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

A Crisis of Faith

As most people know, it’s not uncommon for a parent to have a crisis of faith following the death of his or her child.

What is a crisis of faith? One definition is “periods of intense doubt and internal conflict about one’s preconceived beliefs*”. The key words here are “intense doubt” and “preconceived beliefs.” Basically, it’s when we thought we knew something for certain (or perhaps took something for granted) in the realm of our faith in God (what we “see” with our spiritual eyes or experience and understand in our spiritual lives or believe to be true in the spiritual realm); but when it differs so drastically from what is the reality of our lives (what we “see” with our physical eyes or experience in our physical world), we question everything we believed. Our preconceived beliefs don’t jive with what we’ve just experienced. Trying to reconcile the two opposing concepts when they are at extreme odds with each other can lead to a crisis of faith.

One of the things I miss most since Jason died (besides Jason and my life as I knew it before my world was shattered) is my unquestioning faith in God. I remember times when my heart was so full with love for God that I thought it would burst. I don’t feel that way any more, at least for now. I remember standing by the cassette player (yes, cassette player) with my eyes closed, singing my pledge of devotion to God along with Andrea Crouch or Clay Crosse. I remember being so moved by a song as I sang in the choir that I could hardly get the words out. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15) was my anthem. I would have died for my faith, for God.

But what happens when it’s not you who are “slayed” and it’s your child who dies? What happens when you have to face life without your child, when you have to figure out how to go on living without your child? Then it’s not quite so easy to say, is it? I doubt that there isn’t one parent whose child died that gladly wouldn’t have taken his or her child’s place. I would much rather take the brunt of something awful FOR my children than it happen TO any of them. I would gladly have died in Jason’s place.

There are parents who seem to find a “greater good” or a “higher purpose” or find solace that God is in control of their child’s death. I just haven’t been able to do that. I woke up nearly every night, went downstairs to kneel in front of the couch and pray for my family, for my kids and their friends. I prayed with all my heart and all my being for my kids’ lives and their protection. And still Jason died. And still our family has had to walk through so many hard things, just a fraction of which I would tell most people. How do I reconcile those two?

I have had a crisis of faith. Does that mean I don’t believe in God? No. It just means it seems that what I thought I knew about God wasn’t accurate. It means that what I thought God would “do” for me, He wouldn’t or didn’t do. I thought that if I prayed for my kids that they would be protected. I thought that if I served God with all my heart and tried to do the right things God would make things right for me. I believed that God heard my fervent prayers, that my prayers “availed much” (James 5:16) in the kingdom of heaven and on earth, and that God answered my prayers. I believed God protected my family. I guess I sort of saw God like my own personal genie who could grant me whatever wish I wished for if I wished hard enough for it. That’s not faith; that’s wishful thinking.

Right after Jason died, I remember praying and praying that God would make something good come out of Jason’s death. I didn’t want Jason’s life and death to be for nothing. Both my husband and I felt, from the moment Jason was born, that God had great plans for his life. We felt that he was to do something great for God. And then God didn’t protect Jason and he died. After he died, I prayed that Jason’s life would be like a pebble dropped in a pond, that the ripples of his precious life would be like concentric rings and reach far and wide. Surely, there had to be more to Jason’s life and his living than he would die at the age of 19 before he barely was into adulthood. Surely, “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28),” don’t they? I guess I’m still looking for the “good” to come out of Jason’s death, as I can’t say that I’ve seen it yet.

I felt God’s presence incredibly close after Jason died. I felt the prayers of people who knew us, lifting us up before the Most High. Somewhere along the line, it seemed as though God wasn’t paying attention any more, that He really didn’t care about the anguish we were going through. Somewhere along the line, I felt like God had abandoned us. I felt like the heavens were brass and my prayers weren’t even reaching the ceiling. I felt that people were no longer praying for us. Somewhere along the line, it seemed as though God’s people didn’t care so much any more. God’s people abandoned us.

Honestly, I have to say that being left so alone by nearly everyone we knew added exponentially to my crisis of faith. Who were most of the people we knew? Christians. People in the church. People we had served and had served with in the church and homeschool community. Christian people I thought of as friends, as extended family since our own families were more than halfway across the country. I thought of Christian people as extensions as the hands and feet of God. I looked to them for support; I expected them to be there for us. Not only did God seem so very far away, out of reach and uncaring, so did nearly everyone else we knew. When you’re hurting so badly, it’s easy to confuse God, the church, and God’s people. It seemed that not only had God let us down and left us alone, so had His people.

I know I have beat this drum a lot in writing my blog – “we were alone, we were alone, nearly everyone left us.” “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms,” right? If that’s what you think, you’re missing the point. Many bereaved parents feel so very alone at the time they most need support. Many bereaved parents ARE left alone at the time they most need support, kindness, hugs, and an ongoing expression of God’s love. We ARE the hands and feet of God on this earth. We need to remember that.

I wrote in an earlier post about reading and relating to the Book of Job. Job suffered great losses. His “friends” came by to “comfort” him – more like confront him – in his grief. They accused him of sinning. He felt deserted by God, his friends and his family. He didn’t understand why God was doing this to him. God had been good to him, and now he felt like God was punishing him for something he didn’t do. He didn’t understand. He had a crisis of faith.

Is a crisis of faith a sin? No. It’s an opportunity to grow. It’s an opportunity to look carefully at what we believed and what we thought we knew, throwing out the wrong while trying to find the right. It’s an opportunity to learn that our ways aren’t God’s ways, as hard as that may be to accept or understand. It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that now we “see through a dark glass (I Cor. 13:12).” It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that we walk by faith, not by sight. We don’t know it all. All we know is what we can see with our finite eyes, and all we can understand is what our finite mind can comprehend. The rest has to be taken on faith.

I still struggle greatly with my faith. I still have more questions than answers. I feel like my faith is so small, and my ability to believe and trust in a God that seems to have let me down is small. I no longer see “the church” as a source of comfort or a source of friendship and support. I have very little desire to attend church. I need God to answer prayers for me right now. I need to see that he hears me and cares for the struggles my family and I are going through. I hope that He hears me more than I have an assurance that He hears me. I am worse for wear.

But, I know that this isn’t the end of it. I pray, though not with the fervency and unquestioning devotion as I once did. I try to water that root of faith I have had since I was a child. I know that root of faith goes deep, although most of the above-ground, visible manifestation of my faith may have been pruned. More often than not, in my prayers I remind God, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).” I remind myself of what I know for certain. I believe in God. I believe in heaven. I believe Jason is in heaven with his hands lifted in praise to the Most High, even as he was the Sunday before he died. I know that the grave was not Jason’s final destination. I know I will see him again. I know that someday I will join Jason before the throne of God, and then I understand. And that’s as good a place to start as any.

For further reading on Job, I recommend this post: The Trial of Job.

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crisis_of_faith

http://onewomansperspective02.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/the-question-of-faith/

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Holiday Grief Support Resource Link

With the holidays quickly approaching, I would just like to share this link that lists some helpful suggestions concerning grief and the holidays: http://ididnotknowwhattosay.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/holiday-grief-support-resources-2/ This site contains suggestions for those who have lost someone close, as well as suggestions for those who would like to support someone who has lost a loved one.

There is no “magic pill” that will make the holidays easier to navigate nor any article that will provide all the answers to handling grief during any and all occasions. Grief isn’t a “one size fits all” thing, and neither are suggestions for walking through grief during any particular period of time or occasion. There isn’t anything that will take away the deep grief of the loss of a loved one, but perhaps there are suggestions on this link that will help in some way during this holiday season.

Becky

Shower the People You Love with Love

[The title of my blog is borrowed from one of James Taylor’s songs – Shower the People You Love with Love]

We visited a new church on Sunday. Can’t say that we’ll be going back. We’ve had a hard time finding a church that “fits” us since Jason died. Some of the things that make up the organization and practice of churches seems so trivial any more…but, that’s a topic for another post.

Anyway, at one point in his sermon the pastor said, “You can’t live your lives for your kids.” Now, by the time he got to this point, I had pretty much checked out mentally. I can’t even tell you how he got to the place of saying that line in his sermon. He went on to say how he has four kids, but doesn’t let them run his life. I think he was trying to emphasize spiritual balance and the importance of putting God first in your life. Honestly, he was so all over the map, I couldn’t really tell you for sure the point of the message.

Now, I agree that one must have balance in life. If one area of our lives takes up much more of our time than it should or becomes of greater importance to us than it should, other areas can suffer and our lives can become out of balance. If one area has much greater importance than it should, the more out of balance our lives can become. It can get to the point of being unhealthy or to the point where we lose something we love.

Any area can cause our lives to be out of balance – work, hobby, television, video games, relationships. A person who is a workaholic can lose an important connection to his or her spouse or significant other. A parent who focuses an inordinate amount of time on the children can cause the other parent to feel unimportant. Focusing too much on activities or friendships outside of the family can cause our families to suffer. Even church activities, done in the name of God, can cause an imbalance. Growing up as a preacher’s kid, I’d have to say that we kids all knew where we fit in the whole scheme of things, below God and the church. [It’s fairly common for preachers’ kids to feel second (or third or fourth) place to “the church.”]

Perhaps you only can’t “live your lives for your kids,” but we can certainly cherish them, listen to them, spend quality time with them. Our children are our greatest gifts. They grow up so fast; before you know it, they are grown. These times never come again. And if your child dies, all you have are memories of bygone times with your child.

I read a blog this morning that really touched my heart. The author lost her son to pediatric cancer when he was three. Her encouragement to cherish your children is so poignant. On this day, his 6th birthday, she writes:

I miss the days where I lived carefree and unaware.  I miss going to the party store and picking out candy and balloons.  I miss living a life where I didn’t even give a thought to pediatric cancer.  But more than any of that – I miss watching my son, for 3 years now, blow out the candles on his birthday cake.  I miss crying out of joy instead of sadness.  I miss Tanner.  More and more with every passing second.

So, log off, put your phones down, and enjoy the moments you have.  You may have only one.  You may have a million.  You need to relish them, you need to be present in them, you need to be so full with joy that you can’t keep the tears in your eyes.  The greatest gift I ever had gave me that, on his birthday.

http://thelexiebeanfoundation.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/happy-6th-birthday-tanner-in-heaven/

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Caution: Cliche Ahead

I would venture to say that most bereaved parents tend to be a little sensitive when it comes to cliches and platitudes concerning grief. I know that I am. I try to remind myself, though, that I probably was once one who thought cliches and platitudes were just hunky-dory. I’m sure I thought I was being a help and an encouragement when I told someone to look on the sunny side of life.

I grew up that way. I grew up singing songs that told me, “With Christ in the vessel I can smile at the storm” and “When there’s a rainbow in the sky, the clouds of frown go smiling by.” I was reminded by bumper stickers to “Smile. God loves you.” I grew up feeling that, no matter what I was going through, I had to act and look like everything was okay. If I put a smile on and acted like everything was okay, eventually it would be okay.

Now, I’m all for a good attitude in life and toward life. I think that’s healthy. The “Eeyore’s” in our lives can pull us down after a while. A general Eeyore attitude all the time can put people off. But, I think there’s a difference between having a constant pessimistic attitude and honestly, truly grieving.

People (and I include myself in this) can be really good at the cliches, I think, especially when confronted with difficult situations (such as the death of a child) or when we don’t know what to say. Break out the platitude or “encouraging” Bible verse, slap it on the situation, and it will make everything okay. If the person to whom the cliche is given doesn’t “get” it, that’s their problem, their lack of understanding, their lack of faith.

I ran across a blog a while back that had a picture of an old box and contained the following text underneath the picture:

Carrying something like this around? A box weighted with grief, or resentment, regret, or pain. The best thing to do is LEAVE IT AT THE CROSS. Bring that box to Christ, He’s waiting patiently at baggage claim…. http://mindlesspeace.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/baggage/

Now, I know there are things it’s better we just let go. That being said, I have to say, as a bereaved parent whose walk through grief has been long and hard, I struggled with the concept presented in this post. Do people honestly think that it is really that simple to deal with grief following the death of a child? Was that all I needed to do – lay down my grief at the cross – and all my pain would be “claimed” by Christ? No, of course, it’s not. That’s not even realistic. To me, such cliches are akin to putting a little Hello Kitty band-aid on a huge, gaping wound.

It also makes me wonder if the person who is espouses such cliches really thinks that’s the way it “should” happen. It implies that the person who has grief, resentment, regret or pain isn’t a good enough Christian or isn’t dealing correctly with these issues from a Christian point of view – according to the person who espouse such cliches. To an unseasoned griever, it additionally puts a boatload of guilt on him/her about what s/he “should” be doing. I don’t think that’s fair. We need to check those “should’s” at the door!

The Bible says that God near to those who are brokenhearted (Psalms 34:18). The Bible says that God collects my tears and records them in His book (Psalms 56:8). The Bible says that God is with us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23:4). There are many verses that talk about God meeting us where we are in the midst of our struggles. I don’t remember one about checking my baggage of grief at the door.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month

“When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them.”

Ronald Reagan

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month, first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in October of 1988. Canada and Australia have also recognized October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. In his 1988 proclamation, President Reagan said that the purpose of this specific designation was “to increase our understanding of the great tragedy involved in the deaths of unborn and newborn babies. It also enables us to consider how, as individuals and communities, we can meet the needs of bereaved parents and family members and work to prevent causes of these problems.” He then “call(ed) upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.”

In 2006, the House of Representatives passed a resolution designation October 15th as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a “day when all grieving parents could come together and be surrounded by love and support from their friends and families, a day where the community could better understand their pain and learn how to reach out to those grieving.” (http://www.october15th.com)

October is also National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the Susan G. Komen foundation has done a phenomenal job in raising breast cancer awareness around the world! This organization has done a great job since its inception in 1982. My grandmother and mother-in-law both had breast cancer, so I applaud the Komen foundation for its work.

IMG_0567“Pink” is everywhere during October and in so many innovative ways. One year, my husband, sister, and I participated in BMW’s Ultimate Drive to Cure Breast Cancer. BMW donated $1 for each mile a new car was test-driven. Driven by local volunteers, a fleet of new BMW cars made its way across the United States from dealer to dealer to promote the Ultimate Drive, and we drove cars from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. I got to drive the lead car as the rest of the cars followed me for the hour-and-a-half drive, and I was proud to be a part of the event to raise awareness. We see “pink” awareness everywhere. Every NFL football team – including big, tough football players, coaches, refs, and many others – sports everything from pink shoes to pink hats to pink towels. Websites go pink. Clothing lines put out “pink” items. Runs, walks, drives – it’s amazing to see so much support!

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is also a very high-profile, successful, and well-run organization with huge national awareness and great support. Once again, I think the work they do is incredibly valuable and worthwhile. There are many others whose work is incredibly valuable and worthwhile.

But, as a mother who lost a baby at 19 weeks gestation and another child to a drunk driver, I can’t help but wonder how one cause receives so much more support and visibility than another. It’s not that I begrudge either the Komen or the Make-A-Wish foundation their support or successes. I don’t. I wish them all the best!! Finding a cure for ANY kind of cancer would be awesome! Giving a sick child hope or a dream come true is an incredible gift. I guess I’m a trying to figure out how and why people galvanize behind one cause but ignore another.

I do have an theory, though. My theory is that it’s easier to focus on hope than loss. Even though there are people who die from breast cancer and there are children who do not survive their illnesses, the Komen and Make-A-Wish foundations focus on surviving and hope. Hope for a cure for cancer. Raising money to find a cure for cancer. Focus on survivors of breast cancer. Hope for a child to continue fighting his or her illness. Giving a child a dream he or she may not be able to achieve without the foundation’s help. Although bereaved parents are talked about in terms of “surviving the death of a child,” we are learning how to survive the death of our child. Our child is gone. There is no hope of bringing our child back. We have to figure out how to live our lives without them. We have to figure out how to find “strength for today and…hope for tomorrow.” Even though child loss awareness was promoted way back in 1988 by the leader of our country, it seems as though it’s an often overlooked or unmentioned topic.

I remember when we lost our baby in 1987, nobody said anything at all to me about it. Our pastor announced from the pulpit that we had lost a baby, but that was it. It wasn’t discussed. At 19 weeks, our baby was nearly halfway to due date, but it was as if nothing had happened or that it didn’t matter. I remember feeling like it was a very black year for me. We lost the baby the end of January 1987, my dad’s health declined to the point that we had to put him in a nursing home in August 1987, and then he died the beginning of February 1988. Later that year I helped my mom go through all of my dad’s things. I felt like I just had to keep going on as if nothing had happened, but it was an awful time for me. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt that way.

How do we promote more awareness for National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month? How do we promote awareness for what it’s like to have lost a child – whether through miscarriage, SIDS, accident, or natural causes – and the difficult and often misunderstood walk that follows? How do we promote realistic understanding and unwavering compassion for bereaved parents and their families? How are individuals and communities to consider – as President Reagan said – “how…(to) meet the needs of bereaved parents and family members and work to prevent causes of these problems…”?

I don’t see press coverage for any ceremonies of support for bereaved parents. I know that some hospitals sponsor programs and some churches have a ceremony, but generally I don’t hear a lot about the topic of the death of a child. There are books written on the topic and organizations that support the bereaved, but I don’t see a national awareness. Yes, there is the Compassionate Friends and other organizations, but these are targeted to people who have lost a child. Do people read books on child loss or seek out organizations that talk about dealing with the death of a child unless they personally are the one who has lost a child or know someone who has? I know it’s not an easy topic to think or talk about, but does that mean it’s not important to discuss or that it’s not just as important about which to raise awareness? Does that mean we, as bereaved parents, should continue to “buck up” or mask our grief and struggles on this sometimes very lonely and misunderstood walk? I just think it’s something people don’t like to talk about, and I think there is still a huge gap in understanding what it’s like to lose a child and what helps or doesn’t help.

So, as October comes to a close, my question is this: How many “appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities” have you seen or been aware of? Would you say that President Reagan’s proclamation and the House of Representative’s resolution has helped to raise awareness and support for bereaved parents? What do you think? What’s your input on this? Just thinking aloud on this chilly Saturday morning. Would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and what you have to say…

Becky

Great articles in a similar vein:

http://ouradoptionfaithwalk.blogspot.com/2012/10/why-it-matters-to-have-day-of.html

http://oca.org/resource-handbook/familylife/october-pregnancy-and-infant-loss-awareness-month

http://www.stillbirthalliance.org/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=3&link_id=67

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

I did something the other day that most people probably wouldn’t understand. I specifically went into the Christmas aisles at a our local big-box store to test myself. I wanted to see how I would react to seeing all of the Christmas stuff that is now arriving on shelves in force. I wanted to see how badly the vise would constrict around my heart this year as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach. Perhaps I wanted to begin preparing myself for the onslaught of reminders that “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – or, at least, the implications that it should be. For some people, it’s not. You see, this time of year as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach is always a tricky time filled with potential landmines for a parent who has lost a child.

The vise doesn’t constrict as much as it once did, but I don’t think there’s any getting around the fact that it still does and probably always will. I find that I still have to concentrate on breathing the first time I see a Christmas display. I feel it like a jab right in the heart. I see people already posting online about being so excited that Christmas is coming, that they are already playing Christmas music, that Christmas is the best time of the year for them. For some people, it is. For others – for me – it’s not exactly the Hallmark/Norman Rockwell Christmas or Thanksgiving any more. I feel like it used to be that way, and I had so much fun planning the Thanksgiving menu and couldn’t wait for Christmas to arrive. Oh, the traditions, the food, the conspiring on what special present to buy, the music, the lights. I loved it all!! I could barely function that first Thanksgiving. That first Christmas was torture. The second wasn’t much better.

I have to admit I still feel like I trudge through part of it at times – not all, but part of it – because I don’t feel the unabashed wonder and enthusiasm that I used to. It’s hard to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas (or even most holidays) without acutely feeling Jason’s absence. What I try to do now is to focus on making Christmas special and meaningful in some way for those I love. But, it’s still a tricky time for me, and I sometimes really have to concentrate on focusing on the positives while being aware of the holes in my life and sidestepping the landmines that are inherent with the holiday territory.

As the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons approach, I’d like to offer an early reminder. If you are a bereaved parent, I hope you will take time to be gentle with yourself. I hope those around you take time to be thoughtful, kind, generous, and gentle with you. You don’t have to do it all. Do what you can and let the rest go. Try to remove as much pressure on yourself as you can. You don’t have to do everything you used to do. You may want to keep some traditions and/or start some new ones. It’s okay. Do what feels right to you for your family and whatever you feel honors the child you lost.

For those who know a bereaved parent, perhaps you could start thinking now about how to do something kind and thoughtful for that parent that may take a bit of sting out of the season. You can’t “make it better,” but you CAN do something. Perhaps you could send a note, telling of a special memory you have of their child. A parent never gets tired of hearing that his/her child is not forgotten or hearing a story that brings a memory to life. Perhaps you could include the bereaved family or a sibling in something. They may say no, so don’t take it personally. But they may need something to look forward to and say yes. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, assuming everyone else captures the same joy at Christmas, and forgetting that there are those who really struggle with loss and its aftermath during this time of year. It’s easy to assume that everyone else is enjoying the holiday season as much as you are. Even after eleven years, I still struggle with the approaching holidays and still feel at times that I’m on the outside looking in at everyone else’s joy and enthusiasm. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the holidays. It’s just that they aren’t quite the same for me any more.

I’ve written before about Christmases after Jason died: A Bereaved Parent’s Christmas; My Christmas Wish for Bereaved Parents; Christmas Day; Christmas Season – Not the “Same as Always” This Year; Caution! Rough Sea Ahead!. Here is an entry from my journal dated 12/25/2003:

It’s Christmas Day. It’s sort of been a mixed bag. I have had such a hard time getting anything done to get ready for Christmas. Doing things to get ready for Christmas meant that I had to focus on another holiday without Jason. How can we celebrate when Jason is gone? I have been trying so hard to figure out how to keep Christmas special for the rest of us without it seeming wrong to celebrate when Jason isn’t here to celebrate with us. It’s just not easy. When I went into stores to look for presents, my heart just felt like it was being crushed or squeezed by a vise. I couldn’t breathe. I would feel panic-y and have to leave before I got anything. It’s so hard to do the things we used to do. It’s just not the same.

No more all going out together on a Christmas-tree-finding adventure. How can it be the same to find and decorate a tree without our boy? Jason was the one who put the angel on top of the tree. We’d bring the tree home, put on some Christmas music, and then all decorate the tree together. I’d unwrap the ornaments and everyone would put their own ornaments on the tree. We’d put up the stockings by the fireplace. Our stockings would eventually be filled with fun stocking stuffers we had bought each other. Such a fun, festive, family time.

It’s been so hard to figure out what to do with the stockings. What do we do with the stockings now? Do we hang them up? Do we put things into the stockings for each other? How do we fill four out of five stockings? Jason’s would look so empty. We can’t not put his up. Every decision seems to have so much emotion tied to it. Everything seems to emphasize Jason’s absence.

It’s been such a hard Christmas. I tried so hard to get in the “Christmas spirit,” whatever that is any more, but I don’t think I ever succeeded. I really tried, but just couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm.

On Christmas Eve, Joe, Jenna and I went out to dinner. We honestly were all trying our best to put on our happy faces and have a good time, but we just seemed like a sad little group, I’m afraid. It just wasn’t the same. We all used to go out to dinner for Asian food and then to the candlelight church service. We’d talk and laugh and have the grandest time, full of joy at being together and anticipation of Christmas morning surprises. It was part of our Christmas tradition. Now what do we do?

We came home after dinner and watched Miracle on 34th Street. Both Jenna and I fell asleep somewhere in the middle of it. When we went to bed, tears just started flowing. I couldn’t keep up the pretense any more. I am just so sad.

I got up really early this morning to make cinnamon rolls, just as I used to do. I just wanted to cry the whole time. Do we try to keep traditions we used to have or what do we do? It’s just so hard to carry on with things we used to do. It hurts so much. I don’t know what the balance is. Both Joe and Jenna came down as I was mixing up the dough. I guess they couldn’t sleep, either. After I got the dough made to rise, we went back to bed. I realized that Joe was crying. I asked him if he was okay, and he said he was just so sad. We just held each other and cried.

The day improved once Eric arrived to eat cinnamon rolls with us and open presents. Later in the day, [our friends and their family] came over to have Christmas Day dinner with us and we had a good time together. We played games and went to see a movie. Don’t know what we would have done without them. I’m afraid it would have been a long day.

I don’t know. It seems at times we just go through the motions, but it doesn’t seem to have the same “heart” as it used to. How can we? Our hearts are broken. A huge part of our family is gone. Nothing is the same.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney