The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

 

Growing up as a preacher’s kid, Christmas was all about the birth of Christ and there was no focus on Santa whatsoever. We, as kids, knew that some kids truly believed Santa (Saint Nicholas) landed on the roof top in his sleigh and came down the chimney, delivered their presents and filled all the stockings. But, to us, Santa was a story of a man in a red suit who represented a nice concept of giving at Christmas. That was it. To our family, Christmas was all about Jesus being born in a manager.

imagesMy husband’s family, on the other hand, did the whole Santa thing. When we got married, Joe firmly told me that, when we had kids, we would NOT allow Santa to be the focus our Christmases. He said that he felt betrayed and lied to by his parents when he found out that his parents bought the gifts and that they were not delivered by Santa.  He couldn’t understand how they could lie to him like that. He felt like he was supposed to be able to trust that his parents, of all people, would be honest with him! It was a traumatic experience for him as a little kid.

It is kind of creepy, if you think about it. You’re told a man in a red suit is watching you all the time. He knows what you’re doing. Your parents lie to you and use it to control your behavior at Christmas. Just my opinion. I guess I never understood the fascination with Santa.

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
He’s gonna find out
Who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake…

Christmas Carols – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town Lyrics | MetroLyrics

When Eric was a baby, though, we were given a stocking for him that had been hand-made by a family member. It was cute and thoughtfully given, so we bought stockings for rest of us to up as decorations. We decided they would be a good place to hold fun little gifts for each other, and they became a part of our holiday tradition. A few years later, my sister gave beautifully hand-made stockings for each of us and we put them up every year. Finding little “stocking stuffers” to put in each other’s stockings became part of our Christmas tradition. It was the fun way we ended our Christmas Day celebration every year by “opening” our stockings, stuffed to the top with fun little gifts, all at the same time. A Christmas tradition.

As I said in my previous post, that first Christmas after Jason died was so hard. As I sat on the family room floor, crying while surrounded by Christmas decorations, I truly didn’t know how we were going to celebrate Christmas without Jason. I couldn’t even get the decorations on the tree because I was so raw with the pain of missing Jason. I could barely function that Christmas. We had tried to instill a sense of tradition at Christmas and create memorable moments for our family. How were we going to maintain our family traditions when our family was broken and missing Jason?

One thing I remember is sitting on the family room floor that Christmas, trying to figure out if I should put up the stockings. I stared at the five nails above the fireplace. If I put all five of them up and we filled them with little gifts for each other as we usually did, I didn’t think I could handle seeing Jason’s stocking hanging there empty. If we put something in Jason’s stocking, it would be sad because he wouldn’t really be there to “open” his stocking with the rest of us. I couldn’t put up the rest of our stockings and not Jason’s. It would be obvious he was missing and would feel like a betrayal by excluding him. If I didn’t put them up at all or put them up and didn’t put anything in them, we wouldn’t be maintaining one of our traditions. Was that fair to the rest of the family? I didn’t know what to do. None of the choices seemed right, because it didn’t seem right that Jason was gone.

We tried to maintain some of our traditions that year, just because we didn’t know what else to do. Our Christmas traditions had become woven into our family way of life. We didn’t want to cheat the rest of our family out of celebrating our traditional Christmas, but every tradition we tried to maintain that first year after Jason died just emphasized his absence.  No matter what we did or didn’t do that Christmas, it was obvious Jason wasn’t there. It was so hard.

That’s the thing about traditions – they are tightly woven into and become meaningful remembrances of a holiday. The hanging of the stockings was just one of many of our Christmas traditions that carried weight of meaning to us as a family tradition. Yes, it was just a fun little part of our Christmas morning, but every single tradition we had was part of the way WE celebrated OUR Christmas as a FAMILY. Now part of our family was gone. And there were so many more traditions we had as a family besides hanging the stockings, each one spotlighting Jason’s absence. Asian food for dinner Christmas Eve. Candlelight service as a family on Christmas Eve. Cinnamon rolls Christmas morning. On and on. So many traditions.

Traditions. What do you do with your family traditions after a child dies? I think it takes many years to figure out which traditions to keep and which ones are too painful to continue. Some traditions can be bittersweet reminders of past Christmases before our child died. Some are put away for a while and may be started again at some point. Some are put away for good because they just hurt too much. New traditions are added in. For us, I think it continues to be a work in progress, this finding of traditions to add special meaning to our family Christmas. I guess I’m still not used to the idea of celebrating Christmas without Jason. I don’t think I ever will be.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Christmas Hurts My Heart

I think most everyone would agree that losing a child is an unbearably hard thing to experience. Life just isn’t the same, and it definitely is not easy life to lead after the death of a child. I also think it would be fair to say that some days in the life of a bereaved parent are harder than others. The reason some days are so hard partially has to do with missing our child so much and the longing for days when he or she was with us. Certain days shine the spotlight on that loss more than others.

For me, some of the hardest days of the year are Jason’s birthday, the day Jason died, and Christmas. Not every day is as hard as it used to be, but some days are just plain tough. Those are the days when the longing to have things the way they were before Jason died is especially strong. A parent who has lost a child never stops missing them, never has that longing go away to have his or her child with them, never has the grief of the death go away.

I have found that the days leading up to the actual “day” – whichever day that may be – can be harder than the actual day itself. For example, as March 3rd approaches, I find myself getting more emotional, restless, and unsettled. It’s not something I plan on; it just sort of happens and it’s really nothing over which I have control. Over the years, I’ve been able to recognize what’s going on and the cause of it. I try to extend grace to myself to allow myself to feel what I need to feel and to do what I need to do to observe these days that have so many memories attached to them and carry great emotional weight for me. For some reason, usually the “day of” is not as difficult as the days leading up to that day. I guess the anticipation of those difficult days is harder than the actual day once it arrives.

The thing about Christmas is that it’s such a public holiday and observance. We end up being bombarded with the reminders that CHRISTMAS WILL SOON BE HERE even before Halloween is over. Jason’s birthday and the day he died are more private observations. It’s not blasted at me in every store, on every street corner, on the radio and TV for months on end. Even holidays like the 4th of July, which was one of Jason’s favorite holidays, doesn’t impact me like Christmas does. Once Christmas is on the radar, we constantly are reminded that “the most wonderful time of the year” is about to arrive. Frank Sinatra reminds us that we should “let our hearts be light,” that “our troubles will be miles away,” and that “faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more.” Those sentiments are not necessarily true for a parent who has lost a child.

Before Jason died, I couldn’t wait to jump on the “Christmas is most wonderful time of the year” train. I couldn’t wait to go shopping for Christmas presents and to “do” our holiday traditions.

One thing thing Joe and I tried to create for our kids from when they were very little was a sense of wonder and tradition at Christmas. We wanted to make it a very special time for them. We made a conscious choice not to do the Santa thing since Joe felt betrayed and lied to by his parents when he found out as a young boy that his gifts came from his parents and not Santa. We chose instead to concentrate on celebrating the birth of Christ and the love of family and friends. We tried to instill a sense of what Christmas was really about – the ultimate gift of God’s son being born reflected in the gifts we give to others.

Over the years, we developed so many wonderful Christmas traditions. Going to Christmas events as a family or with friends. Looking at Christmas lights and decorations. We came up with a 1 to 10 rating system as we drove by decorated houses. Going to cut down or pick out our Christmas tree as a family. Going home after we’d found the “perfect” tree, getting out the boxes of Christmas decorations, putting on Christmas music, drinking hot chocolate, and decorating the tree together as a family. Joe would put the lights on the tree. I would unwrap the decorations and hand each person his or her own decoration to put on the tree. As he got taller and older, Jason always put the angel on the top of the tree. We went out for Asian food on Christmas Eve. I baked cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Joe read the Christmas story as we ate cinnamon rolls. Jason had asked me that last Christmas if I would teach him how to make cinnamon rolls. I haven’t made cinnamon rolls in many years. We took turns opening presents, starting with the youngest person picking out a present for someone else and then next youngest person picking out a present for someone until we got to the oldest person picking out a present, and then we started over with the youngest person again.

I saved every decoration the kids made. Each year I would go out to buy a Christmas tree decoration that seemed to fit each person that particular year. I would then use a gold permanent marker to write the name and date on the bottom of each ornament. My plan was to give each child his or her set of ornaments collected over the years when he or she got married or had their own home. Now, they sit in boxes in a storage unit in Oklahoma. I haven’t seen them in years. We haven’t had a “live” Christmas tree in years. Our Christmas ornaments on our fake tree don’t have any memories tied to them.

The Christmas after Jason died, we tried to maintain some of those traditions. I can’t tell you how many stores I had to leave because I almost starting crying. I remember driving by houses lit up with Christmas trees and lights, thinking how lucky those families must be to not hurt as I was hurting and how lucky they were to have people who wanted to be around them. I felt like such a pariah that year, like being around us would impinge on someone else’s holiday joy. I remember sitting on the family room floor, all by myself, amidst Christmas tree decorations trying to figure out how to decorate the tree. Looking at the decorations and the empty tree with tears coursing down my face. There are some days since Jason died that, when I think of them, it’s like I can step back into the scene and feel the raw, agonizing pain of that time. That day is one of them. The cinnamon rolls that must have had a bit of extra salt added to them from tears I couldn’t stop crying as I made them. Boy, that was a tough year.

I have found that for me, as a bereaved parent, I have to tread lightly around potential land mines at Christmas. Christmas is hard for me. I miss my boy so much at Christmas. I miss the family we used to be and the wonderful traditions we had as we celebrated Christmas together. The longing to be together as a family is especially strong at Christmas. I miss the unadulterated, innocent, complete joy of Christmas, one not overshadowed by the awful knowledge of what it’s like to have a child die. Now I tend to put a cocoon around my heart for a while until I sort of get used to the idea of another Christmas without Jason.

At first, I feel like I’ve been hit right in the heart when I walk into that first store of the season that has been decked out with Christmas displays. My heart just hurts!! I can feel myself sort of withdrawing into myself for a while. It takes me a bit to get over the funk I sort of settle into and begin to enjoy the season. I let Christmas in a little bit at a time until I can handle it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas any more, it just takes me a while to get on board the Christmas train, so to speak.

We’ve tried to come up some new traditions. I truly appreciate the time we spend together with family and some of the traditions we still do. I love my family more than words can say and I want to take time at Christmas to let them know it. I want them to know how special they are to me. Once I get out of my funk, I have a lot of fun trying to find the “right” gift for each person. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the idea that Jason not here for Christmas, though; the thought of it just makes my heart hurt.

We were talking the other day about our favorite Christmas song. I said mine is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” It’s a wistful song. I think it speaks to the longing to have Jason with us and to be “at home” as a family once again, and knowing that that place exists only in my dreams. The birth of Christ is the only reason that I know for sure we will see Jason again. For that I am truly thankful.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

I’m dreamin’ tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it’s a long road back
I promise you

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents under the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
If only in my dreams

Songwriters
Walter Kent;Buck Ram;Kim Gannon

Published by
GANNON & KENT MUSIC COMPANY

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Of Birthdays and Such

Today is my birthday. Birthdays – some birthdays more than others – seem to be much more of time of reflection, don’t they? Reflection on the past year, past decade, lifetime, hopes, dreams, accomplishments, whatever. I think it depends where you are in your number of years or your stage of life that sort of determines how deep and thoughtful that reflection is. Since I am (shall we say) closer to retirement than not, I have felt more reflective this year than previous years. My, how the years have flow by! It doesn’t seem possible.

My husband and I made a conscious decision to homeschool our kids when Eric was little. As Jason and Jenna joined our family and became school age, we just added them into the homeschool mix. Each year we re-evaluated to see if it was still a valid option for our family and if it was something we still enjoyed. And each year we decided it was, right up to the time when – one by one – the kids went off to college under the Running Start Program. When Jenna started college, it was time for me to look at the next phase of my own life.

Now, if I ever have the ear of young homeschool moms – or any young mom who has decided to stay at home with the kids – I would recommend not waiting until the “next phase” is upon her to begin making plans. I would recommend starting way earlier! Take a night class. Learn some marketable skills. Start a small at home business that can grow into something larger. Do something to make or keep yourself marketable when and if you go back into the workplace. That’s the advice I would give myself if I could go back and talk to myself when my kids were young.

Don’t get me wrong – I loved homeschooling the kids and wouldn’t change it for a thing! But, as it was, I waited until we were done homeschooling and the kids were in college or out of the house to really consider the next phase of my life. The first quarter our youngest, Jenna, started college, I rattled around a bit, lost. I had been homeschooling for a long time, and I was very aware that I was a transitioning into a new phase of life. Strange as it may seem, all those years went by very quickly and, the next thing I knew, I was done homeschooling. I felt in a state of “Now what?”

By January, I had figured out a game plan and I made purposeful decisions for the making the most of the next stage of my life. I figured I had about twenty years or so of prime earning years left to work before retirement. My plan was that I would go back to school, finish my degree in Business Administration, get a good job, move up the ladder, make lots of money to save or invest for retirement, see my kids get married and have kids of their own, hopelessly spoil my grandkids, have a nice nest egg on which to retire, and grow comfortably old with my hubby. I had plenty of time to accomplish what I needed to accomplish in those remaining, highly-productive years. Joe still had a good job and had quite a few years left to work. We would be set when we retired! I went back to school to put my plan into action just months after our youngest started Running Start at the local college.

Eight weeks into my first quarter of school, Jason was killed by a drunk driver.

Mortar and Pestle

Mortar and Pestle

To say that Jason’s death changed me and changed my life would be a huge understatement. It about killed me. Seriously, it just about killed me! Jason’s death crushed me so badly I don’t even know how to describe it. I felt like I had been put into a mortar and the person that I was – my life, my hopes, my dreams, my very being inward to the core of me and outward to the outermost extremities of my life – was in the long, slow, torturous process of being ground to a pulp. The “Becky” I knew was gone. I didn’t even know who I was any more. I didn’t know who I could count on to be there for us. I didn’t know where we fit in. I didn’t know what to do with my life or how to keep on living without my precious boy. Everything you can think of went into that grinding process. It just went on and on and on day after day, year after year.

Burying our precious boy. Disappearing friends. Being so lonely I could hardly stand it. The deafening silence of the empty house. Going through the whole court ordeal for driver of the car that killed Jason and Alina. Watching my family struggle. Selling our house and leaving Washington. Wandering, wandering, wandering, trying to find a place to call home.

I struggled with some PTSD-type symptoms for quite a while, although was never diagnosed – anxiety, fight-or-flight response, noise sensitivity, emotional numbness, reliving the night Jason died over and over, etc. I was depressed for a long time and had a hard time finding a reason to live. My doctor had prescribed sleeping pills for me the day Jason died, and I took them for a long time just to get some rest at night so I could function during the day. Some days, I specifically had to concentrate on taking just one of the sleeping pills and putting the rest aside. Some days I was in so much pain and I felt so broken and lost, I really wanted to take them all. I tried to keep my focus on living for my family until I could find a reason to live again for me.

I kept going to school after Jason died and was on the Dean’s list every quarter. I don’t know how I did it, quite honestly. I graduated from Edmonds Community College, but felt too burned out to transfer to the University of Washington to finish my BA. Besides, at the time, Joe was very ready to leave Washington, so I wasn’t sure it was worth it to start something I couldn’t finish. Wish I had finished my BA. It’s hard to go back to school once you leave it.

We moved to Oklahoma and I got a job in a law office in Oklahoma. Oklahoma was not a  good fit for us, although I really liked working for an attorney who specialized in estate planning, probate and guardianships. We moved to Florida to be closer to our daughter, and I got my paralegal certification from the University of Miami. I also took the national certification test, passing the first time through on the three-day test (even though the first-time passing rate was 45%). I studied so hard independently for that test (I bought college text books on five areas of law and studied them on my own at home). I was so proud when I passed that test. But then I couldn’t find a job as a paralegal. In South Florida, you have to speak at least two or three languages to get a job in the legal field. Since I was competing against foreign native speakers in an already highly competitive market, I looked and looked, but couldn’t find a job. The same was true once we moved to North Carolina, so I am now working in yet another profession. The guys I work for are great, so I can’t complain one bit.

But, as you can see, my 20-year plan to work, earn money and get set for retirement hasn’t happened. It’s been a hodge podge path since Jason died. My train got violently knocked off its tracks. Both mine and Joe’s did. I feel like both of us lost quite a few “productive” years.

Joe is what I call “involuntarily retired.” A couple of years after Jason died, the company he worked for went through some downsizing. Joe was so burned out and drained from everything we had gone through that, when he found out someone was going to be laid off, he volunteered to be the one laid off even though he had seniority and no one wanted him to go. He figured it would be better for him to be laid off than some younger guy with young kids at home. Besides, he had plenty of working years left for another career, didn’t he? Well, that hasn’t exactly happened, either.

I’m not saying all this to make people feel sorry for me. I’m just reflecting on my life so far. I’m just saying that I feel like I’ve lost a lot of productive years – years I can never get back – after Jason died. I lost me. I lost my focus. I lost the life I once knew. I lost my hopes, dreams and plans. I feel like I didn’t accomplish much of anything in those years after Jason died. I really tried hard, but I felt like I was swimming in molasses. I guess that’s just another “cost” for me following the death of a child. I feel like I finally have the focus and energy to get back “on track,” whatever that is. Now if I only had more years to get done what I need to get done before I have to retire. I don’t feel like I have enough time left. Nothing I can do but do the best I can with the time I have.

Time is not always on our side, is it? Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Has anyone else experienced the feeling of “lost” years/time following the death of a child? Would love to hear your input.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Ghosts of Holidays Past

I think of these days as “the ghosts of holidays past.” The Christmases, Thanksgivings, birthdays, vacations, events and things we used to do together as a family, various and numerous holidays. They’re the days that tug on my heart, reminding me of times gone by that will never come again. You see, no matter how long it’s been since Jason died, I will always miss those times when we were all together for a holiday or whatever. Those times can never come again, because there’s no way on earth we can all be together now that Jason is gone. Part of our family is always missing.

4th of July celebration

4th of July celebration

Jason loved the 4th of July. Barbeque. Fireworks. Friends. Just being together. We always had so much fun celebrating the birth of our country.

I’ve been sad today, and I’ve been struggling. I can’t ignore it. I can’t deny it. I might as well just acknowledge it. I’m not always sad, but today I am. I’m sad. I miss those times. I miss my boy. I wish he were here to celebrate this day with us. Jason loved to have fun. He always made everything so much fun, so much better.

I miss you, my Mr. Jay.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

You Never Know When, How, or Whose Life You Will Touch

I received an incredibly touching comment on one of my blog pages this morning:

Dear Becky,
When I was young in the early 1970′s, my father would take me fishing and hunting with him in Wyoming. We spent lots of time around LaBarge Wyoming. On Sundays, as we drove along beautiful rivers and streams near the Salt River Range and the Wyoming Range, my dad always found ‘The Singing Knudsens’ on the radio. I believe it was KMER, the radio station out of Kemmerer. We thought you guys were great. I remember thinking how brave you must have been to sing on the radio. I think about those times a lot because I was very close to my father. Those were such incredible times. I was just thinking about LaBarge, my dad, and listening to the Singing Knudsons. I searched the internet and found you here. I have three sons of my own now. I was truly heartbroken when I read your story. I can not imagine losing one of my boys. I wonder if I could even survive it. You and your family will always be very special to me. I wish happiness and love to you and your family always. Thank you for bringing much to mine.

Sincerely,
Peter

It was such an encouragement to me right now, and was something I really needed to hear. I have been struggling lately with not being stressed and discouraged with some things going on in our lives.

This was so timely and such a huge reminder that we can’t really see the big picture at any given point in our lives. Sometimes it seems as though our lives don’t make a difference no matter how hard we try. Something I was just a small part of so long ago made a difference in someone’s life. My family is a part of some wonderful memories of special times Peter spent with his dad. That’s just amazing and so very humbling to me. Thank you, Peter, for such a huge encouragement and the reminder to keep on trying when it seems like what you’re doing isn’t making any difference. You just never know when, how, or whose life you may be touching.

Becky

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Another Voice in the Chorus

The suicide of Rick and Kay Warren’s son made headline news a year ago. Rick is the founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, one of the largest churches in America, and author of The Purpose Driven Life and many other books. Recently Kay Warren posted this on her facebook page – her plea for understanding and for the support of true friends:

As the one-year anniversary of Matthew’s death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to “move on.” The soft, compassionate cocoon that has enveloped us for the last 11 1/2 months had lulled me into believing others would be patient with us on our grief journey, and while I’m sure many will read this and quickly say “Take all the time you need,” I’m increasingly aware that the cocoon may be in the process of collapsing. It’s understandable when you take a step back. I mean, life goes on. The thousands who supported us in the aftermath of Matthew’s suicide wept and mourned with us, prayed passionately for us, and sent an unbelievable volume of cards, letters, emails, texts, phone calls, and gifts. The support was utterly amazing. But for most, life never stopped – their world didn’t grind to a horrific, catastrophic halt on April 5, 2013. In fact, their lives have kept moving steadily forward with tasks, routines, work, kids, leisure, plans, dreams, goals etc. LIFE GOES ON. And some of them are ready for us to go on too. They want the old Rick and Kay back. They secretly wonder when things will get back to normal for us – when we’ll be ourselves, when the tragedy of April 5, 2013 will cease to be the grid that we pass everything across. And I have to tell you – the old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back. We will never be the same again. There is a new “normal.” April 5, 2013 has permanently marked us. It will remain the grid we pass everything across for an indeterminate amount of time….maybe forever.

Because these comments from well-meaning folks wounded me so deeply, I doubted myself and thought perhaps I really am not grieving “well” (whatever that means). I wondered if I was being overly sensitive –so I checked with parents who have lost children to see if my experience was unique. Far from it, I discovered. “At least you can have another child” one mother was told shortly after her child’s death. “You’re doing better, right?” I was asked recently. “When are you coming back to the stage at Saddleback? We need you” someone cluelessly said to me recently. “People can be so rude and insensitive; they make the most thoughtless comments,” one grieving father said. You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was standard in our culture for people to officially be in mourning for a full year. They wore black. They didn’t go to parties. They didn’t smile a whole lot. And everybody accepted their period of mourning; no one ridiculed a mother in black or asked her stupid questions about why she was STILL so sad. Obviously, this is no longer accepted practice; mourners are encouraged to quickly move on, turn the corner, get back to work, think of the positive, be grateful for what is left, have another baby, and other unkind, unfeeling, obtuse and downright cruel comments. What does this say about us – other than we’re terribly uncomfortable with death, with grief, with mourning, with loss – or we’re so self-absorbed that we easily forget the profound suffering the loss of a child creates in the shattered parents and remaining children.
Unless you’ve stood by the grave of your child or cradled the urn that holds their ashes, you’re better off keeping your words to some very simple phrases: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or “I’m praying for you and your family.” Do your best to avoid the meaningless, catch-all phrase “How are you doing?” This question is almost impossible to answer. If you’re a stranger, it’s none of your business. If you’re a casual acquaintance, it’s excruciating to try to answer honestly, and you leave the sufferer unsure whether to lie to you (I’m ok) to end the conversation or if they should try to haltingly tell you that their right arm was cut off and they don’t know how to go on without it. If you’re a close friend, try telling them instead, “You don’t have to say anything at all; I’m with you in this.”

None of us wants to be like Job’s friends – the pseudo comforters who drove him mad with their questions, their wrong conclusions and their assumptions about his grief. But too often we end up a 21st century Bildad, Eliphaz or Zophar – we fill the uncomfortable silence with words that wound rather than heal. I’m sad to realize that even now – in the middle of my own shattering loss – I can be callous with the grief of another and rush through the conversation without really listening, blithely spouting the platitudes I hate when offered to me. We’re not good grievers, and when I judge you, I judge myself as well.

Here’s my plea: Please don’t ever tell someone to be grateful for what they have left until they’ve had a chance to mourn what they’ve lost. It will take longer than you think is reasonable, rational or even right. But that’s ok. True friends – unlike Job’s sorry excuse for friends – love at all times, and brothers and sisters are born to help in time of need (Prov. 17:17 LB). The truest friends and “helpers” are those who wait for the griever to emerge from the darkness that swallowed them alive without growing afraid, anxious or impatient. They don’t pressure their friend to be the old familiar person they’re used to; they’re willing to accept that things are different, embrace the now-scarred one they love, and are confident that their compassionate, non-demanding presence is the surest expression of God’s mercy to their suffering friend. They’re ok with messy and slow and few answers….and they never say “Move on.” https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kay-Warren/105128507568

We, as bereaved parents, need to continue to speak up. We need to say this as often as we can – that we are not the same people we used to be, that there is no “moving on,” that it takes a long time to learn to live without our children, that we need people in our lives to support us for who we are and where we are following the death of our precious child for as long as it takes.

While life goes on and goes back to “normal” for others, for those of us who are walking through the darkest periods of our lives following the death of our child, our lives never go back to “normal.” I will never forget my incredulity when, three months after Jason’s death, a “friend” proudly told me that their lives were “90% back to normal“…and then proceeded to express concern that our “sparkle” was gone. We, along with Alina’s family, had known each other for quite a few years, and our kids had been good friends and fellow homeschool students. Her lack of understanding and lack of empathy hit me like a slap in the face. It still makes me shake my head in disbelief today.

I know that it’s not easy to know what to say to someone who has lost a child. We, as bereaved parents, need to continue to join our voices in the chorus until people hear us and begin to have at least an inkling of understanding – it’s not that we don’t want to “move on”; we can’t just “move on,” especially on someone else’s timetable. We are not the same people we once were. We need love support and understanding, not judgment about what our grief journey should look like or how long it should take. No one can know what it’s like to lose a child unless you’ve actually lost a child. I wouldn’t wish the death of a child on anyone. Please, just let us grieve the loss of our child in our own way and for as long as it takes.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Added 4/1/14:

Here is an article written about the overwhelming response to Kay Warren’s facebook post:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/kay-warren-grieving-mental-illness-suicide-saddleback.html?&visit_source=facebook

A Rose by Any Other Name or What’s In a Name

Names have always fascinated me. I like interesting names. I like to know why people name their kids what they do or why they call them by the nickname they do. Growing up, I knew a girl who went by the name Twozee (as in 2Z). She was the second child in the family, and her dad nicknamed the kids Onezee and Twozee. I don’t remember if there was a Threezee or Fourzee.

When I meet sales people whose name I’m not sure how to pronounce (when looking at a name tag), I simply ask ask them to help me pronounce their names correctly and to tell me about their names. Most people are honored to tell you about his or her name. Names are an important connection to other people. It’s how we start to get to know someone, the first step in the possibility of friendship or letting someone into our lives.

Both of my parents were my school teachers, and they were both nameless to me during the hours of the day when school was in session. Let me explain. The summer before I started 3rd grade, we moved to the small town where I grew up, and that meant being a new kid in class and having a new teacher. My mom was that new 3rd grade teacher and I was the new 3rd grade student. It was intimidating, to say the least, for a seven-year old.

The school I attended was so small that the 5th and 6th grades were together in one class, with the 5th graders in a row on one side of the room and 6th graders in one row on the other. The middle row contained a mixture of the two grades.  My dad taught me in 5th and 6th grades and senior high English. Of the twelve years of primary and secondary schooling, I had my parents as teachers in some capacity for a third of those years.

The thing about having parents for teachers, especially in such a small school as I attended, is that everyone knows the teacher is your parent and that makes things complicated for you as a kid. If you do well in school, then your parents must have helped you. If you didn’t do well in school, everyone wondered why your parents didn’t help you. The other kids assumed you were the teacher’s pet, whether there was any indication or not. My parents went out of their way not to show favoritism. Because my dad was also the local a preacher in addition to teaching school, we kids grew up feeling under the microscope.

One particular problem to which I never found a solution was what to call my parents in class. They were addressed as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” by the other students. It seemed so silly to call my parent/teacher by “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” and calling them Mom or Dad in class was very much out of the question. As a result, I never addressed them by any name whatsoever while in class and during school hours throughout my entire first through twelfth grades. I would simply raise my hand and wait until I was recognized. I wasn’t embarrassed to have my parents as teachers; I just didn’t know what to call them. Therefore, during the hours school was in session, my parents remained nameless for all those years.

As most parents do, my husband and I put a lot of thought into our kids’ names. We poured over books of baby names and looked up their meanings. We tried to find names that would represent our children well in life. We tried to choose names that couldn’t be cruelly morphed into something derogatory by mean kids. We also carefully picked out names for our kids that couldn’t have a “y” added to the end of them.

The propensity in my husband’s family was to add a “y” to everyone’s name or to find a nickname that ended with a “y” sound, no matter how awkward it made the name to say. Virginia became DeeDee. Mark became Marky. Delbert became Debby (a guy nicknamed Debby?!). Joe became Joey and so forth. Forever. The names stuck forever. It didn’t help that the last name ends with a “y” and every son married a gal whose first name ended with a “y.” It was a family full of sing-songy names, and we didn’t want that to saddle our kids with that. Nevertheless, I ended up with nicknames for my kids. I called Eric “Tiger,” although I’m not even sure why. That’s what I called him one day when he was really little, and it just stuck.

How we settle on nicknames is a mystery to me. We carefully pick our kids first and middle names and then may or may not use their given names. We give people “pet” or nicknames. Why are some spouses and significant others called “sweetie” and some are called “honey” and some are called “babe” or whatever? I don’t know.

For some reason, after I know a person for a while and begin to care about them, I tend to add “Mr.” or “Miss” to their name at times. I would call Alina “Miss Alina.” I call our granddaughter “Miss Maya.” Eric’s friend was “Mr. Jon.” I don’t know why I do it. I don’t do it all the time; just when I feel particularly close, affectionate, or connected to that person. I don’t plan it; from time to time, it just slips out from a connection in my heart – a fun, extra, special connection to people in my life. It’s my special way to nickname.

Whatever the reason for nicknames, they are usually special terms of endearment for people we love or care about. It’s like we want that person to know how special they are to us by attaching a special term of endearment to them. We don’t expect just any old person to be able to call our special person by our special term of endearment. Anybody can call my husband Joe, but it’s my special privilege to call him “sugar” or “sweetie.” My special names for Jason were “Jay,” “Mr. Jay.” Anybody could call him Jason, but those of us who really loved and cared about him would call him by the nickname Jay.

The thing about losing a child is that you notice every time your child’s name comes up. After Jason died, It wasn’t easy to hear about someone named Jason. The year Jason was born, it was one of the most popular names of the year, so that meant that there are a lot of Jason’s out there who were still living after Jason died. Someone else’s child named Jason and around my Jason’s age hasn’t died and is out and about doing what young adults his age are supposed to do. Over the years, hearing about someone else named Jason has gone from feeling like a knife jab to the heart to more like a pinprick. It’s also been difficult to hear about people named Jay. The names Jason and Jay have a very special and powerful tie to deep places in my heart and in my memories.

When I was looking for a job a couple of years ago, I was interviewed by a man named Jay. As it happened, he offered me the job. Even though more than ten years had passed since Jason’s death, I had to be honest with myself while considering his offer and ask myself if I could work for someone named Jay, my special nickname for Jason. How much would it bother me? Was I at a point in my life where I could work for someone around Jason’s age (give or take a few years) who went by the name of Jay? I decided to accept the job offer and I have been working for him for a year and a half now.

I have tried to keep business at business and my personal life to myself for the most part. If someone asks me why we left Seattle, I say, “Oh, that’s a long story” and change the subject. I’ve gotten pretty good at deflection and avoiding. With all that we have walked through since Jason died, I have a tendency to hold people at arm’s length. To say that I am guarded would be an understatement. I am very cautious about letting new people into my heart and into our lives.

When people hear that you have lost a child, situations instantly become awkward. Most people treat you differently, ranging from talking to you hyper-sympathetically to avoiding you like a pariah to never mentioning it again and everything in between. Or they try to make you feel like they understand what you went through because they knew someone who had died or had some pet who died or had gone through a difficult situation. They don’t know what to do or say, and so it’s easier to say nothing. If I do open up and say something, people are still hesitant or reluctant, even after all these years, take the time to find out who Jason really was or to find out how his death affected our lives. I know it’s a tough subject to talk about…to even think about. I understand that, and I’ve pretty much come to a place where I accept it and it doesn’t bother me so much any more. But when people have hurt and deserted you at the worst time time in your life, it’s hard to let people in. I am cautious with my heart; I keep my guard up and an emotional distance in place.

As I headed out the door for a few days off at Christmas, though, I made a comment to my boss and called him “Mr. Jay.” It stopped me in my tracks. At first I felt like I had betrayed my boy, my own precious Mr. Jay, but then I realized that it was a healthy thing. I can’t keep holding people at arm’s length forever just in case they might hurt me or cause pain. I can’t not care about people because they have Jason’s name or nickname.

My boss is a good guy. He is kind and generous. He treats me with respect and appreciates the skills that I bring to the table. He thanks me for the work I do. We are a good team, and I realized, as I called him “Mr Jay,” that I cared about him as a person. He was no longer a person outside my sphere of caring. Yes, he is my boss, but I truly CARE about him as a person. I had extended a nickname to him. I had let my guard down and let him into my life as a person I really like and care about.

My boss has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and is having surgery on March 3rd. Yes, that day. The March 3rd that is the anniversary of Jason’s death. This time of year is a difficult and emotional time for me, anyway, and tears are just under the surface. The anniversary of a child’s death is difficult for any parent, no matter how many years it’s been. I would be dishonest if I said my boss’s surgery hasn’t really rattled me.

I have tried to keep business as business during the day so I can help my boss the best I possibly can. I may cry in the shower – for my boss and because this is a tough time of year for me and I miss my boy so much –  but I try to be all business once I get to work. We have been so busy the past three weeks, making sure things are in place for continuity of business. He has the best surgeon in the world, and things sound somewhat optimistic. I guess, at these times, you hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

I want everything to go well. I don’t want anything to happen to my boss. I want him to be okay. I care about him. I gave him a nickname.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney