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

Shower the People You Love with Love

[The title of my blog is borrowed from one of James Taylor's songs - Shower the People You Love with Love]

We visited a new church on Sunday. Can’t say that we’ll be going back. We’ve had a hard time finding a church that “fits” us since Jason died. Some of the things that make up the organization and practice of churches seems so trivial any more…but, that’s a topic for another post.

Anyway, at one point in his sermon the pastor said, “You can’t live your lives for your kids.” Now, by the time he got to this point, I had pretty much checked out mentally. I can’t even tell you how he got to the place of saying that line in his sermon. He went on to say how he has four kids, but doesn’t let them run his life. I think he was trying to emphasize spiritual balance and the importance of putting God first in your life. Honestly, he was so all over the map, I couldn’t really tell you for sure the point of the message.

Now, I agree that one must have balance in life. If one area of our lives takes up much more of our time than it should or becomes of greater importance to us than it should, other areas can suffer and our lives can become out of balance. If one area has much greater importance than it should, the more out of balance our lives can become. It can get to the point of being unhealthy or to the point where we lose something we love.

Any area can cause our lives to be out of balance – work, hobby, television, video games, relationships. A person who is a workaholic can lose an important connection to his or her spouse or significant other. A parent who focuses an inordinate amount of time on the children can cause the other parent to feel unimportant. Focusing too much on activities or friendships outside of the family can cause our families to suffer. Even church activities, done in the name of God, can cause an imbalance. Growing up as a preacher’s kid, I’d have to say that we kids all knew where we fit in the whole scheme of things, below God and the church. [It's fairly common for preachers' kids to feel second (or third or fourth) place to "the church."]

Perhaps you only can’t “live your lives for your kids,” but we can certainly cherish them, listen to them, spend quality time with them. Our children are our greatest gifts. They grow up so fast; before you know it, they are grown. These times never come again. And if your child dies, all you have are memories of bygone times with your child.

I read a blog this morning that really touched my heart. The author lost her son to pediatric cancer when he was three. Her encouragement to cherish your children is so poignant. On this day, his 6th birthday, she writes:

I miss the days where I lived carefree and unaware.  I miss going to the party store and picking out candy and balloons.  I miss living a life where I didn’t even give a thought to pediatric cancer.  But more than any of that – I miss watching my son, for 3 years now, blow out the candles on his birthday cake.  I miss crying out of joy instead of sadness.  I miss Tanner.  More and more with every passing second.

So, log off, put your phones down, and enjoy the moments you have.  You may have only one.  You may have a million.  You need to relish them, you need to be present in them, you need to be so full with joy that you can’t keep the tears in your eyes.  The greatest gift I ever had gave me that, on his birthday.

http://thelexiebeanfoundation.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/happy-6th-birthday-tanner-in-heaven/

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Happy Birthday to Me

My birthday is coming up soon, and my boss reminded me of that fact a few days ago. Birthday reminders of clients and employees pop up on his calendar, and he had noticed mine coming up. I just kind of crinkled my nose and went back to working. I’m sure he thought my response to that reminder was very underwhelming.

I like my boss. He’s a good guy. He’s generous and nice to me. That’s important to me as a general rule, but especially important in the workplace since I spend nearly as much waking time at work with him during the week as I do at home with my family. He’s really busy, always has a million things on his mind, and so we don’t chitchat a whole lot about personal things. That’s okay. I would really rather not talk about myself or my life, anyway. The point here is that I’ve never said anything to him about Jason or the death of a child. As a result, I’m sure he thought my reaction to his birthday reminder was a typical female-not-wanting-to-get-older thing.

It got me thinking about what I would say if he commented about my reaction to my birthday. Do I just minimize my reaction and let him think that I just don’t want to get any older? Or do I tell him the truth – that I would really rather skip over my birthday and most “holidays” entirely because of Jason’s death? What exactly would I say? Mentioning the death of a child can really make things awkward. Do I say something or let him be comfortable in his lack of knowledge about Jason? What if the topic of how many children I have or something of the like comes up some other time or way? I guess I just need to process this in case the topic of my birthday and lack of enthusiasm about it comes up again before the actual day.

I’ve always loved holidays and everything that goes along with them – birthdays, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, 4th of July. Making Halloween costumes, planning birthday parties, getting ready to host the 4th of July at our house, baking cinnamon rolls for Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas morning. You name it. I loved it all with a passion.

I loved shopping for stuff for Easter baskets for the kids. I’d keep my eyes open for weeks before Easter for cute stuffed animals and unique things I could buy. One year I got each of them a bottle of sparking cider for their baskets. My husband kind of scratched his head on that one, but I knew that all of them loved sparkling cider and that they would probably get a kick out of having their own bottles to drink. I’d get up early on Easter morning, sit on the floor of our bedroom in front of the closet where I had been hiding everything, put the baskets together, and then set them in front of their bedroom doors so they could find them first thing when they got up. It made me so very happy to surprise them like that.

As I wrote that last paragraph, I physically felt the excitement I used to feel as I got ready for holidays and events, and it made me smile the biggest smile. But then it was followed by tears welling up in my eyes, because…well…holidays just aren’t the same for me any more. You see, holidays bring into focus the holes in my life, especially the huge hole left by Jason and the aftermath of his death. I have too many holes in my life and struggles surround those holes, and they make holidays really hard. They’re all hard, but holidays that celebrate “me” are hard for me in a different way than other holidays.

Everyone likes to feel special to family and friends and that their lives are celebrated by family and friends. I was no different. I wanted to be surprised by gifts and celebrated on my birthday, to be honored on Mother’s Day, to have love gifts or flowers from my husband on Valentine’s Day, to get well-thought-out-just-for-me presents for Christmas.

I remember one Mother’s Day it seemed as if no one had made any advance preparations to celebrate “my day.” It was one of those “Oh, by the way, Becky, where would YOU like to go for dinner?” years, and it rather peeved me a bit that not more thought had gone into celebrating “me.” Selfish. It just makes me feel so selfish now. How I wish I hadn’t been so selfish.

I guess that’s why I especially don’t like celebrating holidays where the focus is on me. I would gladly trade every single one of them just to have the ordinary days back of being together with my entire family. There were times when other things – “me” things or some activity or perceived need to be addressed – that seemed so important to me at the time. Now, I honestly can’t remember most of what they were. If I can’t remember what they are now, how could I have thought they were so important then? What really is important in this life? If I could just take back all of the times I was selfish – times when I thought I needed “me” time or when I thought I wasn’t being valued as much as I thought I was supposed to be – or when I thought I had too much to do to sit down and play a game of chess or cards with Jason, I would do it in a heartbeat.

You see, I’m just not that important in the whole scheme of things. I don’t feel the need to be celebrated any more. I’d rather the focus be on the people I love than on me. They mean the world to me.

If I could just communicate one thing to parents, it would be to cherish and value their family and those ordinary days with their kids. I see parents rushing their kids along or harping at them for one thing or another. It breaks my heart. Don’t realize how much more important those precious treasures right in front of their noses are than getting on to the next store or whatever? When those moments are gone forever – and especially if those children are gone forever – all of a sudden you see things with a new perspective. I know there are a lot of parents who are really trying really hard to do it right and who value their children beyond measure. It just seems like there are also those who forget how short those days are in the rush of adult things they feel they need to do.

Every parent has regrets, I would venture to say, and wishes they had done certain things differently. I have bucket loads of regrets and things I wish I could or had done differently. There’s nothing I can do about them now, and so I just have to deal with it as best I can.

I think I’ll just skip over my birthday this year and see if I can figure out how to reflect – or perhaps deflect – that attention to someone else so they can feel valued and important.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Forever 19 or “What if?”

Tomorrow is Jason’s birthday. He would have been 31.

31. It’s hard for me to imagine Jason at 31.

In my mind, Jason will always be 19 going on 20. He will always be a young man with so much potential and a bright future ahead of him, the young man sitting on the kitchen counter telling me about his day while I fixed dinner.

Along with other memories and emotions, birthdays after a child dies are reminders of what might have been. The question of “What if?” raises its head. What if things had been different? What if he had just waited a few extra minutes before leaving our house? What if Jason hadn’t died?

What would Jason be doing if he had lived? Would he be married? Would he have kids? Who would he have married? How many kids would he have? Where would he work? Where would he live? Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? Questions, questions. No answers.

I can’t quite get a clear picture of these things. I notice the life progress of Jason’s peers and friends – getting married and having kids, buying houses, getting college degrees, getting or changing jobs, going on vacations, doing their daily lives. I can sort of conjure up an image, a life of what might have been. But it’s very fuzzy and out-of-focus. It’s all conjecture, anyway. My projections are just that – imaginary projections. They are based on the son I knew – the amazing 19-year old, funny, handsome, kind, courteous, thoughtful, intelligent young man – mixed with bucket loads of “what if’s” and “what might have been’s.”

I wish I had had the opportunity to know the “what if’s” in the life of our precious son. I wish I had had the opportunity to see “what might have been.” I wish Jason had lived.

Happy birthday, Jason. I love you with all my heart. I miss you so much.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Happy Birthday, Precious Son

Dear Jason,

You would have turned 30 today. 30 years old. It’s hard to imagine you being 30 years old. You will forever be 19 in our memories.

If you had lived, what would you be doing now? Would you be married? Would you have kids? Would you still live in Washington or would you have moved to another state? What would you do for a living?

We’ll never know. You never had a chance to find out. You never had a chance to make those choices with your life. You never had the chance to find the love of your life, ask her to marry you, or to know the incredible joy of holding your newborn child. You never had a chance to graduate from college, move into your first apartment, buy your first home, or hold a full-time job.

There are so many, many things that you never got a chance to do.

I do know this, though. Whatever you would have done, it would have been with the integrity, empathy, kindness, and caring that were such a part of you. You would have loved with your whole heart and lived a life bringing sunshine and love into the lives of those who knew you.

I’m so sorry you didn’t get a chance to live your life to 30 and way beyond. I’m sure you would have lived it to the fullest. I’m sorry you didn’t get a chance to get married or have children. You would have been a wonderful husband and father. I’m so sorry that you were taken from us. The hole you left in our lives is huge.

But, I’m SO GLAD you were born into our family. I’m SO GLAD you were OUR boy, our precious son.

I miss you, my precious Mr. Jay. My Mr. Sunshine.

I love you…always. I miss you. You are always in my heart.

Happy birthday, Jason.

Mom

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Alina’s Birthday

From my journal dated December 12, 2002:

Alina's surprise 18th birthday party

Alina would have been 21 today. I’m sure this is a tough day for her family.

This morning I was thinking about the surprise birthday party Jason and Hannah planned for Alina when she turned 18. That was so much fun – to so successfully surprise Alina, to have all those kids in our house, to be a just a small part of something that obviously gave Alina such happiness.

In my mind, I can still picture Alina, Jason, Hannah and all the other kids in our home that day – having so much fun together. They were all such good friends. I think I still have the birthday candles from the cake somewhere – chunky, yellow and green number 18.

Happy birthday, Alina. Miss you.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

“Hanging in there”

From my journal dated September 25, 2002:

Debra* and her daughter came up to our house today to see the Hawaii pictures. I emailed Lisa* [mutual friends from our old church] to see if she wanted to come by, too. It feels like I don’t really have too much in common any more with either of them. It’s easier for me to just sit back and be a third party. I know I still have some major defense mechanisms that pop up. I keep working on it.

I just don’t feel like saying how I really feel, how I really am. Debra always asks me so seriously how I’m doing, like I’m supposed to open up and really say. I can’t just open up on command. I feel so raw and hurt inside, so ugly and bitter. I always say something like “Hanging in there” or something equally benign. I don’t want people to be able to look into my soul and see how hurt and ugly I am in there…too much pain.

Debra asked what I had planned for my birthday on Monday. I can’t even think about celebrating my birthday without Jason! I don’t feel like celebrating anything at all any more! I don’t want anyone to do anything. Debra said she thought Patricia* was planning on doing something.

NO! I don’t want it! They’ve left me so alone. Why would they do anything now?? I don’t want anything from any of them! I’ve felt so abandoned by all of them, so much pain on top of pain. Do they think doing something for my birthday makes everything okay? Doing something on one day doesn’t make it special! “Special” would have been for them to have been here all along! Don’t swoop down on one day like it’s such a big deal…that you’re doing me such a huge favor to celebrate my birthday! “Ta da! Here we are! We’re here for you today on your birthday!” Where have you been all along??

See…I am so ugly inside. So bitter. I’m so mad at them for leaving me alone, for disappearing, for all the excuses. I don’t want to be like this! I don’t want to have a deformed heart! Help me, God! It’s just so hard.