I lost my 24 year old son to a rare and aggressive cancer after a two year fight. During his fight, Jordan wrote a blog to help others facing adversity. I followed his lead and wrote a blog as well to help other mothers going through the loss of a young adult child to cancer because it is so uncommon. I had a very difficult time finding resources to get support after Jordan left for heaven. I have been encouraged by many who read my blog to publish the entries as a book, Only A Mother Knows, because people feel it has a needed purpose and touches their hearts with my way of describing this life I have been through.
Imagine that you are reading a book. Jordan inherited my love of reading. This is one of my favorite views during the summer. He read in the hammock until he needed a nap.
But suddenly a significant person to the story line has a traumatic twist. You are deeply invested in the characters, waiting to see what comes next and how it will all turn out. You turn the page, and mid-paragraph, it abruptly ends.
This is the reality of any grieving parent. I actually have lived two lives. The life I had before my son left for heaven and the life after. This life is not what I thought it would be. Some days it keeps moving forward simply because I wake up in the morning. My heart and chest are heavy. I feel anxious as if I’m about to face something scary. These feelings never go away. They are part of this new life.
My old life is now foreign to me. I remember that life with Jordan living as if he is still here at home. I know I will never get that life back. I am watching it drift away over the horizon.
Every dream for the future included him, being with him as an adult. There were life events that you look ahead to as you raise children. Helping them move out after college to start their lives and careers. Waiting to see them get married. Anticipating them having children. Thinking that when your husband finally retires, we can go visit them and enjoy your grandchildren.
But in one instant, my dreams changed forever. His father and I lost the young man we raised to develop his own life. His sister lost her big brother that she was supposed to share life with as adult siblings. We only had him with us for 24 years. The years that I had him were precious but I had no way of knowing then that they would have to carry me in the future. As parents, we protect our children. We safeguard them in every imaginable way, at the same time never really anticipating that they could be taken from us. And when it happens, we never recover. No matter how many people tell you it will get better, you know that will never be.
Our children aren’t meant to leave us here. But on a sunny warm day in September, that’s exactly what happened. One minute, Jordan was breathing, and the next he wasn’t. I had been reassuring him that he was not alone. I told him I would never stop holding him but that Jesus had to help me, knowing already that this child had been holding onto His hand his entire life. I had prayed, begged and bartered with God for two years as he fought cancer. I had prayed for mercy but now I knew we were given time to prepare for this. I could feel him being gently pulled away by the very hand that formed him. I felt powerless to help him. Over and over, I told him how much I loved him, that he had never quit fighting, but that it was alright to go if God was reaching out for him. I felt his body shift in my arms as he took a breath. I instinctively felt his neck for a heartbeat. I felt the unthinkable happen as I realized that my son had left me. So much had happened over the last week during which I was focused on “taking care of Jordan” like I had been for the previous six weeks while everything changed with his health so fast that it had never registered in my core to prepare myself.
I sat beside his bed replaying scenes of his life through my mind. Watching his chest as he laid so pale and still as if I could will it to rise and fall again. I rubbed his arms and studied his face, taking in every detail as if I could forget. I remember how hard it was to force myself to leave the hospital, even though I knew he wasn’t there; he was with God. For two years, I had left Jordan at the hospital knowing I would be back with him again. I remember riding home and wanting the world to come to a complete stop and acknowledge that a bright light in it had gone out. But it moved as if nothing had happened. I also needed time to catch up with the truth of what I had just been through. I remember walking into my house and saying, “I needed time.” How could I not be going to see Jordan come through that door again? How could I live without him in my world?
In many ways, my grief is still as raw as that day. A piece of my very existence is missing that cannot be replaced. There are memories deep in my soul, yet just under the surface, that can unpredictably bring on a rush of emotions. I see his big brown eyes, the “I’m up to something” smirk, the wide grin, the sound of his voice yelling, “Hey, mom!” A lump forms in my throat as memories well up inside as I am overwhelmed. I struggle to regain my composure, to replace the mask, worn for the world, which has momentarily slipped off.
You’ve never had the breath knocked out of you by a flashback of sitting at your child’s bedside, wishing you could be the one dying because living without your child is worse than dying. Losing your child can’t be put into any context because it is a heartbreak that never ends. Even though meaning well, others think that they can pull you out of it by saying things like “he wouldn’t want you to be sad” or “he would want you to be happy again.” I know my son, and he knew me well enough to know that I would never be the same. He would want me to help others with this pain as he wrote to help others facing adversity during his battle. Parents have to learn how to carry their grief and weave it into this life that they have no choice to be left in. Parents truly cannot put themselves in our shoes because it would be as unbearable as this reality is for us. There is nothing wrong with not “getting over” the loss of your child. It is the worst thing that can happen, and you don’t ever completely heal from that. It is a loss that opens a door to a world that will never fully close again.
Talking about our children. Doing anything to keep the memory of who they were here on this earth “present” is what gives our lives meaning. Don’t try to take that away from us because it is part of therapy for us in grief. If you want to know the right thing to say or do around a parent who has lost a child, try simply saying, “Tell me about him” and then listen. For us, there is no greater gift. I am so thankful for the friends who continue to be with me while understanding that there will always be grieving. Those who let me talk about Jordan even if it is about his struggle and enjoy remembering the times that make me laugh about him.
So in this life, I write. I write about this journey, about him. I write to relieve the build up of emotions inside. I write to honor him. I write so that other parents in the same situation know that they are not alone and that there is a voice out here for them. I write to add to his story that so abruptly ended. Am I capable of doing that really? This is the only answer I have. I must try because …