Of Birthdays and Such

Today is my birthday. Birthdays – some birthdays more than others – seem to be much more of time of reflection, don’t they? Reflection on the past year, past decade, lifetime, hopes, dreams, accomplishments, whatever. I think it depends where you are in your number of years or your stage of life that sort of determines how deep and thoughtful that reflection is. Since I am (shall we say) closer to retirement than not, I have felt more reflective this year than previous years. My, how the years have flow by! It doesn’t seem possible.

My husband and I made a conscious decision to homeschool our kids when Eric was little. As Jason and Jenna joined our family and became school age, we just added them into the homeschool mix. Each year we re-evaluated to see if it was still a valid option for our family and if it was something we still enjoyed. And each year we decided it was, right up to the time when – one by one – the kids went off to college under the Running Start Program. When Jenna started college, it was time for me to look at the next phase of my own life.

Now, if I ever have the ear of young homeschool moms – or any young mom who has decided to stay at home with the kids – I would recommend not waiting until the “next phase” is upon her to begin making plans. I would recommend starting way earlier! Take a night class. Learn some marketable skills. Start a small at home business that can grow into something larger. Do something to make or keep yourself marketable when and if you go back into the workplace. That’s the advice I would give myself if I could go back and talk to myself when my kids were young.

Don’t get me wrong – I loved homeschooling the kids and wouldn’t change it for a thing! But, as it was, I waited until we were done homeschooling and the kids were in college or out of the house to really consider the next phase of my life. The first quarter our youngest, Jenna, started college, I rattled around a bit, lost. I had been homeschooling for a long time, and I was very aware that I was a transitioning into a new phase of life. Strange as it may seem, all those years went by very quickly and, the next thing I knew, I was done homeschooling. I felt in a state of “Now what?”

By January, I had figured out a game plan and I made purposeful decisions for the making the most of the next stage of my life. I figured I had about twenty years or so of prime earning years left to work before retirement. My plan was that I would go back to school, finish my degree in Business Administration, get a good job, move up the ladder, make lots of money to save or invest for retirement, see my kids get married and have kids of their own, hopelessly spoil my grandkids, have a nice nest egg on which to retire, and grow comfortably old with my hubby. I had plenty of time to accomplish what I needed to accomplish in those remaining, highly-productive years. Joe still had a good job and had quite a few years left to work. We would be set when we retired! I went back to school to put my plan into action just months after our youngest started Running Start at the local college.

Eight weeks into my first quarter of school, Jason was killed by a drunk driver.

Mortar and Pestle

Mortar and Pestle

To say that Jason’s death changed me and changed my life would be a huge understatement. It about killed me. Seriously, it just about killed me! Jason’s death crushed me so badly I don’t even know how to describe it. I felt like I had been put into a mortar and the person that I was – my life, my hopes, my dreams, my very being inward to the core of me and outward to the outermost extremities of my life – was in the long, slow, torturous process of being ground to a pulp. The “Becky” I knew was gone. I didn’t even know who I was any more. I didn’t know who I could count on to be there for us. I didn’t know where we fit in. I didn’t know what to do with my life or how to keep on living without my precious boy. Everything you can think of went into that grinding process. It just went on and on and on day after day, year after year.

Burying our precious boy. Disappearing friends. Being so lonely I could hardly stand it. The deafening silence of the empty house. Going through the whole court ordeal for driver of the car that killed Jason and Alina. Watching my family struggle. Selling our house and leaving Washington. Wandering, wandering, wandering, trying to find a place to call home.

I struggled with some PTSD-type symptoms for quite a while, although was never diagnosed – anxiety, fight-or-flight response, noise sensitivity, emotional numbness, reliving the night Jason died over and over, etc. I was depressed for a long time and had a hard time finding a reason to live. My doctor had prescribed sleeping pills for me the day Jason died, and I took them for a long time just to get some rest at night so I could function during the day. Some days, I specifically had to concentrate on taking just one of the sleeping pills and putting the rest aside. Some days I was in so much pain and I felt so broken and lost, I really wanted to take them all. I tried to keep my focus on living for my family until I could find a reason to live again for me.

I kept going to school after Jason died and was on the Dean’s list every quarter. I don’t know how I did it, quite honestly. I graduated from Edmonds Community College, but felt too burned out to transfer to the University of Washington to finish my BA. Besides, at the time, Joe was very ready to leave Washington, so I wasn’t sure it was worth it to start something I couldn’t finish. Wish I had finished my BA. It’s hard to go back to school once you leave it.

We moved to Oklahoma and I got a job in a law office in Oklahoma. Oklahoma was not a  good fit for us, although I really liked working for an attorney who specialized in estate planning, probate and guardianships. We moved to Florida to be closer to our daughter, and I got my paralegal certification from the University of Miami. I also took the national certification test, passing the first time through on the three-day test (even though the first-time passing rate was 45%). I studied so hard independently for that test (I bought college text books on five areas of law and studied them on my own at home). I was so proud when I passed that test. But then I couldn’t find a job as a paralegal. In South Florida, you have to speak at least two or three languages to get a job in the legal field. Since I was competing against foreign native speakers in an already highly competitive market, I looked and looked, but couldn’t find a job. The same was true once we moved to North Carolina, so I am now working in yet another profession. The guys I work for are great, so I can’t complain one bit.

But, as you can see, my 20-year plan to work, earn money and get set for retirement hasn’t happened. It’s been a hodge podge path since Jason died. My train got violently knocked off its tracks. Both mine and Joe’s did. I feel like both of us lost quite a few “productive” years.

Joe is what I call “involuntarily retired.” A couple of years after Jason died, the company he worked for went through some downsizing. Joe was so burned out and drained from everything we had gone through that, when he found out someone was going to be laid off, he volunteered to be the one laid off even though he had seniority and no one wanted him to go. He figured it would be better for him to be laid off than some younger guy with young kids at home. Besides, he had plenty of working years left for another career, didn’t he? Well, that hasn’t exactly happened, either.

I’m not saying all this to make people feel sorry for me. I’m just reflecting on my life so far. I’m just saying that I feel like I’ve lost a lot of productive years – years I can never get back – after Jason died. I lost me. I lost my focus. I lost the life I once knew. I lost my hopes, dreams and plans. I feel like I didn’t accomplish much of anything in those years after Jason died. I really tried hard, but I felt like I was swimming in molasses. I guess that’s just another “cost” for me following the death of a child. I feel like I finally have the focus and energy to get back “on track,” whatever that is. Now if I only had more years to get done what I need to get done before I have to retire. I don’t feel like I have enough time left. Nothing I can do but do the best I can with the time I have.

Time is not always on our side, is it? Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Has anyone else experienced the feeling of “lost” years/time following the death of a child? Would love to hear your input.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

14 thoughts on “Of Birthdays and Such

  1. Hello Rebecca,
    I forget how I came upon your blog…but in the end it doesn’t matter. I am so very sorry for the loss of your Jason. I lost my son Max in 2008. He had just turned 20 and was killed in a bicycle accident on a beautiful June morning. I know of what you speak…the despair, the not wanting to go on, the “upset” in your life plan. Somehow I came upon an online group called For Moms Only. check it out at http://www.formomsonly.org. I think this online group of moms who have loved and lost a child saved me. I loved the journaling and seeing the path that others whose loss was before mine took them. Unfortunately, there are too many of us who have experienced the same loss. On the site we refer to each other as “sisters of the Heart”. I think you’ll know what I mean. Bless you of your journey.
    Gari Brindle
    Mother of Max Brindle

  2. Much of what you’ve described, Becky, is something I experienced after my son died. You did a pretty good job explaining it, but no words can truly capture the horror and agony of that kind of loss. I never really expected to find “healing” and my career eventually kind of evaporated while I devoted myself to my living kids (who had disabilities) and my sick parents. It’s hard not to see the wasted years from deep grief. I am just glad that I’ve exited the dark cloud that once followed me everywhere. I feel a lot of purpose for the remainder of my life. All of the lost years led me to this place, so perhaps there was something I gained from that – something I never understood. It has been 23 years since my Jason died. It took a long time for me to reach this place. I do hope you find more and more moments of peace in your life. You deserve it.

      • You’re welcome, Becky. Actually, I realized after I left my comment that I wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday and hadn’t. Those words might sound empty – not sure if “happy” really is possible during such sadness. I have some related October feelings. My son died Oct. 6th, and my mother died Oct. 12th. My birthday is on the 14th. I’ve written a lot about how the seasons changing affects my heart. The dead leaves remind me deeply of my grief. But it always passes and I feel better after. One day, you will, too. No one can imagine it except another bereaved parent.

  3. Your story is very helpful to me and I’m sure others.

    I’ve been homeschooling 28 years and still have an 8th grader.

    Because I had 3 in school when Chris died, I didn’t experience lost years or time – I had plenty to keep me going in the same direction. But I understand what you are saying because I’ve lost a part of me that provided the energy to dream. I have been plugging away for the last 3 years at freelance writing and have had some success. Yet, there is always this discouragement that seems to hover in the background of my mind, wishing to douse any fire of inspiration to take on new things. It’s been a slow process of conquering that feeling and I wasn’t conscious of it until this past year.

    It seems so shallow to say Happy Birthday, but I do wish you peace and joy. : )

    • Kathleen, I think you are right in that perhaps it helps to have a continuity of structure. I am very aware that there are specific things that impacted my trajectory in a major way.
      1) Change. I was in a place of transition, anyway, and in the process of reinventing myself from stay-at-home, homeschooling mom to student and then to full-time businessperson. I knew I was on the verge of an empty nest, too, which was a major life change after being so involved with our kids’ lives and education for so many years. I was used to being the person who was on the board of homeschool groups, who set up field trips for homeschool groups of 300 families, who helped lead study groups on Washington and United States history, and who always had enough food in the house to feed however many kids happened to be in our home at the time. It was already a big change before the huge, life-changing event of Jason’s death.
      2) Lack of support. Its impact can’t be underestimated.
      3) The death of my mom. I don’t think that I’ve ever fully dealt with Mom’s death because I was still dealing with so much from Jason’s death when she died.
      4) More change. In retrospect, selling our home and leaving Washington had a huge negative impact on me. I don’t think I realized at the time how huge and long-lasting an impact it would be. Yes, we needed to downsize our home, because it was just too big for the two of us to keep up. But, leaving Washington was way too hard on me. It took me away from a place that was – and still feels like – home to me; away from Jenna, Eric and our grandson (and the involvement in his life and the lives of our granddaughters born since we left); away from a gal who had become a good friend (I felt like I had finally made friend who valued my friendship as much as I valued her friendship); away from everything familiar, as painful as it was to be around places so intertwined with memories of Jason. As I said above, I was trying really hard to get my feet back under me, and was putting a lot of energy into swimming out of that molasses. I felt like I was just beginning to feel like there was the possibility of my being able to touch some solid ground when Joe made a major push to sell our house and leave Washington. Joe was absolutely desperate to leave Washington, though, and I guess I felt like he might leave without me if I said no. I felt like I had to make a choice between Joe and Washington. I’m not sure he would have left without me, but that’s what I felt at the time. I don’t think people realize how much energy goes into dealing with the death of a child and everything that follows. I was worn out, didn’t have the energy or perspective at the time that I really needed to push back and make a decision that perhaps would have been better for both of us. I wish we had handled that differently. They say you should never make decisions when you are exhausted, and I would agree. I think it would have been better for me if we had stayed there. But, perhaps it would have been worse for Joe; he was so unhappy there. It’s just hard to say.
      5) More change. Going from Washington to Oklahoma was quite a change in many ways. Not a good fit for us, that’s for sure. I was horribly unhappy there, and just pulled inside myself and went into a survival mode.
      6) Change, change, and more change. Too much change. But, we are where we are, and I have to live with the choices we have made and go on from here.

      Thank you, Kathleen, for the birthday wishes. Not shallow at all, and I really appreciate it!!!

  4. A belated happy birthday Becky, I’ve not lost a child but I’ve held my mother as her youngest and oldest girls died within three years of each other. Losing my beloved sisters sent me on a downward spiral for years and it was work and writing that kept me on this side of the abyss. My mother soldiered on for many years just putting one foot in front of the other every day. I don’t believe years grieving are truly “lost” — so many of those years were spent healing — as best one can after such a tragedy. But I’ve come to understand that the change we seek – the one change that will make us whole by way of offering different physical surroundings – has to come from within. I believe peace comes when we understand that our past (as parents) has been lived in service to our family and, for you, losing your beloved son in an accident and your other children to the “empty nest” can be quite the double blow to survive. Now – do what you need to do to find your own separate peace — if it is returning to college then do so. I’ve taught at the local community since ’08 (when I retired from many many years of teaching high school English). In ’08 I was floundering & depressed — I hadn’t realized how much I would miss my students. So I needed to teach (albeit at a less hectic pace) part-time to slowly find my own peace. I have to say here that it has always been the ‘older’ student – the one who appreciates each day – who makes the best student (so make a teacher happy – go back to school 🙂 I am truly retired now and this is the first fall in 30+ years I have not had to put together a lesson plan or syllabus and – with long walks and lots of introspection – I’m finding my way. Also, – Coursera.com has an excellent array of free on-line classes for those interested in finding out just how the world (inner and outer) works.

    Rebecca – In this new birthday year — may peace find you and keep you.
    p.s. all the best to your husband for such a courageous and altruistic act – giving up a job so a younger person could continue working. That act of selflessness in one we all would like to believe we could do — but it takes a very special human being to actually do it.

  5. Rebecca, I send you love for your special day. One of the things that struck me that you wrote: ” I feel like I’ve lost a lot of productive years”…while this may be true in a sense, as far as what life was “before”…I think our losses have been changing us in ways that are indefinable. While grief strikes us down with a hard blow. Every single day is a challenge. There has to be a time to mourn but there has to be a time to rise up. And in the interim, there is transformation taking place. We are beginning again with a new perspective about life and death, the world, the spiritual. I think that is a ‘productivity’ in and of itself. We are put reluctantly into a cocoon only to emerge as something completely different, perhaps even beautiful. My faith in God has been my only salvation during a time when I could easily never have emerged from my cocoon, Everyday in this grief, we are being changed and that to me is productivity. I think you have come farther than you know. God be with you.

  6. I often come and check your blog. Your insights are very well written and honest. So much what you wrote touched me to the core. I had been a homeschooler too and had at the same time of this went to college tp earn my degree. I was always on the deans list. I have 2 diplomas, 1 Associate, and I was one class shy of completeing a BA. Then Jesse died. I had also worked in my field (Web /Internet) moving away from homeschooling lifestyle, which is something I truly regret. For me, it was not worth sacrificing those years. No matter what, when your beloved child dies, your identity is lost. You are a different person as part of you died. We too have a upcoming trial. The woman who ran over my son, ran away and hid for the last 5 months. As a result of a lot of hounding and pressuring the sheriff dept. a real search was done. However, that search was only after I said I was printing up my own ad (with a reward) for newspaper submission and took the ad copy to the neighboring county sheriff departments to inform them of this woman who on the loose and wanted. It was the neighboring county that found her just yesterday, two days before the two year mark that she killed him. We kept hearing rumors she was in the area. One report we received was that she was trying to pick up men on Facebook. This is how much my son’s death meant to her. Nothing. We also had to pay for our own accident reconstruction which was $5000 to get the DA to realize that this was homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle and to get a case in court. I too am on medication, and my husband feels like he is about “done in”. Our friends have for the most part slipped away into their own idyllic lives. We are on our own except for very close family. I do not understand why some are called to suffer so. My son was truly my “best friend” and followed the ways of God from his heart with an authentic faith. I see so much of my own feelings and journey in this path of tears reflected in your writing. And the love you have for your son. I want you to know that I do think of you and your husband on this grief journey and breath a quiet prayer for us all. It is only once we are in Eternity that we will have true wholeness again. You might recieve some comfort from reading this letter I received from another mom. Wishing you gentleness in the days ahead.

  7. This is the closet thing I have found that could fully comprehend this child loss crap… My daughter who was my 18 birthday present died a year and half ago… She was 20…car wreck… It was her fault..I try everyday … I smile and laugh… I cont to raise my younger boys..13 and 8… Who miss their sister… And then my older daughter..who thinks she has it all under control …it takes everything I have not to scream and yell.. I can’t believe this happened… She was real and bright.. Colorful .. Loving…some days are good… Then I see her picture and that space in the back of my head… Were she stays but I push back so I can make it threw the day… That space takes over … I’ve learned to control it… But dang this is not natural… I miss her everyday.. With time I realize there will be no wedding no grandchildren… No fights… No hugs… Her voice.. It was so loud.. Now it’s gone …no jokes no nothing …at 38 I buried my child my best friend of 20 years 7 months and 11 days..

  8. Pingback: Walking Wounded | Grief: One Woman's Perspective

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