Speak his name
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.
From one grieving parent to another
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...
A love Greater than grief
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.