Today is our daughter’s birthday. Jenna was born two weeks to the day before Jason’s 2nd birthday. They were close in age, and very close in heart.
Our daughter was 17 years old when Jason died. While other kids her age were thinking about prom dresses and college, Jenna was helping pick out her brother’s burial site and planning his memorial service. My heart just hurts to think about what she has gone through as a result of Jason’s death.
A lot of what my husband and I experienced following Jason’s death was also experienced by our daughter in her own right and in ways specific to her. She not only lost her brother and the majority of her friends disappeared, she basically lost her parents in a lot of ways because of our deep grief at a time when she needed us most.
I am not at liberty and do not have permission to talk about some of the things she experienced following her brother’s death, but I will say that you would be shocked at some of the things she went through – at 17 years of age. Even now when I think about it, it just boggles my mind why people did (or didn’t do) the things they did (or didn’t do). It’s heartbreaking.
At the time Jason died, Jenna was a senior in high school and a freshman in college, participating in the Running Start program in Washington State. As happened that quarter, Jason, Eric and I were also taking classes at that college. The week following Jason’s death, both Jenna and I went back to school. Not only did Jenna go to school, she worked part-time. I marvel that she actually managed to continue on with her life and accomplish what she did. I don’t think I could not have continued on without her. I could barely function at the time. I know she was in so much pain, too.
I think Jenna felt she had to be brave for Joe and me. She didn’t want to be an additional burden on top one everything else. Plus, it’s not easy being a 17-year old whose brother died. No young person wants to “stand out” with the distinction of being the teenager whose brother died. They looked at us differently, and she was no exception. People would ask her how we were doing, never how she was doing.
After graduating from community college, Jenna transferred to a university about an hour from where we lived. She didn’t feel that she could live in a dorm with a lot of people, so we set her up in her own little apartment. She worked two jobs while going to school, all while maintaining excellent grades. By the end of her junior year, she was so burned out that she moved back home. She went to a year of technical college and became a massage therapist, graduating at the top of her class. Since then, she has gone back to the university and received her bachelor’s degree with honors (also while working two jobs) and then her Master’s degree with a 4.0 GPA (also while working). She is an amazing young woman.
Jason and Jenna were incredibly close from the moment Jenna was born. They were each other’s companions, best friends, confidants. They did so much together. They each had their own set of friends, but they could always count on each other for companionship at any time. They set up movie outings with their friends and could fill our house with people on the spur of the moment on a Sunday afternoon. They shared a birthday party one year and had a blast.
When Jenna was little, Jason was her protector. He fed her yogurt and made sure her automatic swing never ran low. As she got older, he always watched out for her with the most tender of hearts. She was the photographer of his high school senior pictures. He was the loudest to cheer at Jenna’s softball games. They were two peas in a pod and the best friends you could ever imagine.
The day before Jason died, Jason and Jenna hung out together for a good portion of the afternoon and went to Starbucks with Jason’s friend Alina (who also died in the accident). They all came back to our house and Jason and Alina watched a movie while Jenna went to see a friend. As Jason headed out just after midnight to take Alina home, he stopped by Jenna’s room to see if she wanted to go with him. She had had a difficult time with the friend she went to see and opted to go to bed. Within a few minutes, as he drove Alina home, Jason was broadsided by a drunk driver going more than twice the posted speed limit. And, just like that, her precious brother was gone.
Jenna doesn’t talk much about what she went through at that time, but I know it has affected her more deeply than anyone could imagine. At the time, I wished that I could take away the pain. I wish even more so now. I can only imagine what her life – and ours – would have been like had not Jason died. It hasn’t been easy. She has lived more than half her life without her brother. I know that she keeps him close in her heart and thoughts. She misses him like crazy.
Our daughter is a wonderful, thoughtful, kind, amazing, beautiful woman. We would give her the world if we could. We love her with our whole hearts.
© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney