what I’ll do with the answers or if they’ll ever come, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking. For a while I played a counting game. When Edward, Matt and Christian are 25, no 30, maybe when they’re married or fathers, maybe then they’ll tell me exactly what happened that night. I’ve prevented myself from asking too much so far because the trauma those boys experienced on the side of the road watching their friend die has not escaped me. But it hasn’t changed the fact that trauma happened at home too, when the police came to my door and took safety away from my heart.

Edward is 24 and in my email I tried to explain why I couldn’t wait any longer. I told him: You’re right, Jordan is on my heart and mind everyday. I struggle with the fact that I wasn’t there to hold him, care for him and say goodbye. You did those things for me. But I have all these questions that require your frankness and as much recall as you can muster.

I’m envious of all the parents who got to touch, hold or sing to their children when they knew they were dying. I wonder what kind of person envies another parent who has lost a child? I battle with my shame. Edward is a complex person in my life. He drove the car when the accident occurred but he also carried Jordan from the car, held him and talked to him until the paramedics came. Edward was the driver and Jordan’s last caretaker, facts that are so entangled in my mind I don’t always know if they can be separated. Right now I have so many questions. The trauma of that night retreats at times and then rears up revealing specks of truth that I can no longer ignore. As much as it hurts I have to know what happened to my boy.

Fight, Flight or Freeze

Fight, flight or freeze. Most of us have heard of the “Fight or Flight” response exhibited when we sense a stressful situation or danger is approaching. Researchers have shown that as our stress levels rise, the brain relays a message to the body that it is time to run or to defend one’s self. Freezing in the face of danger is another observed response to perceived danger. Those who have suffered a trauma know that there are sometimes triggers that elicit the “Fight, Flight, or Freeze,” response. For soldiers a trigger may be hearing a car backfire and be reminded of wartime shooting. For those traumatized by a natural disaster, a crack of thunder or lightning brightening the sky will engender a response. For me, a grieving mother, late night calls, and the sound of sirens causes the anxiety and stress associated with reliving a trauma. Until today I’d equated my freezing in “awkward” situations as a sign of my weakness and desire to appear well-mannered instead of taking care of myself. I didn’t realize that hearing certain words triggered a response that would cause me to stand immobile and hope the person talking would stop soon. Words spoken by another caused me to freeze at my son’s open house last year. This weekend I froze because of words overheard at my neighborhood block party.

Our neighbor was hosting breakfast (you got it, the block party starts at 9am!) and I was looking forward to attending. I was pleasantly surprised but still guarded that I wasn’t dreading the day. Last year I was unable to attend any of the block party festivities because everything connected with it reminded me that the year before was our first block party at our new house, and our last summer with Jordan. The summer of 2008, I watched from a folding chair set up in the blocked off street as Jordan and Merrick drive to the end of the block, so that they could pick Mark up and go to the movies together. Jordan and Merrick coaxed Mark into going to see, “Tropic Thunder” saying they didn’t expect it to be good but it would be worth a few laughs. Through muffled fits of laughter they convinced Mark to go to the movies instead of staying at the block party. When Jordan drove up to the barricade at the end of the street, he got out of the car and waved to his dad. Mark was so proud as he said his goodbyes to our neighbors, telling them he was going to see a movie with his boys, that they, “Twisted his arm.” Last summer, the thought of attending the block party was overwhelming. I knew if I went, I would sit and stare at the barricade the entire evening thinking of our car pulling up and Jordan waving to his dad. I cried off and on that entire day.

This year when I saw the flyer for the block party mixed in with the mail I didn’t feel apprehensive or sad. I still thought about Jordan and Merrick picking Mark up for the movies but it made me smile. I was looking forward to finally introducing myself to our neighbors who were hosting the breakfast. Although we’d waved at each other and spoken on the phone once, we’d never officially met. After Jordan died, they sent us the most heartbreaking yet compassionate condolence card. They expressed their sorrow at our loss and told us of losing their daughter-in-law who died during childbirth. They wrote that when they saw all the cars parked in front of our house and so many people going in and out, it brought back memories of their son’s wife dying. Even though we had never met they offered their prayers and hopes for our comfort.

Although a little wary and weary, Mark and I took the cue from our daughters who had already made their way to our neighbors as we stood on the porch preparing to go to the breakfast. We walked across the street making our way onto the porch and introduced ourselves to our hosts. The four of us stood for a moment and then I thanked my neighbor for the beautiful card she sent us after Jordan’s death. As she said in the card, she repeated to me on her porch, “Seeing all those cars brought back all the memories. I felt so badly for you all. I just sat here and cried.” We shared a look that I hope conveyed my appreciation of the grace she and her husband showed my family. She then urged us to help ourselves to the breakfast buffet they’d put together.

I grabbed a cup of coffee and chatted with some of our neighbors. I stood with Mark for a while as we talked with a few others of a local house under perpetual renovation. As they continued talking I excused myself to get more coffee. After I filled my cup, I turned to see a friend standing with three other women that I vaguely recognized. I decided to join their group and say hello. As I entered their circle of conversation I heard the words, “You wouldn’t believe what a mess my daughter left her room when she left for college.” I stood there frozen. I looked down at my coffee and tried to figure out what to do. My mind was trying to coach me, “Of all the conversations to walk up on.” My next thought was, “You don’t have to stay, just smile and walk away.”

As I was having this internal dialogue, the conversation continued and one of the woman said, “I told her I’m not letting her have her diploma until I know she can take care of it.” The group laughed appreciatively. I stood rooted to my spot, staring at the freckled arm of the woman across from me. I have no idea what look was on my face. I tried telling myself, “Merrick is going to college soon, put this conversation in the context of Merrick, then it won’t hurt so much.” The word diploma started reverberating inside my head and I started wondering how I was going to get out of that circle. I still couldn’t move though. Suddenly I felt my friend’s hand on my arm. She pulled me away, gently smiled and picked up on a conversation we were having earlier. I could feel the muscles in my face soften as she and I talked.

Later that day I told Mark about standing in that circle of women, and being frozen in place, when all I wanted to do was leave. I blamed myself, “What’s wrong with me? Why is it more important for me to be polite than to take care of myself? I just stood there.” My dissection and analysis of the events was that I didn’t respond appropriately in an awkward situation.

I met with my counselor today and told her of my weekend “Freeze”experience, sharing how I have been chastising myself for not responding differently. She gently but firmly stated that my response was not strange for someone who has experienced a traumatic loss. Politeness and being manner able had very little if anything to do with my response to hearing a conversation about college and diplomas when Jordan would be a senior in college this year. As she talked to me she concentrated on the positive outcome that happened when my friend pulled me aside. She urged me to have a friend ready to help when a situation gets overwhelming. I told her that in the months after Jordan died I kept a buffer zone of friends who did just that. Clearly I need to ask for support in situations where I feel uncertain or overwhelmed. I definitely need to cut back on thinking, “What’s wrong with me?” I now know that in the face of triggers aka “awkward situations,” I sometimes freeze because my traumatic grief is too much for me to bear alone. Fortunately on Sunday, a friend saw my distress and pulled me to safety.

Minefields

Relationships are eternal

Relationships are eternal

Some days, courage is needed to leave my house. When you’re grieving the loss of a child, minefields are everywhere. I never know if I’ll run into an acquaintance I haven’t seen since Jordan died who needs to express their condolences on a day when I am doing okay and am not prepared to help them mourn my child. Other times it is memory triggers- one of Jordan’s favorite songs being played in a store or listening to talk radio and hearing a discussion of a movie he and I watched together and loved. I was in a bookstore a few months ago and Marvin Gaye’s \”Trouble Man\” came through the sound system. I stopped in my tracks and stood there remembering the first time Jordan came to me after listening to that song. You would have thought he was the first in the world to hear it. That became his anthem as he worked hard senior year and plowed his way through AP classes and college applications. There I was in this store listening, remembering Jordan singing and trying to remember to breathe. On that day I consciously decided that this song represented joyful memories of my boy. I kept walking into the store determined that I could bear to listen to the song and replay Jordan’s antics as he mimicked Marvin Gaye. It was a wonderful memory and the store was providing the soundtrack.

Other occasions the shock of how an image or a sound will hurtle me into grief feels like a punch. The wind is knocked out of me and I stop and again have to remember to breathe. On one occasion a few months after Jordan died I was in a stationery store determined to get thank you notes. I had not written a single one and people had been so generous with food for our family, their cards detailing memories of Jordan and donations to Jordan’s fund that guilt was why I’d left my house. As an aside, my guilt on the matter of thank you notes has eased but not been erased. Thanks to the help of my friends, sister and Emily Post I cut myself some slack and hope people know how grateful our family is for all that is done for us. I’ve written five thank you notes so far and still am determined to give a proper thank you to all.

As I perused the shelves in a stationery store I had been in dozens of times I happened to look up and see a family tree poster for sale. Just looking at it made me back away. My family history which I researched going all the way back to my great, great, great -grandfather and reported on at my 50th annual family reunion that prior summer now mocked me. My family tree was broken. A branch, Jordan’s branch that should have multiplied and spread had been cut short. I can never imagine filling a family tree out again. When I come to Jordan’s branch I can’t write date of birth and date of death for my child, it is too unnatural. Looking at a poster of a family tree was the minefield for that day. That poster sent me stumbling to my car to sit and weep.

There is no way to be prepared for all of the things out in the world that will come my way. I’m learning to steel myself against possible minefields but at the same time trying not to harden myself against new experiences. I’m determined for me, and the example I am to my family to remember the joy I know the world still has to give. For that day however I knew I was done. I went home to my grieving place to sit and be still and simply feel what I was feeling.