“And can it be that in a world so full and busy the loss of one creature makes a void so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up!”
— Charles Dickens
Jason David Carney
7/29/1982 – 3/3/2002
I feel like I should be able to write something really profound about walking this difficult path of grief for twenty years. I’m not sure I know what to say.
As the ten year anniversary of Jason’s death approached, I wrote a couple of blog posts about the things I felt like I had learned in those ten years. In re-reading them, I feel like they are still good suggestions:
A Few Things I’ve Learned in the 10 Years since Jason Died
A Few More Things I’ve Learned in the Ten Years Since Jason Died
Perhaps a few more…
Grief never ends. Very early in this journey (just a couple of weeks after Jason died), I went to a Compassionate Friends meeting for mothers whose children had died. Although they were not particularly helpful to me, one thing has really stuck with me over the years.
As the meeting began, one gal started sobbing, saying it was the one year anniversary of her daughter’s death. Most other people surrounded her and comforted her, seeming to understand what she was going through. In my lack of grief experience, my thoughts were, “It’s been a year. Isn’t she over it yet? Shouldn’t she be doing better?” As I look back, I’m ashamed of my reaction. My goodness, did I have a lot to learn!! I was starting on a similar path to the one she was on, but I had no idea how long and hard it would be.
I’m sure there are people who look at me and think, “It’s been twenty years! Isn’t she over it yet? Shouldn’t she be doing better?” To them I now would say, “Deep grief is the price you pay for deep love. You don’t just ‘get over it.’ Grief never ends.” As you walk the path of grief, the burden lessens somewhat over time, but you also get stronger and more adept at handling the weight of grief. (I hesitate to use the word “stronger,” as it may give the wrong impression of bereaved person being stronger than normal when all we do is try to find a way to survive.) But it never goes away.
Their friends and other people move on. The world doesn’t stop. Kids the ages of our kids who died keep on growing and their lives change. They grow up, go to college, get married, have kids of their own. No matter how much we wish the world would stop while we grieve, it doesn’t.
I’m not gonna lie. It’s a little difficult at times to hear other people talk about their grown children’s accomplishments, the most recent grandbaby, the blessings for which they are so grateful. Please, please, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m truly, honestly, genuinely happy for them, but I get a twinge of wishing it could be me, too. I wish Jason had lived to experience those things, too. Jason was a great student and would have gone a long ways. He would have made a terrific employee. He had a wonderful, loving heart that would have made a great husband and father. I was so much looking forward to seeing what he would accomplish, to seeing him married to the girl he loved, to having his kids run around our house.
Both Joe and I absolutely adore little kids and we were so looking forward to being grandparents. Yes, we have three grandchildren, but through circumstances beyond our control, those relationships have not developed into what we would wish. Most days it doesn’t seem like we have a relationship at all. It breaks my heart. It takes effort, encouragement and a desire for a relationship by all parties, especially when long-distance relationships are involved. I really tried to keep/establish connections when we left, sending “care boxes” for nearly every holiday and stuff like that. It’s hard to do. We wanted to be connected to our grandkids, even though we were not close any more. What do you do when so many of your dreams turn to ashes? I have no answer to that one.
You’ll still have sad days and you’ll still cry. I guess this goes along with the whole grief never ends thing, but I’m talking about days – particularly around “event days” such as birthdays, holidays, etc. – when you are just really sad. I’m talking about times when you just have to cry – not the silent tears running down your face, but sobs that come from the heart.
People who have not lost a child will have a hard time understanding. People will always say dumb things or tell you things like they understand your grief because their dog or great-aunt or whoever died recently. They will be thoughtless, like my boss did this afternoon when he proceeded to tell a client who was standing at my desk about his friend who recently almost died in a car crash. Yes, today of all days. He did apologize later, but it was difficult to listen to him at the time.
You’ll look at things differently. Both Joe and I have a really hard time listening to parents who crab at their children for something or other. It’s usually a small thing, like the kid isn’t listening to the parent in a store and the parent gets frustrated and starts ragging on the kid, yanking them down the aisle. It’s particularly awful to hear some parents berate their kids over something small. I would just like to say, “Stop and think a minute. If your child dies, is this – your actions or reactions at this moment – something you’ll regret?”
I wish I could go back and change so many things. It’s easy to be frustrated when you’re running late and trying to get three kids out the door to someplace or trying to get them to do their chores or whatever it might be. But, if I had it to do over again, I’d let some of the things I thought were important go. Because, looking back now, a lot of what I thought was so important at the time just isn’t. I’d play that extra game instead of rushing around to get dinner ready. I’d read that extra book at bedtime. I’d cherish every minute. I didn’t know I’d run out of time to make those moments count. I didn’t know I’d run out of the opportunity to make memories that included Jason.
Easy, carefree moments unshadowed by grief are not the norm any more. Yes, there are moments of fun and joy. I have found, however, that Jason’s absence and the cloud of grief are not too far away, especially on holidays and special occasions.
One other thing that I have struggled with – and still do – is the concern that something is going to happen to another family member. Once you have lost a child, there is a deep understanding that no one is immune from the death of a child. Never in my wildest nightmares did I ever imagine that a drunk driver going more than double the posted speed limit would broadside my son, killing him instantly.
I try not to worry when our daughter drives the four hour journey from her home to ours and back again. I try not to worry that my husband will have another heart attack. I try not to worry about our son and his family with all of the violence and shootings that seem to be pervasive close to where they live in the Seattle area. I pray for their safety, but, then, I prayed and prayed for the safety of my family before Jason died, too. I don’t think I’ll every solve my crisis of faith here on earth. I’ll always have questions about why God didn’t protect Jason. I don’t pray for as many people as I used to. I don’t tell people, “I’m praying for you,” unless I really mean it. I don’t have that absolute confidence any more that He hears me. It’s more like a wish or a hope that He does.
You will always miss and love your child. I miss Jason. I wish he were here. I miss his smile, his hugs, his beautiful giving spirit. It’s not easy.
I miss you, my precious boy. I can’t believe you’ve been gone twenty years. I am heartbroken and can’t stop crying today. You are missed. You are remembered. You are loved.
© 2022 Rebecca R. Carney