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