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

 

Washington Mudslide

My heart just aches for those who have lost loved ones in the Snohomish County (Washington State) mudslide. Having lived about 35 miles south of there for a number of years and still feeling like Washington is home, it feels very close and personal even though we are now all the way across the country and don’t really know anyone in that exact area. We’ve driven right down that road on the way to the Lumberjack Festival in Darrington. Such a huge tragedy…

Our hearts and prayers are with all of those involved…and for all of the responders who are working so diligently…

© 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

Oh, my boy, I miss you so….I’d walk 1000 miles if I could just see you again

Jason turns 18

JASON DAVID CARNEY – 7/29/82 – 3/3/02

I truly would walk a thousand miles if I could just see you again…

A THOUSAND MILES

Making my way downtown, walking fast
Faces pass and I’m home bound
Staring blankly ahead, just making my way
Making my way down through the crowd…

And I need you
And I miss you
And now I wonder

If I could fall into the sky
Do you think time would pass me by
‘Cause you know I’d walk a thousand miles
If I could just see you
Tonight

It’s always times like these when I think of you
And I wonder if you ever think of me…
‘Cause Everything’s so wrong and I don’t belong
Living in your precious memories…

‘Cause I need you
And I miss you
And now I wonder

If I could fall into the sky
Do you think time would pass me by oh
‘Cause you know I’d walk a thousand miles
If I could just see you…
Tonight

And I… , I…
Don’t want to let you know
I… , I…
Drown in your memory
I… , I…
Don’t want to let this go
I, I don’t…

Making my way downtown, walking fast
Faces passed and I’m home bound
Staring blankly ahead, just making my way
Making my way down through the crowd…

And I still need you
And I still miss you
And now I wonder

If I could fall into the sky
Do you think time would pass us by
‘Cause you know I’d walk a thousand miles
If I could just see you

If I could fall into the sky
Do you think time would pass me by
‘Cause you know I’d walk a thousand miles
If I could just see you
If I could just hold you
Tonight

Writer(s): Vanessa Carlton
Copyright: Songs Of Universal Inc., Rosasharn Music

 

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

Solving the Problem of Grief: The Solution Is Not What You Think

Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective:

This is a great article. Grief is NOT a problem needing to be “fixed,” something that any person who has every truly experienced a great loss can understand.

Originally posted on Natasha's Memory Garden:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/megan-devine/death-and-dying_b_4606150.html

By Megan Devine

Posted: 01/23/2014 5:51 pm

Solving the problem of grief is a problem in itself: if the ways you are broken cannot possibly be fixed, why does everyone keep giving you solutions?

Before my partner died, I was reading There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem by Dr. Wayne Dyer. It’s a great book. When I tried to pick it up after Matt died, though, I couldn’t get back into it. It just kept feeling wrong, like there was a burr inside the words that scratched uncomfortably. I kept trying to find comfort in the words I found comforting and helpful before, and those words were just not doing it.

I put the book down. I picked it back up. The burr rasped and the words didn’t fit, and I put the book back down.

It was several weeks later when my eye happened to catch…

View original 963 more words

The Art of Presence – New York Times Article

This is another great article about helping those who grieve. There can never be enough written about “how to help.”

I thought the point made that it’s important to realize that some people may be firefighters and some may be builders was interesting:

Do be a builder. The Woodiwisses distinguish between firefighters and builders. Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles.

My hope and prayer is that bereaved parents have enough kind, caring people in their lives who are capable of performing both roles for the long haul. It’s so important.

Link to article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/opinion/brooks-the-art-of-presence.html?_r=2

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney