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 ‘vigilant’

October Snow and Long Distance Parenting

My newly minted freshman in college is a part of the October snowstorm that hit the northeast this past weekend. The town where Merrick’s school is located lost power on Saturday and is still in the dark. Merrick called home Saturday night to update us and we advised him to conserve his phone’s battery even as we peppered him with questions.

“Do you have a flashlight?”

“Um, no.”

“Are you sure? How could we have bought half of Target and not bought a flashlight?”

“I don’t know but I don’t have one.”

“Look in the bottom drawer of your desk. Your dad put tools and things like that in there when we were helping you unpack.”

“Alright Mom, I’ll check but I don’t think I have one.”

Turning to my husband Mark I say, “How could we not buy him a flashlight. That should have been one of the main things on the list.”

“Mom, I’ve got a wrench, no flashlight.”

“Okay, okay. Well hopefully the power will be back on when you wake up tomorrow.”

“It’s okay right now. The generator is lighting the hallway and the bathroom so it’s not too bad.”

“Just be careful okay.”
“I am.”

We said our goodbyes and as Merrick went off to make a snowman with friends and then play his saxophone in a band thrown together for the occasion, I tossed and turned waiting for morning. Who could imagine such a snowstorm in October? The month was so close to being over and for my family it is a month fraught with emotions. We marked the 3rd anniversary of our oldest son Jordan’s death on the 12th and made our way through the 18th the date of his memorial service and then celebrated and consoled Merrick on the 20th the day he turned 19, the same age Jordan was when he died. October already held enough upheaval and Merrick was just starting to find a rhythm again and not be so weighted down with grief. In the days right after his birthday he’d said things like, “Why did Jordan have to die a week before my birthday? And “Jordan died when he was 19, I’ve got to make it through this year.”

Struggling for comforting words I gave him what I could, “ I know your birthday is hard now. It may never feel the way it did before Jordan died. But that doesn’t mean that one day you won’t feel pockets of joy. My prayer for you is that as time goes on those pockets will grow deeper. We’re here for you and we will always celebrate the day you were born. That day gave us you. You’re not Jordan and what happened to him was an accident. Each day, every year is to be lived, not gotten through. Please try to take in what I’m saying.”

“I’ll try.”

Then the tears came and I sat cradling the phone making sure he knew I was there but allowing him to vet every emotion coursing through him as he sobbed for all he’s lost and all the longing he has for his brother. The week wore on and I’d talk to him every other day, “Just checking in,” were my words when I couldn’t keep myself from calling. I didn’t want him to feel like I was worrying too much about him but I was, and the only thing that made me able to cope was hearing his voice.

*

On Sunday morning after the storm, Mark and I were both awake by 7:30 and Mark immediately reached for his Ipad to check the outages on the East Coast. Merrick’s town still had no power. I was grateful he was still asleep and hoped that maybe by the time he woke up the power would be back. Later that morning we got a call from Merrick from the cellphone of one of his friend’s saying that the campus had run out of food and they were strongly encouraging students to evacuate the campus. The administration suggested they go to a neighboring school that did not lose power or home if they lived close enough. Merrick then went on a rant about AT&T and how he had no “bars” and the only people that did were those with Verizon and T-Mobile.

“Dad we’ve got to change cellphone carriers. This is crazy.”

He ranted about his phone but we heard the panic in his voice and his need for us to help him figure out what to do. He was weary from October. We had to decide what was the best option so that he could feel safe. Realizing that soon we wouldn’t have any connection with him if his friends all scattered because some were going to Boston to stay with friends and some were going to neighboring schools, we had to help our kid figure out the best place for him. Thankfully he knew us well enough that he didn’t impulsively just go someplace without letting us know.

Jordan’s trip during his Fall break from college took a detour from New York to Baltimore which he texted us about as he rode to Baltimore. I never got a chance to tell him, “That wasn’t the plan,” or “No, stay in NY.” I wonder if I could have kept him safe, kept him alive. On the drive back, just 20 minutes from campus is where the car accident occurred and he was pronounced dead at the scene. He was riding with 3 friends when the driver fell asleep and the car careened off the interstate falling 40 feet onto the service road below. As much as we want Merrick to have freedom as a college student and be responsible for making decisions, Jordan’s death has cast a veil of vigilance over the rest of our children. Merrick choosing the same small town as his brother to go to school has heightened our anxiety.

As we scrambled to figure out where Merrick should go until he could return to campus he uttered, “I could carpool with some friends to Boston.”

The word, “No,” was out of my mouth as Merrick finished his sentence. “I don’t want you carpooling. We’ll figure out how to get you someplace safe.”

Before I could speak further Merrick jumped in, “Okay Mom, I know. I won’t.”

This wasn’t the first time that riding with friends had come up with Merrick. As I reminded him to make his reservation early for the airport shuttle for Thanksgiving his response was, “My friend and I were thinking about grabbing a ride with some other people going to the airport.”

“Merrick, NO. I don’t want you carpooling. I’ll pay for the shuttle. I don’t want you riding in someone’s car. Do you understand?”

“Mom I got you.”

He says he understands but how long can my fear of young people and road trips determine my son’s actions? He is 19 and I want him to be 20,21 and on and on. There will come a day when he does take a trip with friends and I’ll have to grit my way through it. My feeling now is that I won’t breathe until he’s safely at his destination and then safely back. It’s not how I want to live. I hope I’ll regain some calm and faith, but I’ve become a maven of safety statistics of buses, planes and trains vs. cars. Cars lose every time.

*

For anyone observing Mark and I as we tried to figure out the best and yes, safest place for Merrick to be until he could return to campus, you would have thought we were planning a reconnaissance mission. Mark paced the family room as I sat with my laptop googling hotels, looking up friends on Facebook trying to remember who lived in Boston.

Mark throws out, “Could you call your friend Doreen in Boston?”

“I’m not even sure she’s in town. Besides how’s he going to get there?”

“Well we told him we’d call him back and we need to before his friend leaves. That was the only way we had to stay in contact with him.”

“I know that,” I snapped. Then the obvious became the plan. “Let’s call Jordan’s dean. He said if we ever needed anything to call him.”

With that Mark picked up the phone and both of us started to feel we were doing something to help Merrick. Jordan’s dean was more than happy to help us and would pick Merrick up from campus then take him to his house. We texted Merrick the dean’s telephone number so he could arrange to get picked up. I felt foolish for talking to him like a 10 year old but I repeatedly reminded him to call me when he was with Jordan’s dean. When he finally called a mere 20 minutes later sounding relieved I felt the weight of the night and the panic of the day leave. After our call was complete, I continued to hold the phone, my forehead on my knees. Mark came over and sat on the ottoman across from me and held my legs. “He’s okay.”

Tears were all I could muster as a reply as the words, “Merrick is not Jordan,” were the mantra on my mind.

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Wait Until A Decent Hour

“Let’s wait until a decent hour.”

That was the request of my mom to my sister about calling to tell me that Daddy was in the hospital. They’d been at the emergency room since around 4am knowing that Daddy was going to be admitted. Even as they waited my mother didn’t break her weekly ritual with Merrick. Twice a week she calls him at 6:30am gives him a little pep talk so that he can get up and be at school an hour early to meet with teachers or study in the library. Mama made a pact with Merrick after Jordan died that on days when his spirits would be so low but he still wanted to excel that, “You do the work, I’ll do the worrying.” She extended that care to me, waiting until 7am to have my sister call. Julie in her calm soothing voice called me at 7am to tell me, “We’re at the hospital with Daddy and he’s pretty bad.” My first reaction was a sob and then, “I’ll be there today.”

“I know you will. They’re trying to get him stabilized.”

We’d just found out Daddy was seriously ill on Saturday. I’d missed a call from my mom earlier in the day and when I returned her  call  she immediately said, “Hold on a second I have to get Julie on the line. Your Daddy wants to talk to you.” Those words alone were enough to make me brace myself for bad news. My father hates talking on the phone and rarely initiates a call. Mark and I had just dropped the girls off at a birthday party and as soon as I told him what Mama said he pulled the car over to the side of the road.

He told us his news and my screaming, “NO,” and “Not my Daddy,” over and over marked my devastation until Mark took the phone so they knew he was there with me. I exhaled the last scream and shakily told Daddy, “I’m here. I’m sorry.”

In a quiet voice Daddy responded, “I just need to know you’re here with me. I’m sorry this happened. But I just need you with me that’s all.”

“We are Daddy. That’s how we’ve always done things.”

“I’m sorry to put you through this. I just don’t understand how this happened. I’ve never missed a doctor’s appointment.”

“You’re not putting us through anything. We’re here and we’ll do whatever we need to.”

“I know you will.  I know you will.”

Daddy saw a specialist  on Monday and all of us are trying to wrap our minds around the disease that is ravaging his body and the prognosis, which is poor. Tuesday morning jettisoned our family to another level of fear and shock as he was rushed to the emergency room. When I arrived Tuesday afternoon I went immediately to the hospital needing to see Daddy for myself.

From Tuesday on Mama, Julie and I adopted our hospital routine. Every morning I was dropped off at the front entrance so I didn’t have to walk as far with my booted foot. Then, my mom, sister and I sit vigil with Daddy, with my mother always taking the chair closest to his bed. I watch Mama closely looking for signs of weariness and fatigue, and all I see is resolve and commitment to her husband. When she leaves the room Daddy will ask Julie or I, “How’s your Mama doing? You watch her eyes that’s where she’ll show when she’s not okay. Watch her eyes.”

I reassure him that she’s taking things a day at a time and is not hiding anything from him. As we sit in his room, we listen to him make jokes with the nurses and other staff, complain about the food and bargain with the nurses to let him have one little packet of salt to make the food semi-edible. We also watch as he tries to maneuver in bed and pain grips his body with such force that we wait, holding our breaths, until the wave of pain subsides. Everything is still surreal. New routines and worries are now in the works, setting up home nurse care, wondering how Daddy will navigate a home with stairs and praying that he handles the medication without too many side effects.

I came home today hugging Daddy and today telling him I’ll be back soon.

“You go home and take care of your family. I’ll see you next time.”

Daddy is a strong man. He is the one who reminded me after Jordan died to say his name everyday. He continues to teach me so much. Here is the post, “Say His Name,” to give you a glimpse of just how amazing my father is.

Say His Name (9/28/2009)

I’ve never seen a picture of my father as a boy, yet I’ve heard so many of the stories of him growing up in a coal mining community in West Virginia, third youngest of thirteen children, that I have a distinct picture of him in my mind. My father is quite the storyteller and I’ve sat in rapt attention as he’s told me of his boyhood antics as well as those of his siblings. I’ve also listened as he’s shared the sorrow his family endured. As a young man in college, Daddy in less than 14 months, lost a sister to illness, a brother to murder, and his mother after making the statement to my father as they sat on their front porch following the death of her son-“I will not live to bury another one of my children.” She died a few months later.

Every time Daddy shared the story of losing so many loved ones in such a short span of time, I looked at him with compassion and awe. How do you keep going when you lose so much in such a short amount of time? Daddy had survived unimaginable loss and yet didn’t seem haunted by what he endured. His life had gone on with a college degree, marriage, work and family. He spoke lovingly of his family. He told funny and poignant stories of relatives that were long gone by the time I was born. Because of him I felt I knew them. Their deaths did not erase them from Daddy’s heart. He talked about them all the time. I watched him because as untouched as I was by the death of someone close to me, I knew it would happen eventually. Daddy provided my first road map on mourning loved ones.

My “eventually” came with the unexpected, shocking news of Jordan’s death. When I made the call to my parents in the middle of the night to tell them that Jordan their oldest grandchild had been killed in a car accident my mother screamed and cried, and then my father was on the phone. He told me they would be there as soon as they could and they were. By Monday afternoon they were sitting at our kitchen table. The friends who had held watch over us since early that morning quietly left once our family arrived. We sat, cried and talked. Daddy’s words to me were simple and direct, “Don’t stop talking about him. You say his name everyday.” I’m not sure if I would have taken such direct advice from just anyone, but I knew my father’s experiences with loss. Daddy’s advice was him speaking what he had lived. The way I knew about my aunts, uncles and paternal grandparents was because Daddy didn’t stop talking about them. He said their names and his eyes lit up with the memories they invoked.

Every time I called him in the weeks and months after Jordan died sometimes barely able to speak because I couldn’t catch my breath from crying he would calm me, soothe me, always telling me he wished he could take some of the pain away. He never failed to remind me of his feeling that holding in my grief would make me sick.  Then he would ask, “Are you talking about Jordan? You make sure you keep talking about him.” I always told him, “yes we talk about him everyday.”

My children know by the example of their father and I that it’s okay to cry and miss Jordan, but it is also okay to remember all the funny Jordan stories and talk about him as much as they want and need to. We sit at the dinner table and one of my daughters will say “remember the time Jordan raced into the bathroom right before I was going in to take a shower and jumped in the tub with all his clothes on and starting singing in that high voice “I’m taking a shower” as he pretended he was really taking a shower. We would all nod in remembrance and laugh. That story would remind another one of us of some other Jordan story and the love in remembering would grow. There would be other times when something happened at school and one of them would ask Mark or I “did that ever happen to Jordan?” We never turned away from an opportunity to talk about our son/their brother. He always will have a seat at the table.

Even almost a year after Jordan’s death my father still reminds me to “Say his name.” Now with the clarity of my own experience I know what he means. His philosophy about loss has become my own. The person we lose cannot become a taboo subject. Holding in our pain is also holding in our memories and ultimately the joy that person brought us. I knew about my aunt, uncle and grandparents long gone before I came along because of Daddy. They are etched in my heart as though they told me their stories themselves.

My children freely talk about their brother. They laugh together, imitating him and remembering. The way my children talk about their brother assures me that their children will know their Uncle Jordan. And one day in the distant future I pray that I’ll live to have my grandchildren sitting at my knee as I sat at my father’s and have them ask to hear about their uncle, my son. Without hesitation I will openly, wistfully, freely “Say his Name.”

Jordan with his Pop - High school graduation 2007


To Be A Sweet Offering

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately. The truth is I always read poetry.  For me it is a form of meditation. Yesterday I read for the first time the poem, “Self-Portrait” by David Whyte. One stanza leapt out at me:

I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world with its harsh need to change you. If you can look back with firm eyes saying this is where I stand.

The last few weeks have been challenging for me and my family. The challenge and the pain got an unexpected new dose yesterday with some very troubling family news. I ask for your prayers.

I heard a song last night called, “Encourage Yourself.” One of the lines of the song is, ‎”Sometimes you have to speak victory during the test.”

Mark and I talked last night about the bombardment of pain and bad news that has come our way in rapid fashion. I told him, “Weariness is setting in. I wake up every night at least once where my thought is Jordan is dead and I have to learn to keep going. I’m working hard to live life with a positive outlook.”

“I know, we both are. We’ll make it. We have each other, always.”

“Things are happening so fast. We don’t get a chance to catch our breath, to process what’s happening before something else happens. I don’t want to live my life always on guard. I want to live life with a positive outlook. Life can’t feel like a chore, something to be endured.”

Even in the midst of worry and sorrow there is a piece of my heart that tugs at my soul saying, “Hold on, Spring is coming.” It beckons me but in a voice oh so faint. I’m holding on, wanting to be a sweet offering to my family, friends, the universe and me.

Here is an excerpt from, \”Let It Be Me\,” a post I wrote back in 2010.

I work so hard to stay sane and not slip too far into darkness and depression. Jordan’s life held virtue, humor, caring and so much light. Each day I make a choice to keep going for my family and for me. The future can’t be predicted. I can’t mystically shelter my children from all harm. The shock of loss has slowed my acceptance of the fact that complete protection is an illusion-even if it is fueled by the fiercest love. My vigilance towards my children is still strong. But a parallel vigilance is burgeoning. It still whispers, “let it be me” but the meaning has shifted. Let it be me who remembers all aspects of my son’s too short life. Let it be me that honors in my own way the zeal Jordan had for life. Let it be me that loves life and hopes for joy to come in the morning.

Spring is coming

Just Beneath the Surface- A Father’s Grief

My husband Mark is the guest blogger for today. So, instead of Always Mom of 4, you’ll be hearing from Always Dad of 4. I’m grateful that he agreed to give the perspective of a grieving father which is not frequently heard.

*

Jackie asked me to host blog today, looking to inject a different perspective into the journal of our journey since the loss of Jordan.  I am honored and a bit intimidated in opening up in a forum like this, but I told her I’d give it a shot.

Last night, as I reached up to rub part of my back that is aching but in one of those hard to reach areas, I wrenched my face in obvious discomfort.  Not knowing that I was being watched, I heard a careful whisper from the corner of the room, “Oh no, Dad, is there something wrong with you too?”  The, “too,” part of her question came because Merrick was already sick and her mom had been resting a lot lately dealing with a flare from lupus.

“No baby.  My back is just sore because of the way I was sitting over there on the couch.  Don’t worry, I’m fine.” Always the worrier, she just wanted reassurance that things wouldn’t take an unexpected turn for the worse.  After all, Jordan always called me “the healthy one.”  In the cold of late February and early March we got hit with a series of sniffling noses and achy bodies.  Recently, Merrick had been home for two days, as it turns out sick with strep throat.  Jackie’s lupus  has shown up this time as inflammation of her right Achilles tendon.  Hard for her to get around when that happens.  The girls just recovered from colds and a few days off from school.  I’m fighting off a cold as well, but as all parents do, I reassure the children that I’m ok and here to make sure that things will get back on track.   But sometimes I wonder, will they ever? I can’t give that assurance to our children anymore that “nothing bad will happen.”

I’ve tried to explain to my friends and family that the death of Jordan seems analogous to losing a leg and then being forced to learn in a short amount of time to walk again with a prosthetic. It makes it look to the outside world like I’m a perfectly intact human being, but that is far from the truth. I can stand up straight, but that limb, my Jordan, is still gone. While I can function, go to work everyday and have an outward appearance of being “ok,” the pain and sadness is right under the surface.  It sits quietly with my soul similar to the way Jordan as a young child would keep his hand on my arm when we were sitting close as if to always keep me near. He was my oldest and that hand on my arm was a physical reminder of my stature as a father and caregiver. I would look down at his hand reassuring him, I’m here, you have me.”

I still feel that hand on my arm.  Now the hand is a reminder that just as I’m a father and caregiver, I’m also a grieving dad. I’m learning how to move through life with this new moniker. The first two were expected and eagerly anticipated, the latter an intrusion and shock.  But I continue to push forward.  So to my babies, who know me well and walk with me on this journey, I do at times say, “I’m ok,” and assure them that if I can help, I’ll be here for them and I will do everything I can to make sure that they don’t have to face the unwelcomed shocks alone.  If they come, we’ll keep pushing forward.

Since Jordan died, we all move with a vigilance, trying to ward off unexpected bad news. I say that knowing that keeping the realities of life at bay is impossible, but right now it feels like reassuring my children about the little things, like my achy back is a concrete way to make them feel secure. As a parent, sometimes I feel like I’m desperately trying to keep things on an even keel so as not to give rise to the tsunami of emotions that come along with knowing that our lives can be changed in an instant.  Nothing is guaranteed.

A few weeks ago I was watching one of my favorite movies, “Dances with Wolves.” The girls walked into the room curious about what I was watching and joined me. While trying to enjoy the movie I also took the opportunity to share with them the beautiful filmmaking and historical relevance of the story. During an intense chase scene, when the US Marshalls were descending on the Native American tribe, one of my daughters turned to run upstairs.  I protested saying, “Hey don’t you want to see what happens?”

“No” was her immediate response but I paused the movie to urge her to stay and watch.  I told her that the man and woman wouldn’t be separated forever, but the tribe had to move on and they were splitting apart for a little while.  I made the mistake of saying, “It’s a movie, everything works out ok, but their lives are changed.”

She looked at me saying, “How can you say everything works out ok when my brother didn’t come home from school?  That didn’t work out ok, he’s gone.”  I turned off the movie, called her down to sit with me and just held her as she cried.

All I could say to her was, “You’re right. Things don’t always have a happy ending. But even when they don’t people still continue to move forward.” For all of my family, the fear of sudden loss is just under the surface.  My babies learned at an early age that life, while full of promises, could also offer bitter disappointment and sorrow. As parents Jackie and I choose to continue to move forward telling our children that time will help diminish the pain of sorrow and that Jordan will always be a part of our lives.

 

Mark and Jordan reading the paper

Always Dad of 4

A Fraternity Not of One’s Choosing

As many of you know on February 25th my blog was featured in the NY Times Motherlode column. I assumed that given this is the season when students are hearing or waiting to hear from colleges about their acceptance my post about Merrick’s college wait would resonate with many. Our situation does not mirror everyone’s because while grieving the loss of son while away at college, I’m readying another to leave for school. It is a paradox that shifts the earth beneath me. I had no idea my piece would elicit such strong reactions. Comments ranged from empathy and understanding to pure disdain. At times I wondered if some of the readers read what I wrote before commenting. I was accused of being elitist because Jordan went to Amherst College. Jordan’s school is many things; elitist is not one of them. They welcome students of all backgrounds. There was also innuendo that because Jordan died in a car accident, drugs or alcohol was involved. Jordan died on a clear fall night at 9:30 pm. Fatigue was the culprit not anything else; even though why that matters to a grieving parent fails me at this time.

I know I didn’t have to read the comments but I did and I’m glad. Mixed in with accusatory comments were many that understood the point of my writing. Losing a child upends your world. The family that is left behind learns how to navigate the world with sorrow and loss as a new thread woven into life. We keep going and continue to ready our children to be independent, gracious, honorable human beings.

One commenter in particular gave me pause. He wrote:

I think this mom’s letter reeks of status and privilege. Her kids are going to elite private schools like Amherst and she worries as he “readies himself to be on his own”. Puleeeeze. Places like Amherst bend over backwards to ensure students are happy and successful, providing everything from psychologists to academic advisors to climbing walls to vegan cafeteria options. We have moms in this country who are sending their sons into tough inner-city schools because it is all they can afford. We have moms in this country who are sending their sons into the marines and thus into Iraq or Afghanistan. I want to read their letters.

14 readers recommended his comment. His letter above all others made me feel the need to explain the death of a son or daughter. Recently a dear friend lost his adult sister to cancer. My first thought was of his mother and the heartache that cannot be wholly defined that I knew she was feeling. It was the same reaction I had while watching the Winter Olympics seeing the mother of the Georgian luger holding her head in her hands devastated by the news of her loss. It is the way I felt when Kelly Preston and John Travolta lost their son and the way I feel when I see or read about parents who’ve lost children in combat. We are all members of fraternity not of our choosing. Perhaps the letters of mothers of soldiers lost in combat might be more interesting to some readers. What I know is that no matter whether your child died while away at an elite institution, community college, war or coming home from a party, having police show up at your door at 1:30 in the morning and delivering news that is every parent’s worse fear is an equalizer. There is no hierarchy of trauma from grief.

My husband and I have not hidden our grief from our children but we have been careful to not burden them with our grief either. They know we are here for them and we continue to nurture their spirits and interests wanting them to follow their dreams. A toll has been taken on my heart that may never fully repair. In spite of this fact, my commitment to be present for all of my children is fierce.

I’m grateful for the support and understanding I receive from those who read my blog. I’ve been humbled by those who’ve written to me telling me how my words have helped ease some of their pain. I’ll keep writing. I hope you’ll keep reading.

Circling, Orbiting and Making His Presence Known

For much of my day, Jordan stands in the distance. He is far off and a bit hazy but I know it’s him. His stubbornness shows even in death. He doesn’t come closer when I beckon him, only when he feels it is the right time.

I’m learning how to listen to the laughter of his siblings and embrace its authenticity without always thinking, and wishing Jordan should be here. My children are circling each other, finding ways to be together that has Jordan as their outer orbit with his arms stretched wide encircling them all. They’re laughing more, teasing each other and having private brother sister jokes that tickle them to no end. I watch them and see how they’re moving on, grateful but always a little afraid that their joy means Jordan has been relegated to the past.

I don’t want any of us crippled by grief. All of us must plan and enjoy life. Moving forward with joy must not feel like a sting against Jordan’s memory. We’re planning a trip for spring break, to feel sun and warmth.

Yet again the, “How many” question will be asked? I’m getting better at saying 5 without adding caveats of, “We’ll always be 6.” I feel all of us moving forward and I feel Jordan near even when I can’t make out his face.

Jordan's forever beach chair

11-18-49 Hike!

 

Halloween circa 2002

It is the last day of October. In the shower this morning I stood and cried, thinking of Jordan, freshly feeling the pain of losing him, and how we lost him. Water fell around me as the intrusions of traumatic days and dates surged causing me to sob. In 2008, October 11th was the day Jordan told me he was going to Baltimore. The 12th is the day he died in a car accident. On October 13th, in the early morning hours the news of his death was forced upon us. The 16th is the day we viewed his body one last time at the funeral home. The 17th was the day he was cremated and the 18th was the day of his Memorial service.

On the heels of all these days comes October 20th, Merrick’s birthday. A bright spot that feels flung at us after the pounding traumatic remembrances early October brings. The 20th is the gasp of air given to my family after being held underwater for days by shock, flashbacks, turmoil and grief. I got to breathe a little knowing there was life to celebrate even though it was swirling with the vestiges of death and loss that wafted around us.

Merrick approached his 18th birthday with resolve and reflection. I asked him what he thought about such a milestone birthday, being able to vote, society’s view of him as a quasi adult? He felt more circumspect than excited. “This time next year my friends and I will be scattered around the country, attending different colleges. Our time as, “the guys” hanging out together like we do now will be over. “ I listened to his words, hearing no cynicism only the matter-of-factness that is a by-product of facing the loss of his brother. “The world is yours,” promise, so giddy and hopeful in it’s bumper sticker mentality doesn’t resonate the hopefulness the way I always imagined it would for all of my children. Merrick has firsthand knowledge that nothing is really promised. I selfishly wanted Merrick to proudly declare, “I’m 18,” with excitement. He didn’t and he wasn’t. I watched him try to find traction for celebration after days of lost sleep, quiet contemplation and wanting. The ultimate and unreachable gift, his brother to congratulate him on being 18 was unattainable. Awareness of mortality, embracing moments, and a loss of innocence were firmly placed in Merrick’s path in the month of October.

Yesterday my parents were here briefly as they started a train trip to the West Coast. They’ve always wanted to travel cross-country by train, replete with sleeper car and the luxury of time. October 28th was their 49th wedding anniversary and after years of talking about travelling by train, this year they are doing it. They sat at my kitchen table talking about the books and movies they brought along with them for their trip. I go through my checklist and they tell me they remembered the camera and look forward to sitting in the observation car watching the landscape float by. They’re finally taking one of their dream trips and a part of me senses how final it feels. As independent as they are, Daddy needs a wheelchair to get him onto the train. I ask him if he has his medication and how his arthritis plagued ankles are holding up? His response is as it always is, “Oh girl, I feel good. The doctor says I’m fine.” I ask who is picking them up from the train station and they tell me their high school friend will be there to meet them. Daddy laughs, excited about catching up with old friends. He tells me that his friend wanted him to bring him a taste of moonshine. I laugh along with him but am relieved that none of them will be drinking moonshine. Clearly their West Virginia roots are still firmly entrenched. Mark takes them to the train station and I stand in the driveway waving and yelling, “Have fun.” I walk back inside thinking and praying, “I hope they have a good time. Don’t let anyone get sick.  Bring them home safely.”

Today is Halloween and I witness my 11 year old daughters pour bags of candy into a basket that will be empty by the end of the evening after all the trick-or-treaters make their way by our home. The girls’ excitement this year is less about running from house to house filling their candy bags to the brim, than it is about attending their friend’s haunted house party. Wanly I watch them, glimpsing the teenagers they will soon be. They are my youngest and my wish to have time stand still, to keep their youthful exuberance about costumes and counting their candy at the end of the evening, “Mama, I got 3 BIG candy bars,” is overpowering. I’m stuck in a nostalgia time warp that is making me teary in wanting things I cannot have. The days of having a parent accompany my daughters, waiting on the sidewalk as they run from house to house, racing to ring the doorbell are over. They look forward to trick-or treating with a group of their friends. If I want to hear them say, “Trick or treat,” this year I’ll have to force myself on them or follow them from a distance. They are acting like typical “middle schoolers” and my gratitude that they embrace normal activities without being too weighted down by grief is tempered by wariness and melancholy. What am I doing letting them explore the world and have independence? Am I insane? I’ve lost a child, yet I keep encouraging my others to find their way in the world.

I made it through October again. A new month beckons and as ceremonial as it is, I’m relieved that the calendar page is about to turn. I need the surges of grief and middle of the night weeping that are now hallmarks of October to be quieted.