We Are Lost

So much changed when Jason died. My sense of connected-ness to my life, to people that I knew and thought were my friends, to God, to my faith, to my family, to a church and to a place to call home. All of these things literally changed overnight, that horrendous night of March 3rd.

The thing about such a huge loss is that, when your whole life is turned upside down and so much is lost, you have to work at rebuilding nearly everything and it takes so much longer than you or anyone else would expect. We are all a work in progress, but when a child dies, it’s just so much more work to rebuild so many things from scratch. It’s like a ship that has been hit by a hurricane and is ripped away from its safe harbor. You end up in a dark and violent storm, far away from land. The dark, huge waves of grief tower over you, threatening to pull you under. All landmarks are gone. You lose your bearings and all moorings have been ripped away. You feel lost in a huge sea of grief, far from anything and everything that was familiar. You fight and fight and fight not to go under while trying to get back to some semblance of solid and familiar land.

The problem is that, once you reach some kind of shore again, there is no “familiar land” left. Not only has the landscape changed, but you have changed. Both you and your life have been ravaged by the hurricane called grief. The huge waves and deep loss has caused irreparable damage. What was comfortable and familiar is now a stark and alien land. Landmarks are gone. Friends are gone. People don’t recognize who you are. They may not like who you are now. Your energy level and focus is at zero. Deep grief and trying to find a “new normal” (whatever that is) takes its toll. It’s such hard work and it takes so long.

The “Becky” I was before Jason died was confident and independent. She was a wife of Joe and a mother of three who homeschooled her kids until they went to college. She felt like she had done a reasonably good job raising her kids and preparing them for success in life. She was a leader in the homeschool groups to which she belonged. She set up fun field trips and organized graduation trips. She loved to laugh and sing. She had hobbies and interests. She had friends. She served on the boards of homeschool groups. She was involved and connected. She knew she was transitioning to a different phase of life from homeschooling mom to productive workforce employee. She knew some relationships were situation and were going to change, but she was getting used to the idea. She had a plan. She was going to go back to school and then was going to get a job where she could be productive. She knew who she was. She was looking forward to good things ahead – to her kids getting married, to having grandkids to spoil and love, to having a meaningful job and using her abilities to contribute to a better life for her family. She had hope.

And then that person was gone. That life was gone.

The “Becky” I am now still feels lost in some respects. I don’t think I’ve ever reached that place of “arriving,” whatever that is, wherever that is. When Jason died, the life I knew was gone, through no choice of my own. The “Becky” I knew was gone. I was thrown violently into a deep and dark hurricane of grief and I was in that storm for a very long time. I landed in a barren and foreign land, only to be pulled back into a sea of secondary losses. I was lost, lost in grief. Lost in aloneness. Lost without my bearings. Lost without my boy.

In the years after Jason died, I tried to keep moving forward. I had started back to school two months before Jason died, and I kept going for two years. Jenna and I both went back to school the following week after Jason died. Joe went back to work. I may have just gone through the motions, but I did what I could to keep moving forward. We all did. I did well in school and made the dean’s list every quarter. I don’t know how I did it, quite honestly. In spite of everything, we kept on going. I tried to figure out how to “grow,” even though I was grieving so much loss. Too much loss. I tried to find a job. I tried to find meaning and a reason to keep on living. I have learned that it’s not an easy thing to do following the death of a child.

My husband really struggled after Jason died. Understandable. He was really close to Jason and had always been involved in the kids’ lives. It was hard for us to live in a house that had been so full of Jason’s presence and so full of life, but screamed with emptiness after Jason’s death. It was hard to have to drive by the accident site day after day after day just to get to school and work. It was hard to lose the friends we had and to be so alone. I was struggling so much myself that I couldn’t help anyone else deal with the loss. I couldn’t help Jenna. I couldn’t help Joe. Joe felt helpless to deal with my depression and grief. Neither one of us had the energy to maintain a 4 bedroom house and large property.

Joe worked so hard all of his life to earn a decent living for his family. He worked in an industry where he always had to work really hard to stay on top of current technology, which was sometimes not easy for a non-techy guy. He was very well respected in his job. But, after Jason’s death, I think it was hard to see a reason to keep on trying so hard just to stay on top of everything. Grief makes you incredibly weary. When he learned that the company was going to downsize, he volunteered to be laid off so that none of the younger guys with families still at home would lose their jobs. Being laid off affected our income and Joe’s retirement income. He thought he would find something less stressful and more enjoyable as a second career. Although he’s tried several paths, none of them have really worked out the way he thought.

I also think Joe thought selling our house and moving from Washington would help us “start over,” so he pushed really hard to leave. He thought getting away from so many painful memories, so many painful relationships and so many places that reminded us our losses would help snap me out of my depression and deep grief. I didn’t have the energy to fight. We left a place I loved, the one friend I had made, and Eric and Jenna. In retrospect, leaving Washington caused me more harm than good. I still haven’t recovered from the losses, both primary and secondary. Jenna has moved to be near us and I am so thankful for that, but I feel like Eric’s kids – our grandkids – are strangers to us. We haven’t really had a chance to be involved in their lives, other than a week or two visit once in a while every year or so. That just breaks my heart.

I have decided that too much change compounds the already-too-much loss and prolongs the rebuilding process. Since leaving Washington, we have lived in Oklahoma, Florida and North Carolina, each for three years, and I don’t feel any closer to feeling “at home” than I did when we left. We haven’t found a church to attend that fits. We have been renting a furnished one bedroom apartment, surrounded by someone else’s stuff. What little we have left from our life in Washington has been in storage in Oklahoma for six years. We haven’t made any close friends here (or Oklahoma or Florida), the kind that you can just call up to go to a movie with, the kind of friend that just likes to hang out with you. I’m approaching one of those “big number” birthdays and feel like hardly anyone besides family would celebrate me. Even if I had a birthday party, I don’t know who would attend since we’ve been so unsettled and lived so many places. (Yeah…I’m on a pity party. Don’t worry; it won’t last too long. I will feel celebrated by my wonderful family. They are awesome. Have never been really big on outside-the-family birthday parties for me, anyway, and have only had a couple actual birthday parties in my life.) It’s been a lonely existence at times, though.

We have started looking for a place to buy in North Carolina. It’s not an easy process, this trying to find something in our budget that we like, especially when we are not sure this is really “home” for us. I’m not sure where “home” is any more. I feel like a woman without a country, without a place to connect and grow, without friends, without a “home.” I feel like we have been wandering in this desert of grief for a very long time, and we are just plain weary. We keep on trying. I try to do a good job at my place of employment. Joe has a couple of part time jobs and tries to take good care of Jenna and me. We try to find “something fun to do” on the weekends. We try to lead meaningful and productive lives, but sometimes it’s hard to see the purpose. It’s hard to see where we fit. It’s hard to feel connected and “at home.”

One blogger, a fellow bereaved parent, recently used a phrase that resonated with me – “the complexity of deep heartache.” The complexities of grief are truly deep and vast many, many years after the death of a child.

We had a rough weekend. Looking for houses. Looking for something fun to do. Not succeeding at either one. We just felt so weary and tired of “trying.” At one point, I looked at Joe and said, “We’re lost.” And he agreed.

Too much change. Too much loss.

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney

33 thoughts on “We Are Lost

  1. Dear Becky:

    I read your post and then sat down on my couch and started to cry. A lot of what you wrote about,
    I can so relate to. I haven’t moved from the home where we raised our three kids, so I still have that base, but so many other aspects of my life are alien. I too feel lost among the familiar. So few understand what it’s like when part of our world is taken from us and how difficult it is to find our way. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Becky, you wrote about the secondary loss. I have not talked or written about mine but so much of what you experienced has been my experience, too. It is common and I don’t understand it. The only way I’ve made some sense out of it is wonder if “they” are afraid they’ll catch something. As if they really look at what happened and get too close, it might happen to them, too. And I know you’re not talking about people holding your hand everyday. They.. just dropped out of our lives. Why?

    I am still homeschooing my last, 9th grade. I homeschooled my other 7 right up to college, too. I was also very involved with the homeschool community.

    I understand completely the part about who we once were and who we are now. It’s no different than having a part of our body amputated. It’s just that people cannot see (or refuse, or ignore) the amputation of our heart.

    I used to pray. In fact, I was known as the “prayer warrior” at my church. I remember 2 times praying in the last 10 years. I’m not mad at God. I just can’t find the words anymore.

    Yes, I’ve changed. I’m different. And I know it’s okay with God. I wish the people who claim to know him would be okay with it, too.

    Warm thoughts and wishes (I guess that is a prayer) for you and your husband to find your way home.

    Thank-you for writing.


    • Kathy, thank you so much for your comments. You and I have been on very similar paths, it seems. I, too, used to wake up nearly every night and pray and pray for people, but I, like you, can’t find the words any more. God knows my heart…as he knows yours. And, in the long run, that’s all that matters.


  3. I just lost my only daughter on July 8th, 2015. She and her friend were killed instantly when an 18 year old drunk driver who was on the wrong side of the highway ran into them head on at a very high speed. I feel everything I have read here from you.. I’m so lost and the pain is unbearable. Grief, pain and agony are my everyday new “normals” , I know I’ll never be the same person. It’s all I can do to have the courage to get up everyday and breathe. I find myself sobbing uncontrollably to the point I can hardly breathe. No one can understand this pain if they haven’t gone through it. I don’t know how I’m making it and I’m tired of people saying “I’m strong” , I hate that word. My daughter is the oldest of six children, she is 27, she has five younger brothers I know I have to be here for. My husband is so lost he won’t even talk to me about her or what happened. It’s just not fair, this is seriously my worst nightmare. I’ve been through a lot, but nothing comes close to losing my daughter. She was more then a daughter to me, we were friends, shopping and traveling companions. I love all my sons dearly, but the relationship we shared was different, it was special. I don’t know how to move on without her.

    Thank you for sharing, I know I’m not alone, but it sure feels that way….

  4. Although we haven’t moved since our son died three years ago, everything you write feels true for me as well. “We are lost” sums it up perfectly. Every day I go to work and try to act normal and do my best, then when I get in my car I burst into tears, because it is all such a sham. I’m not better, I’m just getting better at pretending.
    I had a “big” birthday last year, but just couldn’t bear the thought of celebrating anything since my life is not even close to what it should have been. I stayed home and did nothing at all for that day. Other people just don’t understand. Even one of my brothers doesn’t understand that I am not okay and am not the person I once was.
    It does sound as if all of your losses compound the pain. I’m so sorry. I hope that your writing helps you, because it definitely is an important connection for your fellow bereaved parents.

    • Yes, we do get better at hiding our grief, just to make other people comfortable around us. Seems kind of backwards to me.

      Any “event” where the focus is on me (Mother’s Day, birthday, etc.) is not easy for me. Same with some other holidays. I have just wanted to skip them entirely or go some place far away and hide. This is the first birthday it has actually crossed my mind that it might be fun to “do” something, but I just don’t know what that would be or who would attend. It’s strange to look around and see no one. We went to a wedding a couple of years ago with the mother of Jason’s best friend (she also died in the same accident). There were a couple of comments she made to me that really stood out to me. The first one was that that particular event was the first one where people actually acted more-or-less normally toward her and didn’t start acting strange the minute they saw her. The second comment was that now she felt like she was ready to “do” something,” everyone had given up on her and was gone. No one was there any more.

      I started writing this blog to promote understanding from the inside of what it’s like to be a parent whose child has died. Writing does help me, although I don’t think anyone besides another parent whose child has died – even extended family members – can really understand.

      Hugs to you…

  5. Becky, thank you for writing this post filled with so many thoughts which touch me personally. I am living on the outside looking in. Two years later, we are still in our home. The same home where Amy collapsed and died in front of me . My healthy vibrant beautiful cautious fit 27 year old youngest child. Initially, I wanted to run from this house. Now, I just don’t care where I live because my grief travels and it will find me wherever I go.

    The oldest friends I counted on have let me down after they grew tired of the saga. Friends who I didn’t expect to stick around have surprised me but we are still not invited out much. I am lonely in a crowd or by myself so maybe it doesn’t matter. I don’t know.

    My two older children are my reason for pushing on … always grateful they are here but two do not equal three regardless of how many others seem to think that it should. I have heard so many try to comfort me by saying “at least this … or at least that.” As if there is some school of thought that will make it all ok again and reset me.

    Sorry for writing so much under the comment section. It just helps to be among knowing parents and honestly share our hearts. I read your blog in the wee hours of the morning when I was unable to sleep because my youngest daughter died. Thank you for sharing your heart.


    • The mother of Jason’s friend Alina – the one who Jason was taking home after watching a movie at our house (she also died in the same accident as Jason) – had an older son who died in a car accident ten years before Alina died. They were part of our homeschool group, too. I didn’t understand why it always seemed as though the mother was a bit separate from the group. She seemed like an “outsider” and yet she had been part of the same group for much longer than I had. I couldn’t figure it out. But after Jason died, I understood entirely, because I, too, felt like I was on the outside looking in. Familiar people; different me. As you said, even in a crowd, I felt alone.

      And, I agree, no matter how much I love my other children two does not equal three for me, either.

      Hugs to you, Dee. Thank you for sharing your life and your heart with us.

  6. Rebecca, what you so eloquently expressed must be universal as is stated by all who replied here, including myself. We did all the things you have done…moved, lost friends and even family members who dropped out of our lives. We are about to sell again and are even looking for a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mts. of North Carolina. Sometimes I wonder if I am trying to run from a grief that will never go away. Grief takes so much from all of us.

    Deep sorrow is indeed complex. Try as we may to explain it…sadly it must be experienced to know the realness of its depth. My heart cries with you and for you. I can only offer the tears that we both know all too well.

  7. It’s been 9 months since I lost my one year old son William, your words resonate through my body. William died at home, in his cot, quite unexpectedly, after fraught CPR we knew he was gone. After going to the hospital I didn’t want to come back to the house, knowing he would never be in it again, but I knew if I didn’t come back straight away, I never would. I came back, now I don’t think I could ever be away. As much pain and heartache it causes to be around his things and the places he sat, played etc. It brings beautiful memories, I feel close to him here.

    I like you feel lost in everything, lost in despair, lost in the house, lost in my relationship, I just feel lost without William, I don’t think that will ever be different x

  8. Excellent Post Rebecca, my husband and myself feel the same. Our court date is in one month for the girl who drove head on in my son’s lane before striking him and killing him. We are doing this alone as most of our christian friends don’t want to know the depth of the pain or that grief a child is for a life time. (This is our second child loss) We too homeschooled our children, did many church programs, I headed many church/christian events in times past. So the stories you shared I very much identify with. I came across this other post with a quote from Kay Warren you may be interested in reading: http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/grief-and-faith-grief-belief/

    Thanks for sharing about your son, Jason. You continue to touch many hearts with his life.

    • Here is a poem by Robert Frost I would like to share with you and your husband:

      Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost

      I have been one acquainted with the night.
      I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
      I have outwalked the furthest city light.

      I have looked down the saddest city lane.
      I have passed by the watchman on his beat
      And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

      I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
      When far away an interrupted cry
      Came over houses from another street,

      But not to call me back or say good-bye;
      And further still at an unearthly height,
      One luminary clock against the sky

      Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
      I have been one acquainted with the night.

    • Thank you for sharing the link to the article. I think Kay Warren’s insights apply to all bereaved families, no matter what their religion. Perhaps because she is so well known, more people will pay attention to what she is saying.

  9. I am so very sorry for your loss of Jason. Reading all this breaks my heart. It’s all so true though – I know we lost our children at different ages, but I just feel like my who world has been turned completely upside down and can relate to so much of what you say here. I don’t even remember the old me before all this happened. Sending love and light your way…


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