From my journal dated December 19, 2002:
My mom called last night. At first, she sounded all nervous and like she was about to cry. It sounded like she had made a list of things to talk about. I’ll bet my sister said something to Mom. When Doris called the other day, I asked her if she’d heard from Mom lately, asked how she was doing. Doris said that she hadn’t heard from her recently, had I?
I told her that I hardly ever hear from Mom. I hardly ever hear from David [my brother]. I hardly ever hear from anyone on a consistent basis [except Doris]. Period. We got a call from Mom on Thanksgiving Day while we were gone, and she left a message. I got a note and an email or two from her, but I think that’s been about it since the accident. It’s been 9 months. Even my mom doesn’t know what to say to me.
She was shocked! I was very matter of fact about it. I don’t want to sound like I’m having a pity party. It’s just a fact of my life now. People don’t know what to say to me; I’m not that good at chit-chatting or small talk, especially on the phone. It’s just the way it is. I’m not sure I care what people do or don’t do as much as I used to…at least I try not to. I try not expect anything – no effort, no follow-through. I try not to count on people. If I have no expectations, then I’m not that hurt or disappointed, am I?
I know she cares. I know she’s dealing with her own grief over the death of her grandson. I just miss her.
Drowning saving the drowning:
I wrote this entry from my journal and then deleted it because it sounded so negative. I have restored it and am adding comments, because I think it’s something that needs to be addressed. I have promised to be honest in my writing and not to shy away from awkward, negative, or difficult issues. I think something can be learned or gleaned from most any situation.
People honestly don’t know what to say to a bereaved parent. It’s not only friends or acquaintances; it can also be family. They don’t want to make things worse. They don’t want to cry in front of the bereaved. It’s not that they don’t care. They don’t know what to do and so then they do nothing. As time goes by, it gets harder to do something. Pretty soon it becomes almost impossible, either because the griever, out of hurt, is not receptive any more or the other person is embarrassed or something. Too much time has gone by. It took me a long time to realize this. At the time, it felt so much like abandonment, but that has been tempered some with time.
I don’t want anyone to think badly of my mom. She started calling more after that, and we saw her a several times before she died. [She had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis a few years before Jason’s death.] I know she was not being callous or meant to hurt me. She just didn’t know what to say. She was deeply grieving, too. She told me one time a couple years later that she just couldn’t talk to me because she was afraid all she would do was cry. Whenever she tried to call, she would start to cry and couldn’t stop crying enough so she could dial. She grieved not only for Jason, but for me, as her daughter, and for the rest of our family having to walk through this terrible tragedy.
Sometimes I think there’s an assumption that so-and-so is supporting the bereaved. People thought we supported each other as a family. People thought our families were supporting us. People thought we and the Christianson’s, Alina’s parents, were support for each other. So many books written on bereaved parents will tell you that, in reality, is like the drowning trying to save the drowning. It doesn’t work that way. It just can’t. Each of us had our own loss and grief. We were each trying to keep our own heads above water.
Our particular circumstances were complicated concerning family support by distance. Most of my family lived at least half a continent away in the Midwest. I think it would have been different if they had lived close by. When your main contact is by telephone, that makes it really difficult to lend support. You can’t give a hug through the phone. You can’t just hang out together or do something together. If you don’t know what to say to a person over the phone, what are you supposed to do? Once you get past the “how are you doing?” question, then what do you talk about? If you haven’t called consistently from the beginning, it gets more difficult with time.
My sister called a lot. I think Mom saw her as a “relay” person for a while. She and Doris would talk; Doris would call us and communicate “Mom” stuff to us and vice versa. I know both of them wished they could be an in-person support for us. Because I don’t like being on the spot and because the main way people tried to contact us was by phone, I ended up having a phone-association phobia. People I hadn’t heard from in months and months would call once in a while, putting me on the spot and expecting me to open up to them. I started getting panicy and anxious when I talked on the phone. I had to get off the phone as quickly as possible. Post traumatic stress symptoms? Possibly. I was very depressed and pulled inside myself a lot. I’m sure, after a while, I didn’t make it easy for people to talk to me on the phone, either!
My mom passed away in 2005. I love her dearly; she was the sweetest woman. I haven’t done a lot of reading on the grief of grandparents, but I know they deal with many issues, too. I am sure Mom grieved on many levels. She grieved for her grandson; she grieved for me, as her daughter, and our family having lost our precious Jason. It was all a great loss to her, too; and I don’t think she had the support on her end she needed, either.
© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney