by Liz Johnston
Imagine if we knew ahead of time, exactly how and when we’d die. How would that change the way that we live? The choices we’d make? Imagine if we knew, at the moment our picture was being snapped, that that would eventually be the image our family would choose for our obituary, prayer card or funeral program. What would that feel like? Too morbid to ponder? Maybe.
But when left with the reality of your son’s life cut short at 24, you do a lot of such pondering. When did he actually get sick? What could I have done differently? Did he have a good life? Was I a good enough mother? Did I do anything to cause this? I suppose on one level, the answers don’t matter any more. I can’t go back. The only thing I know for sure, without a shred of doubt, is that Jordan always knew he was loved, is loved, and by so many people.
Since Jordan has left this earth, I have gotten 10 tattoos in his honor. I am averaging about 1 per month at this pace. Sorry mom, I know they bother you. Sorry hubby, I know you don’t care for them either. But as any tattoo artist can attest to, getting tattooed can be therapeutic for some people. It certainly does not change your situation or make your pain go away. But it feels good to physically and permanently honor what’s in your heart. And however twisted it may sound, sometimes I seek the physical pain of a tattoo needle to dull the pain in my chest.
Tattoos are healing in the sense that whatever it is you are trying to feel, convey, remember, honor, reclaim.... you wear it. Forever. For me, it’s an unwavering, undefinable, undying love for Jordan that I hold in my heart and wear on my sleeves (and chest and wrist). The beautiful name we gave him, his notoriously small and scratchy handwriting, his football numbers, his coaching whistle from Diege, the anchor he and his Rhody brothers wore on their uniforms, a football, his birthdate next to “No Ordinary Love,” the beautiful poem my brother wrote about Jordan’s many tattoos. And lastly, the small heart he colored and message he misspelled from a mother’s day card many years ago. They all capture a part of him, a moment in time, or something that is signature Jordan, but mostly, they are all pictures of a love I can’t describe in words.
I’m grateful I didn’t know, at the time he gave the card to me, that I’d eventually feel the need to wear that like a tattoo. I’m glad I didn’t know ahead of time that one day I’d desire the pain of the needle just to quell the pain in my heart. When I look at pictures of myself from the past, I note the blank canvas that is my skin, with a sigh, and wonder if I’d have so many tattoos if he were still here. Doesn’t matter; he’s not. When I look at pictures of him from the past, I wonder, with a shudder, if he was already sick, and if I’d only known......but then I have to stop. It’s too much. And it doesn’t matter now.
I can’t change the past. And I’m glad I can’t see the future. But my love for Jordan, well, that’s the past, the present, the future, all of eternity and probably even of past lives. There’s no beginning and no end to a love like that. Which is why I wear it like a tattoo.