The Gifts of Listening and Remembering

The Gift of Listening

One of the most precious gifts I received while I was in Washington was given to me by a long-time friend when we had dinner together. She gave me the gift of her time and her attention. She asked me if I was “ready to talk about it.” (It’s not that I have avoided talking about “it,” Jason, or that time…I just didn’t feel like anyone was ready or wanted to listen. It has seemed no one really has wanted to talk about Jason or that time – unless it’s briefly on his birthday or anniversary of his death – and so I just sort of gave up trying. Why make people uncomfortable and avoid you even more?)

I asked what she wanted to know; I would answer any questions. I talked. And she truly listened. She truly listened. She listened to my ideas on how I wanted to help bereaved parents. She cared. She asked questions. “What could I have done differently?” She apologized for not knowing what to do and for disappearing. Not once did she make me feel like I needed – at any time during the last ten years – to be fixed or that I should not have felt as I did.

As I began to talk, starting at the night of the accident, I started shivering. I thought I was cold – after all, going from 80 degrees in Florida to 28 degrees in Seattle was quite a change. I ordered coffee to warm me up, but it didn’t help.

Have you ever had a muscle that was knotted up tight for so long that it begins to shake? That’s what it was like, except through my whole body. It was like I had tried to hold together all alone and be strong for so long that my physical body reacted to “letting the story out,” to loosening my grip on some inner tension I didn’t even realize I had. Someone apologized. Someone cared. Someone actually listened to my story and looked me square in the eyes as I was telling it.

I realized the next day that something inside of me had changed. I felt freer than I had felt in a very long time. I have read about bereaved parents reaching a corner, a specific turning point, when something changes. I just didn’t understand it because it had not happened to me.

It’s been a rough ten years. Jason’s death; everything we dealt with concerning Jason’s death and the far-reaching after-effects (believe me, the ripple effects following the death of a child go deep, far, and wide); deep, prolonged grief that went far into my very soul; depression; too many relationship losses to count; watching my precious family struggle with losses and other difficult situations; job losses; my Mom died; loss of family relationships; moving, moving, moving; changes, changes, changes; pressure, pressure, pressure. I have felt like I’ve been hunkered down in a survival mode for a long time, that I’ve dealt with many, many things alone. It’s tiring. It’s draining. It ties you in knots, whether you know it or not.

I am so thankful for this precious friend taking time to ask questions and for listening. I know it wasn’t easy for her. I have worked very hard on my own at forgiving, even though there no apologies extended by people who knew they had hurt me/us badly and who knew they had deserted us. It was amazing to have someone say that our relationship was too important to lose. It was so freeing to hear someone say, “I’m sorry,” and to be able to respond, “I forgive you.” It was amazing to have someone truly listen with her heart and her full attention! What an incredible gift!

The Gift of Remembering

One of Jason’s good friends hosted a small breakfast get-together on the morning of March 3rd as a way to honor Jason and Alina. One precious young lady who attended took time to tell me how she would never forget Jason, how he was still the standard by which she measured guys, how Jason had once explained to her why he enjoyed classical music along with other types of music, and how she still listened to and appreciated classical music to this day because of what Jason had told her. It meant so much to me for her to take the time to tell me those things.

It meant so much, too, to me to listen to others who also spoke of Jason, who told me a story or memory and let me know he would never be forgotten. Every single person who shared with me memories of Jason gave me an incredible gift!

One of a mother’s nightmares following the death of a child is that her child will be forgotten. It’s almost like an unspoken job for a bereaved mother to make sure that never happens.

Following Jason’s death, a gal in our homeschool group offered to put together a scrapbook in Jason’s honor. I chose a scrapbook that would include photos (by those other than ourselves) and personal stories of Jason by those who knew him. At least I could remember him alive and hold his memory close through photos of things he had done and places he had been, by being talked about and remembered. Another gal was to contact people and spread the word so those who wanted could contribute to the scrapbook.

There were not a lot of contributions; the gal putting the scrapbook together was embarrassed and anxious I would be hurt. At first I was confused and hurt. I craved hearing about Jason’s life, about his experiences, about how he was remembered. I didn’t want my son to be dead. I felt like he was being forgotten. I didn’t want him forgotten. I needed to know that he was remembered – and would continue to be remembered – by those who knew him.

But then I realized that a couple of big issues were getting in the way. 1) The court hearings were just ahead and many people were composing impact statements to submit to the judge concerning how Jason’s and Alina’s deaths affected them (statements to help the court decide sentencing). That in itself had to be so emotionally draining. 2) In addition, a lot of these “kids” (and others) were still dealing with both Jason’s and Alina’s deaths (Jason and Alina had many friends in common); they were not able to vocalize their feelings just yet. It was too much to ask of them at that time. My need was greater than the ability of most people we knew.

With so few people talking or writing about Jason over the years, it was easy to wonder if he was being forgotten. I guess that’s one of the reasons it meant so much to me while I was in Seattle this time to have people specifically tell me their memories of Jason and that he would never be forgotten. They let me know that his memory had not disappeared with time, that Jason’s life mattered, not only to his family, but to others. He has continued to be valued, loved, remembered.

It was a good trip. Breakfast, coffee and conversation every morning with my precious friend Mary, who I have missed so much since we moved. Typical early spring Seattle weather – rain, snow, frost, sun. (Seattle weather has never bothered me.) And best of all, some people who listened, showed me they cared, and told me Jason was dearly remembered and would never be forgotten. They gave me the precious gifts of listening and remembering. It’s never too late to listen or remember.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

15 thoughts on “The Gifts of Listening and Remembering

  1. Wow, it’s so great to hear you got such a wonderful gift from your friend. It is so important to be heard and I’m guessing your body was going through some shock as you were shaking and retelling the story. I’m glad you had that time together and had the freedom to speak and be heard. It is so empowering and so important. You really do find out who your fearless friends are through grief. Blessings to you,

  2. Thank you for “liking” a post about grief on my blog. This was months ago, and I just got around to looking at your blog. It is profound. I am acquainted with grief because my husband lost his wife, and his children their Mommy, when the boys were 2 & 5. I became their stepmother when they were 4 & 7, and their “Mom” gradually afterward.

    I’m very happy for you that you had a healing experience with your friend. Such a blessing.

    I just want to tell you how sorry I am you lost Jason. Although I’ve never experienced such a horrendous loss, I understand the depths of your pain. I remember when a friend lost her sister, and I kept thinking that I felt this terrible, my friend must fell 1000 times worse.

    Take care.

  3. Rebecca
    I can imagine the relief you must feel being able to open those floodgates after so many years. It’s a lot to hold onto. People don’t know how much of a gift it is to just listen to someone. I have been lucky to have a friend like that. I think that sharing your feelings in your blog will help people to know how important it is to offer a listening ear to a hurting friend, and not just in the beginning. Keep talking…

  4. It seems everything you say is straight from my very soul and heart! I find that no one, even my husband, does not seem interested in REALLY talking about Angie. Her daughter still struggles with the memories and sorrow and all I can do is be there for her. But, people really don’t want to listen most of the time. Don’t want to go into much detail because it is uncomfortable. You are validating all I have felt for 4 years. Maybe I am a normal grieving mother after all.

    • Sara,

      It’s a subject that takes people out of their comfort zone. As humans, none of us do that easily or willingly very often. Sometimes the path of least resistance is to avoid. We have make ourselves step outside of our comfort boundaries.

      The thing about many responses to a bereaved parent (avoidance, trying to fix, etc.) is that it makes them feel like they are not normal or that there’s something wrong with them, the way they feel, or they way they respond to deep grief. In reality, it’s just that people don’t know what to do or say, they don’t know how to or can’t get so far out of their own comfort level. As a person who see both sides of a coin, I’ve learned that neither side is easy. Unfortunately, the bereaved parent pays a greater price in having no one to listen or little support – when they need it the most. These “secondary wounds” on top of the “primary wound” of losing a child make the journey much harder.

      Hugs to you.

  5. Once again you bring to mind the role of listening. How important that is, and you do give great instruction when you remind the “listener” that all you really want to know is that someone cares. Your time in Seattle seems to have been very important on so many levels.
    Prayers. Debra

  6. It takes a brave person to listen to tragic and sad stories. Unfortunately, we are not all brave and unfortunately, it is those who were closest to us that can’t stand to listen; maybe they can’t stand our pain. Sometimes all you want is for someone to listen; someone to take the time to understand your story. I have many old friends who only know what happened to us in the tsunami because of what they have read in the newspapers which was not even true. But they have never asked what really happened that day. I recently sent a link to my husband’s poetry to some work colleagues; not one has told me that they read his poetry. I do not want my daughter to be forgotten. We will not forget. As always Rebecca, you speak to me in many ways. Thank you.

  7. My wife and I attended a one-day symposium titled ‘Narrative and Healing’. One the things that were said that day that really got to me was this: “Listening is a form of touch”. It’s so very true. The strangest thing from my perspective is that despite writing about it in my blog, still most people do not want to listen, just like they did not make the effort to listen more than two years ago.
    Thank you for sharing your feelings with us, the grieving.

    • I like that: “Listening is a form of touch.” Sometimes I feel just as much – if not more – loved when someone listens than if they had given me a hug. A hug involves physical touch; listening involves a heart touch.

      I agree with you…even though I have talked about certain things in person or in writing, there are people who just cannot or will not hear. That certainly doesn’t invalidate the “speaking up” of the bereaved. It is those who choose to not hear that miss out on the opportunity for growth. We all will encounter losses in our lives; it helps to have some insight or perspective when that happens.

  8. Pingback: Sometimes my heart just hurts | Grief: One Woman's Perspective

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