Remembering Alina

This morning I am remembering and honoring Jason’s best friend Alina on her 32nd birthday. She and Jason spent part of their last day together here on earth. He was taking her home after watching a movie at our house when they were broadsided by a drunk driver who was going more than twice the speed limit. They both died instantly.

Alina was a sweetheart. She always had a smile and a hug for everyone. She always made our house warmer and more fun just by being in it. I know that she felt right at home in our house and that she knew we loved her. I miss her and will never forget her. Happy birthday, Alina.

 

My Very Best Friend
For Alina

By Jason Carney

How to describe my very best friend?
She’s one of a kind
No other even comes close to her
A shining jewel in my otherwise blackened existence.
She cares greatly for others,
And puts their needs in front of her own.

No matter what I do
She still cares for me,
And never turns her back to me.

Through thick and thin
She’s always been a friend.
I could always count on her
She always instilled confidence in me.

Ever since the start of our friendship
She’s accepted me for who I am.
I don’t have to act a certain way for her,
She liked me just the way I was.

Around her I have a feeling of security,
That I have with no other.
I can really be myself with her,
And not worry about rejection.

How well she knows me
Is a scary yet comforting feeling.
She can tell when I’m down,
Or I need to laugh, or just need a hug.

She always has a hug to offer me
On these gloomy days,
And brings a smile to my face when I’m down.

She’s always willing to listen,
When I need to talk,
And gives me advice
When I need council.

I never had such a great friend
And I thank God for our friendship.
Ah, she is a great best friend,
My very best friend indeed.

(Written by Jason for Alina)

 

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

“Fatality Reported in Crash”

At work today, I heard that the highway nearby was entirely shut down and all the surface roads were clogged because of two huge accidents a mile apart. One involved three passengers who were transported to the hospital, and one involved a fatality. One of the accidents – I’m not sure which – involved children. As a result of these accidents, the highway was shut down for hours.

I wrote a blog a while ago (based on my journal entries from the year Jason died), explaining how I no longer view cemeteries the same as I used to:

I look at cemeteries differently now. I used to be distanced from them. A cemetery was a place I looked at and felt sorry for the poor people who were burying a loved one or visiting a gravesite. Now I feel compassion, empathy, and a kinship to the people who are there…which is entirely different than “feeling sorry for.” Now that person at the cemetery isn’t some disconnected entity…it’s me, visiting the graves of my son and his friend who were killed in the prime of their lives.

The same is true for traffic accidents. Hearing about a car accident involving a fatality is no longer just a tragic news item for me. I physically feel empathy for those involved, because I know what it feels like to suddenly and tragically lose a dearly loved one in a car accident. I know accidents happen. They happen to people who don’t expect it to happen to them. They can happen to anyone and take away the life of someone you feel like you can’t live without, because it happened to us. Death comes and touches your life…and you are changed forever.

My heartfelt prayers for those involved in these accidents today.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

“A Friend in Grief, Simple Ways to Help” by Ginny Callaway

A while back, I wrote a review of a book entitled “A Friend in Grief, Simple Ways to Help” by Ginny Callaway. The author recently ran across what I had written and thanked me for the review. I, in turn, discovered she has a website where this wonderful book can be purchased. Please visit her site at: http://www.afriendingrief.com/.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Vulnerability

The tragedy at the Boston Marathon really, really bothered me. Which, obviously, it should have. It was so awful, so senseless, so horrific. It made me mad, sad, full of grief for those affected, horrified, stupefied as to why anyone would do this to another person, and so many more emotions I can’t even describe. It brings tears to my eyes to think about it.

It wasn’t just that it makes me so dang mad that someone would hurt innocent people who were just enjoying the day and celebrating with those who ran in this iconic event, which it did. It wasn’t just that it was so horrific and senseless, which it was. It wasn’t just that our daughter’s good friend lives in Boston and was running in the marathon on Monday and that we were concerned for her safety, which we were. (We couldn’t get ahold of her for a while and were really worried about her. She’s fine, having run the race in 3h 14m 07s, but we didn’t know where she was in relation to the blast zone and if she was safe.) This tragedy bothered me on so many levels that it took me a few days to sort it out.

As I thought about it, I realized that it really touched a nerve of very personal vulnerability, one that goes back to Jason’s death. It made me feel so vulnerable. We tend to think that tragedy happens to “other people.” Until WE are those “other people” whose children die. Until WE are the family touched by tragedy. Until WE are that country where bombs go off in crowded places and kills and harms innocent bystanders.

I recently read a poem written by By Madelaine Perri Kasden:

OTHER PEOPLE

Every so often,
you hear about other people
losing their child.
Sometimes there is a horrible accident
you find out about on television.
Sometimes it is a senseless murder or suicide
you read about in the newspaper.
Sometimes you learn about a deadly illness over
the telephone because, this time,
he child belongs to someone you know

When such a tragedy happens,
to other people,
your heart goes out to them.
You feel deeply saddened and perhaps,
you shed a few tears.
You then continue your charmed life,
going about business as usual.
You don’t forget, but,
you don’t necessarily remember either.
After all, the death of a child
is something that occurs in the lives
of other people.

Unless, God forbid,
the television story or newspaper article or
telephone call
is about your child.
Unless, one terrible day,
heaven and earth and hell become one.
Unless your life loses all meaning and
nothing makes sense anymore.
Suddenly,
by a random twist of fate, or the hand of God,
you have become other people.

By Madelaine Perri Kasden

Before Jason died, I was one of those people who felt like the death of a child was something that happened to “other people.” Tragedy happened to “other people.” I was like a teenager marching through life, feeling invincible. I prayed for my family. I was sure beyond a doubt that God heard my prayers and would protect my family. Terrible tragedies happened to people in other places; great tragedy would never touch me or happen to me.

But it did. My child died. And it made me feel so incredibly vulnerable. I was not protected from tragedy. I was not immune. We were ordinary people, doing ordinary things, living our ordinary daily lives.

I became “that person” whose child died. Jason was taken from us by the actions of someone else, a drunk driver. I felt like someone ripped my entire chest open, leaving my most inner self bare, raw, and exposed to unbelievable grief and pain. I became “that person” who no longer was thought of as “Becky.” I became the “mother of Jason, the young man who died in the car accident.” People would whisper to each other about me, point me out to each other. People would avoid me, look right through me as if they didn’t see me. I became a grieving mess, a lonely pariah who struggled to get through the day. I was touched by tragedy, changed by the death of my child. I had to learn to “find a new normal,” find a way to weave Jason’s loss into my life, find a way to learn to walk again without Jason in this life. My life became divided into “before” and “after” by that stark moment of vulnerability when Jason died.

Those people in Boston were ordinary people experiencing a wonderful slice of Americana at the iconic Boston Marathon. In a split second of vulnerability, the security that tragedy happens to “someone else” was taken from them; it was robbed from them by a terrorist’s actions. They are now people whose lives are affected by this tragedy forever, and they will never be the same. Their lives will be divided in so many ways into “before” and “after” by that stark moment of vulnerability when that bomb went off, when some lost dear family members, when some lost limbs and will have to learn to walk again in a new manner, when some witnessed a horrific scene of human suffering that will forever be burned into their memories. It all happened to ordinary people in one split moment of vulnerability.

And when something like the bomb blasts in Boston or some other tragedy happens, it touches a nerve deep inside me and I feel incredibly vulnerable all over again. It makes me feel anxious and restless, almost the the point of being panic-y. Because, as a parent whose child has died, I know all too well that it can be just one split moment in time from MY child is alive and well…to the moment when tragedy has happened and MY child is gone. There’s no going back, no way to change what’s happened. Jason died when he was broadsided by a drunk driver who was going more than twice the speed limit. Three people died in Boston at the hands of a terrorist. Beautiful, innocent children died in Newtown. People died in an explosion in Texas.

As much as we’d like to think we are immune from tragedy, we really aren’t. I wish we could be, but we’re not. As long as we live in an imperfect world, we are not immune from the possibility of becoming that “other person” that has been touched by tragedy. And that’s why I felt so vulnerable – all over again – when I heard of the Boston tragedy.

I don’t know why tragedies hit some people and not others; or, as the title to Harold S. Kushner’s book says, why “Bad Things Happen to Good People.” I don’t know why things happen the way they do. I pray for the protection of my family and those I know, knowing as I do now that we don’t live in a perfect world and that none of us are truly immune and that we are vulnerable to tragedy. I pray for those I know who are going through grief as they have never known before. I pray that good will come from what I have experienced and walked through, that what I have to say here will create a greater understanding for those who deeply grieve. I know that I will see Jason again. I am doing the best I can to rebuild my life and reconstruct my faith. I long to know the security as I once did, with all my heart, that I serve a God who is not untouched by our pain, suffering, and tragedy. I pray and pray for my family, along with saying, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

Perhaps we can use this as a reminder of how fleeting life can be and encourage ourselves to really take time to extend comfort, love, and kindness to those within our sphere of influence – our family, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, our acquaintances. Listen to those little “nudges” that seem to come from inside of you, telling you to take time to do something special for someone. We never know when those moments may be gone forever.

My thoughts and prayers are with those people affected by this terrible tragedy in Boston and to those affected by the blast in Texas. I wish I could put my arms around you and show you how much I care. Sending hugs, hugs, and more hugs…

© 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

The Siren Trigger

I hear sirens rush down the road this morning and I cringe. It feels as though I am at the dentist and he has touched a nerve with his drill. That’s the best way I can explain how I feel sometimes when I hear the screaming sirens of emergency vehicles. The sound touches a nerve and the zing of pain and panic goes straight through me. If my family is not close by or I don’t know where they are or if they might be in harm’s way, I feel like I curl toward the inside of me and start to pray earnestly and urgently for their safety.

Somewhere inside of me, on some level and after all these years, I am still that mother, grabbing my keys and running down the stairs to the background of screaming sirens, heading to the site of a bad car accident. I am right back in that place of panic where I am driving towards the unknown, heading directly toward the sound of those sirens, praying with all my might, “Oh, God, please NO! Please, God. NO!! I need him!!” It just couldn’t be Jason…he HAD to be all right. My family had to be safe and okay. But they weren’t. Jason wasn’t safe and and he wasn’t okay.

I no longer feel that my family and I are “protected” and that a huge tragedy such as the death of a child or close family member happens to “someone else” and not to me. I feel vulnerable. I am that mother whose precious son died in a car accident – through no fault of his own – but because of the actions of someone else. My family and I are the ones who have had to walk through a lot because of the actions of someone else. A drunk driver broadsided our son’s car at more than twice the speed limit, and Jason and Alina died instantly. Jason didn’t deserve to die. He was a good kid, making good decisions. Of all people, Jason deserved to live, to marry, to have kids, to live a long and full life. He was one of the best. When I hear them, those sirens are a trigger that reminds me that my family and I am not immune from tragedy. No one is immune. We are all vulnerable, whether we know it or not. Tragedy can – and has – touched my life. It has taken something incredibly precious from me that can’t be replaced.

The other day, as I headed home from work, the road to our house was blocked by emergency vehicles. All I could see was a little gray car (similar to Joe’s) and a young woman who looked very similar to our daughter standing next to the crumpled car. I felt myself tense up and take in a sharp breath. I reached for my phone to call Joe to make sure they were both safe at home. I had to know that they were both safe. They were safe. But I am no longer a curious onlooker to the tragedies along the roadside and to the sound of passing sirens. They have touched my life and made a deep and indelible impression, one that still zings whenever the nerve is touched by the sound of a siren.

And so I earnestly pray for the protection of my family whenever I hear sirens or see emergency vehicles. It’s not that I don’t pray for their safety at other times; I just feel an panic-y urgency to pray for the safety of my family whenever I hear those sirens go screaming by. If I know my family is safe, I pray for the people who may be impacted by what the emergency vehicles and screaming sirens represent.

Oh, God, please protect my family. I pray for your hand of protection, for your mercy, for your gracious favor and blessings to rain down on them. Be close to those whose lives may be impacted by the sound of screaming sirens from emergency vehicles. I know what those sirens can mean and how much they can impact one’s life.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Drink, Drive, and Go to Prison with the “Big Boys”

From my journal dated March 2, 2003:

This past Thursday was the omnibus hearing. What an awful time for this hearing to be set, with March 3rd right around the corner. It was an uneventful hearing, but we had decided that we really want to be involved and aware of what’s going on in the legal process concerning the accident. We just can’t ignore the legal stuff going on; that wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be fair to Jason.

The most sobering thing was watching the 25 prisoners come in for their own hearings – dressed in their red or blue jumpsuits with a chain around their waist and hands linked by another chain to the waist chain. It was sobering for me to realize that J.H.*, the cocky, good looking, 19-year old who killed Jason and Alina, would probably be one of those prisoners one day. He may very well be the “new meat on the block” soon. So few of them even had anyone in the courtroom as support. It was a scary sight.

J.H., his parents and attorney weren’t in the courtroom yet when the prisoners came in, although we saw him in the lobby when we came in. I’m sure it would have been an eye-opening experience had they been there. J.H. has been acting so arrogant and cocky at every hearing, so condescending when he looks at the Christianson’s or us. I turned to Jenna after the prisoners were seated and said, “If I were J.H. and saw that, it would scare the literal hell out of me!” I’m sure this was not what he bargained for when he and his friends started out partying the night of March 2, 2002…or, in the early hours of the morning on March 3, 2002, when he got behind the wheel of his friend’s car drunk and barreled down the road over twice the speed limit. He didn’t think of the consequences of his actions – that he could kill people and might be going to prison with the “big boys” as a result of his choices.

We met with the prosecutor after the hearing. She said she will probably be meeting with J.H.’s attorney later in the week for “negotiations.” She thinks he’ll try to get the charges lowered so J.H. can get off without jail/prison time. If he continues to plead not guilty, she’ll use the next hearing to amend the charges and add an additional vehicular homicide charge [J.H. had initially been charged with only one vehicular homicide charge – for the deaths of two people].

Jenna commented to me after the hearing that [the family in our homeschool group whose son was hit by a train] doesn’t have to deal with the legal stuff on top of their grief. She said all of the legal stuff brings everything back up. We have to live it all over again…and over again…and over again. It rips the scabs off and everything is fresh all over again.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney