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

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

“Is anyone in here against drunk driving?!”

From my journal dated February 24, 2003:

I had a very unsettling thing happen today.

I’ve been trying to figure out what to do to mark the first anniversary coming up on March 3rd. I wanted to to something meaningful to honor Jason. I decided to take the poem Jason had written, “The Return,” and print it on cards to send out to family and friends. I took the poem to the printer a couple of days ago, and they called today to ask me to come in and okay the proof before they actually print it.

I went to the print shop and was looking at the proof when someone came in the door behind me. I was just minding my own business, trying not to cry at the significance of what I was doing, and didn’t even look up to see who it was or notice why the young man was there. As he burst through the door, the young man enthusiastically yelled, “Is anyone in here against drunk driving??” A kid behind the counter (not the person helping me) piped up and yelled enthusiastically in return, “I’m all FOR drunk driving!!” and then they started laughing hilariously.

I couldn’t believe my ears! I turned and looked at the kid behind the counter square in the eyes and said, “That’s not even funny. A drunk driver killed my son.”

I know he is young. I know he was just being flip and trying to be funny, but it was not funny! Drunk driving is not funny – it kills people!!! I was shaking so much I could hardly sign my name to okay the proof. He waited until I was done, and then came over to apologize.

I realize he didn’t have any clue about Jason. What were the odds of me, the mother of a child killed by a drunk driver, being right there right then? But it really shook me. Such a casual and celebratory attitude toward drunk driving, something that has indelibly changed our lives forever!

Who knows? Maybe I planted a seed in his mind that will make him think twice before driving drunk or allowing his friends to get behind the wheel drunk. Maybe it was one of those “divine appointment” things that could make a difference in his life. I don’t know. I hope his mother never has to grieve the death of her son because of drunk driving. I wish no mother ever did.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Don’t Drink and Drive

I’ve often thought that if I had a chance to speak to high schoolers on the subject of drinking and driving, I would ask them if they realized going to jail or prison (if over the age of 18) could be the end result to a night of partying should they choose to drink and drive.

We’ve all seen the stories or videos of simulated accidents portrayed to students in a drunk driving “scared straight” program. Simulated accidents or “grim reapers” try to impact students with the possible outcomes of driving drunk. I wonder how many of them include information or speakers about the possibility of prison time.

The young man (18 years old and a high school senior) who hit Jason and Alina had a “bad boy” reputation at school and with the local police. I’m sure none of it prepared him for going to prison with the big boys, though. Under Washington State’s “three strikes” law, had the charges of two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of felony hit and run stood, he could have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Talk about being scared straight!

J.H.*, in a plea bargain, pleaded guilty to the two counts of vehicular homicide. The felony hit and run was reduced to a misdemeanor in order to avoid the three strikes law. At 19 years old, he was sentenced to four years in prison for the vehicular homicide counts and one year in jail for the hit and run. He served 2 2/3 years in prison, and the judge waived the jail time.

I hope, with all my heart, J.H. has taken the opportunity in front of him to make good choices with his life. We have all paid high prices for his bad choices.

From my journal dated January 10, 2003:

I found out recently that an acquaintance’s recent “non-driving” status/ability is because of a DUI drivers license suspension after wrecking his car. He was driving home drunk and ran into a telephone pole. He walked away just fine except for a few bumps and bruises, but it sure has put a crimp in his style. I know it’s frustrating and depressing for him. Embarrassing and expensive, too, I imagine. Fines, insurance rates go up, having to replace the totaled car.

But the whole crux of the matter is that it was his choice to drink and then drive. How could he choose to drive drunk after what happened to Jason and Alina?? I hope he’s at least learned something, or will stop and think before driving drunk again. If he’s too drunk to make good choices, someone just needs to take his keys away. He only hurt himself and his car this time, but he easily could have hurt or killed other people.

I’m sure J.H.* [the young man who hit and killed Jason and Alina] and his friends had no conception when they started partying and drinking the night of March 2, 2002 that their actions would end with the death of two great young people. I’m sure going to prison never even crossed their minds when they got into those cars drunk.

If drunk drivers only hurt themselves, that would be one thing. Their choices. Their actions. Their losses. But so many accidents caused by drunk drivers involve others – innocent bystanders – who pay the price while the drunk driver walks away. J.H. broadsided Jason and Alina and literally walked away.

Our price tag seems so much higher than J.H.’s. Sure, he and his family have to pay for a lawyer, and J.H. may do jail time for a few years. But our “sentence” – our price tag – is a “life sentence.” They have imposed a life sentence on us by their choices. For the rest of our lives, we are without Jason. Our lives are never going to be the same.

J.H. can bargain down his sentence, take a plea bargain, or serve a few years for vehicular homicide. But he at least has the opportunity to go on. If he chooses to, he can make a good life for himself, make better choices, marry, have a family. J.H. and his family will move past this because, once he gets through whatever the consequences are, he still has a life to live. He has to live with the fact that he killed two people, but the fact of the matter is that he still has a life.

Jason and Alina don’t. Their lives are over, taken by the hand and choices of another. We don’t have their precious lives or presence with us any more. We had no choice. Jason and Alina had no choice. By his choices, J.H. stole it from them, from us.

Jason and Alina weren’t doing anything wrong. They were making good choices. They made good choices that night. Movies at our house, kettle corn, sodas, laughing, joking. Fun. Enjoying each other’s company.

It seems that people who drink, drive, and then kill someone as a result deserve a more than a slap on the hand. There has to be some kind of accountability. There has to be something to stop this insanity. When will people who drink and drive realize their choices affect others?? Their choice to drink and drive kills.

We, who have done nothing wrong, are paying the price for these kids’ choices and stupidity. Jason and Alina have paid the ultimate price for the choices of J.H. and his friends. They paid the price with their lives. The cost just goes on and on. We pay in so many days every day, and we will continue to pay for the rest of our lives.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Our No-Fault Society

From my journal dated December 2, 2002:

Today was the arraignment of J.H.* [the drunk driver who killed Jason and Alina]. Between all of us representing the Carney’s and Christianson’s, we took up the entire front row of the courtroom.

He had on a great-looking suit, looked cocky and confident…almost defiant. His folks and girlfriend were there, too, all dressed up. Don’t they care that he shattered our lives?

J.H., of course, pleaded “not guilty.” The omnibus hearing is set for February 27, and the court call date is March 28. He went out the side door after the proceeding. Then the whole row of us got up and left. I think his folks were surprised there were so many of us there. They quickly and quietly went out the back door. I don’t know what else they could have done, I guess. This whole thing is just so surreal.

We were to meet with the deputy prosecutor in a conference room so she could explain the legal process to us.

Marie said something along the lines of “We’ve all Christians here. We’re all praying for him. Now we all know how to pray.” Quite honestly, I’m not praying for him at all right now. I don’t know if I ever will. I don’t feel anything for him – no rage, no revenge, nothing. My feelings toward him are just dead.

Neither Jason nor Alina were preachy in their lives about their beliefs or Christianity. The lived their lives as examples – and that speaks so much louder than words many times.

Marie and I had talked about giving pictures of Jason and Alina to the prosecutor. Marie asked her at one point if she’d ever seen our kids. She said that she’d only seen the black and white picture from the Seattle Times article.

Marie gave her a photo of Alina and I gave her one of Jason. She looked at them for a really long time. I thought she was going to cry. She definitely teared up. She gave them back to us and said thank you for showing them to her. She said that she couldn’t imagine what we were going through, that she was a mother herself.

The deputy prosecutor also said that his attorney has already tried to get a reduced sentence. He’ll probably spend less than five years in prison for the deaths of two excellent young adults if he serves anything at all. She also said that it sounds like he is a kid whose parents bailed him out of every scrape. He’d gotten mad once and peeled out of his girlfriend’s driveway, hitting another car. His dad came and paid off the other party. No consequence to J.H. at all. And she also said that she feels they might think they can bail him out of this somehow.

It just feels like our laws have so little bite to them, no consequences for actions. We live in a no-fault society – no-fault divorce, no-fault insurance, no-fault killing of two excellent young people. Our justice system is broken!! They have to file reduced charges just in hope of making something stick!! That’s just wrong!!!

Not Just a Formality

From my journal dated November 25, 2002:

The arraignment [of the person who killed Jason and Alina] is on Monday. The prosecutor said it’s just a formality; it should take only five minutes. She said we don’t have to be there.

I don’t really care if it ends up being a 5 minute deal. I feel like I really need to be there. I want to be at all of the hearings. I want to put a face to those who who died and to those who lost such a precious family member.

It’s not just a formality. It’s our precious son whose life was stolen by a drunk driver. It’s our lives that will never be the same because of someone else’s reckless actions. It’s our hearts that have been shattered because Jason died in a horrendous crash not of his own doing. We miss our boy so much. Anything concerning Jason is not just a formality to us.