On April 29, 2020, we lost Jordan, one of my students, to suicide. This was at the very beginning of the pandemic so we were unable to grieve as a music community. He was so many things to all of us. The pain left a lasting stain on our hearts. It made me realize the importance of suicide awareness.
After spending a year in silence after his death, I needed to express my thoughts and emotions in a way that felt true to myself. Running is the way I have coped with things in the past, and running for mental health was the perfect outlet for me.
The past year has been more than challenging as we navigated the loss in an appropriate way. I knew in my gut that I needed to do something to find meaning in this and share his story. I needed to run. That is when I found “Still I Run.”
The Still I Run community has done so much to help with the stigma of mental health for myself and for countless others, it was the perfect choice for my run. I created a fundraising page and was so humbled by the friends and family as well as members of the community that came out to support and show their love for mental health, and for one of the many students who inspire me to be the best teacher I can each and every day.
Originally I had chosen a different event to run in his memory, but after a battle with an injury that hampered my training, I changed gears. I decided to run a 10k as a fundraiser for Still I Run. That was the origin of the 10kforte run.
Where do I even begin….
On the anniversary of his passing I decided to write his mother and father a memory and placed it in their mailbox each morning leading up to the race, his 18th birthday. I shared my time with Jordan and some memories my students shared with me that his mother deserved to know. I had a lot of anxiety doing this because I didn’t want to overstep, but I just needed to do it.
So each night, I took some time to write about my time with Jordan and as each memory went from my mind to the page, I felt the pain I was hiding, instead of confiding with my people, melt away.
I started to feel that I could talk about him and not weep. I wrote his mother and father 10 memories leading up to the 10K and was kind of sad when that moment was over, but grateful for being allowed to be a part of helping them get through this anniversary.
On race day, the forecast called for rain. It rained a year ago on the day he took his life and I remember crying and slowly stepping through Teaneck with no one by my side. I hid for too long with this pain on my brain.
The perfect playlist
I walked that morning to release my anxiety and worked on the perfect playlist to celebrate his memory. I chose his favorite stand tunes, show tunes for the musicals he was a part of, and then threw in some of my favorite songs too.
I had my sister sign his name on the bib (she is so creative and talented). The speaker didn’t work…..that made me upset because I wanted his parents to hear what I put together.
I felt like an imposter
I was so nervous. I felt like an imposter…a fraud….but I needed to do this. As I got out of my car I looked down at the field and saw my student Jack on the track. He always has had my back. It literally felt like it does on that first day of school where us teachers are stewing away so my fears and dreams about the year we are about to experience. I saw him….I felt home…I felt calm…all I needed was that moment.
News 12 NJ showed up and I didn’t want to even think about getting on camera. I needed to get that playlist running. So Jack took the mic and I kept trying as my parents and brother arrived, Jordan’s parents arrived, my students arrived…it took everything in me to not cry immediately. So I did what I needed to do for far too long and held it for a minute or two—I hugged his mother Dara for the first time and began to feel release.
Then, I needed to run.
News 12 got me for 2 minutes and I hated every second of it. It felt icky and sticky, not exactly what I wanted from this moment. All I wanted was to help this mother get through Mother’s Day with memories and support. I aborted the interview and ran through my playlist for my team, handed some triangles to my students. They were instructed to ding for every mile logged.
Mile 1: For Dara Mile 2: For Frank Mile 3: For Alec Mile 4: For Lisa (My student) Mile 5: For Family Mile 6: For Jordan .2 for you out there who need to see this and know you are loved.
My brother and Jack ran next to me for a bit and chatted about Eagle Scout stuff. It was hard running with a mask on and chatting.
Leading up to this I overdid it and injured myself. I used running to cope with the devastating part of losing him. And like any addict, it consumed me. Running was no longer a therapy…it hurt me. So I got help. I went to physical therapy, I did hot yoga, meditation, talked it out, all things I needed to make me ready for this race.
I was so tired, I felt expired, but I needed to do this.
This was the longest I had run in over 2 months. I needed to keep going. By mile 5, the memories came flooding back on that track and as I began mile 5, my phone died so there was no music to back me up. I had to run in the quiet….I had his friend and family, my family to guide me through that last 1.2.
I started thinking and seeing the names of everyone who helped me get to that day. Emotion overwhelmed me and I FINALLY let go of all I was holding on to. As I looked up to the sky, the sun came out and I saw him right there in the clouds above the track where we shared so many memories. I stopped. Dropped….and knew. I finally followed through on a dream I’ve seen in my mind for quite some time.
Being present in that moment
I hugged my brother, his mother, and finally…my students. We told his story. News 12 NJ did a nice job depicting the day but it was nothing like being present in that moment with family and friends.
Remembering his love of puns
His mother gifted me two of his music pun t-shirts and a gift card for a massage. Boy did I need that!!
I cried and smiled remembering when he would wear those and try to trick me and tease me by not filling me in on the pun. We really had so much fun together. I gave his mom the butterfly medal and felt the pedals begin to melt away from my hurt heart.
I passed out “Still I Run” stickers to everyone in attendance, thanked them for their time, and headed on home. I didn’t know how to feel so for the rest of the day. I stayed puzzled inside my mind trying to find the words to describe all that happened.
Fundraising for Still I Run and suicide awareness
In the end, I fundraised over $6200 for Still I Run and shared a memory of Jordan for each donation. I will never stop telling his story and the stories of all my students. We need to be open and real about the way we feel.
The moral of the story? It’s ok to love authentically and openly. It’s ok to be afraid. It’s ok to run your life in a strong way.
Still I Run for Jordan, and anyone who needs a boost, or to you from me.