My Life in Boxes

Last fall, we went to Oklahoma to get the last of our things out of storage and to move them to North Carolina where we now live. They’ve been in storage for seven years since we moved from Oklahoma. We spent two days repacking things into smaller, uniform moving boxes and and once again whittling down our earthly possessions. Again. Deciding what’s important to keep and what’s replaceable. Again. Taking boxes and boxes and boxes of household goods, kitchen items and clothes to Goodwill. Again. I’ve done this process too many times and it’s hard on me every time. If I never again hear the words “we need to get rid of” or the phrase “Are you really keeping that???,” it will be too soon. It seems I always feel pushed into giving away something that really was important to me or that I later wished I had kept.

The last remaining things of our life in Seattle. The last remaining physical items I have that connect me to Jason. The history of our lives. Photographs. Scrapbooks. Christmas ornaments. Momentos of our lives when the kids were little. Jason’s chess set. A few books. A couple of my dad’s Bibles. Tax records. Important papers.

Less than 50 12″ x 12″ x 18″ boxes. Less than 50 boxes is all we moved. That’s all we have left. Seriously, that’s all we have left that we can call our own (since moving from Oklahoma seven years ago, we have lived in rented, fully-furnished one bedroom apartments in both Florida and North Carolina, so we don’t have any furniture, etc.). Less than 50 boxes. It seems like such a small amount of things that reflect the busy, fun, full life we had before Jason died and the big house and home that was so filled with love and activity. Sometimes it feels like my life has shrunk so small since then.

But, those items in those boxes also are a reminder that physical things are just that – things. They are just things. I lived without seeing or physically touching those things for seven years. Although those things may remind us of Jason and the time he was alive, there is no way those flat, one-dimensional items can truly reflect the real Jason – the awesome person he was, his intelligence and humor, his beautiful blue eyes, the many facets of his wonderful and Godly character, and his truly kind and loving nature. Those are things that can only be held closely and fully in our hearts and memories.

Holding you close in my heart and in my memories today, my precious boy. I miss you and I love you more than words can say. I look forward to the day I can see you and hug the real you once again.

~Becky

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

Article Referral – “Stifled Grief: How the West Has It Wrong”

I’d like to share an article I found recently entitled “Stifled Grief: How the West Has it wrong.” In the article, the author states some of the common expectations by others of someone who has suffered a deep loss and is walking through deep grief. She then contrasts those expectations with the reality that those who have “walked the walk” have actually experienced. In her opening paragraphs, the author states:

Western society has created a neat little “grief box” where we place the grieving and wait for them to emerge fixed and whole again. The grief box is small and compact, and it comes full of expectations…that range from time frames to physical appearance. Everyone who has been pushed into the grief box understands it’s confining limitations, but all of our collective voices together can’t seem to change the intense indignation of a society too emotionally stifled to speak the truth. It’s become easier to hide our emotional depth than to reveal our vulnerability and risk harsh judgment. When asked if we are alright, it’s simpler to say yes and fake a smile…(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelle-e-steinke/stifled-grief-how-the-wes_b_10243026.html)

If you’re a grammar person, you may have to overlook some of the obvious errors. Please don’t let the need of a good proofreader cause you to miss the excellent content. You can find the article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelle-e-steinke/stifled-grief-how-the-wes_b_10243026.html.

~Becky

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

I miss my life

I don’t know what’s going on with me lately. I’ve just really been struggling. You’d think after nearly fourteen and a half years, I’d have this whole grief thing down and be on a smoother, less rocky path.

I think I just get weary of the journey at times. Unless you’ve been there, I don’t think people realize how much effort it takes day after day, year after year to get up every day and face this reality, this life without our child, this life that is so much different than we had hoped for, planned for, expected. Some seasons or holidays take more energy than others. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries – sometimes they’re hard-to-face, emotional times that require more energy and effort than other times.

I just celebrated my 61st birthday. I was 46 when Jason died. How can I still struggle so much at times after all these years? When Jason died, I remember writing in my diary, pleading with God for something good to come out of all this loss. I prayed that the positive impact of Jason’s life and his beautiful, loving spirit would radiate out like ripples from a stone being thrown into a pond and impact the people he knew for good. I prayed that something meaningful would come out of such a senseless death, out of so much loss. Joe and I always felt, from the moment of Jason’s birth, that God had a special purpose for his life. And then he died at age 19. My beautiful, wonderful boy. After all these years, I still don’t see the “greater good” or the reason for so much pain.

Sometimes the loss overwhelms me, especially around birthdays and holidays. They seem to be times of introspect and reflection. I look at my life and wonder what it’s all about. I see a woman who still deeply grieves the death of her son. I see a woman who is lonely and unsettled. After all these years, we still haven’t found a place to be “at home.” We sold most everything in our nearly 3000 square foot home when we left Washington, and, believe me, I mean most everything! We bought a 1700 square foot house and some furnishings when we moved to Oklahoma, but then sold it all again when we left there three years later. We rented a furnished one-bedroom condo when we lived in Florida and now rent a furnished one-bedroom apartment in North Carolina. Most of what we own is packed and stored in less than 25 boxes. We don’t own the couch we sit on, the bed we sleep in, vacuum cleaner we use, or most of the dishes we eat on.

It’s not like we haven’t tried to find a house to rent or buy or a place to “anchor.” We have.   Housing is expensive where we live, and we just haven’t found anything we can afford that we really like enough to move. I’m not sure this is the right place for us, anyway. We just don’t know where we fit. I feel adrift and have felt that way since we left Washington. And now, it looks like our daughter and her husband may be moving away from here. I don’t know what I’ll do without her. I know she needs to live her own life and I want her to be happy. She’s been through so much and deserves to be happy. It’s just that I’ll just miss her so much.

I miss feeling connected and confident, knowing the direction I was headed, knowing my family was safe and happy. I miss imagining a future that looks bright and full of possibilities. Sometimes I look at my life and can’t believe this is my life now. Things just haven’t worked out the way I thought they would. We are so unsettled, disconnected in so many ways. We struggle to make friends, to fit in. We work, but to what end? We do this and that, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem to have any meaning or dispel our restlessness. Our grandchildren live on the other side of the United States and we hardly know them. I expected to be one of those grandmothers who was involved in her grandkids’ lives, taking them places, doing fun things together, making crafts, baking. I expected to be wanted, needed, loved, hugged. Our relationship has never been easy with our daughter-in-law, so that makes it difficult as she does not encourage or foster our connections with our grandkids much, if at all, even when we visit them. It makes me so sad.

I was looking forward to Jason getting married and having kids. I could just imagine little Jason’s running around our house, along with our other grandkids. Joe has told me that he, too, expected us to stay in our Washington house for the rest of our lives, having a place for everyone to come home to visit, playing with our grandkids there. I’ve never known anyone so involved with his kids as Joe, someone who gets so much enjoyment spending time with his family. He’s a wonderful man with an amazing heart for kids, both his own and others. How do we put broken dreams to rest? I don’t know. What could have or should have been – it trips me up sometimes. The losses of what we no longer have trip me up sometimes, too.

My sister is coming to visit in a couple of weeks. As I was doing some cleaning this morning in preparation for her arrival, I got so frustrated with the less-than-adequate vacuum cleaner that is part of our furnished rental that I just yelled, “I miss my vacuum cleaner!! I miss my own stuff!! I miss my home!!  I miss my life!!!”

Silly to miss a vacuum cleaner, I know. It was just the symbol of the frustration, loneliness and sadness I’ve felt lately. I keep on trying. God knows, I keep on trying. Each new day, I keep on trying to find a purpose, trying to find meaning in the day, trying to do the best I can, trying to find the positive and good, trying to be thankful, trying to find a reason to go on. Sometimes it takes a lot of energy to keep on trying, and I simply run out of the energy reserves I have and get weary. I guess I’m just weary right now, needing something to go right.

Tomorrow is another day, and I will rise to try again.

~Becky

 

Out of sight; out of mind

A Facebook friend recently posted a note about being stuck in traffic because of an accident. “Westbound I-90 is closed due to a fatality accident. I’m stuck in the backup. At least we’re moving a little bit… at a snail’s pace.” She went on to say how thankful she was for her Starbucks ice tea and scone she had with her, that she was thankful she had Sirius XM radio to listen to while she was stuck in traffic, happy that she might get a day off if she could get off the freeway and turn around, and most of all thankful she was safe.

As a person who sees both sides of the coin in nearly every situation, my reaction was two-fold. My first reaction, of course, was that I was glad she was safe. My second reaction was astonishment that there was absolutely no mention or apparent concern about the family of the person who died, other people involved, or those who witnessed the accident. I know I’m sensitive when it comes to reports of a child dying or someone who dies in a car accident, but it all seemed just a bit unfeeling to me. Other friends made comments about how they loved her thankful attitude (“So many reasons to be thankful every day”), how they appreciated the heads-up so they could choose a different route to drive to their destinations so as not to be late to appointments, wanted to know if she was going to stop by since she might have the day off. It was only after someone posted concern for those involved in the accident that the tone changed to “so sad” and “praying for those involved” and any mention that it was a  71 year old woman who had died.

Yeah, that was me; I was the one who mentioned the accident victim. How could they appear not care that someone had died and that the family of the accident was going to have to walk down the rocky path of grieving the death of their loved one? I guess I felt like I needed to validate her existence and and the loss of her life. I wrote a very kind note saying I was so glad my friend was okay, but then mentioned that my heart went out to the family of the person who died. That’s when the tone of the comments changed to sentiments regarding the victim and how sad it was that she had died. I noticed this morning that the original post and thread have been deleted entirely.

As I’ve mentioned before, I know that I react to traffic accidents differently than most people do, simply because Jason died in a traffic accident. The sound of sirens  and the sight of emergency vehicles surrounding an accident don’t go unnoticed; it touches a place in me that can take me back to that day and stir up worries about the safety of my family. I’m not just a curious rubbernecker, gawking as I drive by to see what might have happened. The realization that I am not immune to the death of a loved one is now a very real part of who I am. I know what it’s like to drive up to the scene of an accident and see the bright, flashing lights of patrol cars and emergency vehicles that surround the car where my son just died. I recognize the strategic placement of fire trucks and emergency vehicles as they try to hide the horror from anyone who might pass by and gawk. I know what it’s like to read in the newspaper about the accident that killed my child and his best friend.

I also recognize the “I’m so glad it wasn’t me” attitude (as one gal said, “So many reasons to be thankful every day.”) and the effort to turn the focus away from something so awful as the death of a person who I’m sure was dearly loved by her family to something more mundane and everyday. Out of sight, out of mind. The sad thing is that I’m sure I used to respond exactly the same way before Jason died.

On the tenth anniversary of Jason’s death, I wrote a a couple of posts about some of the things I’d learned in those past ten years. In six months, we will be confronted with the fifteenth anniversary of Jason’s death. Fifteen years next March 3rd. I can’t believe it. I’ve been contemplating writing an updated version of my “what I’ve learned” post to include my observations of the last five years. The “out of sight, out of mind” thing is one topic I would include.

There are some things in the “out of sight, out of mind” area that I’ve noticed over the years in talking about Jason – not only about his death, but also about his life.

Although death is as much a part of life as birth, death is an uncomfortable subject and most people would rather avoid talking about it altogether. When working for an estate planning attorney who prepared wills and trusts for people and handled probates, I experienced this first-hand. People avoid getting their affairs in order in the eventuality of their own death because it’s uncomfortable. When it comes to discussing the death of someone’s child, it’s even more uncomfortable and people would rather not talk about it at all. Out of sight, out of mind.

Even after all these years, when I mention that we have a son who died, people get extremely uncomfortable and sometimes the dynamics of our relationship change. This happened to me recently. It makes some people so awkward to think about the death of a child that they pull away, and the typical development of a friendship may even stall. I think people are so glad it didn’t happen to them. Then they feel guilty about feeling that way and don’t know what to do next. And so they back off a bit. I understand that it’s more about them than about me, but it’s sad. As with many things concerning the death of a child, my head understands, but my heart doesn’t.

I also choose who I tell that Jason died in a car accident, and when or if I talk about it. I don’t bring it up with people I meet just casually or in passing. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about Jason. It just hurts when people ignore Jason’s life and pretend that I haven’t even mentioned his name. I’ve had conversations that awkwardly and immediately turn to something more mundane like the weather or the person will turn and begin to talk to someone else when I tell them our son died. It’s no fun to have people uncomfortable and awkward around me.

Even with people I know fairly well and who know about Jason’s death, when I talk about my children and include Jason’s life in whatever I’m talking about, people have a tendency to ask about my other two children and what they’re doing, but just sort of skip over talking about Jason at all. It’s like I hadn’t even mentioned his name. People act like he never lived. Some people we were really close to “before” don’t respond at all on Facebook when I post pictures on Jason’s birthday or the anniversary of his death. Some people do, and I’m very thankful they take the time to remember Jason. But some would rather skip over the reminder of Jason’s life and his death altogether. It’s hard not to feel like they’d rather keep his life and subsequent death out of sight, out of mind so they don’t have to think about what it’s like to lose a child or about the fact that a terrific guy like Jason died.

Some people tend to think that, because it’s been almost fifteen years, I should be all done this grief stuff and that it shouldn’t affect me any more. It’s so far in the past. Shouldn’t I be over it by now? I read an article in the Huffington Post recently entitled “Stifled Grief: How the West Has It Wrong.” It’s a very good article about some of the unrealistic expectations that we have in our society concerning grief, and I would suggest you take time to read it.

One blogger I follow, Kathleen Moulton, also recently wrote about this recently in her blog entitled, “no earthly thing.” She writes, “There is no earthly thing that can take the pain away of your child’s death…only heavenly.” So true. I will miss Jason for the rest of my life. I deal every day, on varying levels, with the grief and pain of his death. He is never “out of sight, out of mind” for me. I know in my heart that he lived and that his life mattered, and that he was the most wonderful son I ever could have imagined. I hold him close in my heart every day and am so thankful he was born in our family. But, I miss him and I grieve that he is gone. The pain and the grief of his death will permanently end only when we see Jason again in that place where there is no death or sorrow or suffering. And then God, Himself, will wipe away my tears. We will see Jason again and it will be a glorious day. Of that I am sure.

~Becky

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

A Momentous Year

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Birthday letter to Jason July 29, 2001. The pastor read this letter at Jason’s memorial service.

The morning of July 29, 2001, I woke up really early, and I knew the instant I woke up that I wanted to write Jason a special note for his 19th birthday. I just had to let him know how special he was to me and how much I appreciated him for who he was.

We tend to think of milestone birthdays as those  more momentous than others and seem to carry more “weight” or reason to celebrate than others. It’s not that the other years aren’t celebrated, it seems that bit more emphasis tends to be placed on those birthdays than others. What those birthdays represent have a stronger meaning. Turning sixteen tends to represent being able to get a driver’s license. Eighteen represents becoming an adult and going off to college or some other type of independent step. For some, twenty-one represents being able to purchase alcohol. Latin cultures have a huge quinceañera celebrations when a girl turns fifteen. Jewish communities celebrate the milestone of a boy turning thirteen with a bar mitzvah. In my mind, as I wrote in the note, I thought it wasn’t one of the ones we typically think of as momentous.

IMG_2558Little did I know, at the time, how momentous that birthday would be. It was the last one we would ever celebrate here on this earth with him.

That year, we celebrated on Jason’s actual birthday with our family and some of his closest friends, and then we had a large joint birthday party at a local park for Jason and his good friend, Justin. Just looking at those pictures, I can tell he was happy and that he knew he was loved. He loved being with family and friends. He loved to have fun.

On July 29th this year, we would have celebrated Jason’s 34th birthday. I can only imagine what his life would have been like and what he would have accomplished by now. What would he be doing? Who would he have married? Would he have children? We’ll never know the answers to those questions.

I am so glad Jason was born into our family. He was 9 pounds, 10 1/2 ounces of pure joy. Kind, loving, thoughtful, empathetic, intelligent, funny. There aren’t enough words in my vocabulary to describe what a special guy he was and how much I love him. And no matter how many years go by, I will always love and miss my precious boy. Happy birthday, Jason.

 

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

A Better World

I dream of a better world

But how can there be a “better world” when you are not in it?

You made this world better and brighter

And it is so much less so now that you are gone.

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I miss you, my precious boy.

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

Trust, Once Broken, is Not Easily Mended

When the kids were little, I tried to teach them the incredible value of trust. Miriam-Webster dictionary gives one definition of trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed (my emphasis on words in italics).” Trust is the basis of our close, meaningful friendships and relationships. Trust is the basis of a successful relationship between employer and employee.Trust is imperative in the relationship between spouses and between family members.

imagesAs a way of communicating this intangible concept to the kids, I used a couple of visual examples to show the consequences of breaking someone’s trust. We set up a pattern with dominos on the dining room table, the kind where you touch the first one to knock it over and that starts a chain reaction of the rest falling over. I wanted to show them that one action could affect many things. One action can lead to broken trust and can create an series of unintended consequences, much like the falling dominos.

481000578I also showed them one of my glass flower vases and asked them what they thought would happen if I smashed it on the ground. We talked about whether or not it could ever be put back together again. Even if we were able to find all the pieces and put them back together (which would be highly unlikely), it would never look or function the same. Once broken, not easily mended.

In my last post, I wrote about secondary losses. Following the death of a child, one of these secondary losses can be the loss of friendship, either immediately following the death of the child or as times goes by. The saying ” grief changes your address book” is true.  Initially, people may not know what to do or say, so they stay away. As time goes by, people may get tired of how long it takes to “get over” the death of a child and decide to move on. Either way, it’s fairly common to lose friends following the death of a child. (The online magazine, Still Standing, has an excellent article on this topic.)

I’ve also written about the loss of friendship after Jason died. Losing friends following the death of a child is hard. I recently read an article about the psychology behind people leaving alone people in crisis. The article quotes Barbara M. Sourkes, associate professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine: “When you’re confronted by someone else’s horror, there’s a sense that it’s close to home.” Too close to home, I would add. The article also lists reasons people may disappear – people don’t like to feel helpless, awkwardness around crises, feeling too much empathy in picturing that it could happen to them or their children, or creating distance so that it doesn’t seem real (out of sight/out of mind), feeling guilty that they’re so glad its not them, or feeling like if they stay away from the crisis that it won’t happen to them. Whatever the reason is or whenever the reason people disappear doesn’t make the loss any easier.

In some ways, I think people were waiting until we were “better,” waiting until enough time passed until…what??…until we weren’t so sad? I don’t know. There really is no such thing as “getting better.” One gal told me she wanted to make sure we had enough family time. Christmas 2002, nearly 10 months after Jason died, we had a few more people that usual call. At the time, I felt like people felt like it was safe to try to reconnect, but we weren’t the same people they used to know. Those relationships just weren’t the same.

When people walked away from us, I lost a lot of respect for them. It was hard feeling abandoned by those we expected to support us. Trust was broken. Our confidence in their ability to be true, kind, compassionate friends was broken. Those relationships were broken because of the broken trust. It was hard to feel like they really wanted to be in our lives, that they really wanted to be true friends again. If they really wanted to be our friends, why would they have abandoned us? As I said in my “toolbox” post, I am very guarded. I keep my shield close at hand, ready to put it up to protect my heart. That makes it really hard to let people in and trust that they really do care. It’s a hard thing to start trusting again.

I’ve really tried recently to be more open and trusting. I’ve tried to remove bricks from the walls I’ve put up around myself over the years – walls of protection and self-preservation. I’ve tried to allow people into my life. I’ve tried to be friendly and open to new friendships. It’s a really hard thing to do, this allowing people to be close to me. I’m really guarded. I don’t know if they can handle the brokenness in my life. I don’t know if they will think enough time has passed since Jason died that it shouldn’t bother me any more. I don’t want to be judged or to become a project to be “made better.” I don’t know if they will accept me for who I am. I don’t know if I can trust them to be there for me. It’s just so dang hard for me to do.

I recently confided something in a gal I thought to be a friend. She immediately passed it on to someone else, who came to talk to me about it. It was a trust-shattering moment. I continue to try to forgive that breach of trust, but I no longer look at that friendship the same. I no longer feel that relationship is worthy of my trust.

Trust is a huge issue for me. I want to be trustworthy – worthy of people entrusting things to me, knowing I will handle that trust with care. I want to have people around me that are trustworthy – worthy of entrusting them with my brokenness and fragile heart, knowing they will handle my trust with care.

Things are no longer simple following the death of a child. Navigating this life is more like canoeing down rapids than paddling on a calm lake. We have to be diligent and careful moving down this life-path. It’s like our radar always is on, scanning for things that might rock our boat. For example, Jason’s birthday is coming up, and I have learned that things that don’t normally bother me might make me sad. I have to be aware of that. I have to be aware of emotional triggers.

I have to read what’s the content of movies or TV shows. After Jason died, I couldn’t watch movies or TV shows that had car crashes in them. I couldn’t watch loud movies. I couldn’t watch movies about children dying (still can’t). I can’t watch high stress movies or TV shows. When scenes are particularly tense, I still have to close my eyes and breathe deeply until the scene is over.

I have to determine if I can trust someone. I have to judge conversations with people I have just met as to whether or not I should mention Jason. When someone asks me about how many children I have, can they handle the fact that I have a child who died? Is this a passing conversation with someone who moves on or is this someone who might stick around a while? If I do talk about Jason’s death, will they disappear like people did just after Jason died? Can I trust this person enough with my heart to believe that they won’t inflict further hurt? Will they not shatter my trust? Who can I trust?

People make mistakes. I understand that. We are all human and need to extend grace to each other. I’ve worked really hard on forgiving those that have hurt us. But, I also understand that trust once broken is not easily mended. It’s hard to let people that have broken our trust back into our hearts and into our lives.  It’s just never quite the same. Once that glass vase drops, it’s hard to put the pieces back together.

~Becky

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Photo credits:

Domino photo – https://www.videoblocks.com/video/line-of-white-dominoes-falling-ykoznpb/

Shattered glass photo – www.gettyimages.com

Articles quoted:

miriam webster trust

http://stillstandingmag.com/2014/08/losing-friends-child-loss/