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

A gentle reminder – in the hustle and bustle of this holiday season

Just a gentle reminder that, in the hustle and bustle of this holiday season, there may be those among us who have lost a dearly loved one this year – child, spouse, parent, grandparent or friend – who may be in need of some extra special TLC as they remember the Christmases that “used to be” and struggle with how to celebrate the present Christmas with an empty chair.

A Mother’s Grief
by Kelly Cummings

You ask me how I’m feeling,
but do you really want to know?
The moment I try telling you
You say you have to go

How can I tell you,
what it’s been like for me
I am haunted, I am broken
By things that you don’t see

You ask me how I’m holding up,
but do you really care?
The moment I start to speak my heart,
You start squirming in your chair.

Because I am so lonely,
you see, friends no longer come around,
I’ll take the words I want to say
And quietly choke them down.

Everyone avoids me now,
I guess they don’t know what to say
They told me I’ll be there for you,
then turned and walked away.

Call me if you need me,
that’s what everybody said,
But how can I call and scream
into the phone,
My God, my child is dead?

No one will let me
say the words I need to say
Why does a mothers grief
scare everyone away?

I am tired of pretending
my heart hammers in my chest,
I say things to make you comfortable,
but my soul finds no rest.

How can I tell you things
that are too sad to be told,
of the helplessness of holding a child
who in your arms grows cold?

Maybe you can tell me,
How should one behave,
who’s had to follow their childs casket,
watched it perched above a grave?

You cannot imagine
what it was like for me that day
to place a final kiss upon that box,
and have to turn and walk away.

If you really love me,
and I believe you do,
if you really want to help me,
here is what I need from you.

Sit down beside me,
reach out and take my hand,
Say “My friend, I’ve come to listen,
I want to understand.”

Just hold my hand and listen
that’s all you need to do,
And if by chance I shed a tear,
it’s alright if you do too.

I swear that I’ll remember
till the day I’m very old,
the friend who sat and held my hand
and let me bare my soul.
–Kelly Cummings
12/8/03

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Grieving-Mothers/162680380444494

As a bereaved parent, we notice and remember those who took the time…and, unfortunately, we also notice and remember those who could not or would not take the time. Once again, I express my heartfelt wish that bereaved parents feel surrounded by love this Christmas season.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Is there beauty under this grief?

From my journal dated February 11, 2003:

I got up early this morning – made coffee, put a firelog in the fireplace, worked on my English research paper, started Joe’s truck for him since it’s so frosty. After Joe left for work, I snuggled in a blanket on the couch for a bit and started to drift off to sleep. In that area between “awake” and “asleep,” I had a mental picture of how I see myself.

I saw myself slowly trudging down a path or small road. I looked short, brown, ugly, and hairy – sort of like Bigfoot, Cousin It, or that purple McDonald’s creature, but very short and with fur or hair that went all the went to the ground so my legs couldn’t be seen. I didn’t even look like a human being. I was sort of hunched over a little as I tried to move forward, as if I were putting all my energy and focus into what I was doing.

The countryside around was sunny and pretty, but I didn’t even notice. I just kept my eyes looking forward, sort of down at the road to where I would take my next step. I was taking excruciatingly slow, very concentrated steps, sort of like a person who is learning to walk again through great pain. My entire focus was on the act of walking, using great, great concentration to make myself move forward bit by painful bit.

Some bright, thin, little, fairy-type thing fluttered up to me from the side – all happy, buzzing around, and trying to talk to me. I just sort of glanced over at her and then turned back to focus on the road and to the job at hand of trying to walk. It was like she was trying to cheer me up or distract me by her bright happiness, but I couldn’t tell if her happiness was real or just put on for show.

I think that’s the way I’ve become. I must look ugly with grief. Grief isn’t very pretty. Grief isn’t easy. Grief has made me slow, ugly, and brown*. Ugly to look at; ugly to be around. I’m not who I once was. I was the “helper” person, the “fix it” person, the “leader” person. Now I can’t fix anything. I can’t change anything. I have no answers. I’m broken, shattered. I’m doing the best I can with what I know to do. I’m just trying to move forward one slow, small step at a time. I hardly even notice the scarce person who may flutter by to talk to me. I know the people who flutter by will soon fly off to some other, more beautiful place where they don’t have to see my grief. I know they won’t stay more than momentarily; maybe that’s why I barely notice them.

I wonder if I would be this way if I had someone to walk beside me when I had some visible beauty left in me. I wonder if the ugliness would fade or disappear if people would be willing to walk beside me and sort of surround me with love, kindness, and care for a while.

Is there such a person who is steady and strong enough to walk with me and help me find some beauty inside again? Or do I stay this way until I am strong enough to figure out how to change back into some semblance of human form – one people don’t mind being around, one people don’t avoid, one that’s no longer so ugly that it’s painful to look at, one where the ugliness of grief has been replaced by the beauty of wholeness?

Is there such a person left inside of me? Is there beauty under this grief? Is there beauty and usefulness in a shattered life or a broken heart pieced back together, even though the cracks may show? I sure hope so.

*brown – dull and lacking vibrancy/color, monotone

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Hope

Our pastor preached on hope this past Sunday. I like our pastor. He’s funny. He gets his message across without condemning. He’s real. He’s also a bereaved parent, and that carries some weight with me.

But, it got me to thinking about hope. It’s what all of us, especially as bereaved parents, want. We want the “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” that old hymn talks about.

There are many things I believe and know. I believe in God. I believe in heaven. I believe that Jesus was born, died, and was raised again so that I could have eternal life. I know that Jason was a Christian and that I will see him again. I know that all of my questions will be answered when I see God. I know that, although I see through a dark glass now, someday I will understand. Someday all my tears will be wiped away.

Here on earth, though, sometimes I struggle. I have had a long struggle with my faith since Jason died. Research has shown that many bereaved parents question and examine their spiritual beliefs following the death of a child. I didn’t understand why God didn’t protect Jason after I had prayed and prayed for our kids, their lives, and their protection. I don’t know why we’ve had to walk this long, lonely, difficult path. I have had a long struggle believing the validity of fellow Christians actually being the hands and feet of God on this earth and getting into the trenches to help those who deeply grieve. I have questioned the concept of the church as a hospital for the wounded. I didn’t go to church for a while. It was just too hard. It’s taken me a long time to allow myself to “hope” again.

I can’t deny what we have experienced or what we have seen with our own eyes. It’s been a rough journey; that’s a fact. I would have to acknowledge that, for the most part, fellow Christians and the church failed us miserably after Jason died. On my part, I was extremely hurt and reacted by pulling even farther away. I built up a protective wall around my heart and hunkered down behind it.

Was that the right thing to do? I don’t know. In retrospect, probably not. There are many things I would do differently if I had to do them again. I did what I knew how to do  and what I had the energy to do at the time. That’s all any of us can do.

But, I don’t want to convey a hopelessness to others who may be early on in their grief. My experiences are not be the same as yours. There is so much more information available for helping those who deeply grieve. You are not alone. You will make it through. You are stronger than you know. Reach out to others. You may be surprised who reaches back. Others have walked a similar path before you. Those who have suffered a great loss generally have a deeper, more empathetic outlook on life. They survived; you will, too.

More than anything, though, I want to encourage those surrounding grievers to be proactive. Do something! You can make a difference! I want to encourage those in the church to look outside of their own group of friends or acquaintances to see if there is someone new or someone who is hurting. Someone may need more than your shaking their hand “good morning.” You can give hope by small acts of kindness…but you have to be involved with them beyond a perfunctory smile to do that.

It’s easy to stay within our comfort zones. We are creatures of habit. We like to sit in the same place at church or hang out with the same friends. We like to be around people we know. We go to lunch with the same people, go to the same Bible studies, attend the same social events. But maybe there is someone new who needs a friend or just a kind word. Maybe there is someone right in front of you who needs some hope. Are you unintentionally excluding someone who may need a glimmer of hope?

My dad used to joke about people who would pray, “God bless me, my wife, my son John and his wife. Us four, no more. Amen.” He wanted to encourage others (and especially “us kids”) to realize that there are more people that God wants to bless besides those within our own little circles…and he may want to use you to do it.

I have long contemplated how I can best help those who grieve. I have a “helper” personality and am strongly empathetic. How can I best help? I’m still trying to figure that out. Maybe this blog is one of my attempts to do just that.

I realize friendships and relationships take a while to grow. It takes time to connect. But there has to be a reciprocal desire by both parties. I may have a need to reach out to you and I may make the effort to do that; but if you don’t see me reaching out and reach back, there’s no chance for a connection. There’s no chance for a relationship. There’s no chance to encourage or give hope to someone who may need it.

Does that make sense?

There may be people around us reaching out for friendship, for hope, for encouragement. Do we see them? Do we take the time to notice? Do we take time to share some hope?

I subscribe to GriefShare and receive “A Season of Grief” daily emails from them. The last few have encouraged those who grieve to find support in a local church. Are we, as a church, prepared to do that? There are people, in their deep grief, looking to us for hope. Are we ready to show them hope – “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”? Are we, by our actions, ready to show them the God of all hope?

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:14-18)

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

“Angry stage”? Perhaps.

This is probably the harshest, angriest journal entry I wrote after Jason died. I was very hurt at the time. The mama bear in me raised her head and roared. The “angry stage” of grief? Perhaps. I’m not a big fan of labeling stages of grief. They make grief look too neat, too tidy, too linear, too easy for someone else to apply their own assumptions to where the griever should be in the “stages” or what the bereaved should be doing. In an effort to promote understanding, I have promised not to shy away from the harsh things we faced following Jason’s death, so I am including it below. It’s where I was and how I felt at the time. I was angry.

From my journal dated January 4, 2003:

Well, we took the Christmas tree and decorations down today. All is put away and cleaned up for another year. Every Saturday and Sunday are the same – and this one is no different. We do what we need to do, and then we sit on the couch and look at each other. “Now what do we do?”

Janice stopped by last evening and brought us some flowers. If she’s in town, she tries to remember the 3rd in some way. I really appreciate that. Since we were about to sit down to dinner, I invited her to join us.

Janice started asking Jenna about what she’d done and about who she had seen over Christmas, specifically asking if Jenna had done anything with [the two gals who stopped by the other day for coffee where Jenna works]. I think Janice thought people who were home from college would get together with Jenna. She thought friends would call, invite her to do things with them. People like to picture happy, rosy scenarios – when it’s just not that way. After Jenna left, I just vented some of my frustration about “friends.” I’m just so mad. I honestly can take the desertion for myself, but it’s just so hard to see how everyone has been treating my family.

We’ve served in the church, in the homeschool community. We’ve opened our home and lives over and over again. I’ve spent hours and hours praying for our kids and their friends. We’ve cared about them, invested our lives in them. Now they avoid us, pretend they don’t see us, duck down the next aisle at the grocery store. It makes it hard to respect some of the Christians we know. Aren’t Christians supposed to have a heart after God? Aren’t Christians supposed to be the hands and feet of God on this earth? Doesn’t the Bible say that faith without works is dead?

Janice kept saying how, whenever she sees anyone we know, they ask her how we’re doing. They tell her they think of us daily, that they’re praying for us. They very well may be, but…honestly! How are supposed to know that? We see no evidence of it at all! To leave us so alone, we really can’t tell one way or the other.

Janice said the typical “people don’t know what to do, don’t know what to say, don’t want to intrude in our family time.” Intrude on our family time??!! Really? Our “family time” all by ourselves screams the lack of Jason’s presence. Our “family time” emphasizes the huge hole in our family. Our “family time” isn’t what it used to be; it’s not what everyone must picture. Jeesh!! I have such a hard time swallowing those excuses. That’s what they are – excuses! I told her I don’t understand how practically everybody we know doesn’t have the guts to step up to the the plate and be here for us. Seriously! Where are they? Even if some of these kids and parents are dealing with their own grief, can’t someone step up to the plate?? Anyone? We know lot of people!!

I told her that it’s almost too late now for any of these people to try to “be there” for us. It’s been so long…too long. How do we trust them? How do we believe that NOW they want to be around us?

I don’t want Janice to feel that she needs to go and “talk” to people, to guilt them into calling or trying to hang out with us or whatever. I made sure she knows that motives are extremely important to us. We are not a project. We don’t need anyone to sweep in and fix us or rescue us. We don’t want anyone to do anything out of guilt. Either they want to be around us or they don’t. Either they care about us or they don’t. Either it shows or it doesn’t.

Janice said several times that a lot of people care about us. Really?? Where are they????? It’s really hard to tell. Are we just supposed to “feel” the caring in the airwaves? Maybe it’s the “faith” kind of caring. We just have to have faith that people care…because we sure flat out don’t see it and we don’t feel it.

I told Janice I can’t wait to move far away. She said it would be starting over in a place where we didn’t know anybody, that at least we know people here and there’s a chance to restore relationships. But how do we trust those relationships now? How do we believe these friendships and relationships are true? If they are true, why have all of us been so alone since Jason died? Do I want to restore those relationships? How would I go about doing that? How do I trust them? It just looks like so much work on my part. Even thinking about it is exhausting.

Trust once broken is not easily mended. You don’t just snap your fingers and things are as they once were. I trusted those people! I trusted them to be here for us when we had absolutely no family close by. They knew we had no family here. I trusted them to be gentle with our hearts. I reached out to them and they did nothing! They did nothing!! Nothing! I told Janice trust has been broken in those relationships, and I don’t have anywhere near the energy that it would take to restore them.

In talking later with Jenna about what Janice and I discussed, Jenna said, “People and the way they have treated us have made it 100 times worse.”

“100 times worse” may be a little high, but it definitely has caused wounds on top of wounds. It has affected us. It has made this grieving so much harder. So much lonelier. People don’t see that when they do nothing they create a greater hurt or wound than if they at least tried to do something. Even doing something small with the right heart is better than doing nothing!

A small kindness goes a long way. If people just put on their thinking caps – along with a little sensitivity – a person of any age can do a small kindness that helps the healing…or at least momentarily lessens the hurting to some degree. It doesn’t take much, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or some aged wise man to figure out something small that would help. Kindness. We just needed kindness heaped our broken and wounded hearts.

Janice has a tendency to excuse the “kids” – Jason’s and Jenna’s friends. “They don’t know what to do.” “They don’t know how to deal with it.” Okay. I can understand that. Truly, I do. But when they ignore “it,” they ignore us. We pay the price again and again. How do I trust or respect these people again? I just don’t believe people any more. I don’t see how they could possibly even care when it looks to me like they haven’t even thought of us in months and months. At least, that’s the way it looks from this side. They haven’t even bothered to reach across the grief barrier to us for what seems like an eternity – and, whenever they decide it’s “safe” to call or whatever, we’re supposed to believe them, welcome their words and open up our hearts/emotions like a book?? How do we do that?

Trust has always been a big issue for me. Trust. Truth. Honesty. They’re important to me. It’s hard for me to trust once it’s been broken, especially now. It just feels like the stakes are so much higher. Our hearts are involved. Our hearts are broken and fragile. I feel so vulnerable and hurt. I feel like I’ve had to put up walls to protect myself from more pain, more broken trust, more broken relationships. I’ve crawled inside those walls. I feel so depleted emotionally. I’m worn down. It takes a lot of energy grieve. It takes a lot of energy to heal wounds – not only the huge one from Jason’s death, but all of the secondary wounds. I guess it takes less energy to keep the walls up than tear them down to let people in.

I’m sure I came across harshly to Janice, but I think she was trying to understand. I really appreciate that. I don’t want to be mad. I don’t want to be harsh or bitter. It helps no one and hurts no one but me. No one really knows what it’s been like to be so alone.

God, forgive us if we’re jaded. It feels like we’ve been walking across a long, harsh, empty, barren terrain of grief. We’re all so very, very weary.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

I Don’t Understand!

From my journal dated January 1, 2003:

Jenna said two gals [friends from homeschool days] stopped by while she was working yesterday. They’ve been home from college for a week and a half. Since no one had asked her to do anything on New Year’s Eve, Jenna decided be bold and ask if they wanted to hang out with her last night – watch movies or do something. They used to hang out all the time together, along with other friends. She just wanted to do something fun.

Jenna said both of them stood there like deer in the headlights, hemming and hawing.  Obviously, they were doing something else, but didn’t want to include her. Or didn’t know if Jenna should be invited or would be welcome. I don’t know. It would have been better if they had just told her they had other plans and made arrangements to see her another day. They just got their coffees and left.

My poor girl. She’s just hurting so much. She’s so lonely.

When Jenna told me about it this morning, she was so upset. She said that everyone she knows has either deserted her or treats her like crap. And she said she expects it any more! She’s surprised when anyone is actually nice to her, wants to be around her, compliments her on something.

My heart breaks for my precious daughter. How can they treat her like this?? She’s a wonderful, kind, caring, giving, beautiful young woman. She deserves so much better. She did nothing to cause this. How sad! I don’t understand how people can treat her like this. She did nothing wrong!!

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Christmas Season – Not the “Same as Always” This Year

From my journal dated December 11, 2002:

On Sunday, Joe and I took Brandy [the dog] for a walk on the Woodinville Slough Trail. We were so sad and needed to get some fresh air. I think the Christmas season is affecting us so much more than we ever thought.

After our walk, we stopped and purchased a Christmas tree from the lot at Mary Sutton’s church. Came home, put it up, and started decorating it. Joe put on the lights, as he’s always done. But he just couldn’t handle doing any more than that. Eric and Jenna weren’t home, either, so I had to do the rest all by myself. It was so hard.

Christmas 2001

Debra* had asked Eric to fix a guitar for her daughter’s birthday. She came up to our house that afternoon to pick it up. We have known Debra and her family for many years; we considered them our extended family – family by choice instead of birth. We chose to make them our family. I feel like Jason’s death changed all that.

There I sat in the middle of the family room floor, surrounded by boxes, tissue paper, and ornaments waiting to be hung on the tree. I was such a mess. I was just drowning. I felt stuck, unable to do anything else. I would have given nearly anything to have someone help me. I guess I just had a hope in my heart that Debra would take time to sit down and help me. I would have loved some help right then. It would have made such a difference.

But she couldn’t do it…wouldn’t do it. I don’t know which. She probably had some place else she was headed. It was like she couldn’t wait to get the guitar from Eric and get out of our house. She barely even talked to me.

We always went as a family to pick out our Christmas tree, and then we would put on Christmas music and start to decorate the house and tree. Joe always put on the lights first. Then I would unwrap the ornaments, and each person would put his or her special ornaments on the tree. Sometimes a story starting with “I remember when…” would accompany the ornament.  Jason always put the angel on the top as soon as he got tall enough to reach.

We loved our Christmas traditions: Going to look at Christmas lights and rating them by “stars”; Chinese food on Christmas Eve; Christmas Eve candlelight service; freshly-made cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning; Joe reading the Christmas story to us; taking turns opening presents; Christmas dinner filled with goof food, family, laughter. Now what do we do?

Nothing is the same. Traditions now emphasize Jason’s absence. How can we just go through the same traditions this year? What are we supposed to do instead? I can’t just throw them all away. We can’t just do nothing. That seems wrong, too.

Christmas 1999

It took me a long time to decorate the tree. I absolutely fell apart when I pulled Jason’s stocking out of the box. How can he be gone??!!?? It’s just not right!! It’s all so very wrong!! This hurts!!! My heart hurts!! How do we celebrate Christmas without our boy??

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney