Recently, a friend who was approaching the fifth anniversary of his son’s death asked me if it ever got any better. I wish that I could have told him that it did. I told him that grief changes over time.
Grief ebbs and flows, but never goes away. Some days it’s a ways below the surface and doesn’t seem to show; some days it’s a gaping open pit I struggle not to fall into.
As I lay in bed last night, thinking about the significance of this day and how many years we have lived without our precious, wonderful Jason, it felt like my heart was breaking into so many pieces that it was turning into a pile of fine sand. Today I feel like I am moving in slow motion, my mind foggy as I struggle to think of what I need to do next.
We recently set up a small home gym in the garage. As we rearranged our storage boxes to make some room, I took the opportunity to organize the mementos in those boxes so that I can begin putting together some scrapbooks of my growing up years and those of the kids. It was an incredibly difficult thing to do. School projects, birthday cards, notes passed to a friend in class, pieces of paper with fingerpaint handprints of a small boy, drawings of a toddler with love notes to mom and dad, stories written by Jason about how he had met one of his best friends, poems about a dear friend and a girl he loved. Joe, who was helping me, kept saying from time to time, “It isn’t fair.” Again today, he said, “It isn’t fair.” No, it’s not fair. Such a wonderful young man, our precious boy, gone in an instant. For Jason, no college graduations, no weddings, no kids, no jobs, no more special events or holidays. For all of us, the memories and mementoes we have of Jason are all we will ever have. They all stopped March 3, 2002.
I wish I had some great insight, some great encouragement after walking this path for so many years, but I really don’t. I wish I could say that time heals all and that it gets better, but I can’t. The friend I mentioned earlier told me that I am an encouragement, but I’m not sure how I do that. I just try to live my life in such a way that would make Jason proud. As in the beginning, one day at a time. I look forward to the day I will see him again.
We love you and miss you, Jason. Every single day.
Another year in the books. As a parent whose child has died, I think I look at the year ahead differently than most people. Since Jason died, I feel like I always have somewhere in the back of my mind a dread, a feeling like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, for something else to go wrong. I used to be naive and believe I was protected or immune from such disaster and trauma. Now I know the most horrible thing I could think about can happen.
The last year has been difficult, much more difficult than I ever could have anticipated. We started off the year with my husband coming down with COVID on New Year’s Eve. Having had a heart attack, he was considered one of the high risk groups and I was really worried when that COVID test came back positive. Thankfully, he recovered very quickly and, after having one day of fever, was out sweeping the patio the following day.
The year proceeded with me losing one of my jobs and accompanying financial adjustments, Joe being required at his job to work outside in really hot weather and getting really sick from being overheated, watching difficult relationship struggles that broke our hearts and feeling unable to help, ongoing health issues. We still haven’t seen our son and his family in nearly four years. Our grandchildren continue to treat us as irrelevant and we are lucky to get a grunt “hello” when we talk to them.
In recent months, I have lost my older half brother and two cousins. Although I wasn’t really close to any of them, it’s still sobering to have those family connections gone. Death brings such a finality to relationships, no matter how close or not you are. The similarities between the death of my brother and the death of my mom were eery and mind boggling. It made me realize that, having died in the shadow of Jason’s death and the deep, traumatic grief I was experiencing, I really have not dealt with Mom’s death. On and on it goes.
As the year proceeded, we were so excited and looking forward to finally having a home of our own. It represented hope, something to look forward to, a place to settle and put down roots for now. It’s been a mixed bag of good and frustration, a process that has been super glitchy and a punch list – six months in – that still is not completed with no end in sight and words/concerns mostly falling on deaf ears. My expectations were not realistic. I guess needed this to be easy and it hasn’t been. I think I wanted someone to be able to see the great pain inside of us of the things we have walked through and help create a place where I can sort through the physical mementos I have had in storage from Jason’s life and put together some things to honor him, a haven where we could possibly heal a bit. No one can actually do that for another person. No one can heal your grief for you. Life doesn’t work like that.
I am thankful for what we have. I like our house and I am thankful for it. I know that there are people struggling and hurting so much more than we are. Although I struggle at times with feeling hopeful, I know there are those who feel like they have no hope whatsoever.
It took me a while took me a while to get into the Christmas spirit. Christmas always hurts my heart. We ordered a new Christmas tree for our new house. It was missing the wall plug when it arrived. They sent a new plug which was the wrong size. Then they sent an entire new tree. We pulled out Christmas decorations and ornaments that we haven’t seen in so many years. I’m not going to lie – putting the angel on top of the tree that was always Jason’s job reduced me to tears. By the time we got the new tree and got it set up, Christmas was almost here and we barely got it decorated in time for our daughter to arrive for a few days to celebrate with us. It ended up being a good Christmas together.
On this last day of 2022, I peer over the edge into the new year with some trepidation. It’s always difficult to think of starting a new year without Jason. It’s easy to sit and reflect, looking back over the years at broken dreams and how our lives would have been so much different had Jason lived. I’ve always been a hopeful, positive person but feel like I’m running out of years and experiencing diminishing hope.
We’re going to spend today taking the Christmas tree and decorations down. We want to set up a small in-home gym area in the garage and will work on that today, too. Organizing, planning and doing the best we can planning for a healthy, good year ahead and hoping for the best.
As always, missing you, my precious boy, with all my heart. Another year without you, but another year closer to seeing you again.
Too many times lately I’ve heard myself saying, “He who expects nothing is not disappointed.” I guess it’s supposed to serve as a reminder to myself not to put higher expectations or my own expectations onto someone else. Since my expectations sometimes can be a little higher than is realistic, it’s a way of lowering my expectations to meet reality.
I’m a person who sees both sides of the coin, was taught that it was better to turn the other cheek than to fight. I have a long fuse and give people way more chances than is probably healthy for me. I hang onto relationships long after they are over.
After Jason died, it wasn’t too long before nearly everyone we knew disappeared and we were left mostly alone. With our extended family thousands of miles away, we truly expected our friends to fill in those gaps. It just didn’t happen and we were alone a lot. At the time, I made excuses. I lowered my expectations. We were difficult to be around, I told myself. It wasn’t easy to know what to say to us or what to do when we really didn’t know ourselves what we needed. I tried so hard not to make people uncomfortable. I said to myself many times that my head understood but my heart just didn’t understand. My head kept trying to tell me that it was understandable, but my heart was breaking. I tried to reason myself into understanding why people acted the way they did and to try to be okay with it.
As a personal standard, I try to do what’s right. I try to do a good job at whatever I am doing. I try to notice those in need and help out without fanfare or acknowledgement. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?
But isn’t this a two way street, too? Shouldn’t we ALL treat each other the way we would want to be treated ourselves? Shouldn’t we expect people who profess to care about us to actually CARE about us…and show it by actually doing something, by following through on their words? Do actions meet words for the ones who profess to be Christians, send a card with a religious sentiment, put a hand on your shoulder to pray for you or hug you but then don’t actually do anything or don’t act with integrity? As a person who has a strong sense of fairness, this just doesn’t add up for me.
I am not a squeaky wheel kind of a person. I am not confrontational. I usually internalize things and try to deal with it myself. If I do anything at all, I would rather calmly communicate, trying to help the other person see where I’m coming from while also listening to their side of the issue to (hopefully) come to a mutually-beneficial resolution. It’s not as easy as it sounds and rarely works out that way. It takes two people equally willing to work together and actually listen to each other’s point of view…and then actually DO something to fix the problem or address the issue.
I’ve never been a person who likes other people to see me cry. The person who cries openly and more easily seems to be the one people gather around to comfort. Or do people just disappear and avoid the griever entirely? I’m not sure. Perhaps if I had been more able or willing to show my grief, to publicly grieve, we would have had more support. I don’t know. People who didn’t see me flat on the floor, crying so hard I physically didn’t have the strength to stand or even sit, would tell me that it was okay for me to grieve. No one saw that…nor would they want to…nor would I want them to. If your child dies, people call you brave. I’m not brave. I never was. I just didn’t wear my grief on my sleeve; it’s not easy for me to be open and ask for help.
One day early on I was so worried about Joe that I did something very uncharacteristic – I asked for help. I emailed people we were closest to prior to Jason’s death, asking for support. No one responded at all. Not one of our “Christian” friends, people we considered extended family, showed up in response to my cry for help. Those types of things have had a lasting impact on me. I don’t trust easily. I don’t make friendships easily. From experience, professing Christianity doesn’t mean a person is going to do the right thing or is someone I can trust. I totally realize we’re all human and make mistakes and fail miserably, but sometimes you’ve just got to show up.
I would have to say that some of the people who I remember most clearly as showing up are people who I would not even know if they professed to be Christians. Joe’s boss who flew up from California to be with us – an extremely busy guy who simply showed up for us. The doorman at the Westin who genuinely asked Joe nearly every day how he was doing. The Westin manager who offered us employee rates so we could get away for a bit at a time when we didn’t know how to carry on. The officers investigating the accident, especially the one who told me he wanted to do such a good job that it would make Jason proud. The officers who took time off work to show up at the sentencing hearing to support us. The firemen who came to Jason’s memorial service. We were not close to them and had no expectations from any of them. We haven’t seen or heard from any of these people for years, but we have never forgotten their genuine kindnesses and how they showed up.
I consciously have been trying to let my guard down, to reach out to people, to make friends, to trust people again. It has not been easy. We have had a couple of situations recently where we specifically made the decision to step out side our comfort zone and trust someone else with decisions that have had big, lasting impacts on our lives. A couple of them have not gone well and our expectations have been lowered so much we practically had none left at all. It has cost us in the long run – money, trust, hope.
And, so, once again, I find myself telling myself, “He who expects nothing is not disappointed.”
But, shouldn’t we be able to have expectations of others, especially those who are in expected trust situations? Shouldn’t we expect people to have integrity, to keep their word? Shouldn’t we expect Christians to at least try to act like Christ? In practicality, how far does the “faith without works is dead” theology actually go? Shouldn’t we expect people who profess to care about us to show up when we need them and to do the right thing? Should we have to keep lowering out expectations until we have none at all, no trust at all in that person?
I include myself in this. Have I been dependable? Have I shown up when it was difficult? Am I a person of my word?
I consistently remind myself that I am responsible for no one’s actions but my own, just as everyone else is responsible for their own actions. This is the important thing. I am the one that will have to stand before God some day when all my actions (hidden or unhidden) are revealed for everyone to see, just as everyone else will have to. I do believe that there may be a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we run with endurancethis race called life. At least, that’s what I was taught in church. If nothing else, I’m sure God sees and knows all.
I’m running as best I can, but I get tired. I get frustrated. I get sad and lonely.
I was thinking recently about the story of the carpenter who had worked hard all of his life building houses, making a quality product but was never able to afford a home of his own. He was tired of working and decided to retire. His boss asked him to build one more home. Reluctantly, the carpenter agreed but his heart wasn’t in it. He didn’t build with his typical quality of workmanship. When the house was done, the boss surprised the carpenter and gave the home to him as his own. He quit too soon. He let his integrity slip because he was weary in well-doing.
They say integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. I suppose our “great cloud of witnesses” could be watching even if no one else is.
Jason had more integrity than any person I have ever met. I want to live my life so that I can make Jason proud. I want to keep persevering until I see my wonderful boy again. I look forward to and long for that day.
We have been in our new house nearly a month now. We are settling in and it is beginning to feel like home. It’s a process that takes longer than one would think.
It’s been super glitchy, much more so than I would have anticipated – last minute rush by the builder to get things finished before we could move in, things needing fixed, delivery issues, etc. Some things have been done, but even now, nearly four weeks in, we still are waiting for several fixes by the builder. Other things we will take care of ourselves or will just have to wait until it can be done.
The window coverings are in but the installer can’t be here for several weeks. Our coffee table won’t be here for a while as it’s on backorder. We have to find a set for the patio and small table for the front porch but haven’t found anything we like or that is affordable. Most of the “big stuff” has been delivered and other things we will purchase as we go along or can afford.
Our progress also has been hampered by some health issues. Joe works part time at a local veterans home and recently was moved arbitrarily to a different job, one that requires working outside in the heat and humidity. Although it was not a move he wanted, he took the change in stride. Joe is a man of integrity and will perform a job to the best of his ability no matter what’s required of him. As a result of this move, he came home overheated nearly every day since then and ended up extremely dehydrated.
He came home one day last week after work, laid down to rest and woke up extremely confused and disoriented. About two hours later, he started to shake all over. When the shakes didn’t dissipate, I took him to the emergency room. They checked him in, listened to his symptoms and health history, told us to take a seat in the waiting area and then we waited. And waited. And waited. About 2 1/2 hours into our wait, we were told that there was an eight hour waiting list and we were way down the line. Because Joe had finally stopped shaking and was so exhausted he could hardly sit up, we went home so he could get some rest (before he was seen by a doctor).
I called first thing in the morning and got Joe in to see his GP doctor. The doctor was surprised the emergency room personnel didn’t see him right away with his symptoms, age and heart history. Joe was still somewhat dehydrated (despite our efforts to hydrate) and they ran some tests. Thankfully, his kidneys weren’t damaged, but he did end up with a secondary infection from being so dehydrated. He has been too exhausted to do too much since then. A trip to the cardiologist to check on his heart was also a priority. Everything looks okay, but he is scheduled for an echocardiogram next week just to make sure and to see why his blood pressure and weight are running low. His energy seems to be improving some day by day, so that’s good.
As a result house-wise, though, most of the responsibility for getting things done and and working on forward progress has fallen on me. My #1 priority has been making sure Joe is okay, though. Everything else is taking a back seat.
The boxes in the garage are slowly – very, very slowly – getting reduced at least a little as things get put away or go to Goodwill. The garbage and recycling guys now wave at us as they pick up the trash and cut-up boxes from our efforts to settle in. We finally got internet yesterday – and it is rip-roaring fast (as a person who works remotely at home, that’s very important). The desk for my office should be here today. We have a few more larger items to buy when we can afford them and then we can work on filling in gaps and putting up pictures, etc. It’s taking much longer to get done that I would anticipated, but we’re getting there. Our neighbors told us they have been in their house for seven months and are still working on unpacking boxes. I guess we are not alone in our efforts. But we are doing the best we can…and we’re getting there.
Our goal is to create a place where we can be at home, a place of healing and hope, a place where we can make guests feel welcome. Hopefully, that is something that we can eventually achieve.
We have moved into our new house and are doing our best to make it feel like home. I looked at Joe the other day and said, “We are no longer storage unit dwellers!!” While unpacking boxes that have been in storage for so many years, we have found things we had forgotten we had.
As we ran across the box that had Jason’s hats in them, both Joe and I stopped to hug each other. I know they are just “things,” but when I look at them, I picture Jason wearing them. They seem so empty without him in them. Such a classy guy. We miss our boy.
It has had its glitches – completion, delivery and installation issues, things that need to be fixed by the builder or that we will do ourselves, internet not available for 4-6 weeks, realizing how many more things we need to get, etc.
One good thing about having very little of our own when we bought the house is that most everything is new. The flip side is that having to buy everything at the onset gets expensive. We will have to work at some things over time, just like we did when we first got married and started our lives together. A new beginning.
As have said previously, I have not felt “at home” anywhere since before Jason died, but we are giving this all we’ve got. I want to find a way to honor Jason in our new home, something special. I’m not quite sure what it is yet. He is always in our hearts.
It started this morning with a hug from Joe for Mother’s Day. I was holding together pretty well until then. We ended up sitting on the couch, holding each other with both of us crying. We miss our boy so much. Joe looked at me and said, “It’s just not fair.” One lesson we have learned well is that life is not fair.
It never ends. It never goes away. The grief, the reminder of broken dreams, the longing and empty arms. Most days we get up, carry on, keep on doing the best we can. We are thankful for what we have. But there are times when it hits us like a ton of bricks. And right now it hurts.