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 ‘motherhood’

Detective Work

The check was posted, “8/8/10.” I stared at the notice from the collection agency. Neither Mark nor I had written a check for 546.00 to a cell phone company, yet here was a notice saying we had 30 days to pay the uncollected amount or to dispute the charge. This was the second notice we had received in the mail saying we owed money to a collection agency for bounced checks. The only problem was that the check number and amount didn’t match any of our accounts. I searched our accounts online and didn’t see any activity or check number that made me suspicious.  Just as I started feeling relieved, a pang of doubt hit me. What about Jordan’s checking account? I didn’t even know if Mark ever closed that account.

Mark was still at work and the thought of calling him to relay my fear that someone was fraudulently using Jordan’s account didn’t sit well with me. There was nothing he could do from work and the news would only upset him. I also had a selfish reason for not telling him until he got home, I didn’t want to hear him say, “Just wait until I get home, we’ll figure it out together.” I didn’t want to wait. I thought I’d go crazy if I had to wait.  I wanted to immediately clear Jordan’s name. I felt like the anger that has been simmering within me since this school year began, finally had a target.

I focused my anger and my attention on figuring out if someone had taken over Jordan’s checking account. The first thing I needed was Jordan’s account number. I started in our office. I opened drawers looking for old bank statements. What I found instead were old pictures, expired credit cards (why?) and enough staples to make people wonder if we were hoarders. When did we get so disorganized? I looked in the file drawer hoping that Mark had made a file and labeled it “Jordan’s info,” or something similar that would let me know I was circling the right area. Our office yielded no clues. Next I went to Jordan’s room. His valet tray still lies atop his dresser. Old keys, a grocery store card and loose change are all that occupy it now. My search became more frantic and conspiracy theories raced through my head,

“What if it was someone that knew Jordan that’s using his account?”

“What if one of his friends in the car with him stole his checkbook after the accident?” “But Jordan never carried his checkbook, that doesn’t make sense. Still you don’t know. You still don’t really know what happened that night.”

“What ifs” lead me to search my bedroom in particular Mark’s nightstand drawer. I pushed aside irrelevant items, intent on finding a bank statement. I reached into the back of Mark’s drawer and pulled out a sandwich bag. The plastic bag held Jordan’s wallet, a bunch of crumpled receipts and a paper bracelet from one of the concerts he attended while in Baltimore. I pulled the bracelet from the bag. The word “LOVE” was stamped on the bracelet. I held the bracelet and wondered why LOVE didn’t save Jordan from the accident. I wasn’t surprised Jordan kept the bracelet. He inherited the sentimentality that both Mark and I share. I put the bracelet back in the bag and removed the receipts, which I’d seen before but never looked at too closely. I knew they were from his last trip and the night of the accident. I carefully smoothed each receipt before reading it. I felt like I was preserving evidence but for what reason I wasn’t sure. There were toll way receipts and receipts from fast food restaurants. I looked through each receipt, talking to Jordan as I scanned them,

“Why did you eat so much junk food? You knew it wasn’t good for you.”

“Why were you paying so many tolls? Did the other guys pay their share?”

I continued looking and shaking my head, trying to stay detached so I could finish my task before I had to pick the girls up from school. As I looked closer at one of the receipts from Taco Bell, I saw the time of the transaction.  The receipt read, “8:52pm 10/12/08.” I reread the time again. Jordan was ordering Taco Bell 40 minutes before the accident. Could that be right? His friends said he was asleep at the time of the accident. Could he really be asleep 40 minutes after ordering food? Did he eat it? Were these boys/Jordan’s friends telling us everything about that night? I kept staring at the receipt willing it to divulge information that can only come from the boys in the car with Jordan that night.

When will Jordan’s friends be able to fill in the details of Jordan’s last hours, minutes? They are the only ones who can tell us what the accident report can’t. We’ve cobbled together the sequence of events from the accident report and a few sparse emails from the boys in the car that night. I keep calling them boys even though all of them were seniors in college at the time of the accident. From my vantage point as a mother, my son’s friends are boys the same way my mother’s friends still ask how the “girls” are, when referring to my sister and I.

We continue to wait for details about 10/12/08, not knowing if they will bring us some relief or haunt us. Will we regret knowing more? Are Jordan’s friends sparing us some gruesome detail they are too traumatized by to put it into words? Have they made some pact to protect themselves against implications of wrongdoing? These are the places my mind wanders. The math is simple and the answer is the same every time. Three boys live and one is gone. No amount of questioning or detective work is going to change that fact. Even as I wonder, I tell myself that until the boys prove themselves otherwise they are Jordan’s friends. I try so hard not to let heartache turn to bitterness. With a sigh, I took one last look at the receipts and then carefully folded them and put them back into the plastic bag.

Lastly, I pulled Jordan’s wallet from the bag. It was the wallet I’d given him as a birthday present on his 18th birthday just weeks before his freshman year of college. He always carried it in the right front pocket of his too baggy jeans, along with his ipod and keys. With shaky hands I opened the wallet and pulled out contents. Inside were his Amherst College ID, his bankcard, and his driver’s license. I looked at his license with the vertical picture signaling his “under 18” status. I wondered why he hadn’t changed it when he turned 18. I looked at the dates closer and realized his license didn’t expire until his 2010 birthday. He would have gotten an updated license when he turned 21. I looked closely at Jordan’s license picture. It was taken on the day he turned 16. He looked so young, not even old enough to drive. Jordan was the youngest of his friends and was determined to have his license as soon as he could. His dad drove him to the Department of Motor Vehicles the morning of his 16th birthday. I glanced at his Amherst College ID but couldn’t look at it for long without feeling regret and anguish.  I placed all the cards back in the wallet they way I’d found them. I closed the wallet and rubbed my hand against the leather. The textured leather was smooth in places that suggested how Jordan held it. I put my hand on the wallet carefully placing my fingers on the smooth parts hoping to mimic Jordan’s handling of it. I brought it to my face and held it against my cheek. I closed my eyes and felt the softness of the leather. In my hand the leather of the wallet became Jordan’s cheek held close to mine. I kissed the wallet, telling my boy how much he is missed and loved. The tears I’d held at bay all afternoon rushed out changing me from amateur detective to grieving mother in the blink of an eye.

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.

A New System

Since Jordan’s celebration on Saturday, I’ve had the eerie, awkward feeling of “now what?” Now what do I do to keep  Jordan close to me? Planning the event and being able to talk so freely with others about Jordan without feeling self-conscious was a relief. A fear that I’ve had since Jordan died is that he would be forgotten. Being with family and friends, receiving cards or calls around Jordan’s birthday was comforting and reassuring.

Intellectually I know that I’m not the only one that misses my son. Still, on days when I sit quietly and others are rightfully back to their daily lives, my mama heart surges and wants the world to know “Jordan was here!” I’ve been having surreal Mama moments over the last few days. I’m feeling myself winding down from the emotional intensity I felt during the beginning of August with the girls’ birthdays and Jordan’s 21st birthday and celebration. I’m also aware that I always feel a wistfulness. I’m starting to realize this wistfulness is a new part of me. I will always miss my son. The intensity of the longing ebbs and flows but it is living inside of me. I’m not going to fight this new system coursing through my body. It is making its place next to my veins, arteries and major life organs. It is a major life system. My knowledge of anatomy didn’t prepare me for the physical changes that grief would bring. I can’t fully describe the physicality of longing but I feel the change within me. I feel it the same way I feel my breath, my heartbeat, and every ache and pain.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m grateful that I have lupus. It has given me a guide to chronic conditions, and allowed me to accept the chronic nature of certain aspects of grief. I spent the first 15 years of having lupus in denial. Every time I went for long periods without a flare, I deemed myself cured. Then when debilitating fatigue, swollen joints and fevers would return I was always shocked and angry. I spent so much energy fighting my illness which only made it worse. It wasn’t until I decided that I would take care of myself as best I could and live with lupus instead of fighting against it, that I start to live a healthier, whole life.

Grief feels a bit like lupus to me. I can’t pretend that because I’ve had several days (sometimes longer) of feeling functional and hopeful that I’m done with the soul shaking, debilitating parts of grief. My experience to date lets me know otherwise. Grief does not follow a linear path. There are minefields that bring me to my knees no matter how functional and at peace I felt before. If I try to deny that sorrow will return with varying degrees of force, I hurt more than if I allow myself to feel what I’m feeling and know that just like flares from lupus, I’ll get through my flares of grief. I’m wistfully learning to accept my new normal.

Express Yourself

My daughters Lindsay and Kendall were amazing to watch as they switched back and forth between planning their 11th birthday party and planning the, “Express Yourself ” celebration to honor Jordan for what would be his 21st birthday. They talked one moment of the elaborate sparkly cake they wanted for their sleepover and then the next asked if we could have mint chocolate chip ice cream and Oma’s pound cake at Jordan’s celebration. They wanted all of his favorite foods, songs, and people to be represented. Their energy and enthusiasm was awe-inspiring. I tried to keep up but sometimes as they reminisced about Jordan and the things he loved I looked away. I started to wonder why I decided to have with this event. Getting through Jordan’s birthday on 8.9.10 had been filled with laments. The “Express Yourself” event was five days after his birthday. How was I going to make it to that day without being engulfed in sorrow? The only purpose reminiscing about Jordan seemed to serve for me was that it made me want what I couldn’t have. I wanted Jordan back, so he could tell us too much fuss was being made about his birthday. I wanted to watch him turn 21 and go out with his dad for a beer. “How did we get here?” was ringing in my head.

Two weeks before Jordan’s celebration, I called my sister and told her I was going to cancel it. I felt more sad and apprehensive than any desire to be festive. I felt more like I was planning a memorial service. I couldn’t put my family or myself through that pain again. My sister Julie was the only one I let know of my plan to cancel the event. After I spoke with Julie, I wondered why this year it seemed harder than last to have a celebration of Jordan’s life. As I went to shower I realized the difference between this year and last, my friends. Last year my friends sat around my kitchen table asking me what I wanted the celebration to include, and then they handled the details. They told me I was doing enough by being there.

I realized why planning “Express Yourself” seemed so hard. Unlike last year’s celebration of Jordan on his birthday, this year I hadn’t let any of my friends in on the planning or the ambivalent feelings I was having. I’d put my own measure on time and decided that I should be able to plan this year on my own. Because it has been almost 2 years since Jordan died I decided that I should be able to handle planning the event. I knew my friends were busy with their own lives and I didn’t want them to feel burdened by my grief. I didn’t even ask my sister for help until late in the planning stages. The word “should,” I’d broken my own rule about grieving. There are no “shoulds.” There are no rules. Grief and mourning don’t follow any linear path to some final point of acceptance and healing. Every day is different.

Just as I was finishing my shower, clear now that it was not the celebration that was causing my sadness, but the isolation I had imposed on myself, Mark told me that my friend Jeanne called and wanted to know if I was free for lunch. Twenty minutes later I met Jeanne and Amy at a nearby Indian restaurant. We hadn’t talked, really talked to each other in months. As we sat and caught up over Indian food I finally told them how my summer has been fraught with sadness and anxiety, something I’ve managed to simply endure. It has been drenched with sadness and anxiety with “good days” being few and far between. Then the questions came:

“Why didn’t you call us?”

“I didn’t know what to say? I was just trying to make it through each day.”

“You can’t suffer in silence. We’re here for you.”

“I know you are. I didn’t know what I needed. I didn’t know what to ask for.”

As we sat and talked I told them how I’d considered cancelling the “Express Yourself” event. Amy gently reminded me of why I wanted to have the celebration. She said, “It is a lovely idea to honor Jordan’s memory by being with friends who love your family and who loved Jordan. Don’t over think it. It will be what it will be.” She and Jeanne went on to tell me that if at any point I got overwhelmed then I could go home, even if I only stayed for 5 minutes.

Once I accepted help and expressed my apprehension and confusion, I was met with such generous spirits. I watched as my apprehension turned to excitement. Amy and Jeanne deemed themselves the food committee and told me they’d have everything ready the night of the celebration. Julie kept in touch with Jordan’s friends and they planned the performances that would occur. I put myself in charge of tablecloths, candles, and of reminding myself when I felt down that celebrating and honoring Jordan was a source of energy and light. I held on to those feelings and looked forward to an evening spent with friends, many of whom I hadn’t congregated with since the memorial service.

On August 14th, friends and family gathered at the “Express Yourself” event. We looked at pictures of Jordan where we couldn’t help but smile. The spread of food was enough to feed an army and included cupcakes lovingly made by Lindsay and Kendall. The music playing in the background was from Jordan’s IPod. Throughout the evening people signed the “Express Yourself” guestbook and made donations to “Jordan’s Fund.” The evening of performances started with listening to “Jordan’s Rap” which I cry every time I hear. Hearing his deep, beautiful voice I imagine what wonderful things he would have done in this world. Julie read a poem written by Lindsay, which talked about the shade in her heart since Jordan’s smile is gone. Merrick and Jordan’s friends performed hip-hop and jazz music. I listened to the words of Jordan’s sister and watched Jordan’s brother captivate the room and I knew Jordan was proud.

Julie sang accompanied on saxophone by Jordan’s friend Lucas, “Look to the Mountain,” a beautiful song she and her husband wrote over 20 years ago upon hearing of the death of one of our dear high school friends David Saidel. She talked of the irony in singing again a song about a wondrous life that ended too soon. Later in the evening, Lucas with his brother Nick on clarinet and friend Jack on bass played, \”All Blue\”“a selection from Miles Davis’s, “Kind of Blue” album. Lucas introduced the piece by saying that it always reminded him of Jordan and him driving around together. He said that Jordan was his only friend that he could listen to jazz with, and they both loved Miles Davis. I took a turn as well, reading in a shaky voice “To Jordan on His 21st Birthday.” It was a good and necessary thing to socialize, laugh and cry with those who love my family and I. All those in attendance had their own sweet, memories of Jordan, which they so eloquently conveyed. I left that evening feeling grateful to be a proud, humbled, still hopeful mother of four.

Collage I made of pictures of Jordan that make me smile. The center picture of Jordan holding the sparkler and singing is my favorite.

Merrick and Jordan's friend Billy preparing to perform. Mark is acting as DJ

Preparing to read my letter to Jordan

The World Keeps Turning

“Interesting how these days come and go regardless… you are still here and the questions remain.” (Facebook message from my friend Tom who knows loss too well)

I spent time on Jordan’s birthday sitting on the edge of my bed looking through the leather-handled box that holds mementos of him. Through sobs, I looked at some of my favorite pictures of him that I like to keep close so that I can hold them to my heart and then kiss his face. I re-read letters he had written to me as a boy, most of them of the “I’m Sorry” variety. I opened the bag that held his hairbrush, held it to my nose and inhaled trying to have him close by his scent. This was my private time with Jordan. Time to reflect on how big and wide my love and longing for him is. It is so hard to believe that the universe stays in motion when my world is upended.

On Jordan’s birthday my daughter Kendall suddenly asked if the mail would be delivered that day. I quickly answered, “Yes” and returned to loading the dishwasher. A few moments later after listening to her talk with her sister, I figured out why she’d asked the question. It was Jordan’s birthday and she assumed that it was a holiday and mail service would be stopped. The innocence of her question illustrated how all of us that love and miss Jordan were feeling. Why wasn’t there a pause in the Universe? The world should have stopped moving at least for a moment on August 9th because Jordan’s not here and his birthday is, again. As outrageous and illogical as it is, it is still hard to believe that the world keeps going when unbelievable heartache surrounds my family and I and keeps us tethered to sorrow.

To Jordan On His 21st Birthday

Banner at Jordan's tree dedication, August 2009-his 20th birthday

Dear Jordan,

I woke up around 5:45 this morning because I thought I heard your cellphone alarm. In the distance I heard your signature ringtone of the flute interlude from the “The Boondocks” show. Merrick still loves that show by the way. I watch it with him sometimes but he doesn’t laugh as long or as hard as he did when the two of you watched it together.

When I heard your ringtone I sat up in bed and my first thought was, “I wonder why Jordan’s getting up so early.” That moment was fleeting as I became fully awake and realized I’d only dreamed hearing your phone. Even still, I lay back on my pillow, closed my eyes and smiled remembering all the times you were just down the hall. I couldn’t sleep after dreaming of you being so close but I wouldn’t trade that moment of fuzzy awareness when I thought you were safely home even though I did have to let it go.

Today is your birthday and I’ve been thinking so much in the past week about all the things I imagine you’d be doing with your life. In my mind you’ve told me about your semester abroad in London and your travels in Europe. Right now you would be planning what countries you want to visit in Africa as you prepare for your Senior year in college. Watching your friends mature and settle in on various interests gives me a portal into what things you might be doing now. Kathryn keeps in touch and has been so kind and giving to our family. I see why you liked her so much. She like you is a Political Science major. I can imagine the long talks you two would have about how you planned to change the world. Matt, Billy, Luc, Quinn, Pat and Sam come to visit regularly. They keep us updated on their lives and take special interest in what’s going on with us, especially your siblings. They are amazing young men. Some of them have started a music production company and have “dropped”(I’m learning the lingo) two albums. They have enfolded Merrick into their group and he has done a couple of songs with them. Their love for you shows in the care they give your brother.

I watched that crazy YouTube video, “Charlie Bit Me,” this morning. When I was on my computer it popped up on the Huffington Post site and I couldn’t help but click on it. I laughed as I watched it, remembering when you first showed it to us. I don’t know how many times we watched the video that summer but I do remember all of us taking on British accents as we conversed in the house. The laughter and fun you brought into our home will always linger. Rarely a day passes that your brother and sisters don’t start a sentence with, “Remember when Jordan….” We all miss you. Learning how to live as a family of 5 when in our hearts we are forever 6 is so hard. We keep going fueled in part by our love for each other and the love and sweet memories you gave us.

Today, August 9, 2010 I’m struck by how much I anticipated seeing you turn 21. Your birth date is 8.9.89 and today, 8.9.10, I can imagine you proclaiming in your deep voice how incredible you are because of the way the numbers aligned for you. I realize that all of your milestone birthdays have been milestones for me as well given you’re my oldest child. You taught me what “5” looked like, what to expect with a teenager and the thrills that come with 16 and 18. Even though 19 was the last birthday we shared with you on this earth, what a milestone it has become. I want you to know how much you are loved and missed. We will celebrate today, this day, because it gave us you. Happy birthday Jordan



Jordan celebrating his 19th birthday with his siblings


Tomorrow’s date is 8-9-10. It is Jordan’s 21st birthday. I’m home today wondering how I’ll make it through tomorrow without crumpling and breaking. Today I keep agonizing over why I didn’t plan differently and have my family away for this weekend and tomorrow. Somehow the distraction of a different place seems like it would be a balm to ease us into honoring Jordan and celebrating his life. It may be “smoke and mirrors” to assume that a change of venue would mean hurting less. Right now it’s a chance I wished I’d taken. Today my mood has been one of longing and sorrow. Grief has me wishing I could transcend time, move to August 10th and keep August 9th as a day touched only by joy and celebration.

Last year was our first August without Jordan. We approached his birthday last year with trepidation and confusion. We knew we would ache for him and wondered how we would manage to celebrate his day. The day came and so did the realization that celebrating his life was vital to keeping his memory alive. This year feels harder knowing that last year was the beginning of our “August 9th’s” without Jordan. Tomorrow is a hallmark birthday, one of the final milestones of youth. It is a day that I looked forward to toasting with my son not in memoriam to him.

Tomorrow will come, as has every day since October 12th, 2008.  I hope and pray that intertwined with my sadness will be enough love to see me through. I miss my boy. I want Jordan back. I want him to come home. I want to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jordan and watch him proclaim himself officially a man. My heart is so heavy right now. The thought that tomorrow, especially tomorrow can come without Jordan on this earth makes my throat ache with tears.

Today I cry for all the things he doesn’t get to do or be. Would he have been the political pundit, expertly using what he’d learned as a Political Science Major? Or would he have followed his love for music, especially hip hop and jazz and became a record producer? When would he have married? Would he have travelled the globe having adventures and friends all around the world? Those are the things I wonder about and on good days dream about. I’m trying to let tomorrow,8.9.10, take care of itself without my worry and sorrow guiding its outcome. It will always be a special day because twenty one years ago, it gave me my firstborn. Jordan came into this world and gave me the gift of motherhood.

A special moment with my firstborn

Jordan at his 1st birthday party, laughing at his Dad whose trying to get him to blow out candle.

Jordan and I when we dropped him off at college his Freshman year.

Year Two

“It is awful when one’s great capacity to love betrays a person… Each day, you negotiate an unfamiliar dark while doing your best to guide your children back into the light.” (Beverly Lyles in an email dated May 14, 2010)

“There is so much pain and no place to put it.” These words echoed in my head in the hours and days after Jordan died. I felt that I’d never have a reprieve from the irrational pain of losing my son so suddenly and senselessly. Lately, I’m finding myself rooted to my grieving spot. I sit on the chaise by the window, watching the world keep going, wondering again when grief will hurt less. In year one I sat sometimes for hours looking out the window and wondering, “How did this happen?” Now my lack of energy and grieving heart have brought me back to my grieving spot, sitting and wondering about life without all of my children on this earth. I get my kids off to school and my energy is gone. I’m in year two of living as a bereaved mother. My mother heart hurts and continues to cry out in disbelief. I wish someone had told me about year two. There are expectations that the rough part of grief is over and that I will start to feel the effects of time soothing the sorrow. I’m in year two when friends and family expect that there are more good days than bad. My days have taken on a somewhat comforting routine. There are still many days where I can barely run errands without the weight of loss pulling me home.

The world is going on and outwardly I participate in it. Spring is here and it has brought more anger than renewal. I’ve watched the flowers bloom and the trees bud. I see the lilt in people’s walks that only spring can bring. I look at them and I want to scream. The world is moving on and I’m rooted in a place of pain. I want to cry out, “I’m still in pain”, “I still can’t sleep”, “I still have a dead son.” Time hasn’t eased my pain.

The wave of grief I’m in now was so insidious in its approach that I was caught off guard. I am having a hard time imagining it is ever going to subside.  I’m not prepared for year two without my son on this earth. Year one provided cautions, advice and road markers to cushion the shock of birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and first vacations without Jordan. Year two has all those events coming around again and some are more painful this time than last. When does the advice and counsel I’ve been given that, “time will ease pain” kick in? I hurt and I am angry at the pain. It wasn’t enough that my son was ripped from this earth with no warning. I have to figure out how to keep going and keep my family going as well. Every time I ask, “how did this happen?” I know how ridiculous it sounds, and I know it’s a futile question. At those moments my anger turns inward. I tell myself, “You’re not helping yourself.” I am my harshest critic. Even as I criticize myself, I know I have to take care of myself so that I can care for my family. But here I sit staring out the window willing the pain of grief away, not sure how long I can endure this grief wave.

Grief brings on fatigue that threatens never to abate. Sleep provides little respite. I dreamed last week that I walked downstairs into our kitchen and Jordan was sitting at the table with his father and siblings. They were all laughing and talking. In my dream I stop at the base of the stairs and watch my family for a few minutes. I smile but even in the dream I know Jordan is dead. The rest of my family, however don’t know that he’s gone. I watch my family trying to decide if I should tell them the truth that Jordan is dead or join them in the fantasy and live as though Jordan is still alive. In my dream, I fret over the decision I have to make and wake up startled, right as I’m deciding that I could live with knowing Jordan is dead if I’m the only one who has to know. My sleeping hours and waking hours hold the same pain and conflicts.

Year two of grief has me focusing on what will become of my children whose childhoods are forever changed by loss. There are days when the cost seems too high to bear. I watch my children prepare for school on some days with a new type of fatigue that I know is the weariness brought on by grief. I’m tempted to keep them home. I want to find ways of protecting and fixing their pain. I want to say, “Let’s rest today. No school, no worrying about homework, just being together and resting.” I’m tempted but I stop myself. I can’t take away their pain or bear their sorrow for them. They all communicate with me well and let me know when they need a break. I can’t let my sorrow be the barometer for their day.  I want them to do well and know their capacity for good work and greatness. I’m awed by their ability to get up every morning and face their days, sometimes with hope and sometimes strength alone. In the midst of so much sorrow they strive to do well and find comfort in their routines. Year two is teaching me that no matter how much I desire to, I can’t carry my children’s grief for them.

My rational self knows that I can’t put a timeframe on when grief will loosen its grip. Grief is another chronic condition that I am learning to manage. As much as I’ve told myself that there is no linear path to grief, my mind has tricked me more than once into thinking that the heart-stopping pain I felt in the moments and days after Jordan died were over for good. I somehow decided that grief would return but would have a lessening impact and strength each time. It’s not true. Inside of me are wails yet to be released, heartache still so heavy, and so many unshed tears for the loss of my son.

A part of me recognizes that our society puts time limits on grief. The “shoulds” of decorum dictate that I act better even if I don’t feel better. I promised myself that I wouldn’t feel judged by other’s expectations of my grieving process. I validated the promise by putting it in writing in my journal-“I won’t let anyone tell me how to grieve for my son.” When I wrote these words I didn’t realize that I would be one of my harshest critics. Time is relative and doesn’t dictate the depths of pain or the length of sorrow. When I feel that grief’s heaviness will never end, I remind myself to look to others who have been on this journey of loss longer than I. There words are even truer in year two of grief- I have to take my time and not be ashamed of expressing my sorrow. My son died. He held so much promise and gave me such joy. His place on this earth was not fulfilled. I’m left to grieve my loss and all that could have been because of him. I have to take my time:

  • Time to be with friends and family who with few words from me, understand how my pain feels fresh
  • Time to sob uncontrollably
  • Time to lie in bed, with the covers drawn under my chin wishing for the “before” days
  • Time to smell Jordan’s pillow and his hairbrush, committing to my genetic memory his scent
  • Time to listen repeatedly to Jordan’s voicemail message and the songs he recorded. I don’t ever want to have to try too hard to recall what his voice sounds like.

When Jordan was born, motherhood taught me my full capacity for love. I never knew I could love someone so much. Jordan’s death is showing me that the pain of grieving for my child is equal in intensity. I’m still in the midst of the rage, pain, anguish and sorrow that are expected to quiet with time. I’m a mother who lost a precious son. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I don’t want to feel that I’m abnormal because my heartache feels fresh, even in year two. I’m mourning my son. I still need the compassion and generosity of spirit shown to me in the weeks after Jordan died. The world keeps going, I keep going; even so, I will never stop wanting my son back.

“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

To Sleep

“I’m afraid of the dark. You can fool yourself in the daytime, but not at night.”

From “Love Warps the Mind A Little” by John Dufresne

Sleep has never come easily to me. Since Jordan’s death, there is the added burden of nighttime being filled with unanswerable questions echoing in my head and all around my room:

  • Did my fear of death make Jordan die? Is this my lesson?
  • Were we too proud of our kids? Is that why Jordan’s gone?
  • Did I miss the signs that he was going to die?
  • Why didn’t I call him when he was driving back to school the night of the accident?
  • Why didn’t I know he was going to die?
  • Why Jordan?

I’ve begun to treat sleep as a chore instead of a respite. I go to bed nightly hoping for the best and more than anything else wanting sleep to come quickly. There are signs in our home that sleep is a struggle for all of my family. Mark and I alternate playing sentry for each other. He hovers, waiting for me to fall asleep before he tries to sleep. I wake in the night at the slightest movement from his side of the bed asking if he’s okay. We both ready ourselves for the chance of nightmares and have spent many nights holding and comforting each other.

When sleep does come for me I sleep lightly so as to hear the sounds of my children wakening in the night.

“Merrick are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay, just using the bathroom.”

The other most glaring sign of wishing darkness away is the hallway light that is on every night. It is the light that my daughters need to fall asleep. The light they need when they wake, to lead them to my room when sleep doesn’t return quickly. The hallway light has become the beacon of our grief. I see it shining underneath my door and see it for what it is, the sign of our loss and thoughts that creep in at night.

When my daughter Kendall was three and couldn’t sleep she would come into my bedroom and always have the same request, “Help me make it morning.” I always found her words so endearing and understood her need to make the dark go away so that morning with its light would be her refuge. Now when I lay down at night I find myself offering up the same plea, “Help me make it morning.” I don’t want to lay in bed eyes shut tight willing sleep to come as the unanswerable questions plague me. All I want is an uneventful night of rest.  I don’t want to be awakened by disturbing dreams or wake up crying from a nightmare that feels too real. Grief has made sleep a battle to conquer. Slowly though, I’m learning to take the nights as I do my days, breath by breath. Figuring a way to change my view of sleep so that nighttime is not dreaded with fears of phones ringing and children lost, but a sweet refuge, however brief.