Twenty Four

11 days from today, Lucas will turn 24. Which means that as of today, and for everyday going forward, he is now older than his brother.

Do you still call yourself “the little brother” when that happens?

The English language seems so limited when it comes to the aftermath of loss; is there another language with a word that better describes a brother-less brother?

 

July 30, 2013 cleaved our life into “before” and “after”. But reaching this particular milestone seems to be creating a new subtext of “things he did” and “things he will never do”. And I am trying to figure out how to navigate through this new mine field; ensuring we celebrate Lucas as he moves through the important stages of his life, while dealing with the painful reality of Jordan being forever 23. 

“We all get stuck in place on occasion. We all move backwards sometimes. Every day we must make the decision to move in the direction of our intentions. Forward is the direction of real life.” (Cheryl Strayed)

 

 

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Milestones and Millstones

I stumbled  through that first year after Jordan’s death one crapversary at a time; his birthday, the start of school, Thanksgiving, Christmas. All the while trying to convince myself that if we could just survive this first year…

But  I came to learn that the year of firsts was only the prelude to “the symphony of unrelenting sorrow that is the year of seconds”. During that first year after your child dies you catch occasional glimpses of what your new life is going to be like, but you are still pretty much anesthetized by  shock. You don’t truly really experience the full impact.

The “lonely year” is how one writer described the second year of grief.  “This “loneliness” has nothing to do with having people around you, it is an intense, interior aloneness.  The second year brings an exhaustion that has nothing to do with getting enough sleep.  The second year is a hard part of the “climb”; hard scrabble terrain, rough, few footholds, and the atmosphere is thin.  The second year is a year of thin patience.” (Terri Jackson)

I discovered that no longer being able to say “this time last year he was here” was a whole new kind of pain and the reality finally began to sink in that this is what the future looks like.

So I accepted that the second year was going to suck too. Understood that I just needed to keep breathing and moving forward to year three and then surely blessed relief would come. But suddenly it was July 30th  and rather than feeling relief I found myself sinking into a black hole.  I couldn’t write, couldn’t get these awful feelings out into the light of day, because I honestly could not understand what was happening to me.

I am so grateful to all those kind hearted souls who encouraged me to keep trying to  find a therapist that worked for me. Because of their dogged faith, in September I tried again and  met an amazing psychologist who is helping me put the pieces together.

At our first session we talked about the fact that I likely suffer from a form of post traumatic stress disorder. That memories of Jordan’s  illness and those painful years of crisis and despair, and the guilt that stems from my  belief that I didn’t do enough or didn’t do it right, grind away at me like millstones.  I also shared that while thankfully they don’t come as often as they once did, I still have flashbacks to that last frantic drive to the hospital – and that when I do, I can still smell the scent of dirt and asphalt and sweat that filled my nose when I gave him his final kiss.

We also talked about some of the milestones that had occurred this year; Lucas turned 23, several of Jordan’s friends graduated or got married.

 And then he asked me the question that brought me to my knees. Are you having any good memories of Jordan? And I said yes, as a matter of fact I was. That in amongst all the bad I find myself remembering so many good moments; like what a good big brother he was.
brothers

And precious moments like the walk we once took on a beach in Australia where the two of us ended up having this deep conversation about life.

beach
 So this is a whole new grief you are experiencing said the wise therapist. You are getting past the memories of his illness and his death and you are now grieving the Jordan that filled your life with love and laughter. You are grieving the loss of all those milestones –  like the fact he won’t ever turn 24 or graduate or have his own family.

It was an enormous relief to see that I wasn’t losing my mind; that this was a normal and expected stage of grief. Don’t get me wrong – it still totally sucks that after 3 years it still hurts so much. But I am feeling hopeful again and it has restored my faith that if just I do the work, I will get through it. And maybe by the time year four rolls around, I will finally find myself in a better place.

“It isn’t for the moment you are struck that you need courage, but for that long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security.” (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

Thirty Years and Counting

 

Oh my – look at these two! Hearts full of love, heads full of hair and eye’s looking to the future they would build together. They had lots of plans and dreams but honestly, they really had no idea what the next 30 years would bring – or how much hard work a good marriage takes.

Greg quickly worked to achieve one of his dreams – building a home for the two of them with his own hands. Lori was less enamored with the idea of spending 8 hours a day at her real job and another 8 or 10 hours working for the world’s crankiest general contractor. It made for a lot of tense conversations and yes, a few scream fests when both were exhausted beyond common sense. But they got through it – even if both of them moved in to the house just to spite the other one – took a few breaths and got past it.

The birth of their kids revealed to them another whole level of joy and love. It also brought it’s share of challenges – no one at the prenatal class ever prepares you for what it feels like when things don’t go as planned and you face surgery, a month in the neonatal unit and several years of specialist appointments. But they got through it – and that tiny baby is now a healthy 23-year-old – took a few breaths and got past it.

They took turns going back to school to pursue a graduate degree and they juggled jobs, and kids and activities and bills. And yes, sometimes it felt like too much to handle, or that the other one wasn’t carrying their load, and they weren’t shy about sharing those feelings! But they got through it – taught their kids the importance of working hard to achieve their goals – took a few breaths and got past it.

They spent half a lifetime in hockey rinks and soccer fields and at track fields cheering the boys on. They built campfires and roasted hotdogs and consumed more S’mores than is healthy or wise. They fished and skied and kayaked and spent lazy days on the boat and late nights on the deck star gazing. They spent time with family and friends and nourished the relationships that become the foundation of a good life. One day they packed up the kids and ran away for six months to New Zealand and Australia and watched the boys grow tall and tanned and independent thanks to heavy doses of sunshine and ocean waves and days of adventure.

The death of their oldest son in 2013, after years of watching him struggle and eventually disappear into a mental illness he did not deserve and could not survive, brought them to a dark place they are still trying to return from. The pain of that loss was compounded by the fact that the person they had always been able to count on for support could not be there for them – as each of them was working desperately just to survive themselves. If you were to ask them, both would tell you that they’re still not through it – but now they are in it together, and they continue to breathe deeply, in the hopes they’ll find a way to get past it.

Marriage can be such hard work – and the hardest part of all is being courageous enough to love someone in the first place. To stick it out past those first heady days of romance and get to the point where you truly begin to know each other. When you discover how they behave when you disappoint them, when they are hurt, when they are sick, when they are under pressure, when the GPS is not directing you in the direction they think it should, or they are worried about money or just really, really hungry! Marriage means pain and sacrifice, and it can severely test your ability to forgive. And there are those few dark moments (and trust me, these two have had them), when you feel like you will never, ever, hate another human being as much as you currently hate your partner. And when that happens all you can do is trust in the truth of the love you felt when you exchanged those vows, and the faith you had that you were meant to spend your lives together. And you close your eyes, and take a deep breath and you know you’ll get past this too. Because in the end, it’s not really about a ceremony or a piece of paper or “some ink stains that have dried upon some line.” It’s about a promise made in your heart to help each other build a life that is deeper and richer and more meaningful than you could ever have achieved alone.

“And there’s not enough chocolate, there’s too many chores.

There’s so many mountains that I haven’t explored.

This is why I need you.

’cause you make the darkness less dark,

You make the edges less sharp,

You make the winter feel warmer.

You make my weakness less weak,

You make the bottom less deep,

You make the waiting feel shorter.

You make my crazy feel normal every time.

You are the who, love is the what, this is the why.”

(Jesse Ruben – This is Why I Love You”)

Home runs and memories…

JLucas

Unlike certain band wagon jumpers in my household, I am a lifelong fan of the Blue Jays and I ensured that my boys were indoctrinated early on.  My mom played ball as a young girl and she made sure we all played while we were growing up; as a result I developed a real love and appreciation for the game. I was 17 when the Blue Jay’s expansion team was created which means I have spent my entire adult life cheering them on.  I remember watching their first really successful season from the student lounge at SIAST. The last time we won the series I cheered from my rocking chair – baby Lucas in my arms.

Last night’s seventh inning was amazing. Unfortunately Lucas was sitting in a classroom battling a rather brutal midterm. Niko the good luck charm kept me company, barking enthusiastically whenever I yelled,  but it was impossible to watch the game and not think of Jordan – I miss my fellow  sports fan.

“The night the Blue Jays won the pennant

I was sitting in the second row

I thought of you all throughout the game

How we’d curl up on the sofa on a Friday night

And holler at the players like they could hear what we were saying”

Bruce Guthro (Falling)

Another year

August 11, 1989 began with a  gush of warm fluid, pulling me from my sleep and prompting a tug on Greg’s arm and the panicked pronouncement that “something is coming out of me”. Greg – deep in his own sleep – came awake with a mumbled “You mean like an Alien?” How wrong we both were; who would have expected the stubborn creature I had been so carefully nurturing for the last nine months would spend the next 24 hours just flat out refusing to make his entrance.

It was a perfect August day – blue sky, temperatures reaching 32 degrees, a small cell like room with no air conditioning. No anesthetists on call – therefore no hope of an epidural. Sucking on the canister of laughing gas until I was sure I would collapse my nasal passages with the force of my in breath.

Baby stubbornly sitting on my spine with his shoulders turned. Agonizing back pain. Crouching on the bed on all fours in the hopes he would drop off the spine and turn. Feet turning purple as the circulation to my feet was blocked.

Steaming hot labour room. Red face. Sweat dripping from every inch of skin. Greg gently pressing a wash cloth to my brow only to have me snatch it, mop the streaming sweat off my face, and then slap him with the cloth snarling “That’s how you wipe a damn face”. Dr. G telling Greg not to take it personally – it was just the pain talking.

Finally in the delivery room. Feet up in stirrups. Greg at my feet watching with horror as the doctor braced her own feet up on the stirrups and pulled forcfully and unsuccessfully, first with forceps and then with a suction machine.

Watching the clock tick towards dawn of August 12th. Weeping softly, exhausted, certain I was never going to be able to deliver this baby. The sudden presence of an angel in white with the voice of a football coach who bellowed “It is time to get this baby out of there” and with that the angel wrapped her arm around my shoulder, lifted me up and forward and yelled “PUSH!!!” And just like that (surely she had called upon some primal source of magic) Jordan slipped out and into our lives.

baby

Sometime later, lying in my bed, staring in wonder at this beautiful creature with his downy head and his brilliant blue eyes, the spitting image of his father. Marveling at his perfection; certain he was destined for an amazing life and completely terrified that we were not up to the job of being his parents.

Jordan Conley Chartier. August 12, 1989 – July 30, 2013. Both his arrival and his departure from this world came wrapped in pain. But the joy and the pride and the immeasurable love that the years in between provided is what continues to hold my shattered heart together.

Happy Birthday my beautiful beautiful boy.

Jordan

 

One Night Many Voices

photoThe crows pulled me out of bed early Saturday morning. One particularly annoying one appeared to follow me to Tim Horton’s as I headed out to forage for a desperately needed cup of coffee. He parked himself on the grass beside the drive through and cawed incessantly at Niko who just stared back – likely thinking “Leave me alone man, if I bark I won’t get a donut”.

How appropriate to have the crows calling to me bright and early –  recovering from the intense emotional outpouring we experienced Friday night felt a lot like the day after Jordan’s funeral. So many people approached Greg and I at the event – thanking us for sharing Jordan’s story, sharing their own personal struggles, telling us we had forever changed their view of mental illness. Complete strangers – who wrapped their arms around us for a hug and shared such deeply personal stories.

The One Voice event was remarkable, amazing, more than we had hoped for and I am struggling to find the right words to  describe it.

The showing of the documentary “Somewhere in Mind” left us as feeling pretty vulnerable. We were still so raw and the loss was still so new when we filmed it –  it’s frankly pretty hard to watch. Michael Landsberg had the daunting task of taking the stage right after the video played and he did an amazing job of segueing from tragedy to hope and he set the tone for the remainder of the evening. “Share your story. You will change someone’s life.”

So many people approached us later to describe the profound conversations they experienced over dinner – colleagues and strangers sharing their experiences with mental health, talking about the need to remove the stigma, to increase the research into new approaches to treatment.

To be given the opportunity to hear Michael tell his story and share the impact he has had on others. To be able to listen to Kelly Hrudy’s daughter Kaitlin share her struggles with OCD and anxiety and watching the pride and love on her Dad’s face as she did so. To be given the gift of listening to Clara Hughes in person and to have her share a deeply personal story she had never shared publicly before because she was inspired by our courage.

The best gift of all though was connecting with Jordan’s friends – who took the time to tell me what they remembered most about Jordan, what they admired best, and to tell me that they missed him and would not forget him. There are no sweeter words to a grieving mother’s ears.

Something magical happened Friday night – it feels like we are at the tipping point of a transformational change. Our goal has always been to have Jordan’s life and Jordan’s death inspire others to make a difference in how mental illness is viewed and treated. Jordan’s struggle and our aching loss now have some meaning. And we recognize that the focus needs to shift from inspiration to hope. Two years from now, at the next One Voice event, we won’t be focused on Jordan’s story – instead another young, talented, handsome young man will tell the story of his mental illness and how being part of the Neural Health project is helping him live successfully with his disease.

One Voice logo

 “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)

All You Need Is Love

After a year of planning, the One Voice event in support of the Neural Health Project is about to kick off. Between that and the ball tournament last weekend, emotions have been running pretty high at our house and Jordan is constantly on our minds. It’s bittersweet – we are so honoured to have him be the catalyst for this initiative yet it brings the sorrow back with a vengeance. And you always wonder – What would Jordan think of all this?

Here are two things you need to remember about Jordan – one of his favourite shirts says “All You Need is Love” and his favourite dog park was Sutherland Beach. Greg took Niko for a long walk in that park today and was stopped dead in his tracks by what he found in the trees. I’d say that’s a pretty positive sign – literally and figuratively. Love lives on.