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 ‘wistfulness’

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

Searching Out Memories With The Help Of Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston’s death sent me on a search for memories. I’m not talking about anything metaphysical but an actual looking through my stuff search. Mark videotaped so many moments of our children’s lives. The video camera was not just for birthdays, recitals and holidays, but everyday occurrences as well. It used to drive me crazy that his desire to capture even the most mundane of our family’s history. Now all I have is gratitude for his foresight.

When Jordan was 3, he had a favorite Whitney Houston song that he sang regularly. Since her death, I desperately need to hear Jordan singing his favorite song of hers. I’ve been culling our old DVD’s of Jordan when he was younger. I’m looking for a specific video of him singing Whitney Houston’s song, “I Have Nothing.” Jordan loved that song and sang it so sweetly in his high-pitched little boy voice. He was funny with his song choices. He gravitated towards the music he heard his dad and I playing. He was just as likely to sing “Gotta Be,” by Desiree as he was to sing songs from the “Baby Songs,” repertoire. When he got in the car with his dad he always asked to hear Chubb Rock a rapper from the ‘80s.

So far my search has been fruitless. Whitney Houston was my generation. She was born in the same year as I and shared a birth date with Jordan. Her death brought back a flood of memories of Jordan as a little boy. Every video I’ve watched I’m struck by how strong his personality was from his earliest years. In one Christmas video he got a tent and eagerly crawled into it. As I opened the flap so that Mark could film him he politely asked, “Please close the flap, I need my privacy.” That was my 3-year-old boy asserting his independence and guarding his privacy as he did until the day he died.

A dear friend just observed the 7th anniversary of his son’s death. One of the things he did to mark the day was to watch the memorial service video. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to film Jordan’s memorial service. My regret at not having the memorial recorded started during the service. As I sat in the pew, listening to Merrick speak so passionately about his love for his brother, watching the video compiled by one of Jordan’s best friends, taking in the words of the eulogy, speaking of living with the roses and the thorns and having the service end with the sweet sound of another of Jordan’s friends playing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” on the saxophone I thought, “We should be capturing this time.” Being able to revisit that beautiful service and the celebration we had of Jordan’s life is all I want some days.

It’s funny how time and circumstances can change you. About 7 years ago one of my great grandfather’s brother died at a ripe old age. My sister had been in contact with him and they wrote letters back and forth. After his death, his family sent Julie a DVD of the funeral service. She called me surprised and unsure of what to do with the DVD. She like I found it morbid that a funeral would be memorialized. Morbid was the word that stuck in my head. Why would anyone want to rewatch a funeral? It was hard enough attending them. That was back when I was afraid of death, feeling that if I got to close to it I’d be changed and not for the better. Well, I have been changed and the biggest change is that death doesn’t have a hold on me anymore. I held the hand of my dead son as he lay in his casket. I kissed his too cold cheek. I laid my head on my Daddy’s chest in the minutes after he died calling out his name and still feeling the warmth emanating from his body.

Jordan’s death was a traumatic middle of the night horror that still reverberates with shock and despair. His memorial service though was a grace filled occasion and every chance I have to see him in motion from infancy through the last videos we have of him as a young man are gifts. I embrace his life and the legacy he continues to provide. Death took a part of him away, but I’ll never grow tired of remembering him, talking to him and staying connected to my son.

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

Back to the Writing Life

I had to look at my blog stats to realize it’s been almost 2 months since I’ve written in my blog, After we spread my father’s ashes in West Virginia I spent almost two weeks with my mom in Ohio and found it hard to do anything except rest and be with her doing whatever she wanted. I watched her favorite game shows, I went out to dinner with her friends and her, and for the first time in months I realized how tired and weary I was. I’m glad to be back writing. I hope you’ll keep reading.

I don’t know where to start. March 11th set me on a path that I didn’t anticipate or want. Then again who wants to hear that one of their parents has cancer and only has weeks to live. Intermingled with this still ungraspable news were the parental duties that I had to find a way to manage while doing whatever I could to help my mom help my dad. Talk about the sandwich generation.

As all of these duties were unfolding and I was getting into a routine of traveling to Ohio every week or so to hear for myself what the doctors had to say and to make sure my mom wasn’t coming home to an empty house, my own personal loss made a grand appearance. The date of what would have been Jordan’s college graduation was approaching and I was steeling myself for how I would make it through May 22nd. Merrick’s last day of high school was upon us and as he waited to hear from colleges where he would be accepted I tried my best to ease his fears, repeating, “You will go to college and it will be a place you want to attend.”

I’m thinking, “ Merrick’s going off to college and right now I can’t even imagine letting him go. Daddy’s not going to see him graduate from high school and that’s breaking my heart. How am I going to get through this day?”

As life would have it, we are making it through. Merrick’s graduation was beautiful. Hearing his name being read and seeing him walk to receive his diploma brought such pride knowing how many burdens he carried to get to that point. Cameras flashed as we took all configurations of pictures with Merrick as the centerpiece.

I have to admit that I had to look away when Mark called out, “Okay, now a picture of the graduate with the grandparents.” Those words told our family’s story better and more succinctly than anything else. Four years ago Jordan was receiving his diploma and his four grandparents proudly flanked him. This year our family portrait is of 5 not 6 and the call for grandparents rings out and “Pop” isn’t in the picture. Four years have created so much change. Moments before the grandparents picture I hugged my mother, as she wept, no words necessary. Then I watched her dry her eyes and proudly take her place next to her grandson. She managed a smile even though her eyes still held sadness. Sorrow and loss have touched my family  in profound ways. But joy and celebration also find their ways into our hearts.

Merrick and his proud family at his HS graduation

Family Vacations- Joy and Grief Together

Not why, what now? That’s the question I try to remember as each birthday approaches. After Jordan died every birthday leaves me stunned for a moment. How can I be growing older and one of my children has died? I’ve tried to schedule a vacation for the kid’s spring break, which coincides with my birthday since Jordan’s death. It feels like the only way to quiet the buzz of loss that throttles my mind on March 24th. Planning, packing, and being on our way to a warm place help me to accept with grace the exuberance of my family has in wishing me happy birthday. The smile of gratitude I give to them with each passing year is slowly becoming my own as well.

*

“We shake with joy, we shake with grief. What a time they have, these two, housed as they are in the same body.”

Mary Oliver

Every time we travel as a family without Jordan, we’re relearning what a family vacation is. When we boarded the Southwest flight, I scoped out two rows like I always do, made my mental count and said to Merrick as I pointed at two rows across from each other, ”Okay, you save those three seats and I’ll save these three so we can all sit together.” He nodded. It wasn’t until we were all seated, Kendall at the window, I sitting in the middle, and Mark on the aisle. I looked across to see Lindsay at the window and Merrick on the aisle an empty seat between them. I’d miscounted again. I seem to do it every flight we take. We don’t need 6 seats anymore. We travel as five. We’re a family of six learning to live as a family of 5, slowly with twists and turns along the way.

Grief and joy have taken root in my heart and I know they’re both here to stay. As we get set with chairs and umbrellas on the beach, the attendant tells us they rent chairs in sets of two or four. Mark blurts out, “We need an odd number,” and gives me a look I can’t quite decipher. We don’t ever want our children to feel odd as a family of five. The attendant looks at us and quickly says, “We’ll just add an extra chair, no problem.”

Merrick and Mark decide to jet ski. I watch Merrick jet ski for the first time and then come back to shore with a broad smile that is rare these days.

“That was ballin.’”

“So you had a good time?”

“Yea, it’s great out there?”

“I’m glad you tried it?”

“I pushed it full throttle. It felt good going so fast. I caught air.”

“I know I saw you. You looked like you were having a great time.”

As he strolls to his chair, I can’t help but notice how he and Jordan have the same body type. They both have the same small waist and broad shoulders. Merrick would have loved jet skiing with his brother.

The attendant at the rental stand sees Merrick coming.

“He sure looks more relaxed, look at that beautiful smile.”

“He’s worried about when he’ll hear from colleges so I’m glad he tried something he’s always wanted to, but never did before.”

We stand watching him approach for a moment and I start to tear up glad to have sunglasses hiding my eyes. I look over at the attendant and tell her, “You know this is the first real family vacation we’ve taken that all of us were excited about since my oldest son died.”

“I’m so sorry.”

Nodding my head, “It’s just good to see him smile.”

I settle down in my beach chair and watch as Merrick shows his sister how to use a boogie board, the activity that he and Jordan did for hours until we would call them back to shore. He’s teaching his sisters now, letting them know the carefree feeling of riding a wave and letting it carry you, no hesitation, just freedom.

In between looks at the horizon with the waves softly crashing, I text my sister, “How was Daddy’s morning?”

She texts back, “Woke up in pain, but doing better now.”

“Thanks”

My mind flashes to the MRI scans that showed all the places cancer has taken hold of Daddy’s body. I send love and light my father’s way praying that pain won’t rule his day. As I lift my gaze I smile, catching sight of Mark and Merrick making their way back to shore after playing in the waves. With the sun behind them and their strides matching, I see a glimpse of Jordan flanking his dad on one side. I smile and cry knowing I’ve conjured up my son and settle into joy and grief housed together.

Getting The Boot

My ankle is officially out of commission for a while. I went to my family physician on Wednesday who took one look at my ankle and said, “I want someone from ortho to take a look at this.” Performing her unique magic, after a phone call she was able to get me in for an appointment an hour later. The ortho doc took x-rays, examined my ankle and prescribed a compression sock to relieve the swelling and one of those boots to keep it immobile. He also scheduled an MRI and wants to see me in 2 weeks. I was a fairly agreeable patient but did tell him, “March 24th is my birthday and my family is headed to Florida for Spring Break. I can’t disappoint them, and we all really need the break.”

He responded with kindness saying, I don’t think that will be a problem, but if it turns out you can’t go, I’m happy to have a little break in Florida.”

We both laughed and then he reassured me that he thought everything would work out fine. I left the hospital trying to learn how to walk in the black clunky boot and remember to, “roll from heel to toe,” as the technician had advised me, even though every step sent daggers through my ankle. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in so much physical pain. I thought back to the first time I had the same problem with my ankle although in a less serious form. It was August of 2008 and Jordan had driven me to the doctor, letting me lean on him as we made our way from the car to the office.

Last night the swirl of Jordan taking me to the doctor back in ’08, having a recurrence of the same ailment and just a few days earlier planning a scholarship fund in his memory became too much. When we sat with the representative from Amherst College talking of our plans for the scholarship we ventured into talk about some of Jordan’s friends and their after college plans. As we talked my discomfort grew. I let Mark engage in conversation and I kept looking at a picture we have in the living room from Jordan’s high school newspaper days taken by his friend Clare. In the photo he’s looking over his shoulder as if someone just called his name and he has that trademark smile on his face.  I kept looking at the picture talking to him in my mind. “Why aren’t you here? I want to tell people what you’ll be doing next year. We’re sitting here planning your memorial fund. Why aren’t you here?”

I made it through the meeting and the kind, young woman who came to meet with us begged me not to get up as she prepared to leave. “Please rest your leg. I hope you feel better soon.” I want to feel better too. Some days I wonder how that will happen. I’m feeling excruciating pain in my ankle and my main thought is, “How can this be? How can I be here hurting, being assured I’ll recover fully and my son didn’t get to live? Jordan took ME to the doctor before and that image is colliding with the sight of this boot on my foot. The physical and emotional pain are so intertwined that they’ve become one.

I continue practicing with the boot, trying to figure the best way to walk with the least amount of pain.

Picture of Jordan we have framed in our living room