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 ‘Thanksgiving’

Thanksgiving 2011-Remember the Time

Sometimes it isn’t until you give yourself a chance to breathe a deep cleansing breath, that the impact of what you’ve witnessed and been through can be fully experienced. I took my first real breath the Monday after Thanksgiving. After taking the girls to school I came home and found myself so profoundly sad and unable to shake it. I did the only thing I could. As had happened so many times before, I sat with my grief thinking of it as a guest that would leave when it was time. I wouldn’t wallow but I would feel the sadness, longing and anguish that the busy days of Thanksgiving had allowed me to quell. This year marked another beginning. Learning to live and celebrate without Daddy’s boisterous presence. My father more than anything loved having his family together. Loved cooking for us and was happiest watching us relish the food he and Mama prepared.

In many ways the familiar outweighed the feelings of loss as I navigated my way through the holiday. I still made cranberry sauce and candied sweet potatoes as I always do. Julie helped Mama prepare the turkey and was the taste tester on the dressing and potato salad. I moved in and out of the kitchen comforted by our routines and overwhelmed at the same time. When Jordan discovered he liked potato salad he became the jr. tester. Watching Julie made me miss him so much. “Jordan should be here,” crossed my mind and heart more than once. Daddy would usually be sitting at the kitchen table offering his sometimes, unwanted suggestions and comments to my mom as she readied the turkey. “Ann, check the wing it looks like you missed a pin feather.”

Mama would sigh, say, “Yep,” and check, even though she hadn’t finished cleaning the bird and would have found the feather on her own. These scenes frustrated me to no end. This woman had been cooking turkeys for at least 30 years and every year the ritual was the same. Except for this year, when the kitchen was quieter than usual and I wondered if I should fill the silence or let Mama be, not knowing if she too was thinking of Daddy and his armchair quarterbacking.

The turkey was always put into the oven at around 6 am. As the years went by the responsibility of bringing it up from the basement refrigerator and putting it into the oven fell to my sister and her husband who slept on the pullout couch in the family room. In my youth, Daddy and Mama had always “put the bird in” together. Both coming downstairs and reminding each other all day of what time they’d put it in the oven. But as rheumatoid arthritis took more of Daddy’s strength, he was no longer able to navigate the steps while carrying the 23lb. turkey.

When I got up Thanksgiving morning I came downstairs to find Julie already awake and eating breakfast. “Girl, I’ve been waiting on you. Get to making that coffee. You know that’s your job.”

“I didn’t realize how late I’d slept.”

Julie followed me into the kitchen and as I looked down into the oven I asked her if she went back to sleep after putting the turkey in the oven.

“I tried but I couldn’t really sleep.”

“What time did you put it in?”

She looked at me for a moment and then said, “I put it in the oven and then went back downstairs and looked at the clock. It was 6:07.”

Tears welled in my eyes, “Daddy’s birthday!”

“I know I couldn’t believe it either. He was telling me, I’m right here.”

Shaking my head I replied, “He is here and he found the perfect way to show us.”

daddy carving turkey

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“To Grandmother’s House We Go”

Thanksgiving has come and gone and with it all of the anxiety that built up inside me. For weeks before I wondered how it would be possible to step inside my parents’ home and not have daddy sitting in his chair waiting to welcome us. Mama was determined that would stick to our usual routines and traditions. She would make fried fish and potatoes on Wednesday, the meal we always savored after our journey from Chicago. Daddy usually cooked his famous home fried potatoes but this year Mama would handle the duties.

My sister had asked me repeatedly what time we’d be arriving in Ohio. With each ask my response was the same, “I don’t know.” Up until a week before I wasn’t even sure if we were coming. It felt too hard not just for me but for my children as well. For the first time in their lives they didn’t know if they wanted to make the trip. “It won’t be the same without Pop. Can’t Oma come here and we’ll do all the cooking and take care of her?” It was a lovely thought. One I presented to my mother who balked at the idea.

“No, I want to do Thanksgiving. I’m alright, I can do it.”

When she said these words I wanted to cry out, “But I’m not sure I can do it.”

Trying to make things as they always were in the face of another empty seat at the table felt like too much pain to take in. I wanted to support Mama and be there because I knew she needed me but I also had to think of what was best for my family and what felt selfish, what was best for me. Mark said he would abide by and understand any decision I came to, but he added the words, “Thanksgiving is going to be different and hard no matter where we are.” And he was right. In the end I needed to be with my mom and the rest of my family for Thanksgiving. I told Mama of my misgivings and warned her that I felt so sad and wasn’t sure I’d be able to feel much of anything else.

“Don’t worry about being sad. We’ll all cry when we need to and we’ll get through this Thanksgiving together.”

We made the familiar trip to Ohio and Lindsay, Kendall and Merrick shouted out, “Welcome to Ohio,” as we passed the sign. I sighed knowing that soon I’d be at my childhood home with my mother waiting to greet us at the door. “Who’d carve the turkey?” “Who’d sit at the head of the table?” Were questions that wouldn’t leave my head.

As we drove up to my parents’ house I saw my sister Julie and her husband Brian’s car in the driveway. Brian opened the door for us and Mama was right behind him ready to receive us. The smells of our delicious dinner wafted from the kitchen. As Mark and Merrick brought the bags in I walked through the family room and glanced at the chair Daddy would have been sitting in, waiting for our arrival. A short glance at the chair was all I could muster as I made my way upstairs to the kitchen to hug hello to Julie. The table was set and all that was left was for us to do was eat.

Mama shouted out, “Alright now come and eat while everything is hot.”

We all made our way to the table and I sat in my usual seat to the right of Daddy’s chair at the head of the table. The chair sat empty but only for a moment. Mama came into the room and with decisiveness took the seat at the head of the table. We grabbed hands to pray and I gripped her shaking hand as she thanked God for our being together, “One more time.” Her voice faltered but her spirit is so strong. As we said, “amen” I gave her hand an extra squeeze and opened my eyes to my wonderful family. Even in the midst of longing for Jordan and Daddy I felt their presence and was warmed by the grace of their company mingled so beautifully with all of us at the table.

Gratitude and Envy

Our last Thanksgiving with Jordan. Mark is the photographer.

It is such a hard time of year. From the beginning of August with my daughters’ birthdays and Jordan’s birthday until the close of New Year’s Day my family and I swing between apprehension, anticipation, joy, dread, and enough longing and sadness to fill a room.  The holidays make the feelings of wanting to have my son back even more overpowering. Even though I’ve tried to limit my awareness about college kids coming home for Thanksgiving, it doesn’t matter too much because my internal clock still chimes, “Jordan would be home now.” These feelings surge and then ultimately quiet and I work hard to remember a quote my sister emailed me recently,

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but only empties today of its strength.”

–        Charles Spurgeon

I pull at my reserves of strength even as I envy my friends whose kids are travelling home in the next days. I’m ashamed sometimes at how much I want what they have. I hunger for errands and tasks associated with, “my kids home from college.” Things like driving to the airport, waiting for a glimpse of my overworked, too tired student to fall into the car so happy to be home. Or wandering the aisles of the grocery store buying cereals and foods I don’t normally buy because they are Jordan’s favorites.

Strength for me means reminding myself to do just this day without burdening my heart with too many, “what ifs.”

Gratitude is mixed with heartache because even in the midst of sadness and longing I feel the acceptance of change no matter how miniscule happening within me. This Thanksgiving as in the last two I know Mark will end his prayer before dinner with the words, “and let there always be a seat at the table for Jordan. Amen”

To all of you missing a loved one this Thanksgiving I extend my family’s prayer to yours. Let there always be a seat at the table. Wishing you hope and light.

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving

Our last Thanksgiving with Jordan. Mark is the photographer.

Every year since Jordan and Merrick were young, well before my daughters were born my parent’s home in Ohio has been the place we’ve spent Thanksgiving. The drive to my parents’ home was always a fun-filled time for our family. My greatest pleasure and comfort was looking back into the car as we started our journey and seeing my little family safely together and all within reach of me. I would always look at Mark and smile. He would always say to me, “I know, you love when we’re all together and have uninterrupted time like this.” He was right. Everything in my world felt right as long as I could look back and see my children, and reach over and touch my husband. All I really needed was in that car.

When we’re coming for Thanksgiving my parents start to prepare weeks in advance. My mom calls me from the grocery store asking what cereals the kids like, and what types of drinks to buy. She wants everything to be perfect down to the exact brand of items that we use at home. She wants us to walk in and leave worry outside. Mark and I used to joke when the kids were younger that going to my parents’ house was like going to a bed and breakfast. We could sleep as late as we wanted because when our kids woke up Oma and Pop were there to take care of them. When Mark and I finally roused ourselves from bed realizing how tired we had been, there was always breakfast waiting for us. Going home for Thanksgiving has always meant being cared for and nurtured and definitely fed. It’s not a Norman Rockwell painting by any means, there are spats, and people being short with each other, and never enough room for all the cooks in the kitchen, but it’s home.

Tradition holds a significant place in my family. My father always carves the turkey, I make the cranberry sauce, and a few other side dishes, and my sister always tries one new vegetable recipe and sets a beautiful table that could be photographed for any home magazine. My mother makes the dressing, cakes and potato salad. My sister has always been the potato salad taster until Jordan was old enough and realized how much he loved it. Then, he too was in on the tasting. One of the cakes Mama always made was a lemon pound cake. It was a recipe she got from my brother-in-law’s grandmother. She learned to make it because Jordan loved it so much and would take chunks that can’t be civilly called slices. Jordan had his siblings convinced that Oma made this cake for him alone and he always said it was “Jordan’s cake”.  I finally realized what he was doing and had to convince his siblings that they didn’t have to ask him before getting a piece of cake.

Jordan loved Thanksgiving. It was I think his favorite holiday. He loved Christmas too, but loved both holidays for the same reason. He loved having family together and he loved to eat. From his early teen years Jordan had the same Thanksgiving Day ritual. He would eat breakfast, but not too much, and then wait for dinner. No matter how my mother, sister or I tried to convince him that he might get sick if he waited all day and then gorged himself, he would not be moved. Year after year he applied the same strategy, and year after year we would all watch in amazement as this tall skinny kid put away food like 2 grown men. His strategy clearly worked for him. My parents love to cook and nothing gave them more pleasure than watching Jordan eat, and then as Merrick got older watching him try to keep up with Jordan.

When we sat down to eat each year Mark blessed the food and prayed in a way that would make any preacher proud. The rituals and traditions don’t stop there. Since the age of four my daughters have been our after dinner entertainment. It is always a pre-planned show that they practice before we arrive. We all gather in the living room and they make their entrance and treat us to their latest variety show. As they got older and learned to read and write they would make tickets and pass them out before the show. They acted as ushers as well as performers. The funniest memory of their performances is the year my father came into the living room and wearily sat down in a chair after cleaning the dishes from dinner (yes, that was another tradition-Daddy cleaned the kitchen every year). My sister was still sitting in the living room and Daddy asked her, “What time does the show start?” She told him, “Daddy you missed it Lindsay and Kendall already did their show while you were in the kitchen.” My father responded with indignation, “Shoot, I’ve got a ticket for a show and I expect a show.” My sister and I laughed so hard we were crying. These are the memories Thanksgivings of past years bring.

My daughters' after dinner show

Last year was our first without Jordan and all of my memories are filtered through numbness and grief. I can’t recall too many of the occurrences of that time. The one vivid memory I do have is willing myself into the car so that we could be on our way. The thought of driving to Ohio without all of my children, made me feel like a bad mother. My safe time with my little family had been shattered.  It felt like if we went we were leaving Jordan behind; I didn’t know how to do that. We’d never taken this trip without Jordan. I wasn’t sure I could do it.

The picture of Jordan I look at and talk too most often.

Before we left I went into Jordan’s room and looked at the poster we had made for the memorial service. It has the picture of Jordan when he received his acceptance letter from Amherst College. All around the picture are notes of love and remembrance to my son from family and friends. I looked deep into his eyes, touched his beautiful smile and then kissed the picture. Before I made my way to the car I went into the basement and picked up Jordan’s jacket that he usually took back with him to school when he came home for Thanksgiving. I picked it up hugged it and inhaled the hood which still held his scent. I wanted to bring as much of him with us as I could. After I completed these tasks, I made my way to the car.  Everyone was in the car, motor running and I finally was able to come out and join them. We were on our way, doing the best we could.

Thanksgiving dinner and the time we spent at my parents’ home last year resonated with all of us trying to bear our own grief and take care of each other at the same time. Last year there was no lemon pound cake, Mama couldn’t bear to make it. I don’t remember the girls doing a show. We were all somber and together for the first time since Jordan’s death. We made it through, but filled our time and busied ourselves differently than we had in years past. It was a quiet time.

This year as we prepare to go to my parent’s home, my childhood home, Mark has made the request of arriving before nightfall as we prepare for our journey. He wants to make sure we leave early enough in the day so that we arrive before dark. He had the same request last year. Since Jordan died driving on the highway at night has too many shadows and “what if” thoughts. We both look at the side rails and imagine the car our son was in falling over a guardrail 30 feet to the ground. Every time we cross bridges I imagine the car falling in slow motion 30 feet and landing on the right side, the side Jordan was on, before righting itself. I always physically shake my head to clear these images away.  The night Jordan and his friends were going back to school, it was a clear night, no fog, and no rain. It was dark but not late. The accident occurred around 9:30 pm. Fatigue caused the crash, it’s that simple and that difficult to grasp. We both wonder why they didn’t pull over or help each other stay awake. Nightfall on the highway stirs these questions and images; we travel during the day to outrun them.

This year there is still hesitation and wistfulness as the time draws near for us to make our road trip. Merrick has already admitted that he is having a harder time this year than he did last. He has repeated to me, “It’s not the same without Jordan.” I comfort him and share his loss and pain. There are, however, emerging signs of hope as well.  My daughters have started practicing for their show, and along with my sister are planning a Jackson 5 song complete with dance routine. When I talked to Mama the other day, she asked if I wanted to resume our annual Friday shopping trip which we have done for years, getting up at 6am and at the mall by 7am. I told her yes, this year it sounds like a good idea. She also reeled off the things she has prepared and said without hesitation, I’m making the chocolate and the lemon pound cake. We’re having “Jordan’s cake” on the menu again.

New traditions will have to be threaded in with the old as we keep going, learning to live without Jordan. As we sit down to our Thanksgiving meal with family this year, our prayer will be the same as last year. It will be a prayer filled with thanks, wistfulness and honor. We will thank God for his blessings and for providing us with his grace. We will ask for continued strength and say as we did last year, “There will always be a seat at the table for you Jordan. You will never be forgotten.”

Rest well my sweet boy. You are missed today and everyday. Happy Thanksgiving

My wonderful son with his beautiful smile

Opening the Boxes

Jordan on his way to check out his new dorm room sophomore year.

Jordan on his way to check out his new dorm room sophomore year.

We knew they were coming. Jordan’s college dean had given us almost to the hour the time when FedEx would deliver the boxes that held all of Jordan’s belongings. His dean has told us that at some point between 10am and 12pm the boxes would arrive. The clothing, books, school supplies, all the things a 19-year-old needs to live away from home, were winding their way back to us separate from him. To ease the arrival of the boxes, the dean had told us how the Amherst staff that packed the boxes had labeled them. We had already made special arrangements to donate certain items. His refrigerator, rug, lamp, etc. would go to the A Better Chance (ABC) program. Jordan volunteered there his freshman year, mentoring and tutoring high school boys and had planned to do the same his sophomore year. We knew Jordan would want ABC to have things that would benefit the boys in that program.

Out of denial, bravado or plain shock, Mark and I decided we needed to be alone when the boxes came. We had gone back and forth as to whether we should have someone with us when the boxes were delivered. We knew it was going to rip our hearts out to stand and watch as the possessions of our 19-year-old son came home without him. Mark insisted that placing these boxes in our basement was something he needed to do. He cleared a space in the basement to make room for the boxes and then we waited. We had helped Jordan buy, pack and unpack all of his college things for the last two years.  In our grieving parental logic it made sense to us that we should bear the responsibility and the honor of putting them away.

Mark had taken Jordan back to school for his sophomore year. It had been just the two of them. The first time they had extended time together in such a long while without Jordan having the distractions of competing for his father’s attention from siblings or another parent. Once they got to Amherst, Mark took Jordan to Target to buy toiletries, school supplies, snacks for his refrigerator and anything else they could think of, or whatever I called to remind them to get.

Father and Son together.

Father and Son together.

The two of them also had time to just be together, hanging out as father and son. Mark let Jordan choose where they ate every night and came home gulping down Tums after all the junk food he forced down. They went to the movies together and as Mark said, “Talked for the first time man to man about anything and everything without reservation or embarrassment.” Mark glimpsed the adult friendship he would have with his son.

Jordan indulging his dad's need to capture every moment. Here he is about to open the door to his dorm room.

Jordan indulging his dad's need to capture every moment. Here he is about to open the door to his dorm room.

Mark was there with Jordan as he got to his new single room and unpacked the boxes that had been in storage. Jordan unpacked, Mark forever the photographer catalogued every moment, much to Jordan’s annoyance. When most of the boxes were unpacked they took a break and had lunch together before Mark made his way to the airport and back home. They hugged goodbye knowing Jordan would be home for Thanksgiving. We would all see him then.

At the beginning of October as Jordan’s sisters missed their brother more and more, I suggested they write him letters to help tide them over until they saw him in November. One sister wrote about how she couldn’t wait until Thanksgiving because she missed him so much and added a drawing of our family, complete with sunshine, flowers and a rainbow. Jordan’s other sister wrote him a song entitled, “Miss You”, called him and sang it to him before we mailed the letters. We all eagerly awaited Thanksgiving when our whole family would be together again. Thanksgiving held out a promise that would not be fulfilled. October 12th, 2008 forever changed our trust in events happening as we assume they will. Jordan wouldn’t be coming home for Thanksgiving. We wouldn’t sit at a table as family of 6 again.

Even though Mark and I decided that only the two of us would be home when the boxes came, I decided I couldn’t watch them being unloaded and stored. I didn’t want to see them. They represented remnants of a life, my child’s life that shouldn’t be packed away but should still be flourishing. I told Mark, I wasn’t ready to see the boxes and would busy myself in another part of the house until they were stacked in the basement. Fate had other plans. The doorbell rang with that double/triple ring of deliverymen as I was downstairs and Mark was finishing a call. I was willing to wait for Mark to open the door until I heard the thud of the first box on the front porch. I had to tell the FedEx deliveryman that we needed the boxes unloaded around back at our basement entrance not on our front porch. He looked at me with annoyance and I had to let him know this wasn’t an ordinary delivery and we needed gentleness. I explained, “Our son was killed in a car accident while he was away at school. These are all of his possessions. I know it’s extra work for you to take them around back, but if you wouldn’t mind we’d appreciate it. My husband is waiting for you back there.” Tears caught in my throat and compassion covered his face. He apologized, told me he was sorry for my loss and quickly started taking the boxes to the basement entrance. I looked out the kitchen window to make sure Mark was back there and I saw one of the boxes. There it was, labeled, “Jordan Moore-Fields ’11” on the first line and “Shoes” on the second line. Class of 2011 was how he was still known at Amherst, even though that dream was gone. The box marked shoes contained the shoes Jordan and I had bought at the beginning of the summer before he set off for DC for his internship. Once again glimpses of the man he would be as he chose styles appropriate for the workplace and extended his fashion beyond sneakers.  That memory flooded back by reading the word shoes on a box. I never made it upstairs. I sat at our kitchen table and wept as I heard box after box being loaded into the basement. Finally tears turned to screams as I called out Jordan’s name and just kept saying, “No!” Soon Mark was beside me and we wept together for all we had lost and the irony that these boxes labeled with Jordan’s name could never contain all that he had or was. The deliveryman finally called out to us and told us everything was unloaded. He left a note on the receipt again expressing his condolences.

My younger son came home the day the boxes arrived asking if he could go through them. I kept saying, “No your dad and I aren’t ready to go through them yet. Give us a little time.” He would let a day or so pass and then ask again. It took me days before I could look in the direction of the basement where the boxes were stored. I finally asked my son, “Is there something specific that you’re looking for?” All he said was, “I want his clothes. I want to wear them.” I realized that we were all grieving Jordan’s loss differently. What I wasn’t ready to face, my son need to have close to him as a symbol of comfort from his brother. The next day I went downstairs and opened one of the boxes marked clothes knowing that giving Merrick a few items until we went through all of the boxes was necessary. I found what I was looking for and took them up to his room and placed them on his bed. When he came home from school I told him as he ambled up the stairs, “I put a couple of Jordan’s shirts on your bed.” He looked at me and asked, “Is it the Malcolm X t-shirt?” I said, “Yes, and the Run DMC.” He gave me a grateful, relieved look and said, “Thanks mom.”

The weekend after I gave my son the t-shirts, Mark decided he would unpack some of the boxes. He wanted to make sure Jordan’s laptop, mpc and other electronic equipment were in working order. These items held the links to Jordan’s thoughts and creativity. Mark unpacked these things and then decided to keep going and open the box marked desk items. He was stopped short as he opened the desk items box and there on top laid the letters from Jordan’s sisters. The letters that talked about seeing him for Thanksgiving had been sitting on Jordan’s desk. Mark came upstairs weeping, needing to be held as we both sat, grateful that we’d raised a son who was not ashamed to display the letters of his younger sisters for all his friends to see.  Jordan loved his family, it is a truth that will always bring us comfort.

Weeks passed and one day I decided it was time to demystify the box corner and go through my son’s things. I went through box after box. Making piles of things I knew Merrick would want, books that we would keep because we knew they were special to Jordan, and a box of toiletries and cleaning supplies that brought me to tears. That box beyond all others showed just how little time Jordan got to be a sophomore in college. Most of the items were still unopened. An entire box filled with unopened bottles of lotion, deodorant, laundry detergent, tissues, soap, etc. We didn’t want him to run out of anything. He never got to use them.

Then I came to the box that made me laugh and talk out loud to my son. I opened a box labeled clothes that contained his dirty laundry.  That box brought back the running discussion Jordan and I had on a weekly basis, and all the wonderful talks we had. Jordan would typically call me during the day a few times a week as he walked back to his room after class. He would call me with his trademark deep-voiced, “what’s up”, telling me about his classes, his assignments and how nasty the lunch selections were in the cafeteria. I would listen and laugh then ask my trademark question of when he last did laundry. He always evaded the question or spoke of the amazing powers of Febreze. Now, here I sat in our basement with a box of his dirty laundry. I said out loud, “Boy I told you to do this before you went away for the weekend. I knew you weren’t going to finish it even when you said you would.”

I dragged the box into our laundry room, and started sorting it so I could wash his clothes. Mark called while I was starting this task to check in and see how I was doing. I told him I was going through Jordan’s boxes and was washing his clothes. He immediately became alarmed begging me to wait until he got home. I told him I was okay and I needed to go through the boxes, for me it was time. He still worried about me doing the laundry wanting to spare me any undue pain. He suggested that we get someone to do the laundry because it seemed like it would be too much for me. I took a breath and told Mark, “I have to do this. Don’t you realize this is the last time I’ll ever be able to do his laundry, to do something maternal like this for him? I can’t cook for him, or send him care packages or shop for him anymore. Doing these loads of laundry is the last thing I can do for Jordan.” I knew I would probably cry as I folded every piece, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing this job. It was my last maternal act of caring for my son.