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 ‘sister’

August 2nd, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

For The Birthday Girls

August-Taking A Day At A Time

It is the first day of August and I’m reminding myself to breathe. It is a month filled with birthdays, back to school activities, joys, sorrows and goodbyes. August 2nd is my daughters’ 12th birthday and starting the month celebrating them is quickly followed by the reality of Jordan’s birthday being 7 days later.

Controlling my urge to scream and desire to sleep the month away are taking far too much of my focus and energy. Facing another August without Jordan brings pain as fresh as in the days after he died. He should be here, I want him here, singing happy birthday to his sisters and then having them reciprocate along with the rest of our family a week later.

This year is harder than last. Days have become intertwined as my mind ticks off my daughters’ birthday, Jordan’s birthday, preparing Merrick for college and then taking him to school at the end of August. The time and energy it takes for me to untangle all these so that each day can be felt and honored feels like it is slipping away. My daughters’ birthday is tomorrow and I want so much to feel nothing but joy in my heart, concentrating on the miracles that they are.

I went into preterm labor with them at 24 weeks. After spending 30 days in the hospital and 30 days at home on bed rest, they made their entrance into the world 2 months early, small but healthy, only needing to stay in the hospital until they reached the 5 pound mark. While I incubated with them growing inside me, I talked to them everyday, “Keep growing. We’re waiting for you, but don’t come too soon. Keep growing. Mama loves you.”

I look at them now and I see these two beautiful young ladies on the cusp of their teenage years and they make me so proud. They are kind, generous, funny and so loving. The care and love they show each other is something I’m learning is unique to twins. I’m spending today, buying their presents, planning surprises and praying that my heart and mind will breathe with me and take just one day at a time. August 9th will come and it will be a very different day, where stringing the words, “happy” and “birthday” together will feel impossible.

Tomorrow is my two favorite girls’ birthday. I want them to have a mother who is present for them and able to share in all their joy and excitement. This is my prayer.

Sister talk

Christmas Time Is Here

My sister Julie is one of the most creative people I know. She and her husband couldn’t be with us in Chicago to celebrate Christmas this year, but she sent her presents ahead with our parents.

A few days ago she said to me, “There’s one gift I want you to open before Christmas. It may make you a little emotional. I just wanted you to be prepared.”

“Okay, thanks for helping me get ready.”

I knew her gift would be something connected to Jordan. I wondered what it would be and figured it would be a picture she’d found and framed.

When I woke up this morning before I opened my eyes I said, “It’s Christmas Eve,” and I started to cry. Another Christmas Eve and Jordan isn’t here. I wondered, “How are we going to keep doing this without him?”

I moved closer to Mark and laid my head on his shoulder. In his sleep he made room for me and put his arm around my shoulder. He woke up as he felt my shoulders shake from sobs. No words were needed. He held me until I reached for a tissue.

“Where are you going,” he asked.

“I have to go out and get pastries for breakfast. Mama and Daddy want those carrot cake teacakes from Bleeding Heart Bakery.”

“Can I go with you?”

“Yeah, that would be good.”

“Let’s stick closer together today okay?”

Through tears I nodded and said, “Okay, that sounds good.”

When we came home with the pastries I asked my mom about the gift Julie wanted me to open early. Mom retrieved the gift from a shopping bag and handed it to me. I started to cry as soon as I saw Julie’s customized wrapping paper. Here is the paper:

Jordan and Lego Santa

Paper is emblazoned with a line from, "My Favorite Things."

If you look closely there is a picture of Jordan taken by one of his friends next to a Lego Santa. The paper also has the words, “Brown paper packages tied up in string,” a line from, “My Favorite Things.” Jordan loved listening to Coltrane’s version of this song, especially at Christmas time.

I gazed at the paper taking in every detail and carefully opened it truly feeling that old adage, “It’s too pretty to open,” but I’m so glad I did. Over an orange cranberry teacake and a cup of coffee, I felt Jordan next to me as I opened the beautiful package. Inside the box was an ornament that Julie made for our Jordan section of the tree. She took a small canvas and made a beach scene complete with sand and shells. It has a beach chair beckoning Jordan to come and sit awhile. On the edge of the chair is a miniature version of the book, “Holler If You Hear Me, “ by one of Jordan’s favorite authors Michael Eric Dyson. Every time I look at the ornament I imagine Jordan approaching the beach chair ready to resume his reading and soak up the sun. Thank you Julie for helping me feel Jordan on Christmas Eve.

Jordan's Ornament

The Johnson Sisters Come To Call


Jordan's Candle burning in remembrance

I sat with my eyes closed in my counselor’s office. I’d come in for a second session last week because as the anniversary of Jordan’s death loomed closer I felt myself growing more anxious and afraid. The images of him lying in the coffin with the bandage on his head wouldn’t leave my mind. I was jumpy and weepy every time I heard a siren. I wanted to be able to go longer than a few minutes without crying and feeling like I was going crazy. My mind needed to be quieted.

My counselor sat across from me and told me to be aware of where I felt the pain and anxiety that was overpowering my body. I pointed to my chest, which felt like someone was squeezing my diaphragm and not allowing me to take a full breath. Then I touched my throat, which throbbed and felt like it was closing because of unshed tears.

She assured me she’d help me find a place for all the feelings that were overwhelming me. I leaned my head back on the chair hoping to find a way to ease my sorrow even if it was just a little bit. My counselor told me to imagine a container or a place that I could use to store the pain and help heal it. The thing that came to mind was a big, black bowl sitting on the grass. It looked like a huge salad bowl. My counselor in her low soothing voice spoke to me, “Do you have a container?”

I shook my head, “Yes,” as tears streamed down my face.

“Were you able to put some of your pain in the container?”

I shakily said, “All of it.”

I already felt relief knowing that I’d found a place for my sorrow. It didn’t feel like it was overpowering me anymore.

She continued, “ Now if you want to, you can send some source of healing to the container. It can be light, a higher power, anything that you think would help to be a healing force.”

With eyes still closed I took a deep breath and nodded my head to my counselor letting her know that I was imagining the healing of the pain. I knew who I wanted to help me with the pain. In my mind I called out to my grandmother (Nanny) to come and help me. She’d helped me before in sessions like these. In the months after Jordan died when I wondered what prayer was for, because it hadn’t kept my son safe, Nanny was my intercessory. I asked her to watch over my boy until I could see him again. I asked her if he was okay? I begged her to help me learn to talk to God again. In life and beyond I felt her unconditional love.

Nanny holding me.

I saw Nanny walk out and stand by the container. Then she said, “Come on now, we’ve got to help Jackie.” Then one by one my grandmother’s sisters all of whom are with her in heaven, appeared and stood around the bowl that contained the hurt my heart couldn’t hold.

To me all of them were fearless. One summer, when I was a child, during one of our family reunions in West Virginia, I’d seen them shift from sisters sitting around my aunt’s kitchen table talking, drinking coffee and playing Scrabble, to warriors. One of my cousins came upstairs from the bedroom portion of the house panic-stricken. With wide eyes and a shaky voice she said, “There’s a bat downstairs.” Nanny, Aunt Mary, Aunt Gaynel and Aunt Frances rushed from the kitchen table, one of them grabbing a broom on the way, as they went downstairs to kill the bat. Aunt Gaynel’s voice rang out, “You kids stay up there. I don’t wanna see any of you downstairs.” I stayed in the kitchen still perched on the red vinyl stool that was my post for watching the Scrabble game. I heard, “There it is,” “Be careful,” and “It’s over there,” float up the stairs as the sound of brooms and shoes and whatever they could use as weapons struck the walls and ceiling. I finally went outside to sit on the porch with my other cousins telling them about the bat. A little while later, one of the sisters put a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on the porch. My cousins and I dared each other to look into the container. I finally took my turn and quickly peeked in to see the dead bat lying on its back. Through the screen door I heard one of my great-aunts call out, “Ya’ll don’t get to close to that bat now.” I looked in the door to see them seated around the kitchen table again, Scrabble game and sister-talk resumed. Their actions and teamwork still rank as one of the bravest things I’ve ever witnessed.

Now as I sat with a tear-stained face in my counselor’s office, they’d come to help me. All of them knew about the kind of heartache contained in my bowl. Nanny had mourned the loss of a son from a miscarriage. During one of our late night talks when I was a teenager I remember her telling me, “It was a boy, and he was about this big,” as she held her hands a little less than a foot apart.

Next I saw my Aunt Gaynel determinedly walk up and grab Nanny’s hand. I swayed in my seat as I thought of the early morning call so many years ago telling us that Dougie and Dawn; her grandchildren had been killed in a house fire. She’d felt the same kind of tear soaked pain that my container held. I continued watching as Aunt Frances and Aunt Mary came and stood around the bowl. Aunt Mary’s hair was still pulled back in a bun. I couldn’t help thinking, “She looks the same.” She stood there with her sisters, who’d helped her mourn the loss of a son born prematurely. A son she tried to keep alive and warm by placing him near the open oven in her kitchen.  They helped her hold vigil because there was no hospital in West Virginia where she could take her brown- skinned baby and get quality care.

Then my Aunt Frances came and stood by the bowl too. She looked at me with all-knowing eyes. She’d stood and wept at the coffins of both of her adult daughters who were taken by illness. Witnessing her mourning helped me to accept that no matter their age, your children are always your babies.  My grandmother’s youngest sister Juanita was there too. I watched as they coaxed her to the circle. She moved slowly and Aunt Frances in her raspy cigarette smoke-stained voice said, “Hurry up you can help too.”

Juanita died when I was a child. My memories of her are as the “Cosmopolitan,” sophisticated sister. She could have graced the cover of any fashion magazine. She gave me my first real jewelry when I was about five. It was a birthstone jewelry set with matching heart-shaped necklace, bracelet and ring. The heartache she endured was inferred by my family, but never talked about to me. I felt Juanita’s love as she stood by the bowl with her sisters.

I took a deep breath in and exhaled slowly as they circled around the bowl. I talked to my grandmother, “Nanny, I’m so tired. It hurts too much. I don’t know how I’m going to make it through another anniversary. I miss my boy. I want him to come home. Help me.”

Nanny briefly looked at me and nodded her head. Then she and her sisters bowed their heads and began to pray. I couldn’t hear what they said but I’d heard all of them pray before. Their prayer was a balm of healing over my bowl of pain, longing and loss. I felt peace and protection coming my way. As I watched them pray, the tears that fell from my eyes didn’t burn so hotly. My breathing came easier and didn’t get caught in my throat. My hands that were clenched in my lap relaxed and I uncrossed my legs. As I sat feeling the tension subside in my body, I heard my counselor’s voice in the distance bringing me back to the room in her office. “Listen to the sounds out the window. Feel the floor beneath your feet and your back against the chair.”

I sat for a moment eyes still closed taking a few more deep breaths. I opened my eyes still not ready to make eye contact with my counselor. She sat patiently waiting for me to compose myself. After grabbing a tissue and wiping my eyes I looked at her. She gently told me, “The container and the healing image that you used today can help you whenever the pain feels overwhelming. Just take a few moments and close your eyes and allow yourself that comfort.” I looked at her attempting a smile as I nodded. Then for the first time in our sessions, I told her of the image I’d just witnessed. “My grandmother and her sisters held hands and encircled the bowl. They came to help me.”

She looked at me and simply said, “That’s beautiful.”

As I rose to go, I grabbed my purse, told her, “Thank you” as I always do and walked to the elevator. I put my sunglasses on as I reached the first floor. As I walked to my car I continued to feel the fierce love and protection of Nanny and my aunts. They are my role models of strength and resilience.

Today the phone rang and when Mark answered I heard him say, “Whose calling?” He then stood and walked out of the family room. The next thing I heard was, “Jordan passed away in 2008.” Like I’d done two years ago almost to the day at hearing Jordan’s name, I got up and followed Mark. I held my hand over my mouth waiting for him to finish the call. He then told me, “It was Jordan was on their volunteer list. They were calling to see if he wanted to volunteer again.”

Sobs broke through my hand covering my mouth and Mark held me as I cried. I sobbed at the pain that announced more precisely than any date on a calendar, “My son is dead.” He isn’t here to volunteer for his favorite causes. I don’t know what direction his interest in Political Science would have taken him. As I cried, the fact that Jordan’s been denied the opportunity to have new adventures and experiences made the ache of loss surge. He died. Even though I want to go and look for him to bring him home I can’t. I leaned against the doorjamb in the dining room, crying and thinking of all the things he wanted to do and be.

October 12th is the date Jordan was killed in a car accident, but everyday I struggle to learn to live without him. After the phone call from MoveOn, the images and sounds associated with losing Jordan threatened to overpower me. I took a moment and remembered the 5 sisters with their fierce love and arms of protection. I closed my eyes and saw them encircling and praying over my container of pain.

Back row(l to r): Aunt Mary, Aunt France and Nanny Front Row (l to r) : Aunt Juanita and Aunt Gaynel

Family Visit

I have always known how fortunate I am to have a family that loves and cares for me. Every time I’ve been sick or had major surgery my mother, mother-in-law and sister have come to care for me. Their presence has allowed me to heal knowing that my family and household are being taken care of in a way that is nurturing and respectful. They are all hands-on caregivers, helping me dress, doing laundry, preparing meals, shuttling kids around, all the things they know I would do if able.

My sister Julie has also come when I’ve needed her simply by my asking. There was a time when we were both in college and I had just broken up with my boyfriend of two years. A dance that I thought I was going to attend with him was coming up and he was bringing his new girlfriend. My pride made me determined to attend the dance, but I needed back up. All of my friends were attending with dates and I didn’t want to be an add-on to their evenings. Julie took the bus from Boston to Providence and came to the dance with me. She understood without explanation why I needed her there. Going to the dance was about proving to myself that I wasn’t going to allow anyone to make me feel that I didn’t deserve to be present. Just having her there allowed me to move past my self-consciousness of feeling alone. It also allowed me to sneak glances at the girlfriend while proving to myself that the world didn’t end because of the break-up. A problem that at the time seemed so monumental. Thank God for youthful ignorance and invincibility.

Julie at age 2 and me at age 4

My past shows me that asking for help is something I do after much consideration. My “self” never allows me to slip too far before I reach out and ask for support. Right after Jordan died, as October and November came and went, Christmas was approaching and I had no idea how I was going to make it through the holiday season. Mark and I both said that if it were just the two of us we’d probably go someplace far from home and come back when the holidays were over. Our children however, looked to us to provide continuity and reassurance that our world would keep going. I knew I had to provide those things, but I didn’t know how I could with grief weighing so heavy within me.

The albatross that most exemplified my unyielding sorrow was my dining room table. It was cluttered with plastic ware and covered containers from the weeks after Jordan died. The dishes needed to be returned to those who had dropped off food at our house. The table also held the guest book from the Memorial Service as well as cards and letters of condolences mixed in with mail Mark and I hadn’t been able to sort through. There were two large poster boards leaning against the wall in the dining room that we’d displayed at the Memorial service. They held pictures of Jordan and messages family and friends wrote on them after the Memorial service. When I would pass through the dining room I would usually avert my eyes not able to take in what the table represented. Occasionally I would sit in one of the chairs and pick up a pile of cards and letters attempting to sort through them. I would sit and stare for a few moments as I felt myself becoming agitated. I would sigh heavily and shake my head as I left the room. I couldn’t do it. I was overwhelmed by all the reminders of loss that occupied the table yet I couldn’t move past the vestiges of the Memorial Service. Clearing off the table meant moving on and accepting that we would have our first Christmas without Jordan. How could Christmas come to our house without Jordan? I was so conflicted. I wanted to be able to walk through my house without averting my head at what to me represented my failure to move on. My cluttered, filled with reminders that my son was gone, dining room table needed to be readied for the holidays and I couldn’t do it. When I asked my sister if she could come for a few days to help me she said simply, “Yes.” She understood without explanation my need for order. She didn’t try to tell me it didn’t matter what the table looked like. She knew me and knew what I needed to ease my mind. I knew she would help me handle the task in the way that would be gentle and spare me as much pain and anguish as possible.

Julie came for three days before Christmas and in that time made a spreadsheet of all the addresses Mark and I needed to send thank-you notes. She found boxes for all the cards and letters that I wanted to keep and put them in a closet where I could easily get to them, but they were out of sight. The day that she left, like someone from a design show she brought up candles and other decorations from my basement and transformed my dining room into a place of beauty. A place I could walk through without trying not to see all the reminders of death that had been in the room. I hugged her tightly when she left saying, “Thank you” but meaning so much more. She took care of me without judgment.

I am again in a place where I feel so close to breaking. My sister asked me the other day how I was doing. I told her I was hanging on by the thinnest thread. With my simmering worry about Merrick being away for 6 weeks, Mark travelling frequently for work and my daughters needing me to help them navigate their grief I feel broken. . Weariness has set in; being caretaker and receptacle for my children’s grief as well as my own has taken all of my energy.

My mother and sister heard the weariness in my voice and their love for me is bringing them for a visit. They’re coming today. They’re coming to as my mother said, “Lay eyes on me and take care of me for a few days.” They made the decision to miss our 52nd annual family reunion, even thought they’ve paid for all the events. I had my moments of guilt. I didn’t want them to miss seeing all of our relatives and my mother presiding over our family meeting. I told Mama I’d be okay even though the conversations she’d had with me in the last few days indicated otherwise. Mama simply said to me, “I’m doing what my instincts tell me to do.” She then asked me was there anything she could bring me? Through tears all I said was, “I just want you to cook for me and take care of me.”  Relief surged through me as I felt the weight of caretaker being eased by my mother and sister.

My mother and sister are coming today to embrace and love my family. My mother will cook all our favorite foods. As I rest in my room with vigilance abating I know I will hear the sounds of my daughters playing endless games of Uno with their aunt and “Oma”. They will laugh louder and longer than they have in a long time. Mama and Julie will sit with me on my front porch and listen without judgment or advice as I unburden myself, letting them in on how grief is working within me as Jordan’s 21st birthday approaches. They are coming to take care of me and I’ve never been more grateful. Just knowing that I can let my guard down for a little while and rest because they are here is my blessing.

Mama and I when I lived in L.A.

Getting Jordan Ready

Jordan and I at his sixth grade graduation ceremony.

I had always shopped for my family’s clothes. There were family jokes about my shopping prowess, even with my extended family when we were all together. I remember one Thanksgiving when my brother-in-law looked around my parents’ family room and observed, “Jackie dressed all of us.” Everybody looked down and realized they were wearing some article of clothing I had picked out for them as a gift.

I always liked the fact that I could shop for my teenage sons and they trusted my taste. Jordan would seem a bit surprised at times when I would come home with a t-shirt or sweatshirt that was exactly the kind of thing he would have picked for himself. I still remember when I bought him a t-shirt with a picture of Tupac Shakur on the front. Jordan loved the shirt and asked how I knew he was, “Into Tupac?” I told him, “I’ve known you for a long time. I notice what you’re listening to and reading.” I would also jokingly add, “I wasn’t born with the name “Mama”, I used to be a teenager too.”

“The funeral home needs the clothes for Jordan.” My sister-in-law Cheryl leaned down and gently whispered these words to me when she came back from running an errand. Cheryl had told me before that they needed the clothes by Tuesday, but I had been unable to collect them or ask anyone else to do it. The time had come for me to dress my son for the last time. When Cheryl came in, Mark and I were sitting in the living room with our family friend Larry who had come over to meet with my sister Julie. She was going to assist Larry in writing the obituary for the memorial service program. Julie could provide details that only family would know. When Larry arrived, Julie was at our church with Mark’s other sister Leslie. They were meeting with our Pastor to finalize arrangements for the memorial service.

We’d asked Larry to write Jordan’s obituary not because he was a professional writer, but because his son Matt was one of Jordan’s best friends and Jordan spent a good part of most weekends at their home. Matt’s house, more correctly, Matt’s basement was the hangout for Jordan and all of his friends. I used to tease Larry and his wife saying that there were times that they saw more of Jordan than Mark and I did. I knew they loved and respected Jordan. Larry was Jordan’s little league baseball coach and took as much pride as we did in his academic accomplishments. He was the first person to come to mind to handle the task of giving account of the life of our sweet boy. We knew that Larry would do Jordan’s short, but full life on this earth justice. Jordan had vacationed with Matt and his parents on a trip to Mexico when they were in elementary school. For the trip, we had to fill out forms giving Larry and his wife permission to carry our son to a foreign country. They were Jordan’s “In Loco Parentis (in the place of a parent)” for the trip, and trusted caregivers for the rest of his life.

“The funeral home needs the clothes for Jordan.” I knew that when Cheryl made the request this time, I could no longer avoid picking out clothes for my son. We were having a private family viewing of Jordan’s body on Thursday before the cremation and before the memorial service on Saturday. Cheryl had to take the clothes to the funeral home that same day when she and my in-laws went to make sure everything was in order for the viewing. There was no time left. For me it was the first of many things that I would deem as my “last time as his mother” gesture. I understood the finality of my task but I didn’t know how I was going to get through it. With all of my apprehension I didn’t ask for help. I needed to get the clothes alone. I knew that picking out clothes this time did not signal a party or celebration no matter how hard I tried to will away October 12th.  My “mother self” was in control and compelled me for this last time to pick out clothes for my son the way I always had.

Mark and I had decided Jordan would wear a suit because we knew that is what he would have wanted. Even as a boy, Jordan was transformed when he put on a suit. He stood taller, acted more mature and emulated his dad. The first suit Jordan wore that wasn’t from the boys’ department was for his eighth grade dance. He had to accompany me to the store because he had grown taller and needed to be measured for his first suit in the men’s department. He and I went to Men’s Wearhouse and I explained to him how they would take measurements to determine his suit size. As we looked around, Jordan picked out a black suit with a grey pinstripe. I was surprised at the conservativeness of his choice, thinking that he would pick something more colorful and flashy that matched the suits of the athletes and hip- hop stars that he liked and saw on television. When I expressed my surprise to him about his choice, he just shrugged and explained he liked the way his Dad looked in a suit and that was the look he was going for. The evening of the dance, Jordan came downstairs tie in hand asking his dad for help. Prior to this occasion Mark or I would tie the boys’ ties, but this time, Jordan wanted to learn so that he would be able to do it himself. I sat watching for a few moments as Mark simultaneously tied Jordan’s tie and provided verbal instructions. I jumped up to get the camera realizing that this was a special father/son moment-Mark showing his oldest son how to tie a tie- that we’d want to capture and be able to look back on as a milestone moment.

Jordan getting ready for 8th grade dance.

For every occasion after that initial “man’s” suit, Jordan held true to form and always went for a look that could have easily taken him to any courtroom, or boardroom. He always looked so grown up and so handsome in a suit and he knew it. I used to tease him about learning how to accept compliments. Whenever he would come downstairs preparing to go to a dance at school or church, or other special occasions, we would all tell him how nice he looked and he would reply in his deepening voice with an exaggerated, “Yes I know” and we would laugh. I always told him how much like my father he was at these times. Daddy’s response to the same compliment was always with mock indignation, “You don’t have to tell me, I know I look good.”

“The funeral home needs the clothes for Jordan,” echoed in my head as I walked up the stairs, leaving Mark talking with Larry. “You can do this, just get the things and give them to Cheryl. You’re okay.” I repeated that phrase over and over as I went up to Jordan’s room and opened his closet door. I knew exactly what he would wear and that there would be a set of headphones in his pocket. Jordan never went anywhere without his Ipod. I wanted to make sure he would have headphones in his pocket to symbolize that fact. I immediately went to Jordan’s dresser hoping he’d left a spare set of headphones in his room. I looked in his dresser, feeling uncomfortable like I was snooping. In his top drawer I quickly found a spare set of headphones and placed them on top of the dresser so I wouldn’t forget them. I stood for a moment and then opened his closet door. I picked up the hanger that held the black suit he had worn to his high school graduation. I then picked out his goldenrod colored shirt that he wore for his Senior High School portrait.

He loved that shirt. That past summer he told me that one day during his internship in DC while on the train he had been complimented by a lady who told him that the color looked really nice on him. I then pulled a tie from the rack on the side of his closet. It was a tie that he picked out for a “Sadie Hawkins” dance at his high school and had worn numerous times after that occasion. All of these clothes were still in Jordan’s closet because he had left them behind when going back to college in August. His intent was to take his more formal clothes to school when he came home for Thanksgiving.

I touched his suit and shirt and was overcome remembering all the occasions Jordan had worn a suit. My mind started racing, “What am I doing?”, “How did this happen?”, “Not Jordan, not Jordan.”  I leaned against the closet door clutching the hangers that held his clothes and tried not to fall down. One small moan escaped my lips and then I said, “No” directed forcefully to me.  I was determined that I would dress my child for the last time. I was his mother and I needed to have this last chance of doing what I had always enjoyed doing, but what was now so heartbreakingly ceremonial and final.

I looked through Jordan’s dresser trying to find a white t-shirt to go under his shirt because that is how he always wore his shirts. I couldn’t find one in his drawer and thought to myself, “He probably took all of his to school with him. I’ll just get one of Mark’s.” As I walked across the hall to my bedroom the absurdity played out in my head, “He doesn’t need a t-shirt, it doesn’t matter anymore.” I shook my head as if that would knock loose the reality that these clothes would be the ones we saw when we walked into the funeral home viewing room, and they would be the ones he wore when he was cremated.

Just as these thoughts overpowered any notion I had that I could do this task alone, my sister came upstairs and asked me what I was doing. I told her that Cheryl needed to take Jordan’s clothes to the funeral home and I was getting them together. She asked how she could help and I told her I couldn’t find his dress shoes. Once again the voice in my head said, “He doesn’t need them anymore.” I continued looking for a t-shirt and black socks with, “He doesn’t need them anymore” ringing in my head. I met Julie outside of Jordan’s room where she held the shoes. She shakily said to me, “When I bent down to get his shoes, I smelled the clothes that were on the floor and they still smell like him. I tried to make a joke and said, “Those are dirty clothes he left behind, be careful.” She continued in her somber, trembling tone, “I don’t care they smell like Jordan.” I tried to keep going.

For some reason I couldn’t find black socks in Jordan’s dresser or in Mark’s dresser. I was becoming manic, turning over the socks in Jordan’s drawer trying to find a plain black pair, then going to Merrick’s room looking for plain black socks. I was on my way back into my bedroom when Mark came upstairs and asked what I was doing. I told him, “Cheryl needs Jordan’s clothes to take to the funeral home.” Mark quickly replied, “Baby why are you trying to do that by yourself I would have helped you.” I was adamant but had started to tremble; I shakily said to him, “No, I always got his clothes and I have to do it this time too.” I then said to Mark, “I can’t find black socks, I can’t find black socks.” It was too much. I couldn’t keep going. I couldn’t gather my son’s funeral clothes as though I was helping him prepare for a special occasion. I remember Julie saying, “She’s gonna fall Mark do you have her?” As I crumpled down, Mark grabbed me, holding me so tightly and gently at the same time and carried me to our bed. All I could do was scream “no”, “no”, “no.” Mark lay on the bed with me. We faced each other and clung to each other as he soothed me and whispered in my ear, “I know how you feel”, “I know how you feel.” My screams brought both of our families into our bedroom. I felt hands touching my hair and face and rubbing my back as I wailed and moaned and asked Jesus to help me.

As I began to calm down I felt Mark’s grip on me tighten and he suddenly moaned and said, “I always tied his ties. You weren’t supposed to get his tie. I’m his dad I tied his ties.” I held him as he had held me moments before. I whispered in his ear, “I know how you feel”, “I know how you feel.” We lay that way clinging to each other on the middle of our bed with our families touching and soothing us. Suddenly I heard my sister’s voice in my ear as she hummed a song from our childhood church that she used to sing. As she hummed, “Everything Will be Alright”, I felt my breathing returning to normal and the words of the song easing the sorrow that was weighing me down. The words to the song echoed in my head,

“If you put your trust in Him, although your candle may grow dim. After the storm clouds all pass over everything will be alright.”

Mark and I lay there hearing the humming and the soothing, loving voices of our family. We were able to release each other and sit up. They laid hands on us, encircled us and gave us strength to keep going.

Jordan's senior portrait

Jordan and I after his high school graduation ceremony