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.

 

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.

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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

Another Voice in the Chorus

The suicide of Rick and Kay Warren’s son made headline news a year ago. Rick is the founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, one of the largest churches in America, and author of The Purpose Driven Life and many other books. Recently Kay Warren posted this on her facebook page – her plea for understanding and for the support of true friends:

As the one-year anniversary of Matthew’s death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to “move on.” The soft, compassionate cocoon that has enveloped us for the last 11 1/2 months had lulled me into believing others would be patient with us on our grief journey, and while I’m sure many will read this and quickly say “Take all the time you need,” I’m increasingly aware that the cocoon may be in the process of collapsing. It’s understandable when you take a step back. I mean, life goes on. The thousands who supported us in the aftermath of Matthew’s suicide wept and mourned with us, prayed passionately for us, and sent an unbelievable volume of cards, letters, emails, texts, phone calls, and gifts. The support was utterly amazing. But for most, life never stopped – their world didn’t grind to a horrific, catastrophic halt on April 5, 2013. In fact, their lives have kept moving steadily forward with tasks, routines, work, kids, leisure, plans, dreams, goals etc. LIFE GOES ON. And some of them are ready for us to go on too. They want the old Rick and Kay back. They secretly wonder when things will get back to normal for us – when we’ll be ourselves, when the tragedy of April 5, 2013 will cease to be the grid that we pass everything across. And I have to tell you – the old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back. We will never be the same again. There is a new “normal.” April 5, 2013 has permanently marked us. It will remain the grid we pass everything across for an indeterminate amount of time….maybe forever.

Because these comments from well-meaning folks wounded me so deeply, I doubted myself and thought perhaps I really am not grieving “well” (whatever that means). I wondered if I was being overly sensitive –so I checked with parents who have lost children to see if my experience was unique. Far from it, I discovered. “At least you can have another child” one mother was told shortly after her child’s death. “You’re doing better, right?” I was asked recently. “When are you coming back to the stage at Saddleback? We need you” someone cluelessly said to me recently. “People can be so rude and insensitive; they make the most thoughtless comments,” one grieving father said. You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was standard in our culture for people to officially be in mourning for a full year. They wore black. They didn’t go to parties. They didn’t smile a whole lot. And everybody accepted their period of mourning; no one ridiculed a mother in black or asked her stupid questions about why she was STILL so sad. Obviously, this is no longer accepted practice; mourners are encouraged to quickly move on, turn the corner, get back to work, think of the positive, be grateful for what is left, have another baby, and other unkind, unfeeling, obtuse and downright cruel comments. What does this say about us – other than we’re terribly uncomfortable with death, with grief, with mourning, with loss – or we’re so self-absorbed that we easily forget the profound suffering the loss of a child creates in the shattered parents and remaining children.
Unless you’ve stood by the grave of your child or cradled the urn that holds their ashes, you’re better off keeping your words to some very simple phrases: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or “I’m praying for you and your family.” Do your best to avoid the meaningless, catch-all phrase “How are you doing?” This question is almost impossible to answer. If you’re a stranger, it’s none of your business. If you’re a casual acquaintance, it’s excruciating to try to answer honestly, and you leave the sufferer unsure whether to lie to you (I’m ok) to end the conversation or if they should try to haltingly tell you that their right arm was cut off and they don’t know how to go on without it. If you’re a close friend, try telling them instead, “You don’t have to say anything at all; I’m with you in this.”

None of us wants to be like Job’s friends – the pseudo comforters who drove him mad with their questions, their wrong conclusions and their assumptions about his grief. But too often we end up a 21st century Bildad, Eliphaz or Zophar – we fill the uncomfortable silence with words that wound rather than heal. I’m sad to realize that even now – in the middle of my own shattering loss – I can be callous with the grief of another and rush through the conversation without really listening, blithely spouting the platitudes I hate when offered to me. We’re not good grievers, and when I judge you, I judge myself as well.

Here’s my plea: Please don’t ever tell someone to be grateful for what they have left until they’ve had a chance to mourn what they’ve lost. It will take longer than you think is reasonable, rational or even right. But that’s ok. True friends – unlike Job’s sorry excuse for friends – love at all times, and brothers and sisters are born to help in time of need (Prov. 17:17 LB). The truest friends and “helpers” are those who wait for the griever to emerge from the darkness that swallowed them alive without growing afraid, anxious or impatient. They don’t pressure their friend to be the old familiar person they’re used to; they’re willing to accept that things are different, embrace the now-scarred one they love, and are confident that their compassionate, non-demanding presence is the surest expression of God’s mercy to their suffering friend. They’re ok with messy and slow and few answers….and they never say “Move on.” https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kay-Warren/105128507568

We, as bereaved parents, need to continue to speak up. We need to say this as often as we can – that we are not the same people we used to be, that there is no “moving on,” that it takes a long time to learn to live without our children, that we need people in our lives to support us for who we are and where we are following the death of our precious child for as long as it takes.

While life goes on and goes back to “normal” for others, for those of us who are walking through the darkest periods of our lives following the death of our child, our lives never go back to “normal.” I will never forget my incredulity when, three months after Jason’s death, a “friend” proudly told me that their lives were “90% back to normal“…and then proceeded to express concern that our “sparkle” was gone. We, along with Alina’s family, had known each other for quite a few years, and our kids had been good friends and fellow homeschool students. Her lack of understanding and lack of empathy hit me like a slap in the face. It still makes me shake my head in disbelief today.

I know that it’s not easy to know what to say to someone who has lost a child. We, as bereaved parents, need to continue to join our voices in the chorus until people hear us and begin to have at least an inkling of understanding – it’s not that we don’t want to “move on”; we can’t just “move on,” especially on someone else’s timetable. We are not the same people we once were. We need love support and understanding, not judgment about what our grief journey should look like or how long it should take. No one can know what it’s like to lose a child unless you’ve actually lost a child. I wouldn’t wish the death of a child on anyone. Please, just let us grieve the loss of our child in our own way and for as long as it takes.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Added 4/1/14:

Here is an article written about the overwhelming response to Kay Warren’s facebook post:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/kay-warren-grieving-mental-illness-suicide-saddleback.html?&visit_source=facebook

A Rose by Any Other Name or What’s In a Name

Names have always fascinated me. I like interesting names. I like to know why people name their kids what they do or why they call them by the nickname they do. Growing up, I knew a girl who went by the name Twozee (as in 2Z). She was the second child in the family, and her dad nicknamed the kids Onezee and Twozee. I don’t remember if there was a Threezee or Fourzee.

When I meet sales people whose name I’m not sure how to pronounce (when looking at a name tag), I simply ask ask them to help me pronounce their names correctly and to tell me about their names. Most people are honored to tell you about his or her name. Names are an important connection to other people. It’s how we start to get to know someone, the first step in the possibility of friendship or letting someone into our lives.

Both of my parents were my school teachers, and they were both nameless to me during the hours of the day when school was in session. Let me explain. The summer before I started 3rd grade, we moved to the small town where I grew up, and that meant being a new kid in class and having a new teacher. My mom was that new 3rd grade teacher and I was the new 3rd grade student. It was intimidating, to say the least, for a seven-year old.

The school I attended was so small that the 5th and 6th grades were together in one class, with the 5th graders in a row on one side of the room and 6th graders in one row on the other. The middle row contained a mixture of the two grades.  My dad taught me in 5th and 6th grades and senior high English. Of the twelve years of primary and secondary schooling, I had my parents as teachers in some capacity for a third of those years.

The thing about having parents for teachers, especially in such a small school as I attended, is that everyone knows the teacher is your parent and that makes things complicated for you as a kid. If you do well in school, then your parents must have helped you. If you didn’t do well in school, everyone wondered why your parents didn’t help you. The other kids assumed you were the teacher’s pet, whether there was any indication or not. My parents went out of their way not to show favoritism. Because my dad was also the local a preacher in addition to teaching school, we kids grew up feeling under the microscope.

One particular problem to which I never found a solution was what to call my parents in class. They were addressed as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” by the other students. It seemed so silly to call my parent/teacher by “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” and calling them Mom or Dad in class was very much out of the question. As a result, I never addressed them by any name whatsoever while in class and during school hours throughout my entire first through twelfth grades. I would simply raise my hand and wait until I was recognized. I wasn’t embarrassed to have my parents as teachers; I just didn’t know what to call them. Therefore, during the hours school was in session, my parents remained nameless for all those years.

As most parents do, my husband and I put a lot of thought into our kids’ names. We poured over books of baby names and looked up their meanings. We tried to find names that would represent our children well in life. We tried to choose names that couldn’t be cruelly morphed into something derogatory by mean kids. We also carefully picked out names for our kids that couldn’t have a “y” added to the end of them.

The propensity in my husband’s family was to add a “y” to everyone’s name or to find a nickname that ended with a “y” sound, no matter how awkward it made the name to say. Virginia became DeeDee. Mark became Marky. Delbert became Debby (a guy nicknamed Debby?!). Joe became Joey and so forth. Forever. The names stuck forever. It didn’t help that the last name ends with a “y” and every son married a gal whose first name ended with a “y.” It was a family full of sing-songy names, and we didn’t want that to saddle our kids with that. Nevertheless, I ended up with nicknames for my kids. I called Eric “Tiger,” although I’m not even sure why. That’s what I called him one day when he was really little, and it just stuck.

How we settle on nicknames is a mystery to me. We carefully pick our kids first and middle names and then may or may not use their given names. We give people “pet” or nicknames. Why are some spouses and significant others called “sweetie” and some are called “honey” and some are called “babe” or whatever? I don’t know.

For some reason, after I know a person for a while and begin to care about them, I tend to add “Mr.” or “Miss” to their name at times. I would call Alina “Miss Alina.” I call our granddaughter “Miss Maya.” Eric’s friend was “Mr. Jon.” I don’t know why I do it. I don’t do it all the time; just when I feel particularly close, affectionate, or connected to that person. I don’t plan it; from time to time, it just slips out from a connection in my heart – a fun, extra, special connection to people in my life. It’s my special way to nickname.

Whatever the reason for nicknames, they are usually special terms of endearment for people we love or care about. It’s like we want that person to know how special they are to us by attaching a special term of endearment to them. We don’t expect just any old person to be able to call our special person by our special term of endearment. Anybody can call my husband Joe, but it’s my special privilege to call him “sugar” or “sweetie.” My special names for Jason were “Jay,” “Mr. Jay.” Anybody could call him Jason, but those of us who really loved and cared about him would call him by the nickname Jay.

The thing about losing a child is that you notice every time your child’s name comes up. After Jason died, It wasn’t easy to hear about someone named Jason. The year Jason was born, it was one of the most popular names of the year, so that meant that there are a lot of Jason’s out there who were still living after Jason died. Someone else’s child named Jason and around my Jason’s age hasn’t died and is out and about doing what young adults his age are supposed to do. Over the years, hearing about someone else named Jason has gone from feeling like a knife jab to the heart to more like a pinprick. It’s also been difficult to hear about people named Jay. The names Jason and Jay have a very special and powerful tie to deep places in my heart and in my memories.

When I was looking for a job a couple of years ago, I was interviewed by a man named Jay. As it happened, he offered me the job. Even though more than ten years had passed since Jason’s death, I had to be honest with myself while considering his offer and ask myself if I could work for someone named Jay, my special nickname for Jason. How much would it bother me? Was I at a point in my life where I could work for someone around Jason’s age (give or take a few years) who went by the name of Jay? I decided to accept the job offer and I have been working for him for a year and a half now.

I have tried to keep business at business and my personal life to myself for the most part. If someone asks me why we left Seattle, I say, “Oh, that’s a long story” and change the subject. I’ve gotten pretty good at deflection and avoiding. With all that we have walked through since Jason died, I have a tendency to hold people at arm’s length. To say that I am guarded would be an understatement. I am very cautious about letting new people into my heart and into our lives.

When people hear that you have lost a child, situations instantly become awkward. Most people treat you differently, ranging from talking to you hyper-sympathetically to avoiding you like a pariah to never mentioning it again and everything in between. Or they try to make you feel like they understand what you went through because they knew someone who had died or had some pet who died or had gone through a difficult situation. They don’t know what to do or say, and so it’s easier to say nothing. If I do open up and say something, people are still hesitant or reluctant, even after all these years, take the time to find out who Jason really was or to find out how his death affected our lives. I know it’s a tough subject to talk about…to even think about. I understand that, and I’ve pretty much come to a place where I accept it and it doesn’t bother me so much any more. But when people have hurt and deserted you at the worst time time in your life, it’s hard to let people in. I am cautious with my heart; I keep my guard up and an emotional distance in place.

As I headed out the door for a few days off at Christmas, though, I made a comment to my boss and called him “Mr. Jay.” It stopped me in my tracks. At first I felt like I had betrayed my boy, my own precious Mr. Jay, but then I realized that it was a healthy thing. I can’t keep holding people at arm’s length forever just in case they might hurt me or cause pain. I can’t not care about people because they have Jason’s name or nickname.

My boss is a good guy. He is kind and generous. He treats me with respect and appreciates the skills that I bring to the table. He thanks me for the work I do. We are a good team, and I realized, as I called him “Mr Jay,” that I cared about him as a person. He was no longer a person outside my sphere of caring. Yes, he is my boss, but I truly CARE about him as a person. I had extended a nickname to him. I had let my guard down and let him into my life as a person I really like and care about.

My boss has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and is having surgery on March 3rd. Yes, that day. The March 3rd that is the anniversary of Jason’s death. This time of year is a difficult and emotional time for me, anyway, and tears are just under the surface. The anniversary of a child’s death is difficult for any parent, no matter how many years it’s been. I would be dishonest if I said my boss’s surgery hasn’t really rattled me.

I have tried to keep business as business during the day so I can help my boss the best I possibly can. I may cry in the shower – for my boss and because this is a tough time of year for me and I miss my boy so much –  but I try to be all business once I get to work. We have been so busy the past three weeks, making sure things are in place for continuity of business. He has the best surgeon in the world, and things sound somewhat optimistic. I guess, at these times, you hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

I want everything to go well. I don’t want anything to happen to my boss. I want him to be okay. I care about him. I gave him a nickname.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Solving the Problem of Grief: The Solution Is Not What You Think

Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective:

This is a great article. Grief is NOT a problem needing to be “fixed,” something that any person who has every truly experienced a great loss can understand.

Originally posted on Natasha's Memory Garden:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/megan-devine/death-and-dying_b_4606150.html

By Megan Devine

Posted: 01/23/2014 5:51 pm

Solving the problem of grief is a problem in itself: if the ways you are broken cannot possibly be fixed, why does everyone keep giving you solutions?

Before my partner died, I was reading There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem by Dr. Wayne Dyer. It’s a great book. When I tried to pick it up after Matt died, though, I couldn’t get back into it. It just kept feeling wrong, like there was a burr inside the words that scratched uncomfortably. I kept trying to find comfort in the words I found comforting and helpful before, and those words were just not doing it.

I put the book down. I picked it back up. The burr rasped and the words didn’t fit, and I put the book back down.

It was several weeks later when my eye happened to catch…

View original 963 more words

The Art of Presence – New York Times Article

This is another great article about helping those who grieve. There can never be enough written about “how to help.”

I thought the point made that it’s important to realize that some people may be firefighters and some may be builders was interesting:

Do be a builder. The Woodiwisses distinguish between firefighters and builders. Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles.

My hope and prayer is that bereaved parents have enough kind, caring people in their lives who are capable of performing both roles for the long haul. It’s so important.

Link to article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/opinion/brooks-the-art-of-presence.html?_r=2

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Grieving Mother Held Against Her Will in Psychiatric Ward

I read an article this morning about a judge who ordered release of a grieving mother, Christina Schumacher, who was held against her will for more than five weeks in a psychiatric ward. When she separated from her husband last year, Ms. Schumacher made a comment to her sister “that she would kill herself if anything happened to her two children.”* The day after her husband killed their son and then hanged himself, the grieving mother’s doctor decided that she “needed to admit herself or be taken into custody.”*

Other people, however, thought differently. Vermont Superior Court Judge Kevin Griffin ruled that, “The court did not find, by clear and convincing evidence, that Respondent was a person in need of treatment at the time of admission or application, nor a patient in need of further treatment at the time of the hearing.”* Ms. Schumacher, said, “I am not ill; I am simply a mother who is grieving the tragic loss of her young son…No mother should ever have to experience this loss.”*

Who has the right to decide whether grieving parents need psychiatric help and/or whether their grief needs medicalizing? When is it appropriate for someone else to decide when grief is too overwhelming or going on too long for a bereaved parent? What non-bereaved parent hasn’t thought, “I don’t know if I could go on living if something should happen to my children”? Should that person’s child die, are his or her previous statements enough to warrant involuntary commitment to a psychiatric ward? If a bereaved parent mentions suicidal type of thoughts while deeply grieving the loss of a child, is that enough for such drastic action as involuntary commitment to a psychiatric ward? What bereaved parent hasn’t struggled with trying to find a reason to go on living when a child has died? (By the way, having suicidal thoughts is not totally uncommon for bereaved parents. Not that those thoughts are necessary acted upon, but they are sometimes thought.) What are the warning flags that a bereaved parent needs help to deal with grief? When is appropriate to pathologize grief? What is “normal” grief? When should grief be considered “abnormal”?

I think these are questions that have been brought to the forefront in the discussion of the inclusion of complicated grief into the DSM-5. I also think that because these questions – and many more – are so difficult to definitively answer is why complicated grief was not included in the DSM-5, but rather indicated for further study and research.

I have no doubt that there are many researchers on the subject of grief and doctors who have the best intentions of helping those who grieve and those who struggle with prolonged or complicated grief. I applaud them for their research and for efforts to deal with this difficult subject. I also think the situation of Ms. Schumacher should also be a cautionary tale for misdirected and over-zealousness in pathologizing grief.

Lately, I have been doing some reading and research on the topic of complicated grief. My main concern with adding complicated grief to the DSM-5 and pathologizing grief is that for every doctor who uses due caution in determining whether or not grief intervention is necessary, there are those who may not. There are medical people who may think they know what they are talking about, but they don’t. They make decisions based on something they’ve read or heard without doing their own adequate research. For every doctor who graduated in the top half of his or her class, there are equal numbers who graduated in the bottom half.

I am very thankful that the discussion of complicated grief and its potential inclusion in the DSM-5 has brought the topic of grief and its many complications to the forefront of discussions. Grief and those who grieve deeply have been swept to the side for too long. We have much understanding to gain from the research, the foremost of which is caution in pathologizing grief.

Are there times when help is needed in processing grief? Without a doubt. But there are also other times when someone else (relative, concerned friend, acquaintance, doctor) determines that a bereaved person needs to be “helped,” instead of trying to understand that grief is not tidy nor simple and that compassion, understanding, a listening ear and adequate time to grieve is what’s needed. When that someone is a reactionary doctor with authority (perceived or otherwise) over the bereaved’s life, that’s when we can run into problems such as Ms. Schumacher encountered.

*Credit for article quotes: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/01/25/vermont-woman-held-against-will-in-psych-ward-ordered-released/?intcmp=trending

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Edit:

Here’s a link to testimony of Ms Schumacher:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/01/31/woman-held-in-psych-ward-testifies/5089405/