by Liz Johnston
Last night, during a FaceTime phone call with my sweet young nephews in Ohio, one of them asked where Uncle Manny was. The other one started to ask for cousin Jordan. Realizing what just happened, he started to cry. I told him it was okay to ask about Jordan. Even though he isn't here. And that it's ok to cry because we all miss Jordan. It was such a raw, honest, sad moment. But I really appreciated him asking. It's hard to explain, but I'll take moments like this everyday over avoidance.
Since losing Jordan I have read many books on grief. As if somehow, reading enough pages, I might find the key to coping with this insidious pain. Nope. There's no key. No magic formula. You just endure. In one of those books, I think it was Joe Biden's, I read that the second year after losing a child is harder than the first. At the time I couldn't imagine anything worse than the pain of watching your child die, or the agonizing reality that your child doesn't get to live out his dreams.
But as time passes, and the support team you had behind you fades into the background, and people stop talking about that one person you love more than anyone in the world, and everyone close or distant gets back to life, and you realize that there's the potential to live another 50 years in this heartache, it becomes easier to understand how year two could hurt even more.
Having overdosed on grief books, I just finished reading "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@*%#." According to its author, I am not unique. I am not special. I do not own the rights to this level of sadness. There are many of us out there. And I know a few of them. They too have lost children and they too manage to walk this earth with their hearts ripped out.
If you know any of them, reach out. Call. FaceTime. Ask how they're doing. See what they need. Talk about their children. Be patient with them. Try your best not to share your horror story comparisons of grief as an attempt at compassion. Just be there. Listen. Witness. Share time. There is little you can say to make them feel better, but avoidance is worse.
I realize that my use of the 3rd person in the paragraph above is about my inability to be direct. So I'll try here. I need you to know that although I smile, laugh, travel, work, write, exercise, and outwardly do all the other stuff of life, inside I am reeling. Every single day. It's a duality that's hard to describe. I have to work at surviving. Even during the most pleasant, fun, rewarding aspects of life, I am in pain. I can't teach a class, run with friends, play with my puppy or even read a book without thinking of Jordan. And I don't want to. He is part of me. Always.
Anyway, back to this book about giving a fuck--according to it, we are all responsible for what happens to us and for how we respond. That is not to say Jordan's death was my fault. Fault is in the past. Responsibility is the present. While I am asking for support, I am the one responsible for living my life as best I can. I alone can choose how to respond to this tragedy. I alone can choose to seek joy, even when I am in pain. Which is always. But even in pain, I can be powerful.
I question my own motives for writing this today. Perhaps it's guilt for being on vacation and being able to smile at the sunset or laugh with my husband. Perhaps it's going back to school that's looming....wanting my colleagues to understand what I endure every minute of every day instead of judging me for taking days off.
Perhaps it's the reality that my incoming students and all thereafter will never know Jordan, or just the passage of time in general. Perhaps it's the emptiness of the first football season without Jordan and all the accompanying pictures of other people's children that flood my timeline. Perhaps it's the anticipation of pain that the second year without him will inevitably bring.
I don't really know. Maybe it's all the above. Maybe I don't need a motive to write. It's just where I am in this moment. Thanks for sharing it with me (if you made it this far).