by Liz Johnston
What’s your story? I’m curious. Why are you alone at the edge of this pool on Christmas morning? When you complained about the reggae playing loudly over the speaker instead of Christmas carols, I detected a Massachusetts accent. So what brings you to Florida? And why are you alone at the holiday?
We all have our stories. I just didn’t have the courage to ask about yours in person--for fear I’d make you sad about it. Same way I was glad you didn’t ask about mine. Instead we just wished each other a Merry Christmas. Which couldn’t be further from reality. Nothing merry here today.
I am here today because I lost my son Jordan in October. I knew I wouldn’t be able to outrun my grief. I’ve tried. It follows me. Just like the holidays do. Halloween crept up behind me without notice and Thanksgiving rushed in soon after. So I don’t know why I thought Christmas might hold off without Jordan. But back at home, the snow fell, the family gathered, the presents flowed, and dinner was eaten. All without him. I’ll never understand how.
I’m sure you know the old adage. Time marches on. It waits for no one. So no matter where I go, here I am--knee deep in sadness. But my sadness is a reflection of my love. And that love is my story. The story of extraordinary love between mother and son. But I’m still glad you didn’t ask. Because today I just wanted to pretend that somehow my story had a different ending.
There are others gathered at the pool now. They have stories too. But I won’t ask about them--just in case they are trying to outrun their sadness, hide from the holidays or pretend--if only for a moment. No, Instead, I will imagine their stories. I will pretend to know what they carry in their hearts. And because of the possibilities, I will wish them a happy holiday; I will be kind. Always kind.
by Craig Sebastian
I've been told, that in time, something good will come from the passing of my son JORDAN WILLIAM SEBASTIAN. For the most part, I agree with that sentiment.
I've been told, that the memorial service held for my son, JORDAN, was the largest, most beautiful and heartfelt memorial service they've ever attended.
I've been told, by some parents who attended the memorial service held for my son, JORDAN, that it made them go home, hug and kiss their own children and tell them how much they loved their children. In turn, they vowed to better parents.
I've been told, that the memorial service held for my son JORDAN, made people reevaluate THEIR OWN LIVES, it made some people UNDERSTAND WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT IN LIFE.
I've been told that "because of your son JORDAN, I'm no longer taking anything for granted, I will learn to DOMINATE THE DAY each and every day."
I've LEARNED that SO MANY PEOPLE, FAMILY, FRIENDS, CO-WORKERS & ACQUAINTANCES ARE GENUINELY CONCERNED FOR MY FAMILY AND I. There are some people who I wouldn't have imagined would be so very encouraging and THOUGHTFUL.
I've LEARNED that there are MANY SIGNS, REMINDERS If you will, that MY SON JORDAN is CONSTANTLY with me.
I've LEARNED that no matter how much time has passed, how busy I TRY to be, nothing will occupy this EMPTINESS, NOTHING will fill the VOID which resides in my chest.
I've LEARNED from my son JORDAN, never be too busy to receive the DAILY GOSPEL!
I've come to the conclusion that GOD had a plan for my son JORDAN. I'm not 100% sure exactly what it is, but I’ve LEARNED not to QUESTION GOD.
by Liz Johnston
This was taken on October 19th, 2017. The evening Jordan passed away.
Photo Credit: Roberta Esposito
Sade’s album, Love Deluxe, was chosen to play repeatedly at Jordan’s services. The album was released in 1992 and was a favorite of mine while I was pregnant with him. I played it on repeat in my car and every time the song “No Ordinary Love” came on, Jordan would kick away in my belly. I don’t know if it was the heavy baseline or just a coincidence, but he always kicked when that song was played.
Fast forward 20 something years to Jordan and I sitting in another car together after a URI football loss. He was extra upset on this particular day as the losses were beginning to weigh heavily on him. After games we would grab a meal together before I’d head for home, but on this day, he needed to sit for a bit first.
He turned to me and said, “Mom, I’m going to play something for you,” as he connected his phone to the bluetooth. “It helps me to relax or feel better when I’m down.” To my amazement he played the same Sade album. I don’t think he ever knew how special it was to me. Jordan definitely had a thing for 90’s music--but this seemed serendipitous. It was such a beautiful moment. A reminder that we were so connected--by love, by music, by distant memories of both. Who knows.
Sometimes God gives you signs. This moment was one of those signs for us, and this album continues to be a sign, a memory and a message for me. There are the obvious messages within, like “Cherish the Day.” I am trying. On the days that life seems pointless without him, I remind myself that I need to cherish the life that he can’t live. Cherish my days here on earth until I can see him again.
And there’s “No Ordinary Love” which has become our mantra, the sound track of our life together, if you will. A symbol of our extraordinary relationship. I remember running one day, listening to Sade and hearing the lyrics “When you came my way, you brightened everyday, with your sweet smile....” And I thought, this is so true. My life began, my life made sense and made me smile-- once he was born. I told him about this realization when I got home from my run. He just said “Aw, thanks, Ma.”
Sometimes I see pictures of him that I just have to post and I caption them with the lyrics “I couldn’t love you more, if time was running out,” self-explanatory and true until the end of time. There is no way I could love him more. No way I could love anyone as I do him. Maybe that’s why I never had other kids of my own. I loved him too much to have room. And the song “Kiss of Life” reminds me that “there must have been an angel by my side, something heavenly led me to you.” I believe this. I was chosen to be his mother, we were chosen to be together by something heavenly.
I believe in signs. The significance of this album is one of them. It is the reason I played it on loop for two hours at his memorial service. It is the reason I play it on purpose to feel close to him. And when I am feeling my worst, my saddest, my loneliest, Sade always randomly comes on in the car, store or restaurant--wherever I happen to be in that moment. It is a sign. I know it. And I am reminded of his love, reminded of his presence, reminded of our irreplaceable bond. And I am reminded to “look at the sky; it’s the color of love.”
By Liz Johnston
I am that person no one wants to be. I am the one they whisper about....“that woman that lost her only child.” I am the reminder, the measuring stick by which you count your blessings. I am the one living the absolute worst nightmare of most. And it is easy to see why. It is easy to look at me and see loss. It is easy to look at me and feel terrified and helpless. It is easy to look at me and know sorrow and pain. All of that is completely understandable.
But there is another way to look at things. I am the one that got to be the mother of Jordan William Sebastian. I am the one God picked to be his mother. I am the one Jordan picked to be his mama. I am the one that had the privilege and the joy of spending my days with that beautiful soul. I am the one that got to see him grow, and learn, and flourish. I am the woman whose son made her proud every moment of his life. I am the mom whose son loved having her around--even through his teen years. I am the woman he admired most. I am the recipient of his unconditional, unwavering, fierce, undying love. And love, love is everything.
Listen, I would give my life in the quickest heartbeat if it meant Jordan could live longer. And I’m not saying that I am happy about my circumstances. What I am saying is this-- I will choose a life of gratitude over misery. I will choose a life of gratitude over pity. I will continue to consider myself blessed to call Jordan mine.
I will always be sad. Every. Single. Day. But my gratitude is greater than my sadness. And that is how you dominate the day. Every day that you are granted.
Thank you for the love, Jordan. I will always be grateful for our life together.
This week I’ve had to contend with several significant firsts and lasts. For example, I attended what was likely to be the last Hopkins football banquet for me. It was a moving tribute to the seniors of team 145 who had lost their beloved Coach Sebastian. The same coach who’d earned the season’s first RELENTLESS award for powering through practices and games while terribly ill.
At the banquet the seniors honored Jordan’s father and I with the last RELENTLESS award of the season. Presented with signed game footballs from their last win. Jordan certainly deserved the award more, but our award was a reminder that we will have to be relentless forever to live in this pain, and certainly to accomplish our goals in honor of Jordan’s legacy.
Also significant-- this was the first time I have ever decorated a grave site for Christmas. While my husband and I have decided to just ignore Christmas altogether, I still felt that Jordan’s stone needed to be honored with some holiday cheer. I went there and raked the leaves, selected special Christmas ornaments from his childhood and then arranged them within the greens I’d purchased. It seemed silly at first, “holiday cheer” when he can’t be here to celebrate. And who benefits from cheer at the cemetery anyway?
But it’s my first holiday without him, and that means I don’t really know what is right, what will feel good, or what to do. I just wanted it to look nice; I wanted Jordan to to feel included and know he’ll always be important and remembered. And I wanted those who pass his stone to say “he is loved; he is cared for.”
The first time Christmas decorating this way naturally makes me recall the last Christmas he was alive. And today--I can’t even go there. A series of firsts and lasts. I’m pretty sure the rest of my life will be marked and measured this way.
The last time we'd all pick out a Christmas tree together.........
by Jalen Hoskie
A Scar Heals This WoundIt is said h your heart, your world ripped away from you with no
It is said that time heals all wounds, but losing a brother is much more than an ordinary wound. It’s having part of your heart, your world, ripped away from you with no explanation or understanding of why. A wound that lies directly on your heart, cracking and being irritated with every inhale and exhale. Not to mention I have always been one to pick at my scabs, prolonging the healing of any wound. And this one for sure is continuously being picked at remembering every moment that we shared together and thinking about every memory that was stripped from us. So how does this wound heal if I won’t let it, if I keep picking at it?
I realize a wound like this is never meant to heal fully or properly, a wound like this will always leave a mark, a scar. Not the kind of scar you continuously rub cocoa butter on and in a few weeks it fades, i’m talking open heart surgery scar right down the center of your torso scar. That is the kind of scar, the kind mark this is leaving on my life.
But this scar is far from formed, getting picked at every second of every day. Ordering Caramel frappuccinos instead of my daily coffee. Hearing songs like “ back that thing up” And somehow uncontrollably breaking down thinking of you. Thinking of every fadeaway you ever hit off of one of my assist. Talks around the dinner table where me and you fed off of each other like two comedic geniuses. And then of course the countless memories throughout college. This list can go as long as I let it. Then I think about all of the memories that were stripped from us, and all of the memories I now have to create without you. We were supposed to tear up that JCC 30 and older league. The thought that I will never pass you the basketball again sends a cold drift through my body that temporarily paralyzes me. The thought that we will never sit around the dinner table with our children and share stories about when we were their age sends a fiery rage through my body that causes vibrations only video game controllers can relate to. So how does this scar form if it remains so fresh, so irritated, so picked at?
I believe this scar will form by our family and friends continuously coming together and continuously speaking your name, and all memories shared with you. Keeping your memory alive and well, continuing your legacy. Ensuring you are remembered for the positivity, the love, the dominance, the joy, the empathy, the strength, the relentlessness, the power, the wisdom, the swag, need I go on? Rather than the sadness and heartbreak that consumes us now and will realistically be with us forever forever. Learning to live with the pain through the strength of you and the collected strength of others who are enduring this pain, only then when all of this comes together like the white blood cells in the body can the scab heal and let the scar form.
So this big nasty scar that’ll be left behind from this “wound,” what will it represent? What will be this scar's story? It will represent the memory of you. The scar is permanent, a part of me, as are you Jordan. It will be a constant reminder that you are here for me, and with me every day. It will be a reminder to appreciate the little victories. For every day that the Lord grants me, to dominate it relentlessly with maximum effort. A reminder to be kind, loving, and honest. A reminder to live in a way that will make you proud. A reminder to be my best self at all times, and encouraging and inspiring others around me to do the same. Help live out your dream and carry on your legacy to the best of my abilities. Wounds like this are never meant to truly heal, they are forever a part of you, a mark, a scar, to stand for whatever you let it. There is a story behind every scar. The story behind my scar, they are going to say a genius wrote it... or understanding of why. A wound that lies directly on your heart, cracking and being irritated with every inhale of o are enduring this pain, only then when all of this comes together like the white blood cells in the body can the scab heal and let the scar form. So this big nasty scar that’ll be left behind from this “wound,” what will it represent? What will be this scars story? It will represent the memory of you. The scar is permanent, a part of me, as are you Jordan. It will be a constant reminder that you are here for me, and with me every day. It will be a reminder to appreciate the little victories. For every day that the Lord grants me, dominate it relentlessly with maximum effort. A reminder to be kind, loving, and honest. A reminder to live in a way that will make you proud. A reminder to be my best self at all times, and encouraging and inspiring others around me to do the same. Help live out your dream and carry on your legacy to the best of my abilities. No amount of indefinite continued progress of existence can heal this wound. Wounds like this are never meant to truly heal, they are forever a part of you, a Mark, a scar, to stand for whatever you let it. There is a story behind every scar.The story behind my scar, they are going to say a genius wrote it...
by Liz Johnston
This piece is bound to be all over the place, as are my thoughts and feelings these days, but such is the nature of grief. Today marks the 10 year anniversary of my father’s death. At the time, I thought I had lived through my worst nightmare. Little did I know that 10 years later, I would lose my son, Jordan, to the same wretched disease. I have had my heart torn out. Twice. And have lived to tell about it. Somedays I wish I hadn’t. And most days I believe that I need to cherish life--the same one that they no longer get to live. Both my father and son would want that for me.
Despite this devastating loss, or perhaps more accurately, because of this devastating loss, people can be weird around me. To be fair, most of my friends and family have been amazing. I’ve had friends who cook meals, do laundry, clean our house, grocery shop, or spend the day just sitting on the couch with me. I have family members that have held me, wept with me, encouraged me to get outside or go punch a speed bag; I’ve even had family come and clear out all medical supplies in hopes of eradicating some of our most painful memories.
But there are some people who can’t look at me, at us, at this unspeakable pain. And somehow, that avoidance adds to the pain. They don’t mean to hurt us; in fact they are probably trying not to hurt us. Some friends--the same who called incessantly during Jordan’s illness, don’t call at all any more. Other friends call to apologize for not being around, stating: “I know you are just inundated, so I don’t want to bother you.” Some family can’t look me in the eye, can’t tell me how sorry they are, and certainly can’t talk to me about losing Jordan. It is easier, after all, to talk about travel plans, the weather, or when I might be returning to work. None of which I care about right now. I am not trying to publicly shame anyone. I’m really not. Rather, I want to let people in. Grief is a lonely place. And even the clumsiest of company is --well, company.
I’ve been reading book after book on grief to feel less alone. In the one I just finished, there was a line that both struck me in the heart and punched me in the gut: “When a parent dies, we lose a part of our past; when a child dies, we lose a part of our future. Well I’ve lost both. My past and my future. At least significant parts of each. For this reason, I need to keep their memories alive. For this reason, I need my friends and family to call me, to look me in the eye, to share their pictures and tell their stories, to ask how I am feeling and how I am faring. Don’t be afraid of my reaction. I might cry. I might not. Just know this, I will never be tired of hearing about my dad or my son. Also know this, just because you don’t speak of them, doesn’t mean I’m not aching. Most importantly, know this: No parent that has lost a child wants you to forget. Our kids matter. They are part of us. We still want to talk and hear about them. I want you to speak his name: Jordan William Sebastian.
So, as promised, I am all over the place. But to rein this in and make my point, if you have loved ones who are grieving, don’t stay away, don’t ignore the elephant in the room, don’t avoid making eye contact, don’t change the subject. Instead, make the call, spend some time, look at their pain directly, cry with them. The tiniest measure of compassion matters more than you could know. Trust me. I know.
by Craig Sebastian
Do you shed tears every day? The reason I ask is because, like you, I'm new to this whole grieving process. At times I find myself not able to cope with the easiest of tasks. There are other times when I simply can't muster up the energy to get into the shower.
Then there’s that uneasy feeling I get when I run into a friend that knows me-- and Jordan. The look on that person's face instantly makes me transition into almost another person, trying to ACT as if EVERYTHING IS GOOD. Then there are the times when a song comes on that reminds me instantly of my precious child, and then the tears well up and fill my eye-sockets. Or a picture pops up on my Facebook timeline and AGAIN I am reminded that my pain is STILL in control of my emotions.
It's not always bad when the tears stream down my face; there have been some tears of joy as well. Remembering some of our silly, funny times we shared. The tears are, in my opinion, reminding me EXACTLY HOW MUCH LOVE I HAVE FOR MY JORDAN.
I keep hearing people say it gets EASIER in time. For me that statement is quite the contrary to how I feel. I miss my boy and the tears are a reminder of how special he is to me. I can't even finish writing anymore because of the tears running down my face...
by Liz Johnston
How do you Dominate the Day when you feel like you're dying inside? Perhaps this isn’t the most uplifting question for the first blog entry of our new website, but it is the reality of my duality these days: living with a broken heart, but still living. Another duality, I don't look like what I'm going through to others. While I spend my entire day stuck at the airport trying to get to my family for Thanksgiving, I look okay. I showered, did my hair, put on make up, dressed for the occasion. I am functioning okay. I drove myself here, got to long term parking, made it through security, didn’t throttle the woman who told me my flight was cancelled. But inside, I feel like I’m dying. I ache for the one family member I won’t ever see at the Thanksgiving table again. My beautiful son, Jordan.
For me, in these early stages, grief is a physical pain. Sometimes I feel it in my head--a swimmy, panicky sensation that makes me almost confused; other times I feel it in my limbs, a heaviness that slows me down; most often I feel it clawing from inside my chest--making my breath jagged and short. Grief can ambush you in the stealthiest of sneak attacks, it can overwhelm you like a tidal wave--washing over without warning, or it can whisper and pull at you softly--even in your precious few moments of joy. It varies, but man, it hurts.
In my time at the airport today, my grief has gnawed at me quietly, but incessantly as I travel by myself-- watching parents entertain their rambunctious children while we all wait for the next available flight. Longing for the days when Jordan was literally by my side--I am struck by this question: how can I possibly dominate the day, in spite of my grief? I suppose, on one level, the fact that I look okay, the fact that I am functioning okay, is already a version of dominating my sucky new reality. Probably more so than most would expect of a woman who’s just lost her only child. But maybe the question I should really be asking myself is how do I dominate the day to honor my grief?
My answer is this: I will speak Jordan’s name; I will look at pictures of my beautiful boy, I will tell stories of him; I will remember him; I will make others remember; I will thank God for his life; I will cherish our time together and all the memories; I will get on this plane; I will enjoy the holiday; I will eat the foods he loved; I will publish this blog post in hopes that others who are grieving Jordan’s death (or any other loss) will feel something with me; I will continue to work with others on the Dominate the Day Foundation; I will carry on. It doesn’t mean I won’t miss my son--it just means that I will learn to harness every ounce of this pain and eventually convert it into something powerful.
I cannot promise myself or anyone else that I won’t break down. In fact I expect that I will. I expect that this, my first real holiday without Jordan, will be prime time for pain, panicking, ambush sneak attacks, tidal waves and whispers of grief. But my grief, my enormous grief--is dwarfed by the love Jordan and I share. Will always share. And that is a gift to be thankful for. That love will get me through these early stages and allow me to Dominate the Day, in spite of, and in honor of, my grief.