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 ‘spreading ashes’

Honoring Last Wishes- Another Look 2013

To give more insight into the idea of honoring requests and giving my new readers a fuller picture of my dad who was/is so instrumental on my mourning journey I offer again the post below.

The last few months I feel like I’ve been in a whirlwind. Traveling back and forth to Ohio when my Dad was ill, preparing for his memorial service after his death, honoring what would have been Jordan’s commencement with purple ribbons, and then Memorial Day weekend honoring Daddy’s final wish of spreading his ashes in his hometown in West Virginia. The part of West Virginia where my parents and their parents lived is fit for any postcard. The summer mountains are filled with lush green trees and roll on and on for as far as the eye can see. The area where Daddy lived was a mining town and everyone called it “#9” because that was the number of the mine that the men worked in and they lived in company owned housing and shopped at the company store.

It took us an hour to get there from our hotel and as we drove winding on too small roads that seemed to at any bend curve right into a mountain, Mark the kids and I all wondered, “Are we there yet?” Finally my brother-in-law who was leading the way pulled over on a patch of gravel off the side of the road.

“There’s the creek with the waterfall, exactly like Daddy said. It’s right here.”

My hand covered my mouth as I wept thinking back to our very last conversation when I asked him if he was sure the creek was still there and he replied, “Shoot girl, of course it’s still there.” The creek was there and he was right, Mama knew how to get there. My great-uncle who had driven with my cousin said as he got out of the car, “I thought I’d seen all of West Virginia, but I’ve never been out here.”

The area was overgrown and I looked up from the creek to all the trees and tall grass, trying to imagine what it looked like when it was dotted with small houses. What dotted the area now were yellow and black butterflies everywhere.Their presence was as if to say, “You’re in the right place. We’re here to make sure it’s special for you.” None of us had every seen so many butterflies in one place. I joked, “Daddy wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the place.” After we’d all had a chance to look around and take pictures of the waterfall and creek and the mountains as the backdrop it was time to do the task that had brought us to the spot. Mark carefully pulled the metal container from the back of the car.

I asked, “Do you have something to cut the plastic bag?” Remembering our struggle when we tried to spread Jordan’s ashes and didn’t have anything to cut the zip tie that held the bag closed.

Mark nodded and continued over to the creek just under the waterfall. Mama asked for a word of prayer and we all gathered, holding hands and my Uncle prayed for us and for the task we were undertaking. As we dropped hands I looked over to see Lindsay and Kendall crying and put an arm around each one of them holding them close. The bag was opened and Mark began to pour the ashes and we all watched as the ashes mingled and churned with the water cascading from the waterfall before drifting downstream.

I called out, “Daddy thank you for being so wise and letting us know what your final wishes were. We are so proud to honor them.”

Mark poured a bit more in and then I reached into my pocket and removed the small container that held some of Jordan’s ashes. With a high arc I flung them into the water. “Thank you Daddy for letting Jordan be with you.”

The only sounds were weeping. My mother wailed as she watched the remains of the man she’d loved since high school drift down the creek he’d played in as a boy. Suddenly we were all together hugging and crying as the sunshine warmed our backs. Mama began to quiet down and we all stepped back a little to give her space. I went back to the waterfall and just watched the water no longer clear but muddied with the ashes. As I walked back to the car, I searched the ground for rocks that weren’t broken pieces of gravel and found a coral colored rock and one stone with specks of glittering green. I put them in my pocket thinking of all the rock Daddy had skipped in that same creek.

Our day wasn’t done, Mama wanted to spread some of Daddy’s ashes around the graves of her parents and that of his oldest sister. We loaded back into the car for the next sojourn. As we pulled away from the creek Mark suddenly stopped the car.

“Look at that sign. Take a picture of it.”

I hurriedly got the camera and snapped the picture.After I read the sign I whispered, “and Daddy too.”

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While Sam Cooke Sang

Many of you have found my blog through my piece on the Huffington Post and to you all I say thank you and welcome. I feel the need to repost a few posts about my dad so that those new to my blog can have a true sense of who he was. I say was because Daddy died on Easter Sunday, 2011 after a brief battle with metastasized lung cancer. Below is the piece I wrote about saying goodbye.

I have been away from my blog for a while as I’ve been in Ohio with my family during my father’s illness. Sadly, I have to tell you that my father passed away on April 24th, 2011. I was able to be in Ohio with him before he died. We sat and talked and he told me what he wanted for his memorial service, who he wanted to speak and of course a saxophone playing. Daddy loved jazz and the saxophone was his favorite instrument. He had 10’s of thousands of songs that he catalogued on his computer. His jazz library could rival any formal library in the world.

As we talked I had one question for my dad.

“Daddy I know you want your ashes spread in West Virginia.”

“Yeah, your mama knows what I want. There’s a creek where I used to play when I was a little boy and that’s where I want the ashes.”

“Is the creek still there?”

With his typical eye roll, “Oh shoot girl, yes it’s still there.”

“Well I was just wondering if it would be okay to have some of Jordan’s ashes mixed with yours when we spread them.”

“Of course you can, even if it’s just a teaspoonful. You know Jordan is my boy. Now you notice I said is, not was.”

“I know Daddy.”

Daddy handing Jordan(age 2) a rock when they both got restless at church and went outside.

“Shoot, that boy and I threw rocks together when he was little down in West Virginia. Of course he can be with me.”

“Thank you Daddy.”

We sat quietly for a while after talking and I looked over and Daddy had fallen asleep.

Later that day he was moved from the hospital to an inpatient hospice facility. Our hope was that he would be able to come home in a few days after they  transferred him to oral medications. Unfortunately, his condition deteriorated rapidly and by Friday he wasn’t talking anymore but didn’t seem to be in much pain. When my mom and I walked into his room on Friday as part of our new routine I asked him what music he wanted to hear.I rolled out the usuals, Stanley Turrentine, Gene Ammons, Jimmy Smith. He shook his head “no” until I came to Sam Cooke.He wasn’t in the mood for jazz, but for gospel.
I stood rubbing his shoulder as he seemed a bit restless and then he reached out for my hand. I took his hand and told my mother to hold his other. All the while Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers played, “Nearer To Thee,” in the background. After a few minutes of standing at his bedside holding his hands he gently pulled his hands away. Mama and I went to sit down. I looked over at my exhausted mother and saw that she had drifted off to sleep. Daddy would close his eyes for a few minutes and then open them again, putting his hands behind his head and then trying to turn in bed. He was too weak to turn and shook his head “no” when I asked if he wanted help. I looked over at him as he lay with his eyes closed and suddenly he opened his eyes and with perfect clarity winked at me which brought me to the edge of my seat. I smiled back, so familiar with that wink and knowing this time all the words that it conveyed, “I’m alright”, “Take care of yourself” ,”Take care of your Mama”, “Goodbye.”

That was the last time Daddy opened his eyes and his gift of a wink was the perfect goodbye. He was an amazing man who taught me so much about life and not fearing death. Sleep well my wonderful father. You have earned your rest.

June 7, 1936-April 24, 2011

Finding Different Ways To Mother My Children

A new friend made this button for my blog so that even as I mourn not being able to see Jordan graduate from college I can proudly honor him and show how proud I am of my son. I invite all of you to help me commemorate Jordan’s graduation by tying a purple ribbon on a tree in your yard on May 22nd(graduation day) and/or place this “button” on your blog or Facebook page. Thank you all for the support, kindness and love you continue to give me.

One of the things my father said to me before he died was, “Jordan is alright. You have to believe that, so you can move on with your life. I know you hurt, and the hurt doesn’t just go away, but he was a good boy and he’s alright.” Daddy’s words tug at the part of me that now holds the, “shoulds.” Jordan should still be alive like the other boys in the car. Jordan should be graduating from college. Jordan should be sharing in Merrick’s excitement about going off to school.

As much as I feel the weight of the “shoulds,” there is a gradual lessening of the heartache that paralyzed me for so long. Acceptance sidles up next to me like a timid but persistent bird looking for a perch. There are times when it stays for a little while but then scampers off when I turn suddenly, feeling something foreign sitting too close. The trick I think is to not be afraid of being still and letting all the hurt and longing that need to flow do so at will. Then my heart which is the perch for acceptance can receive it without fear that even though my son is gone from this earth, I can always keep him with me. It is a mighty, exhausting task and some days I wonder if my perch will ever be ready.

Steps are being taken that make me feel able to bring forth the pride I have in Jordan without so much of the regret that he’s not here. The weekend of April 15th  a week after visiting my dad in the hospital, Mark, Merrick and I traveled to Amherst, MA. It was our first time back since Jordan died. Our trip was for Merrick who has decided upon a college that is in the same town where his brother went to school. Merrick deliberated and made his choice with wisdom and much thought. Merrick’s story will be told at another time.

While Merrick had his Accepted Students overnight at his new school, Mark faced many of the memories he had when he dropped Jordan off for his sophomore year.

“That’s the movie theatre we went to after we got Jordan’s stuff out of storage. I had to run to Best Buy while he was setting up his room because he needed another cable for his computer.”

With each remark I’d nod or give an, “uh huh,’ as I kept my hand on his arm while we drove back to the hotel after the parent reception. The drive we took from the airport led us into town a different route than when we dropped Jordan off at school. We didn’t have to pass Amherst College that first day and I was so relieved. That first day, just being in the town was enough to make me tremble. I wanted my attention to be on being Merrick’s parent as he visited his new school.

I knew we’d see the school the next day because we brought some of Jordan’s ashes with us to spread on campus. It was a last minute decision which meant that I searched frantically online for an appropriate travel urn and then paid dearly for it to be shipped overnight so we would have it before our trip. This trip was our first time spreading any of Jordan’s ashes and as Amherst’s commencement draws near I wanted a part of Jordan to be on campus. I asked Mark to look up where the ceremony would be held and he found out it would be on the Main Quad. The other urgency I felt in taking Jordan’s ashes with us on this trip is because I knew the next time we would be in Amherst would be to settle Merrick into his new dorm. The two events could not coincide, not if I want Merrick to feel and know that soon this little town that our oldest boy loved will be our youngest son’s place too. He will have our full attention as we go through the ritual so many parents do as they take their child to college.

We told Merrick ahead of time that we were bringing Jordan’s ashes with us. The Saturday of our visit there were sessions for students and parents at Merrick’s new school. We met him there that morning and sat in on a Q & A for parents while Merrick attended one of the student panels. I sat there partially amazed and partially dumbfounded that not only was I sending my second child off to school but that he was just a few miles from where his brother used to go. Looking around the room I saw the anxiety and pride that all of the parents shared. I then marveled that I was able to sit and listen without having to flee the room in tears. As much as I couldn’t imagine the moment of fully accepting Merrick being a college student, there I sat becoming informed about the journey and adventure that lay ahead for him. Mark and I sat in the front row, even though we got there a bit late. We squeezed each other’s hands as we sat down. Having that deja vu feeling, both of us remembering sitting in a similar room a lifetime ago when Jordan started school. Mark in typical fashion pulled out a notepad and pen, took notes and asked a few questions. I sat watching and listening as the other parents asked questions about meal plan, first year courses and dorm selection. With every answer given by the faculty and administration I felt more and more comfortable that Merrick was right, this was the school for him.

When he first told us that it was his first choice his dad said to him, “Merrick, I don’t know about this. You going to school in the same town that Jordan went to would be hard on your mom and I. I don’t know if we can do it.”

Merrick thought for a moment and then explained to his dad all the wonderful opportunities the school held for him and that he’d found it not because of its location but because of what it had to offer. He ended by saying, “Dad, you and Mom will be all right.” Somehow we are, because we made our way back for the first time to Amherst and are starting to see it through Merrick’s eyes.

After the panel discussion we met Merrick in the lobby of the building and told him we were going over to Amherst to spread Jordan’s ashes. I asked him, “It’s totally up to you. I know there’s another seminar on music you want to go to, but you can come with us if you like. Whatever you decide is okay.”

“No, I didn’t get to see Jordan’s body after he died. I want to go with you.”

We walked to the car with Merrick animatedly recounting his evening and the students he’d met. We all piled into the car and silence overtook us. We made the quick drive to, “Jordan’s school” and got out of the car with Mark holding the travel urn which is shaped like a book with images of Copernicus’ drawings on it. I looked up as we walked and realized we’d parked right by the library. I reached for the urn,

“I want to spread some ashes here. Jordan always called me when he was on his way to the library. I want a part of him to always be here. I took the plastic bag out of the urn and spread ashes in the bushes by the library saying,

“Jordan, I love you and I miss you.”

When I finished, tears already falling, we walked up the steps and made our way to the main quad. Mark looked at me and asked, “Where do you want to spread them?”

“Let’s put them around the trees right here.”

Mark took the bag first, “Jordan, we will always be proud of you,” and shook some of the ashes around one of the trees. The wind blew slightly and the ashes mingled with the air.

I took the bag next, “Even though we don’t get to see you graduate I’m so glad a part of you will always be here.”

Turning towards Merrick, I asked, “Do you want to spread some of his ashes?”

Merrick shook his head, “yes,” and took the bag from my hands.

As he bent over carefully shaking ashes at the base of one of the trees he quietly said, “Thanks for always believing in me.”

Mark and I openly cried with Merrick standing between us, putting his hands on our shoulders. We continued walking to the place where we’d taken the first picture of Jordan as an Amherst freshman. Students walked by in groups laughing and talking and some of them stealing looks at this threesome with such solemn expressions. We reached the memorial honoring veterans who’d attended Amherst with the beautiful mountain range in the background. As we reached the spot Mark openly sobbed. I guided him to a bench by the memorial and sat next to him rubbing his back as we both cried. I looked at him and realized that there were splotches of ashes visible on his black trench coat. I started to brush them off but Mark leaned into me and I wrapped my arms around him telling him, “It’s okay we can take as long as we need.”

Merrick stood a few feet away from us then came over and said, “Dad, I can do it for you. Just tell me where you want me to spread them.”

Mark wiped his eyes. “No son, thank you, I need to do this.”

Merrick and I sat together on the bench as Mark went to the shrubs by the memorial whispering something we couldn’t hear and spreading the remainder of the bag of ashes. After he was done he came and sat with us, the three of us looking out at the horizon. I stole a look at my watch and realized we needed to get going back to the airport. Mark stood, pulled out his camera and took one last picture of the memorial where Jordan proudly stood as an incoming freshman. The space where Jordan once stood was now empty.  Jordan wasn’t there to frame the view in the distance. But he was there. We made sure of it. He’ll always have a place at, “his school.”

Picture of memorial taken after we spread Jordan's ashes 4/2011

Jordan standing atop a memorial during his first day at Amherst College. 8/07

While Sam Cooke Sang

I have been away from my blog for a while as I’ve been in Ohio with my family during my father’s illness. Sadly, I have to tell you that my father passed away on April 24th, 2011. I was able to be in Ohio with him before he died. We sat and talked and he told me what he wanted for his memorial service, who he wanted to speak and of course a saxophone playing. Daddy loved jazz and the saxophone was his favorite instrument. He had 10’s of thousands of songs that he catalogued on his computer. His jazz library could rival any formal library in the world.

As we talked I had one question for my dad.

“Daddy I know you want your ashes spread in West Virginia.”

“Yeah, your mama knows what I want. There’s a creek where I used to play when I was a little boy and that’s where I want the ashes.”

“Is the creek still there?”

With his typical eye roll, “Oh shoot girl, yes it’s still there.”

“Well I was just wondering if it would be okay to have some of Jordan’s ashes mixed with yours when we spread them.”

“Of course you can, even if it’s just a teaspoonful. You know Jordan is my boy. Now you notice I said is, not was.”

“I know Daddy.”

Daddy handing Jordan(age 2) a rock when they both got restless at church and went outside.

“Shoot, that boy and I threw rocks together when he was little down in West Virginia. Of course he can be with me.”

“Thank you Daddy.”

We sat quietly for a while after talking and I looked over and Daddy had fallen asleep.

Later that day he was moved from the hospital to an inpatient hospice facility. Our hope was that he would be able to come home in a few days after they  transferred him to oral medications. Unfortunately, his condition deteriorated rapidly and by Friday he wasn’t talking anymore but didn’t seem to be in much pain. When my mom and I walked into his room on Friday as part of our new routine I asked him what music he wanted to hear.I rolled out the usuals, Stanley Turrentine, Gene Ammons, Jimmy Smith. He shook his head “no” until I came to Sam Cooke.He wasn’t in the mood for jazz, but for gospel.
I stood rubbing his shoulder as he seemed a bit restless and then he reached out for my hand. I took his hand and told my mother to hold his other. All the while Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers played, “Nearer To Thee,” in the background. After a few minutes of standing at his bedside holding his hands he gently pulled his hands away. Mama and I went to sit down. I looked over at my exhausted mother and saw that she had drifted off to sleep. Daddy would close his eyes for a few minutes and then open them again, putting his hands behind his head and then trying to turn in bed. He was too weak to turn and shook his head “no” when I asked if he wanted help. I looked over at him as he lay with his eyes closed and suddenly he opened his eyes and with perfect clarity winked at me which brought me to the edge of my seat. I smiled back, so familiar with that wink and knowing this time all the words that it conveyed, “I’m alright”, “Take care of yourself” ,”Take care of your Mama”, “Goodbye.”

That was the last time Daddy opened his eyes and his gift of a wink was the perfect goodbye. He was an amazing man who taught me so much about life and not fearing death. Sleep well my wonderful father. You have earned your rest.

June 7, 1936-April 24, 2011