Sorting through a deceased child’s belongings

A while ago, I wrote briefly about taking time to go through your child’s belongings in my blog, “A Few Things I’ve Learned in the 10 Years Since Jason Died.” I’ve also responded on Facebook to bereaved parents who’ve asked about what to do with their child’s things. It dawned on me yesterday that I’ve never actually written a specific post with my recommendations on the subject.

When you were ready, here are my suggestions for going through your child’s belongings.

Take your time

First of all, don’t let anyone rush you or push you to go through or “get rid of” your child’s belongings. This is something that’s a very difficult thing to do and you should be given the grace to do it on your own time frame. Let me say that again – your own time frame. Yours. Only yours. Not a time frame someone else has decided for you. Even within family members, the time to go through a child’s belongings should be based – not on the FIRST person who decides or feels like they are ready – but rather on the LAST person reaches the decision that they are ready. If you are the first person to reach this decision, extend copious amounts of grace to everyone else. When it comes to sorting through your child’s belongings, no one should feel rushed or mowed over.

If you absolutely have to consolidate belongings because you have to move or for some other valid reason, that’s one thing. Even then, you should not let anyone push you on their schedule. If someone intimates or outright tells you that you are making a shrine to your child and makes you feel like that it’s a bad thing to wait until you – and only you – are ready to tackle this task, just chalk it up to their not having been in your shoes. They have no idea what they’re talking about, and we need to hope that they never will.

Be gentle with yourself

Going through your child’s belongings is not a marathon or a mountain to be climbed. It is not a task to be conquered. If you begin and find it too overwhelming, it’s okay to take a break or close the door and wait until another day. There is no rule or set time when this task needs to be started or finished. If you need to stop and take time to grieve, extend yourself the grace and time to do so.

Realize that it’s a hard task

No matter how long you wait to begin sorting through your child’s belongings, acknowledge to yourself that it’s an emotional and difficult task to do. It will always feel like you are erasing part of your child’s life from your own. The older the child, the more things they will have collected, the more you will have to sort through.

If you need to, ask for help

If you have a trusted friend or family member who will follow your lead and be sensitive to what you’re going through, ask that person to help you. Don’t be offended if someone says no. Not everyone can handle such a difficult and emotional task and walk beside you as you do this. Let them know it will not be an easy task and make sure they know it’s okay to be honest with you if it becomes too much for them to handle. When we started to go through Jason’s room, our daughter said, “This is more difficult than I thought it was going to be.” She thought she was ready to help, but couldn’t do it and had to leave. And that was okay.

Make a plan and be prepared

Purchase some Rubbermaid totes or other types of long-term storage containers and some boxes. Make sure you have on hand some type of labeling material that does not easily come off of boxes/containers (permanent markers, stick-on labels) and sealing materials (package sealing or duct tape). You may need some file folders, hanging file folder holders, file folder labels and bankers boxes for organizing papers. Also get some various sizes of Ziplock bags for grouping small or similar items and some recycling and garbage bags.

Organize

To begin, choose a small, less-emotionally charged area to sort. Try not to take everything in all at once, as it may become overwhelming. Focus on one specific area. Success breeds success, and you will feel more able to continue when you have successfully completed one small area.

Divide things up into five sections: absolutely have to keep, not quite sure yet whether to keep or not or what to do with, special things you want to give to certain people, things to donate to a charitable organization, and things to throw away. As you go, box up the things you know you want to keep and label the contents of each container. The same goes for the “not quite sure” items. For the special mementoes, put items you want to give in individual Ziplock bags/boxes and label who you want to give them to. Box up donations and bag up garbage to go where they need to go.

While the others sections may be obvious, the one area that may be overlooked and yet is very crucial is the “not quite sure” items. It’s okay not to know if you want to keep something or not. You don’t have to decide at that very moment. Let me say that again – you absolutely DO NOT have to decide everything at that very moment. I strongly suggest boxing up the things you are not sure about in long-term storage containers and then setting them aside in storage for review at another time. With distance, things may be clearer. It’s an absolute tragedy to give or throw away something you later wish you hadn’t. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and there usually is no way to ever recover those items. Box up those items you are not sure about, store them in your basement or garage, and go through them again when you feel you are ready – whether it be months or even years down the road.

Before making final storage/disposal of items, be sure you check with family members to see if they have any input, changes, or wish to go through your decision choices. Disposal of your child’s things really feels permanent, like the closing of a door, and it’s worth the effort to consider the feelings of others before taking this step.

Final Comments

All of these suggestions are made from experience – either things I did well or wish I had done differently. My greatest errors were allowing myself to be pushed to go through Jason’s room before I was ready to do so, and to not set aside things I wasn’t sure about to review another day. At the end of the day I was totally traumatized at a time when I didn’t need any more trauma. I gave away or “got rid of” things I wish I never had. If I can encourage anyone to take time and give themselves or another bereaved parent grace with this heart-wrenching task or save someone the agony of giving away something they wish they hadn’t, then this post has accomplished its task.

If you have any additional suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

“You’ve Got Mail”

I watched the movie You’ve Got Mail the other day. It came out in 1998 and Jason absolutely loved that movie. As a matter of fact, Jason’s friend Alina (who died in the same car accident as Jason) had bought the DVD for him the Christmas before he died.

It took me years to watch You’ve Got Mail after Jason died. When I finally felt like I could watch it, I cried and cried all the way through it. It came up the other day as I was looking for a movie to watch, and so I decided to watch it again. It still made me cry and cry. Certain memories of Jason are so strongly associated with this movie. It suited his personality – fun, upbeat, caring, romantic, lover of flowers and giving them to those he loved.

Besides Jason’s love for the movie, quite a bit of the music in the movie reminds me of Jason. We played the “The Puppy Song” by Harry Nilsson at the beginning of the slideshow at Jason’s memorial service – a fun, upbeat song that suited Jason so well and his love of his friends. It was the very first song in the memorial slideshow.

“The Puppy Song”
Dreams are nothing more than wishes

And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true, woo woo

If only I could have a puppy
I’d call myself so very lucky
Just to have some company
To share a cup of tea with me

I’d take my puppy everywhere
La, la, la-la I wouldn’t care
And we would stay away from crowds
And signs that said no dogs allowed
Oh we, I know he’d never bite me
Whoa de lo…….
We, I know he’d never bite me

If only I could have a friend
To stick with me until the end
And walk along beside the sea
Share a bit of moon with me

I’d take my friend most everywhere
La, la, la-la I wouldn’t care
We would stay away from crowds
With signs that said no friends allowed
Oh we, we’d be so happy to be
Whoa de lo………….
We, we’d be so happy to be together

But dreams are nothing more than wishes
And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true
Whoa whoa……….

Dreams are nothing more than wishes
And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true
Whoa whoa woo……..

Dreams are nothing more than wishes
And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true

 
 

There are a couple of other Harry Nilsson songs in the movie that bring me to tears when I hear them – Remember and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Other songs in the movie by other artists, too, tug at my heart and make me miss Jason tremendously. Dreams by the Cranberries was on Jason’s favorite playlist at the time he died. Dream by Roy Orbison speaks to the longing of when things were better and memories of when Jason lived.

Remember (Christmas)”

Long ago, far away
Life was clear
Close your eyes

Remember, is a place from long ago
Remember, filled with everything you know
Remember, when you’re sad and feelin’ down
Remember, turn around
Remember, life is just a memory
Remember, close your eyes and you can see
Remember, think of all that life can be
Remember

Dream, love is only in a dream
Remember
Remember, life is never as it seems
Dream

Dream, love is only in a dream
Remember
Remember, life is never as it seems
Dream

Long ago, far away
Life was clear
Close your eyes

https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/harrynilsson/rememberchristmas.html

Long ago, far away…life was clear. Remember. Missing my boy with my whole heart. Oh, my precious boy, how I miss you.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Another Thanksgiving in the books

Holidays are filled with landmines and pitfalls following the death of a child. I remember the “firsts” of the year Jason died – first Easter, first 4th of July, first birthday, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first New Years. Holidays just are never the same when a child dies. Sometimes they are incredibly difficult.

For some reason, this Thanksgiving was particularly difficult for me. Perhaps it’s the whole pandemic isolation thing, being so far away from family. Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of where we are going to live and feeling like we are still at loose ends. Perhaps it’s that so many things feel temporary. We haven’t had a home of our own in so long that it’s beginning to feel like it will never happen. Perhaps it’s a lot of things combined.

I woke up on Thanksgiving morning and just couldn’t seem to find a smile in me. I felt like there was a huge lump in the pit of my stomach that made it hard for me to breathe, like I could cry at the drop of a hat. I had a hard time holding it together. I long for the day when we could all be together in a home of our own. That day is gone and will never be again. It’s just so hard sometimes.

Christmas is right around the corner and the Christmas spirit seems so far to be very elusive this year, too. My mind can’t seem to wrap itself around the fact that we have to spend another Christmas, another year without Jason. I’m doing the best I can, but I feel like I’m failing miserably. A new year is rapidly approaching.

Another year without my boy. Sometimes I just don’t know how to do this.

I love you, Jason, and I miss you with my whole heart.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Scars

You know how sometimes you say something, and then realize you just put into actual, out-loud words how you really feel deep inside? Perhaps you didn’t even realize you felt that way? Something you’ve subconsciously never revealed to anyone…or even acknowledged to yourself? Something perhaps you didn’t even realize how much affected you? That doesn’t happen to me often, but it did recently.

I’m a person who doesn’t give my opinion much. I don’t post political things or memes on Facebook. I don’t ask people their income, weight or age. I try to be helpful and supportive. I try not to hurt anyone. I do everything in my power to go above and beyond for those I love.

I’m independent. I handle things on my own. I swallow my hurt and move on.

Our daughter came to visit us recently. We were sitting, talking about how it is really hard to see the true motivation of someone, what makes them think and act a certain way, how it’s hard to see inside the “why” of why someone does something, how it’s hard to peel the protective layers to truly understand what makes a person tick, how easy it is to be jaded once you’ve been deceived or hurt. I said, “If you could cut me open (metaphorically speaking, of course), basically all you would see is scars.” I was as surprised as my daughter that I said this out loud. She said, “Really?” And I realized that, yes, it was true. That’s how I feel – scarred. Very scarred.

I know we all get hurt in this life. There’s no way around it. Things happen. People are unkind.

We get hurt. We heal. We move on.

But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t leave a scar. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t permanently affected us.

I feel things deeply, more deeply than I let on. I hurt deeply, more deeply than I put into words. It takes me a long time to heal. I have been affected by all of the things that have happened in my life – Jason’s death, family and friends deserting us, putting time and effort and care into people who have not been worthy of my trust, investing myself in something or someone only to be left behind like an old couch, people you trust stabbing you in the back, people you trust to have your best interest at heart who prove otherwise. So many things over the years. It hurts. The wounds may have healed, but I am scarred.

We got a call yesterday that something had been delivered for us to our previous address. I called our old landlord and arranged to pick it up. Joe has not wanted to even see him at all. I dropped Joe across the street at the gas station while I went to pick up the package.

During the night, I noticed Joe was tossing and turning, not sleeping well. I asked him if he was all right. He said he couldn’t shut his brain off, he kept thinking about our old landlord. He said it brought back so many bad memories. It was as if my eyes were opened and I really, truly could see how traumatized Joe has been – and still is – by this whole being-unceremoneously-kicked-out-of-our-home thing – trying to be a good friend for so many years, the hurt, the betrayal, the unkindness. He has been wounded. He has obviously not healed from this wound yet, but I have no doubt it will leave a scar. And it will be added to the others that he has.

We all have been wounded. We all are scarred. We all need to treat each other kindly, because we have no idea what another person has gone through or how many scars are right below the surface.

Hugs.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Holidays 2020

With the turn of the calendar to the month of November, both Thanksgiving and Christmas loom larger and larger as we count down days to the end of the year. It’s not too early to stop and think about any bereaved friends or family you may have and how this holiday season may affect them and how you can help. Please take the time to read the above-linked article from a fellow bereaved parent.

The first Christmas after Jason died was so incredibly difficult. I can’t tell you how many times I fled a store while attempting to shop for Christmas gifts because I was on the verge of tears. Certain Christmas songs put me over the top. Attempting to put up the Christmas tree and Christmas decorations left me in tears on the family room floor. I tried to carry on “as normal,” except there was no longer any normal in our lives. Jason was gone and no holiday – and our lives as a whole – would never be the same. The traditions that had become so important over the years just brought the absence of Jason’s presence into sharp focus.

As I drove by gaily decorated homes, I felt like such an outsider to all the warmth and good will of the holiday season. I felt like a wet blanket to any situation and felt like there were some people we knew who unconsciously tried to avoid us so as not to dampen their own celebrations. I remember people looking right through us as if they didn’t see us. I quietly sat in the corner of a Christmas tea in an effort to make people as comfortable as possible. Grief makes lots of situations awkward, and I remember how much I felt like it fell on me to try to make people comfortable around me so more people wouldn’t avoid me. I remember going to a Christmas church pageant and looking up to see two people we knew looking at us and talking. One person quickly put down his hand since he was pointing us out to the other person. They quickly turned and walked the other direction.

That Christmas, tears streamed down my face as I got up early on Christmas morning to make my “famous” cinnamon rolls. Joe came down to help me and we stood in the kitchen, hugging each other as we sobbed. I went through the motions and tried to make the best of it, but my broken heart just wasn’t able to squeeze out much joy of the season that year.

I still struggle with holidays. I still have to stop and take a deep breath the first time store aisles fill with Christmas items. It’s as if I have to steel myself for the onslaught of “the most wonderful time of the year” sentiment, when it no longer feels that way to me.

If I could skip over most holidays entirely, I would. We have tired to come up with new traditions for Christmas while still maintaining some meaningful established traditions. I try to purchase gifts that have real meaning to the recipient, trying to focus less on “stuff” and more on what Christmas is really all about. Some holidays I feel like I still just endure. I do the best I can and try to find joy where I can. I don’t bake any more and we don’t put up a Christmas tree (partly because it’s difficult and partly because we haven’t actually had a home of our own in a long time). I still acutely feel Jason’s absence.

I hope you will take time to read this article (and others, if you have time), especially if you have a newly bereaved in your life. Melanie’s son died in a motorcycle accident several years ago and she is a most gifted writer and communicator on the subject of grief.

Thank you.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Life in boxes, once again

Quote

We have boxed up our belongings and rented a storage unit to store them. Again. The few remaining items we use on a daily basis are ready to be boxed up, our clothes in suitcases ready to be zipped shut and rolled out the door. On Tuesday, September 15, the local Two Men and a Truck moving company will come to pick up our boxes and move them to the storage unit.

My life is in boxes once again. Since we have lived in a small furnished rental for the last eight years, we have no furniture to move, just boxes. We have not owned a vacuum cleaner or couch or a bed or a table and chairs in 11 years.

Since our landlord unceremoniously dropped the bomb about us having to move out by the end of September, we have run the gamut of emotions. First, we were in shock at the unkind, unwarranted, horrible manner in which we were treated by someone to whom we had tried to show kindness. Next, we embraced this as an opportunity to make some changes for the better, to try to find that elusive place to finally be “at home” in a home of our own. We have been trying to decide where that might be. We looked at homes in Charleston, where our daughter lives. We have looked at homes where we currently live. We are trying to find a nice, comfortable, affordable home without breaking the bank, so to speak. We would like to be near family (with our daughter in Charleston and our son in Seattle, they are coasts apart), but either one would involve me giving up my job and trying to find another – in the middle of a pandemic and on the cusp of turning 65 on September 30. Plus, any place we want to live the housing is very expensive. There’s no way we could qualify for a home loan – or even an apartment rental – on just Joe’s Social Security, and as much as employers are not supposed to consider a person’s age, I am cognizant of the fact that my age not in my favor in looking for a new job somewhere else.

We have tried to find a short-term, furnished rental or vacation rental to buy ourselves some time to work things out (and so I can continue working at my job), but that, too, is proving nearly impossible. Vacation rentals are booked because it’s headed into fall and “leaf peeping” season here along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Other rentals, such as apartments, want long-term leases. We don’t have time to find a place to purchase. We just don’t know what to do any more. Right now, my emotions on the verge of full-on panic.

We have no place to go and have to move out in 17 days. We continue to look, but it’s not hopeful. I guess there’s always a hotel.

I’ve hit lots of other emotions, too. I’m so worried about how all of this stress is affecting my husband who had a heart attack a scant nine months ago. Once a person has a heart attack, his chances of having another are greatly increased. I am struggling to hold onto my carefully constructed facade of togetherness. I wake up in the middle of the night, desperately searching for a place to live. I sit alone in the dark, break down and cry for all we have lost. Too many losses over the years. The losses easily come to the surface when one is stretched so thin. I’m embarrassed that we find ourselves in this position at our ages. It has not been an easy road since Jason died. We have lost our home, friends, income, security, hope, faith. My faith in God and in his people has not been the same Jason died.

My sister has tired to encourage us, recently sending this Bible verse and her interpretation of it.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

Jeremiah 29:11-14 – NLT

God has had plans for you all along. They are good plans, not plans for disaster or poverty or hopelessness. Rather, they are plans that will cause a spring of hope and joy in your hearts when you think of them in your future. Even now, today, when you reach out from that place of uncertainty and pray in faith, God promises that he will hear you. Your words won’t just bounce off the wall, but He will actually listen and take to heart the words that you are saying. He will reveal Himself to you, bringing comfort and direction. You will begin to notice the sadness and emptiness that has dogged you for so long, come to an end and a real joy and hope will return. You will begin to see things that you’ve lost be restored to you. Your wandering will end and you will return to your home again to your own land.  These are the plans that God has for you, Plans that will give you hope and a future, says the Lord.

My response:

I truly appreciate that you are trying to encourage us. It has really been a discouraging time, that’s for sure. 

I will tell you that I used to wholeheartedly get behind this verse. So much so, in fact, that I had printed it out on nice heavyweight paper with a pretty font. I purchased a incredible frame, put this printed verse into the frame and gave it as a special gift to Jason as an encouragement for his future. It was sitting by his bedside on the night he died. Both Joe and I truly believed from the minute he was born that God had a special purpose for Jason. I used to wake up in the middle of the night nearly every night, go downstairs and pray for our kids, for their friends, for their futures, for their future spouses, for our grandchildren, for protection and blessing for my family. I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that my prayers “availed much.”

But no one told me that God would turn a deaf ear to my earnest prayers for protection for my kids and allow Jason to die, that he would not protect Jason, that the “plans” and “future” (and as a promise from the Bible I used as an encouragement for him) that he had for Jason was for him to die at the hands of a drunk driver at the age of 19, that Eric would marry someone who has so undermined our relationships with him and our grandchildren to the point where our grandchildren hardly have anything to do with us, that so much would happen to Jenna that has cost her so much, that our good “Christian” friends would leave us so alone when we needed them the most. Joe, Jenna and I have paid a high, high price because Jason died, a higher price than anyone truly knows. [Although I have written about what we went through, there are still many things I am not at liberty to write about.] I’m sorry and I don’t mean any disrespect and I by no means mean to sound harsh, but I just do not so blindly believe this any more. If God has some special plans for us, he needs to show up pretty soon and prove it. 

I honestly do thank you, though, for thinking of us and for caring about us. You are really the only one who has stuck around at all, despite all those people on Facebook who say that they care or are praying for us. Perhaps they do care and do pray, but it’s difficult to trust in people any more. It’s difficult when people say something but don’t follow up with actions. I’m not fooled; I remember which ones of them stood by us when Jason died. They were few and far between. They told us they prayed and cared, but then left us so alone. They did nothing and that hurt. It really hurt. I’ve always said that my head understood that we were difficult to be around but that my heart didn’t understand. It’s still true – my head still understands that they just didn’t know what to do to help. My heart still hurts at being abandoned. I don’t really want an answer or discussion or a sermon. I just wanted to let you know this verse doesn’t necessarily mean to me or to Joe what it means to you. 

My faith in God was shaken when Jason died. It’s never really recovered. I want to believe and I honestly try, but I still struggle. At first, I prayed God would use this horrible evil and loss for good. Then, I hoped and believed God would restore and bless us as he did Job in the Bible. It’s been nearly 19 years and I’ve yet to see such a thing. My faith in people was shaken when people died. Many have disappeared from our lives, never to return. Only my friend Mary stepped up. I miss her. I have a hard time making friends any more. I have a hard time believing in friendship. My heart was a broken beyond repair. I still miss my boy so much. I miss the life we had as a family.

You never could have convinced me that at 72 and 65 years old, respectively, Joe and I would be in the position we are now in. Unless we find something to move into in the next 17 days, we will once again be houseless/homeless. We faced a similar time in the big 1993 Seattle Inauguration Day storm when a big tree fell on the house we were renting. The house was so damaged we had to move out the next day, putting all of our things in storage. We were without a home for several months while we looked for a place to buy. We stayed in a hotel, stayed with friends for a while, I went on an extended trip to visit relatives in the Midwest. We ended up renting a small apartment while we had a house built.

One difference between then and now – other than our ages and the fact that our Eric and Jenna are grown, live on different coasts and Jason is dead – is that it was easier for me to have hope. I had hope that things would get better, that we had time for things to turn around. I had not yet gone through so much loss. We had not yet traversed for so long on such a long, rocky, tiring journey. The whole “He leads me beside still waters, restores my soul” thing has been an elusive promise. We just don’t know what to do any more and we’re running out of time.

Our days are numbered and I am well aware of that. Both of my parents died when they were 78 years old. Joe is 72 and had a heart attack nine months ago. He has been struggling with some memory issues lately, now exacerbated by all of the stress we are under. I am very aware – probably more than most – that those we love die and that each moment is precious. I want to find a place where we can enjoy the years we have remaining, a place close to family, a place where we can be “at home.” I want the illusion to become a reality.

Meanwhile, our lives are in boxes once again.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Character Counts

IMG_2396My husband is such an awesome guy. In spite of the horrible, vicious, 100% unwarranted way our landlord has behaved recently, Joe noticed early this morning that a bear had tipped over his garbage can and strewed garbage down the driveway. With the imminent arrival of the garbage truck and our landlord not yet awake, Joe picked up all the trash, put the trash back in the can and set our landlord’s garbage can out for pick-up for him.

IMG_2472

A recent Western North Carolina visitor

There was no fanfare. I wouldn’t have even known had I not been watching out the back door to make sure another bear wasn’t close by, trying to find some extra breakfast from the trash. (I thought I had heard a bear rattling around outside about 4:30 a.m.)

When Joe was done, he simply came in the house and washed his hands. He didn’t even say anything to me about the bear or what he had done. I hugged him and told him I was so proud of him, that I had had been watching for bears and had seen what he’d done. For Joe, it wasn’t a big deal. It was the right thing to do. He was true to himself, to what he believed was right, and to his character.

A man of outstandingly great character is Joe Carney. His actions speak much louder than his words.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney