There are so many gifts you can give a grieving parent: a story, a memory, a smile, a hug, a picture, all reminders of their love for the person they’ve lost.
Lately I have been showered with gifts. Last week I received an email from a high school teammate of Jordan’s. In it he shared a hilarious anecdote about Jordan daring him to grow a neck beard (sounds like my son). He also shared openly about how Jordan changed the way he’ll live his life. “When people ask….I will stick my chest out with pride as I tell them about my teammate Jordan Sebastian, what an honor it was…..we are all better for having Jordan in our lives for however short a time.” These words—this letter—like others—a precious gift.
Yesterday a colleague offered to share a folder of pictures she’d taken and saved of Jordan when he was a middle school student here. (It is also a gift to work at his alma mater where my colleagues knew and love him.) She asked with trepidation if I would like to have the pictures, probably for fear that she’d sadden me. But pictures of Jordan—especially those I haven’t seen—are nothing but a gift.
Last week I got a phone call from one of the Deans at Western Kentucky University where Jordan was doing his masters work in Sports Administration. After offering his condolences and conveying how highly regarded Jordan was by the entire faculty, he shared the news with me. Jordan is posthumously being awarded his master’s degree. The dean also asked if I would like to attend the celebration to accept Jordan’s diploma for him-- as his name will be read at graduation. Naturally, being a proud but grieving mom, I burst into tears, barely able to finish the conversation. I was so grateful, but I wondered, what’s the point of a posthumous degree anyway? He can’t use it. He can’t frame it. He can’t add it to his resume or hang it on his wall.
But I can. We all can. This too is a gift.
We can all take that diploma and frame it in our minds to bring into focus the struggle of others. We can all use that degree, adding it to our metaphoric resume of things that inspire us. We can all hang it on the walls of our heart to remind us to have hope in the darkest of times. Jordan scheduled new classes, worked on projects and papers, read countless textbooks and articles—even from the hospital, at a time when he was fighting for his life and feeling like shit. If that type of relentless dedication doesn’t deserve a master’s degree—then I have no idea what does.
Jordan’s degree is a symbol of passion, hard work, self-pride and hope. It is a gift I will cherish forever. I know Jordan is proud. As am I. We all are. That is the point of a posthumous degree.
Nothing in my life matters anymore. Jordan was my motivation for everything. I worked hard to provide for him; I lived better because he was watching; he motivated me to be my best self and I wanted the best world for him-- now now he’s gone.
On the other hand, everything matters— matters with urgency and matters exponentially more than before. Every second is precious, every experience to be cherished, and each opportunity golden. How is it possible to live in both of these realities?
I’m not sure. But I am.
I am angry that people have seemingly moved on. That they have the luxury to do so. That they are back to business as usual and that I am so alone is this sadness.
On the other hand, I am so grateful that the people I love are able to be happy. Changed forever, but happy. Why shouldn’t they be? Life does go on. People are resilient. Myself included. Only difference is—I will never move on.
Monday, I visited the cemetery on my way to work. I never go in the morning, but felt compelled to. I watched myself from the outside--as if in a dream state. I felt sorry for this mom, on that foggy morning. Leaving the only set of footprints in the snow before she knelt for a while. And I thought, for everyone who did not have to start their morning here, today is a good day.
Ironically, after my visit to Jordan’s grave, I too had a good day.
I’m not sure why. But I did.