Of Falling Trees and Such

As I lay in bed this morning listening to the wind whip through the trees on this blustery and wintery day, I realized I was wondering if one of them would fall on the house…and hoping and praying one would not. Once you have a tree fall on your house, you can’t help but wonder whether it will happen again.

On January 20, 1993, Western Washington State experienced what became known as “infamous Inaugural Day Windstorm.” As Bill Clinton was about to be sworn in as President of the United States, we in the Seattle area had other things on our minds.

It was a typical homeschooling day in the Carney household, although one where we were getting a slower start than normal that morning. Eric was having a hard time getting out of bed, preferring to snuggle down under the covers on that blustery morning. Joe had gone to work as usual, crossing the I-90 floating bridge across Lake Washington to his job in downtown Seattle. The rest of us were just puttering around the house.

Around 9:00 a.m., we heard part of a tree fall from our neighbor’s yard onto the fence that divided our properties in the back. Jason and Jenna climbed up on the kitchen counter to look out the window, as I stood behind them surveying the damage.

As we looked out the window at the damaged fence, something else very startling caught my attention. It looked to me like the big fir tree about 15-20 feet away from the kitchen window in our backyard was dancing. It sort of slowly lifted up and twirled to the right, settled back down, and then slowly lifted up and twirled to the left. It literally looked like it was dancing a slow ballet. It was an amazing sight to see.

Now, this was no ordinary fir tree. As it grew, it had split fairly low so that it had two trunks going at least 60 feet or so into the air. It was a big tree!! The trunks were situated so that one was toward the house and one away from the house.

All of a sudden, I realized the tree was no longer dancing, it was falling right toward the house…right toward the kitchen window we were looking out. I grabbed Jason and Jenna off the counter and turned to run. By the time I got to the kitchen doorway, it was all over.

Thankfully, the tree turned as it fell so that one trunk landed on the roof to the right of us and one landed on the roof to the left of us. The top of one on the left snapped off from the impact of hitting the house, and it whipped back in through the window over the front door to the house and a branch went through the front door.

There were several things that saved us that day. We weren’t at the dining room table where we normally would have been. Eric was still cozy in his bed and the rest of us were watching the storm out the kitchen window – just in time to run as the tree fell. If the tree had not turned as it fell, it would have landed with both trunks right on top of us, of that I have no doubt. If we had been closer to the front door or going down the stairs to the basement, we could have been hit by the treetop coming through the window above the door or by the shattering glass. Also, our landlord just recently (finally!!) had re-roofed the house, replacing any damaged wood. Being an older house, it had fairly thick and solid joists which gave it more strength to absorb some of the impact of the falling tree. Because the trunk of the tree split, the weight of the tree was divided between the two trunks. The larger, heavier trunk came through the roof above the dining room table right where the kids would have been doing their schoolwork on any other day, and the smaller trunk landed halfway across the length of the house above the front door (causing damage to the plumbing tree of the house, front window above the door, and the door) but didn’t come all the way through the roof.

I called Joe at work, asking him to come home right away because a tree had fallen on the house. He made it back across the I-90 floating bridge just before they closed it because of the wind. I called our landlord and had a hard time convincing him that a tree had actually fallen on the house (one I had tried to get him to cut down) and that the damage was more than something his aging father could climb up on the roof and fix. (Our landlord was something else, I must say!)

The city where we lived sustained the greatest number of damaged homes per capita in the area. Many, many other houses were damaged or destroyed throughout the area. Winds in some areas reached that of a category 1 hurricane. Buildings downtown Seattle swayed in the wind, making people nauseous. Power was out for days. Six people died and many others injured. But, none of us were hurt, just very shaken. I am so very thankful.

The house was so damaged that we had to pack everything up and move it into storage. We had people just show up to help us pack up our entire household in one day. Everything went into storage and stayed there (for months) as we looked for a house to buy. That’s another story.

Anyway, one of the first things I made sure was that all of the close-in trees at our next house were cleared. I couldn’t sleep when it was windy until I felt fairly certain we were out of reach of most potentially-falling trees.

The moral of this story is that you don’t ever forget traumatic events or tragedies. They are imprinted on your life. They become a part of who you are. Your heart doesn’t forget.

We now live in a house with trees close by, and I find that it makes me nervous when the wind howls through the trees as it is today. I don’t so much worry about myself being hurt; I worry about the ones I love. In my ignorance before the tree fell on our house, I knew that trees fell in high winds. I just never imagined one would fall on us. In my ignorance before Jason died, I knew that tragedy strikes families and children die. I just never imagined it would be us. Once you experience a great tragedy or a traumatic event, you never forget that you are not immune. Time passes, but certain things can take you back to that moment when you realized beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not immune from tragedies or traumatic events. None of us are immune.

I am so thankful none of us were hurt that day the tree fell on our home. I am so thankful for the people who rallied around us to help us pack up and move everything we owned in a single day. I am thankful for the people who invited us to stay with them while we looked for a house to buy.

But, I still don’t understand why God protected us that day the tree fell on our house (and I am certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that He did then and many other times), but He didn’t protect Jason from being hit by a drunk driver on March 3rd, 2002. I prayed and prayed for God’s protection for my kids. I feel like sometimes they were protected from danger or harm and sometimes they weren’t. We invested in the lives of others. Sometimes that investment returned to us and sometimes it didn’t. I don’t understand why people we counted on left us so very alone after Jason died. Protection and support one time; no protection and no support another. An exponentially greater tragedy; exponentially less support.

Sometimes there just aren’t any answers. Things happen, and I don’t understand why. I know that I now “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). There are so many things I don’t understand. Someday I hope I will.

© 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

Taking the time

I’ve been catching up on reading the email notifications I get from blogs I follow. I know, I know. I’ve been slacking off in both my writing AND my reading!

Anyway, I wanted to share a link to a blog I read this morning written by a man whose daughter died three years ago. Like the letter I wrote to Jason on his 19th birthday, Mr. Cartwright wrote a note to his daughter not long before she died, telling her what an amazing young woman she was.

I’m so glad I took the time to listen to that little voice “prompting” me to write that letter to Jason on the morning of his 19th birthday. He didn’t get to see his 20th birthday. The pastor read the letter as a eulogy at Jason’s memorial service.

We have to take the time to tell the people we love how much we love them and how proud we are of them when we have the chance. We have to slow down our busy lives enough to spend meaningful time and have meaningful conversations with those we love. That chance may never come again.

No guilt trip; just a friendly reminder. I’m sure we all try to do the best we can with the time and energy resources we have.

Here’s the link for Mr. Cartwright’s blog post: http://spiritualwalkwithgod.wordpress.com/2013/06/29/its-been-3-years/; and here’s the letter I wrote to Jason on his 19th birthday: http://onewomansperspective02.wordpress.com/writings/

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Carrying Your Child’s Legacy

Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective:

For some reason, this really made a lot of sense to me as I read it. We, as parents, see the hope for tomorrow in our children. They are our “legacy,” as the writer says. Our days are forward-looking as we imagine, hope and dream of wonderful things for our children.

After our child dies, bereaved parents, especially mothers, feel a huge responsibility to make sure their child is not forgotten. It seems inconceivable that our child is gone, that he/she will not experience the hopes and dreams we have held in our hearts for our children. It then becomes our responsibility to try to carry forth a legacy for our child in a form that has meaning for us individually. It’s not exactly a backwards-looking point of view – because no one can truly move forward while looking backwards – but one that calls out, “Remember, remember, please remember my precious child. Remember his life, remember that he lived and loved and added wonderful things to this life. Please don’t forget him.”

Some people start foundations or become grief counselors or write. Whatever we do, we want our child’s life – and death – to have meaning. We want to carry on the legacy of our child.

Originally posted on struggleeachminute:

Legacy. So many definitions of legacy float around mankind but ultimately it comes down to children. Our children are our legacy. It’s probably why when people aren’t able to have them that so much of their work centers around what they are able to leave behind them. It may come in the form of an endowment or library but the end result is they still finding a way to carry themselves ahead. Our children are what carries us forward in a million different way. They carry our hair,  eyes and quirky personality. They take with them the portions of who we are that are most important and the traits that had the biggest impact on forming who they become. They provide us with a sense of reassurance that when we leave the world, at whatever point that may be, that we as a person do not end.  It’s an element of permanence that helps to keep us settled. They pass those family characteristics, annoying habits and…

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Sometimes my heart just hurts

Honestly, sometimes my heart just hurts.

It has surprised my how close to the surface my grief has been this month over losing Jason. I really thought I had turned a corner last year when I went back to Seattle. For some reason, it felt like the ten-year mark was a major turning point.

But, I have found myself close to tears at unexpected times during this entire month, times when my heart hurts so much the tears want to spill out. This March marks the end of eleven years without Jason and beginning of the twelfth year. Moving forward into twelve years – it feels like I’m once again walking through molasses. The loss of Jason – and so many, many other losses – feels particularly acute right now.

Perhaps it’s just the time of year, the month of the year that Jason died. Perhaps it’s a time when accumulative losses seem particularly heavy. Perhaps it’s remembering the excitement of putting together Easter baskets to leave outside the kids’ rooms on Easter morning…and missing that time like crazy…missing my boy like crazy. Jason, even at 19, kept the Easter bunnies I put in his basket.

Perhaps it’s the unsettled-ness that we seem to continue to walk through since Jason died. There felt like such a contented, settled, happy feeling before Jason died. True, everything was not rosy all the time, but there was happiness and hope and determination to keep moving toward better things ahead. Since then there has been losses of jobs, friends, home; moving here and there, trying to find a place where we “fit.”

Perhaps it’s waiting for spring to arrive outside…and waiting for spring to arrive in the deep places of my heart and grief. Perhaps it’s trying to find a meaningful purpose for my life, a reason for trying so hard to keep on living my life in spite of all this pain and loss. Perhaps it’s just the weariness of the journey on this Good Friday before Easter.

Sometimes the effort of the journey catches up with me and I get weary of trying so hard…and sometimes my heart just hurts. I guess the price of loving a sweet, wonderful boy so much is having my heart heart so much that he’s gone.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Of Tattoos and “God’s Will”

IMG_0043I have a tattoo on my foot. I’m sure it seems totally out of character for those who know me, for someone “my age” and conservative background. When I got it, it sure was a big surprise to people I knew at the time (including my husband!)!

It’s not a tattoo that I got when I was young or one I got spur of the moment on a whim. I went with my daughter after Jason died when she wanted to get a tattoo in memory of her brother, and I got one at the same time. We’d been talking about it off and on since Jason’s death, and I had in mind exactly what I wanted. It’s a tattoo of a red rose, a heart, and Jason’s initials. Jason loved to give roses to people he cared about, he had a huge loving heart, and it seemed very fitting.

Jason giving roses to fellow "Our Town" actors

Jason giving roses to his fellow “Our Town” actors

Very few people ask me about it, if they notice it at all. I did, however, have someone remark in surprise when she noticed it recently. She went on to ask questions about it, and I simply said it was in memory of our son. To her credit, she didn’t shy away, but asked me what happened and told me how sorry she was. I showed her a picture of Jason, and she told me her husband had passed away the year before. I appreciated her taking the time to ask and to talk to me about it.

However, she then kept adamantly insisting over and over that “they were in a better place,” that “God was in control and had a perfect plan,” that “all of this was part of God’s perfect will.” When I didn’t respond in agreement (as she obviously thought I would), she adamantly insisted the same things all over again. I’m sure she was well-meaning, but it just wasn’t something I really wanted to hear right then. With the anniversary of Jason’s death right around the corner, I felt like my emotions were very near the surface. I steered the conversation away to something else.

When is it appropriate to insist to a bereaved parent that it’s God’s perfect will that his or her child died?

Never. Never, ever, ever. I’m of the opinion that a person shouldn’t tell a bereaved parent that it was God’s perfect will that his or her child died, and I don’t think it’s ever okay to adamantly insist such a thing. Whatever a bereaved parent’s religious point of view or conviction of God’s part in the whole event may be, it’s probably better to say nothing along this line than to step on a bereaved parent’s toes. Believe me, a bereaved parent has enough to deal with! Unless one has walked in the other person’s exact same shoes – and, if you think about it, those shoes are “made for walking” by only one person because of each of our own unique situations and personalities – it’s better not to make any assumptions. One person doesn’t know where the other person is coming from or how such comments will be received or interpreted.

For me, personally, it’s never been a comfort to me for someone to tell that Jason’s death and the situation surrounding Jason’s death was God’s will – like Jason was supposed to die that day afer being broadsided by a drunk driver, that my family and I were supposed to have to walk this long road of grief, that we were supposed to be left alone by nearly everyone we knew, that we were supposed to learn to live a life without Jason, that it was absolutely God’s will for Jason to die as he did and when he did. Was it God’s perfect will for Jason to die that day? I don’t know, but I’ve always thought Jason had more things he was supposed to do here on earth during his lifetime. I can’t even begin to imagine Jason taking the brunt of a car going nearly 80 miles an hour. Was that God’s will? Jason was one of the “good guys” – kind, intelligent, funny, compassionate, Godly, on and on. It’s hard for me to think about Jason’s death on that awful day in terms of God’s perfect will.

It doesn’t offer a lot comfort to try to encourage me that he’s in a better place. I know he’s in a better place. I’m glad he’s not experiencing pain or sorrow. I know I will see him again some day in that better place. But that doesn’t change the fact that I have the right to grieve his loss or that I have the right to miss him so greatly in this present life. It doesn’t change the fact that the life I expected to live and the lives I hoped my children would live has changed beyond comprehension. It doesn’t change the fact that I have had to learn (and am still learning) how to be this “me” in this “new normal.” It doesn’t change the fact that I have had to weave Jason’s loss into the fabric of my life, that it affects so much of the very person that I now am, and that his death has changed me. It doesn’t change the fact that I’ve had to re-examine what I believe in terms of God and what I thought I knew of him.

IMG_0560One year, I wrote on the back of wallet-sized photos exactly what I was praying for my kids. I prayed for my kids. I prayed for their friends. I prayed for my family. I carried those photos with me wherever I went as a reminder to pray for my kids; I still carry them with me to this day. I believed 100% that God heard my prayer and that he would protect my kids. I believed that God heard my prayers and that they “availed much.” I believed 100% that God had a wonderful plan for Jason’s life, that he had a wonderful spouse for him, that my husband and I would enjoy watching Jason marry and have children. But it didn’t happen that way. Jason died at the age of 19 after being hit by a drunk driver. I guess I’ve been trying to reconcile what I thought I knew about God and my new reality ever since then.

I don’t claim to know the mind of God. How can I know the mind of God and know all his ways and why things happen the way they do? The Bible says his ways aren’t my ways. I don’t claim to know what his plans are or why he didn’t protect Jason from harm when I prayed and prayed and prayed for all of my kids and for their protection from harm.

I have a lot of questions I would like to have answered someday when I am face to face with God. There is no sin in having questions. There is no sin in wrestling with God on things we don’t understand. The Bible says we see through a “glass darkly,” but someday we will understand. Right now, I feel like I am seeing through that dark glass.

The Bible says that God is not willing that anyone should perish without knowing him. Do people perish without knowing God? I would say yes, they do. Is it God’s will that they perish without knowing him? I would say, no, it’s not. If it’s God’s perfect will that people don’t perish without knowing him, then why do they? There could be lots of reasons why things happen the way they do. I don’t have to know all the answers now – like why people perish without knowing him or why Jason died. I do know that God knows me as I am, and he knows my heart. He knows my struggles and my questions.

12 For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God]. I Corinthians 13:12 (http://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/1%20Corinthians%2013:12)

It’s no secret that I have struggled some in my faith since Jason died. It doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in God or that my faith in him is gone. It just means that my faith doesn’t look the same as it once did. It just means that I have questions and there are so many things I don’t understand. It just means that I am less doggedly sure of what I believed about God and what thought I knew about what God’s plans for my life were and those of my family. It just means that I don’t know why God didn’t protect our precious boy or why we had to live these years without him. It also means I really don’t want to hear someone insist to me that it was God’s will for Jason to die.

I know people are well-meaning. I know they don’t know what to say. It’s easier to think that bereaved parents who believe in God should just accept that it God’s will for their child to die than to question why a child died and why God didn’t protect that child. It’s easier to think that bereaved parents who believe in God should respond as Horatio G. Spafford, the author of the hymn “It is Well With My Soul,” following the death of his children. (Sometimes it feels like the Horatio Spafford model is what is expected of bereaved parents, and that we are supposed to have no or little grief or soldier bravely on by singing that “all is well” with us in spite of the fact that our child died.) It’s easier to think that there is a greater purpose when a tragedy strikes than to recognize that it’s really hard work to integrate the loss of a child into life. After Jason died, I looked and looked and prayed and prayed for a greater purpose and that his life and death would be for nothing.

I just don’t have a lot of answers any more, but I don’t think I will ever be convinced that it was God’s perfect will that Jason die on that day. I don’t know why Jason died on that day; I just know that he died and I miss him so much.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Of Signs and Such

I’m writing about something I’ve never told anyone before. I know there are bereaved parents who look for signs from their departed children, but I’m not one of them. There have been times when I’ve been some place and felt like Jason was particularly close in my heart and thoughts. There have been times when I’ve walked through a room or something and it smelled like Jason – like his favorite cologne or something else that reminded me of him – in one particular area. We don’t even live in the house where Jason grew up and most everything I have that belonged to Jason is in storage, so it kind of catches me by surprise when it happens. There are times when it feels like Jason is far away and times when he feels very near. Why do people who have died feel closer at some times than others? I don’t know. There are times when God has felt close and times when he’s felt so very far away. Why? I don’t know. There are lots of things I don’t know or understand.

March 3 2005 020On the morning of March 3, 2005, I was really low. It was the third anniversary of Jason’s death. After taking a shower, I came downstairs and into the breakfast nook where Joe was sitting at the table. As I looked out the sliding door to the backyard, I looked at Joe and exclaimed, “It looks like your name is written in the clouds out there!” He said, “I know!” I ran upstairs and got my camera to take a picture because I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I just sat and watched it for the longest time.

I’m not one to hyper-spiritualize things or try to find some spiritual hidden meaning in everything. But I do believe God wrote Joe’s name in the clouds that morning. It had been a very long, lonely struggle for three years, and both of us were very weary. I think Joe particularly needed encouragement at that time. The Bible says that God is near to the brokenhearted. I honestly believe this was God’s way of being close to Joe on that morning, March 3, 2005.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney