About Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective

My name is Becky Carney. My husband, Joe, and I have been married for 37 years. We have two living children, Eric (34) and Jenna (29). We lost a baby in utero at 19 weeks in 1987. In 2002, our middle son, Jason (19), and his best friend, Alina (20), were broadsided by a drunk driver who was going at least twice the speed limit. They both died instantly. This blog is written from my perspective as a bereaved parent. I don't claim to know what it's like to walk in anyone else's shoes. Each situation is different; each person is different. Everyone handles grief differently. But if I can create any degree of understanding of what it's like to be a parent who has lost a child, then I have succeeded in my reason for writing this blog.

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

 

Growing up as a preacher’s kid, Christmas was all about the birth of Christ and there was no focus on Santa whatsoever. We, as kids, knew that some kids truly believed Santa (Saint Nicholas) landed on the roof top in his sleigh and came down the chimney, delivered their presents and filled all the stockings. But, to us, Santa was a story of a man in a red suit who represented a nice concept of giving at Christmas. That was it. To our family, Christmas was all about Jesus being born in a manager.

imagesMy husband’s family, on the other hand, did the whole Santa thing. When we got married, Joe firmly told me that, when we had kids, we would NOT allow Santa to be the focus our Christmases. He said that he felt betrayed and lied to by his parents when he found out that his parents bought the gifts and that they were not delivered by Santa.  He couldn’t understand how they could lie to him like that. He felt like he was supposed to be able to trust that his parents, of all people, would be honest with him! It was a traumatic experience for him as a little kid.

It is kind of creepy, if you think about it. You’re told a man in a red suit is watching you all the time. He knows what you’re doing. Your parents lie to you and use it to control your behavior at Christmas. Just my opinion. I guess I never understood the fascination with Santa.

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
He’s gonna find out
Who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake…

Christmas Carols – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town Lyrics | MetroLyrics

When Eric was a baby, though, we were given a stocking for him that had been hand-made by a family member. It was cute and thoughtfully given, so we bought stockings for rest of us to up as decorations. We decided they would be a good place to hold fun little gifts for each other, and they became a part of our holiday tradition. A few years later, my sister gave beautifully hand-made stockings for each of us and we put them up every year. Finding little “stocking stuffers” to put in each other’s stockings became part of our Christmas tradition. It was the fun way we ended our Christmas Day celebration every year by “opening” our stockings, stuffed to the top with fun little gifts, all at the same time. A Christmas tradition.

As I said in my previous post, that first Christmas after Jason died was so hard. As I sat on the family room floor, crying while surrounded by Christmas decorations, I truly didn’t know how we were going to celebrate Christmas without Jason. I couldn’t even get the decorations on the tree because I was so raw with the pain of missing Jason. I could barely function that Christmas. We had tried to instill a sense of tradition at Christmas and create memorable moments for our family. How were we going to maintain our family traditions when our family was broken and missing Jason?

One thing I remember is sitting on the family room floor that Christmas, trying to figure out if I should put up the stockings. I stared at the five nails above the fireplace. If I put all five of them up and we filled them with little gifts for each other as we usually did, I didn’t think I could handle seeing Jason’s stocking hanging there empty. If we put something in Jason’s stocking, it would be sad because he wouldn’t really be there to “open” his stocking with the rest of us. I couldn’t put up the rest of our stockings and not Jason’s. It would be obvious he was missing and would feel like a betrayal by excluding him. If I didn’t put them up at all or put them up and didn’t put anything in them, we wouldn’t be maintaining one of our traditions. Was that fair to the rest of the family? I didn’t know what to do. None of the choices seemed right, because it didn’t seem right that Jason was gone.

We tried to maintain some of our traditions that year, just because we didn’t know what else to do. Our Christmas traditions had become woven into our family way of life. We didn’t want to cheat the rest of our family out of celebrating our traditional Christmas, but every tradition we tried to maintain that first year after Jason died just emphasized his absence.  No matter what we did or didn’t do that Christmas, it was obvious Jason wasn’t there. It was so hard.

That’s the thing about traditions – they are tightly woven into and become meaningful remembrances of a holiday. The hanging of the stockings was just one of many of our Christmas traditions that carried weight of meaning to us as a family tradition. Yes, it was just a fun little part of our Christmas morning, but every single tradition we had was part of the way WE celebrated OUR Christmas as a FAMILY. Now part of our family was gone. And there were so many more traditions we had as a family besides hanging the stockings, each one spotlighting Jason’s absence. Asian food for dinner Christmas Eve. Candlelight service as a family on Christmas Eve. Cinnamon rolls Christmas morning. On and on. So many traditions.

Traditions. What do you do with your family traditions after a child dies? I think it takes many years to figure out which traditions to keep and which ones are too painful to continue. Some traditions can be bittersweet reminders of past Christmases before our child died. Some are put away for a while and may be started again at some point. Some are put away for good because they just hurt too much. New traditions are added in. For us, I think it continues to be a work in progress, this finding of traditions to add special meaning to our family Christmas. I guess I’m still not used to the idea of celebrating Christmas without Jason. I don’t think I ever will be.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Christmas Hurts My Heart

I think most everyone would agree that losing a child is an unbearably hard thing to experience. Life just isn’t the same, and it definitely is not easy life to lead after the death of a child. I also think it would be fair to say that some days in the life of a bereaved parent are harder than others. The reason some days are so hard partially has to do with missing our child so much and the longing for days when he or she was with us. Certain days shine the spotlight on that loss more than others.

For me, some of the hardest days of the year are Jason’s birthday, the day Jason died, and Christmas. Not every day is as hard as it used to be, but some days are just plain tough. Those are the days when the longing to have things the way they were before Jason died is especially strong. A parent who has lost a child never stops missing them, never has that longing go away to have his or her child with them, never has the grief of the death go away.

I have found that the days leading up to the actual “day” – whichever day that may be – can be harder than the actual day itself. For example, as March 3rd approaches, I find myself getting more emotional, restless, and unsettled. It’s not something I plan on; it just sort of happens and it’s really nothing over which I have control. Over the years, I’ve been able to recognize what’s going on and the cause of it. I try to extend grace to myself to allow myself to feel what I need to feel and to do what I need to do to observe these days that have so many memories attached to them and carry great emotional weight for me. For some reason, usually the “day of” is not as difficult as the days leading up to that day. I guess the anticipation of those difficult days is harder than the actual day once it arrives.

The thing about Christmas is that it’s such a public holiday and observance. We end up being bombarded with the reminders that CHRISTMAS WILL SOON BE HERE even before Halloween is over. Jason’s birthday and the day he died are more private observations. It’s not blasted at me in every store, on every street corner, on the radio and TV for months on end. Even holidays like the 4th of July, which was one of Jason’s favorite holidays, doesn’t impact me like Christmas does. Once Christmas is on the radar, we constantly are reminded that “the most wonderful time of the year” is about to arrive. Frank Sinatra reminds us that we should “let our hearts be light,” that “our troubles will be miles away,” and that “faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more.” Those sentiments are not necessarily true for a parent who has lost a child.

Before Jason died, I couldn’t wait to jump on the “Christmas is most wonderful time of the year” train. I couldn’t wait to go shopping for Christmas presents and to “do” our holiday traditions.

One thing thing Joe and I tried to create for our kids from when they were very little was a sense of wonder and tradition at Christmas. We wanted to make it a very special time for them. We made a conscious choice not to do the Santa thing since Joe felt betrayed and lied to by his parents when he found out as a young boy that his gifts came from his parents and not Santa. We chose instead to concentrate on celebrating the birth of Christ and the love of family and friends. We tried to instill a sense of what Christmas was really about – the ultimate gift of God’s son being born reflected in the gifts we give to others.

Over the years, we developed so many wonderful Christmas traditions. Going to Christmas events as a family or with friends. Looking at Christmas lights and decorations. We came up with a 1 to 10 rating system as we drove by decorated houses. Going to cut down or pick out our Christmas tree as a family. Going home after we’d found the “perfect” tree, getting out the boxes of Christmas decorations, putting on Christmas music, drinking hot chocolate, and decorating the tree together as a family. Joe would put the lights on the tree. I would unwrap the decorations and hand each person his or her own decoration to put on the tree. As he got taller and older, Jason always put the angel on the top of the tree. We went out for Asian food on Christmas Eve. I baked cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Joe read the Christmas story as we ate cinnamon rolls. Jason had asked me that last Christmas if I would teach him how to make cinnamon rolls. I haven’t made cinnamon rolls in many years. We took turns opening presents, starting with the youngest person picking out a present for someone else and then next youngest person picking out a present for someone until we got to the oldest person picking out a present, and then we started over with the youngest person again.

I saved every decoration the kids made. Each year I would go out to buy a Christmas tree decoration that seemed to fit each person that particular year. I would then use a gold permanent marker to write the name and date on the bottom of each ornament. My plan was to give each child his or her set of ornaments collected over the years when he or she got married or had their own home. Now, they sit in boxes in a storage unit in Oklahoma. I haven’t seen them in years. We haven’t had a “live” Christmas tree in years. Our Christmas ornaments on our fake tree don’t have any memories tied to them.

The Christmas after Jason died, we tried to maintain some of those traditions. I can’t tell you how many stores I had to leave because I almost starting crying. I remember driving by houses lit up with Christmas trees and lights, thinking how lucky those families must be to not hurt as I was hurting and how lucky they were to have people who wanted to be around them. I felt like such a pariah that year, like being around us would impinge on someone else’s holiday joy. I remember sitting on the family room floor, all by myself, amidst Christmas tree decorations trying to figure out how to decorate the tree. Looking at the decorations and the empty tree with tears coursing down my face. There are some days since Jason died that, when I think of them, it’s like I can step back into the scene and feel the raw, agonizing pain of that time. That day is one of them. The cinnamon rolls that must have had a bit of extra salt added to them from tears I couldn’t stop crying as I made them. Boy, that was a tough year.

I have found that for me, as a bereaved parent, I have to tread lightly around potential land mines at Christmas. Christmas is hard for me. I miss my boy so much at Christmas. I miss the family we used to be and the wonderful traditions we had as we celebrated Christmas together. The longing to be together as a family is especially strong at Christmas. I miss the unadulterated, innocent, complete joy of Christmas, one not overshadowed by the awful knowledge of what it’s like to have a child die. Now I tend to put a cocoon around my heart for a while until I sort of get used to the idea of another Christmas without Jason.

At first, I feel like I’ve been hit right in the heart when I walk into that first store of the season that has been decked out with Christmas displays. My heart just hurts!! I can feel myself sort of withdrawing into myself for a while. It takes me a bit to get over the funk I sort of settle into and begin to enjoy the season. I let Christmas in a little bit at a time until I can handle it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas any more, it just takes me a while to get on board the Christmas train, so to speak.

We’ve tried to come up some new traditions. I truly appreciate the time we spend together with family and some of the traditions we still do. I love my family more than words can say and I want to take time at Christmas to let them know it. I want them to know how special they are to me. Once I get out of my funk, I have a lot of fun trying to find the “right” gift for each person. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the idea that Jason not here for Christmas, though; the thought of it just makes my heart hurt.

We were talking the other day about our favorite Christmas song. I said mine is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” It’s a wistful song. I think it speaks to the longing to have Jason with us and to be “at home” as a family once again, and knowing that that place exists only in my dreams. The birth of Christ is the only reason that I know for sure we will see Jason again. For that I am truly thankful.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

I’m dreamin’ tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it’s a long road back
I promise you

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents under the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
If only in my dreams

Songwriters
Walter Kent;Buck Ram;Kim Gannon

Published by
GANNON & KENT MUSIC COMPANY

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

what to say when someone loses a child

Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective:

Always a good reminder…

Originally posted on :

It takes bravery to enter into another person’s mess.

It does. I know. Unfortunately, the mess is normally mine (and mine to keep), and it’s the brave souls that God has blessed me with in my life that are the commendable ones.

And the bravery I have seen from them over the last seven months, especially in the last month… it’s something special.

I’m going to say it flat out… A year ago, I would not have known the first thing to say to someone who lost a child.

I would go through all of the typical responses I had heard over the years in an effort to counsel them or give them advice. I would probably say a lot of things wrong. I hope I would at least say something, but maybe I would have avoided the situation all together. I honestly don’t know, and I don’t envy the…

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Of Birthdays and Such

Today is my birthday. Birthdays – some birthdays more than others – seem to be much more of time of reflection, don’t they? Reflection on the past year, past decade, lifetime, hopes, dreams, accomplishments, whatever. I think it depends where you are in your number of years or your stage of life that sort of determines how deep and thoughtful that reflection is. Since I am (shall we say) closer to retirement than not, I have felt more reflective this year than previous years. My, how the years have flow by! It doesn’t seem possible.

My husband and I made a conscious decision to homeschool our kids when Eric was little. As Jason and Jenna joined our family and became school age, we just added them into the homeschool mix. Each year we re-evaluated to see if it was still a valid option for our family and if it was something we still enjoyed. And each year we decided it was, right up to the time when – one by one – the kids went off to college under the Running Start Program. When Jenna started college, it was time for me to look at the next phase of my own life.

Now, if I ever have the ear of young homeschool moms – or any young mom who has decided to stay at home with the kids – I would recommend not waiting until the “next phase” is upon her to begin making plans. I would recommend starting way earlier! Take a night class. Learn some marketable skills. Start a small at home business that can grow into something larger. Do something to make or keep yourself marketable when and if you go back into the workplace. That’s the advice I would give myself if I could go back and talk to myself when my kids were young.

Don’t get me wrong – I loved homeschooling the kids and wouldn’t change it for a thing! But, as it was, I waited until we were done homeschooling and the kids were in college or out of the house to really consider the next phase of my life. The first quarter our youngest, Jenna, started college, I rattled around a bit, lost. I had been homeschooling for a long time, and I was very aware that I was a transitioning into a new phase of life. Strange as it may seem, all those years went by very quickly and, the next thing I knew, I was done homeschooling. I felt in a state of “Now what?”

By January, I had figured out a game plan and I made purposeful decisions for the making the most of the next stage of my life. I figured I had about twenty years or so of prime earning years left to work before retirement. My plan was that I would go back to school, finish my degree in Business Administration, get a good job, move up the ladder, make lots of money to save or invest for retirement, see my kids get married and have kids of their own, hopelessly spoil my grandkids, have a nice nest egg on which to retire, and grow comfortably old with my hubby. I had plenty of time to accomplish what I needed to accomplish in those remaining, highly-productive years. Joe still had a good job and had quite a few years left to work. We would be set when we retired! I went back to school to put my plan into action just months after our youngest started Running Start at the local college.

Eight weeks into my first quarter of school, Jason was killed by a drunk driver.

Mortar and Pestle

Mortar and Pestle

To say that Jason’s death changed me and changed my life would be a huge understatement. It about killed me. Seriously, it just about killed me! Jason’s death crushed me so badly I don’t even know how to describe it. I felt like I had been put into a mortar and the person that I was – my life, my hopes, my dreams, my very being inward to the core of me and outward to the outermost extremities of my life – was in the long, slow, torturous process of being ground to a pulp. The “Becky” I knew was gone. I didn’t even know who I was any more. I didn’t know who I could count on to be there for us. I didn’t know where we fit in. I didn’t know what to do with my life or how to keep on living without my precious boy. Everything you can think of went into that grinding process. It just went on and on and on day after day, year after year.

Burying our precious boy. Disappearing friends. Being so lonely I could hardly stand it. The deafening silence of the empty house. Going through the whole court ordeal for driver of the car that killed Jason and Alina. Watching my family struggle. Selling our house and leaving Washington. Wandering, wandering, wandering, trying to find a place to call home.

I struggled with some PTSD-type symptoms for quite a while, although was never diagnosed – anxiety, fight-or-flight response, noise sensitivity, emotional numbness, reliving the night Jason died over and over, etc. I was depressed for a long time and had a hard time finding a reason to live. My doctor had prescribed sleeping pills for me the day Jason died, and I took them for a long time just to get some rest at night so I could function during the day. Some days, I specifically had to concentrate on taking just one of the sleeping pills and putting the rest aside. Some days I was in so much pain and I felt so broken and lost, I really wanted to take them all. I tried to keep my focus on living for my family until I could find a reason to live again for me.

I kept going to school after Jason died and was on the Dean’s list every quarter. I don’t know how I did it, quite honestly. I graduated from Edmonds Community College, but felt too burned out to transfer to the University of Washington to finish my BA. Besides, at the time, Joe was very ready to leave Washington, so I wasn’t sure it was worth it to start something I couldn’t finish. Wish I had finished my BA. It’s hard to go back to school once you leave it.

We moved to Oklahoma and I got a job in a law office in Oklahoma. Oklahoma was not a  good fit for us, although I really liked working for an attorney who specialized in estate planning, probate and guardianships. We moved to Florida to be closer to our daughter, and I got my paralegal certification from the University of Miami. I also took the national certification test, passing the first time through on the three-day test (even though the first-time passing rate was 45%). I studied so hard independently for that test (I bought college text books on five areas of law and studied them on my own at home). I was so proud when I passed that test. But then I couldn’t find a job as a paralegal. In South Florida, you have to speak at least two or three languages to get a job in the legal field. Since I was competing against foreign native speakers in an already highly competitive market, I looked and looked, but couldn’t find a job. The same was true once we moved to North Carolina, so I am now working in yet another profession. The guys I work for are great, so I can’t complain one bit.

But, as you can see, my 20-year plan to work, earn money and get set for retirement hasn’t happened. It’s been a hodge podge path since Jason died. My train got violently knocked off its tracks. Both mine and Joe’s did. I feel like both of us lost quite a few “productive” years.

Joe is what I call “involuntarily retired.” A couple of years after Jason died, the company he worked for went through some downsizing. Joe was so burned out and drained from everything we had gone through that, when he found out someone was going to be laid off, he volunteered to be the one laid off even though he had seniority and no one wanted him to go. He figured it would be better for him to be laid off than some younger guy with young kids at home. Besides, he had plenty of working years left for another career, didn’t he? Well, that hasn’t exactly happened, either.

I’m not saying all this to make people feel sorry for me. I’m just reflecting on my life so far. I’m just saying that I feel like I’ve lost a lot of productive years – years I can never get back – after Jason died. I lost me. I lost my focus. I lost the life I once knew. I lost my hopes, dreams and plans. I feel like I didn’t accomplish much of anything in those years after Jason died. I really tried hard, but I felt like I was swimming in molasses. I guess that’s just another “cost” for me following the death of a child. I feel like I finally have the focus and energy to get back “on track,” whatever that is. Now if I only had more years to get done what I need to get done before I have to retire. I don’t feel like I have enough time left. Nothing I can do but do the best I can with the time I have.

Time is not always on our side, is it? Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Has anyone else experienced the feeling of “lost” years/time following the death of a child? Would love to hear your input.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Happy birthday, Mr. Jay

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Jason and Becky 1999

Jason and Becky 1999

32 years ago, we welcomed Jason David Carney into our lives. We were so privileged to have Jason born into our family. We love you and miss you so much, Jason.

 

Ghosts of Holidays Past

I think of these days as “the ghosts of holidays past.” The Christmases, Thanksgivings, birthdays, vacations, events and things we used to do together as a family, various and numerous holidays. They’re the days that tug on my heart, reminding me of times gone by that will never come again. You see, no matter how long it’s been since Jason died, I will always miss those times when we were all together for a holiday or whatever. Those times can never come again, because there’s no way on earth we can all be together now that Jason is gone. Part of our family is always missing.

4th of July celebration

4th of July celebration

Jason loved the 4th of July. Barbeque. Fireworks. Friends. Just being together. We always had so much fun celebrating the birth of our country.

I’ve been sad today, and I’ve been struggling. I can’t ignore it. I can’t deny it. I might as well just acknowledge it. I’m not always sad, but today I am. I’m sad. I miss those times. I miss my boy. I wish he were here to celebrate this day with us. Jason loved to have fun. He always made everything so much fun, so much better.

I miss you, my Mr. Jay.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Beauty for Ashes

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to Washington, DC. On our way home, we drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s such an incredibly beautiful place, and I realized as we were driving along that I felt like I wanted to physically pull the beauty inside of me. I almost felt like I was a parched, desert wanderer wanting a deep, refreshing drink from the beauty around me. I wanted the beauty to soak deep into my very being, into my life, into my soul. It was like I wanted the beauty to refresh me and to bring a measure of peace and beauty into my life. I wanted to apply it to heart, to my hurt, to my life.

IMG_4410

Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia side)

Mabry Mill - Blue Ridge Parkway

Mabry Mill – Blue Ridge Parkway

I don’t feel that way all the time, but there are times when I am very much aware of that same deep craving for beauty – as we drive onto the Biltmore Estate, as we hike up to a waterfall, as we drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall, when I see a particularly beautiful picture or piece of artwork, when I see a sunrise or sunset.

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean

As we drove along home that day, I started analyzing why I feel so strongly at times that I need to pull beauty inside of me. I think I’m trying to apply some beauty to the places in my life to the places that still hurt so much, to the places that are still broken, to places that have been made ugly or feel empty by the things that have happened to me – by Jason’s death; by friends disappearing and leaving us so alone; by selling and moving from a home I loved and a state that was home to me; by having to “get rid of” so many things that were important to me until I feel like I have hardly anything left; by wandering and wandering and wandering and wandering, trying to find a place of peace and beauty that feels like home again…and never quite succeeding; by trying to come to grips with things in my life that are beyond my control and being confronted with things that I just wish I could make better.

I know it may seem strange to try to apply something so abstract as “beauty” to one’s life. I remember, not too long after Jason died, feeling that I just wish people would be kind to me so that I could apply the salve of “kindness” to my broken heart. I felt like kindness would help me heal. I suppose neither one of those is much different than trying to find “love.” They’re all rather abstract concepts. We all have needs in our lives such as these that we are trying to fill, broken or hurt places we are trying to mend. I guess trying to apply the beauty I see to the broken areas of my life is one of mine as bereaved parent. We all need beauty to balance out the harshness in our lives. We need rest to balance out the hard roads we travel. We need joy to balance out the sorrows.

I don’t feel as broken as I once did, but the analysis of why, at times, I feel I need an almost desperate need to absorb beauty into my life made me realize there are still many broken places in me. I think that’s just the way it is for a parent whose child has died. We are broken people, broken in ways most people wouldn’t understand. We are confronted with our losses in so many places and at so many times. Our brokenness just doesn’t show all the time or in ways one would expect. When it does, I guess we try to find the beauty in the ashes.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney