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’

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.

Freestyle

Merrick has been coming home for lunch everyday since school started. I’m trying to get used to this new development as it directly conflicts with the vision I had for my days once school started. I imagined the 6 hours I’d have as my time. One of the things that I miss during the summer when my kids are out of school, as much as I relish the lack of scheduled activities, are the chunks of time I have to myself that the school year affords me. My son’s new routine is making me realize just how much I looked forward to my “bastion of solitude”, interrupted only when I chose it to be. This school year, I’ve already started proportioning my days differently. Now, there is the block of time after dropping girls off at school until M comes home for lunch. The next block is after lunch until it’s time to pick up the girls.

It’s not as though I have to prepare meals for Merrick, or spoon-feed him but it’s an adjustment to how I spend my days. Even on days when I’m out, when I get back home, there’s no mistaking he’s been here. There are telltale crumbs on the counter, occasionally the TV has been left on (even though he’s not supposed to watch TV during school time), the microwave door is standing open, and there are condiments left out for me to either clean up or leave out and move around until he gets home and cleans up his own mess. For those of you wondering how I can complain about the habits of my children that drive me crazy in the midst of my loss, trust me I’m learning that wistfulness makes room for annoyance, anxiety, and impatience; behaviors most mothers would put on the “con” list of parenting.

Right now my son enjoys having his lunch break at home between morning and afternoon classes. After being at home for a little while midday, he seems energized when he walks out the door. I’m learning to make room in my “bastion” for him and his respite needs. Today while I was out for an appointment, I texted Merrick telling him I would bring home lunch. When I got home we sat together eating and talking. He told me how his morning went (“Good”), and which colleges he’s considering. I told him about an article I read in Time magazine that I thought he’d like. Then, as if on cue, he asked the daily question I get from all my kids, “What’s for dinner?” We can be in the middle of a meal and they still need to know what’s for dinner.

As Merrick was finishing up lunch and about to go back to school he reminded me that he had Spoken Word Club after school. Talking about Spoken Word made him remember  his first time publicly freestyling (rapping without prepared lyrics). He was in the basement of one of Jordan’s best friends. He talked about Jordan’s and now Merrick’s friend Billy, who was yelling and waving his hand throughout his performance. Merrick said with a laugh that Billy is the perfect hype man. He decided he wanted Billy to be on stage with him whenever he performed.

I listened to Merrick just as caught up as he was in his memory of his inaugural performance. As we grew quiet, I relayed a memory of mine from that time. I told him that whenever I think about him freestyling in front of Jordan’s friends, I remember Jordan words about his brother. I said to Merrick, “Your freshman year in high school when you were having trouble adjusting Jordan worried about you. He was away at school but he called one night to talk about you. One of the things he said to me was,

“ I wish Merrick could see how great he is. He freestyled in front of my friends before I did and he was good. All of my friends think he is cool.”

My voice trembled as I recalled my conversation with Jordan. I looked at Merrick whose eyes were as shiny with tears as mine. While looking down at his sandwich he said, “Jordan said that about me? I kind of remember that.”

“Yes he did. He always wanted you to know how talented and special you are.”

Merrick shook his head in agreement saying, “That’s right, I did freestyle before he did. He told me that.”

“Think of it this way, you were Jordan’s inspiration too. You two were good for each other.”

Merrick was silent for a moment, seeming to take in all we’d talked about. Then in the way he’s had since he was a little boy, he looked at me and in his most sincere voice said, “Thanks Mom.”

I watched him get up from the table to throw away the trash from his lunch and to retrieve his backpack. He ambled down the hall towards the front door calling out, “See ya,” as he left. I sat at the table a little longer hoping what Merrick and I had talked about would give him a boost. I realized as I sat, that my son and I could share the sacred space that lunchtime provides. It is true that wistfulness is with me all the time. On the positive side, it shares space with love, laughter and so many sweet memories. There are still many lessons for me to learn as the mother of four.

My sons deep in conversation

Merrick and Billy performing at our "Express Yourself" event

Business Matters

All week I’ve felt unsettled because of the searching process Mark and I had to go through to find the documents needed to close Jordan’s checking account. Earlier this week, I wrote about my fear that someone was fraudulently using his account. Last Friday, Mark spoke with someone from Jordan’s bank and found out the account has not been abused. The last activity on the account was on 10/12/08, the day Jordan died. Even though we are relieved, we know it is time to close the account. It is also time to close us off against fraud and try to ward off the kind of anguish this event has caused. We know we’ve taken too long to handle this business matter but every link to Jordan when he was alive is so hard to sever. It took me a year and a half to stop Jordan’s cell phone service. When I finally cancelled the service, it wasn’t planned. I was at the store upgrading my phone and when they asked about the other number on the account I was able, without explanation, say that the line was no longer needed.

I’ve handled some business matters preemptively, to stave off future pain. Things like notifying the fitness club that Jordan’s no longer a member, so they won’t send newsletters in the mail addressed to him with fitness tips. I alerted the dentist’s office of Jordan’s death so they were aware before his siblings came in for an exam. The dentist’s office was notified also because I couldn’t stand the heartbreak of seeing the 6- month, “time for a cleaning” reminders meant for Jordan.

Other business matters associated with Jordan’s death are harder to complete and require a level of choreography and planning that is surreal. Phone calls are rehearsed. I act out both sides of the dialogue trying to ready myself for all the questions that might be asked. For each call, I steel myself against the, “What happened?” question. There are times when I am more able to talk about the details of the accident, times when I need to talk about how Jordan died. Selfishly, it has to be on my terms. I don’t always have the emotional energy or trust my voice to tell the details of how Jordan died. Details or not, I know that I’ll have to say out loud, without equivocation, “My son died.” On most days that stunning, chilling piece of information is enough to resolve the affairs at hand.

Mark handled most of the business transactions related to Jordan’s death. He was executor of Jordan’s estate and given Power of Attorney. While both of us read the accident report, Mark was the only person other than a dear friend, who picked up the death certificates from the funeral home, to read Jordan’s death certificate. I’ve never seen a copy of the death certificate. I’ve only held the envelope that contains them. We’d been advised by our attorney to get multiple copies of it for the times when we would legally need to show proof of Jordan’s death. Having to prove my child’s death will never feel right. Living with the loss of a child is already doing the unimaginable. When Mark told me the reasons we’ll need to show Jordan’s death certificate I’ve moaned, “Have whoever needs proof to look at before and after pictures of you and I. Our eyes are proof that our son died.”

Confronted with the realities of what could happen if we left Jordan’s account open, we decided to gather the necessary documents and go to the bank together. As we searched, Mark and I realized that the documents related to Jordan’s death have not been kept in any orderly manner. Mark’s efforts to protect me from accidentally coming across the accident report or death certificate served to make them hard for either of us to find. He couldn’t remember where he put them and became more and more agitated as he searched. He finally located the death certificate(s) and laid the envelope that contained them on the kitchen counter while he went to search for the power of attorney letter. I looked at the envelope. I haven’t read the death certificate because I don’t want to know the time Jordan was pronounced dead. I know it is a number I won’t be able to shake from my head.

The death certificate was right in front of me. I touched the envelope. I yelled to Mark, “Maybe I should just read it. Part of me thinks I shouldn’t be so worried. I should just read it.” Mark came into the kitchen and said, “You don’t have to if you don’t want to. It’s hard to read. Don’t do it today.” I took a breath and then nodded my head in agreement, knowing he was right. I sat down and waited for Mark to locate the checking account statement. While I waited, I kept glancing at the envelope with the death certificates lying on the counter. Just looking at the envelope, the proof of death, took me back to the shock and rawness I felt in the weeks after Jordan died. I looked at the envelope, hating the fact that his death certificate means there’s no need anymore for his birth certificate. I know exactly where Jordan’s birth certificate is. My kids’ birth certificates are kept in a secure place so they can be easily found when needed for things like passports or wedding licenses. Jordan doesn’t need his birth certificate anymore. How am I supposed to bear that fact? I’m so angry that one of my parental duties now is maintaining order over legal documents associated with Jordan’s death. I have to close his checking account, a hallmark symbol to him of his increased responsibility and burgeoning adulthood.

Jordan is supposed to be in charge of Mark and my affairs, as we grow older. Our will stated that when he reached 25 he would be the legal guardian of his siblings. We told him of this responsibility the summer he turned 19. His response, typical of him was, “Cool.” We had no doubt that he would fiercely love, protect and provide guidance to his brother and sisters if anything happened to his dad and I. We told him of our belief in him and he told us he could handle it. That was the plan. That’s why it’s hard to have a file, a folder or anything dedicated to documents needed because Jordan is gone. Jordan should be here.

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