My name is Becky Carney. My husband, Joe, and I have been married for 44 years. We have two living children, Eric (41) and Jenna (36). We lost a baby in utero at 19 weeks in 1987. In 2002, our middle son, Jason (19), and his best friend, Alina (20), were broadsided by a drunk driver who was going at least twice the speed limit. They both died instantly.
This blog is written from my perspective as a bereaved parent. I don't claim to know what it's like to walk in anyone else's shoes. Each situation is different; each person is different. Everyone handles grief differently. But if I can create any degree of understanding of what it's like to be a parent who has lost a child, then I have succeeded in my reason for writing this blog.
Hurricane Ida and its aftermath in Louisiana and other places have brought up for me memories and comparisons to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
My husband, daughter and I took a vacation the beginning of August 2005. We landed in New Orleans, drove down the Gulf Coast to Florida and southwards, cut across Florida to hit Disney World and other sites, went back up the Atlantic side of Florida and then to New Orleans again to fly home.
Little did we know that Hurricane Katrina would come ashore the end of August in the very area we had explored only a few weeks earlier. The difference was so stark.
Since Joe had been laid off work not too long before, he decided to volunteer with a non-profit organization from Washington State that was headed with huge semi truck loads of equipment and food to feed and support the first responders from around the country. After getting the appropriate shots, off he headed to New Orleans.
Even though it was so hot and humid, the volunteers were required to wear long pants, lace-up shoes (no flip flops) and long sleeve shirts, if possible. Tents were set up along the French Quarter waterfront for sleeping. Joe tolerates heat well, but the oppressive heat/humidity/too-warm clothes was just about too much for him. Even though he hates rats and mice – and there was a huge abundance of both in the area – Joe deserted his zipped-up tent for sleeping on a cot in an open air pavilion. Only after the fact did he find out critters were running around under his cot.
Joe met people from around the nation, responders from all walks of life, walked by buildings that still housed people who had not escaped the destructive forces of Katrina, saw with his own eyes the comparison between what we had experienced a few weeks earlier and the aftermath of the storm. It was an eye-opening experience and he was thankful that he had the opportunity to help.
My heart goes out to those affected by Ida. Lives have been lost. Homes and businesses destroyed. It takes a long time to rebuild, no matter what the loss. This is not the first time for such a catastrophic event nor will it be the last. An area very near to where we live was recently affected by flooding, loss of lives, loss of businesses and homes as a result of the remnants of tropical storm Fred. It was amazing to see so many people jump in to help, either physically or financially or with donated goods. Strangers helping strangers. Never stop caring.
The weekend before last, our area experienced a widespread power outage. Our power came back on fairly quickly, so it didn’t affect us too much.
When I went to work on the following Monday, my boss came in and immediately proceeded to tell me in great detail how he and his wife had witnessed a car accident during the power outage. It was like it was this sensational event they had witnessed that he just had to share with me. At least that what it seemed like to me at the time.
They were stopped at a large intersection where the stoplights were out, waiting while everyone worked their way through the intersection. When the stoplights go out, the intersection is supposed to be treated as a four way stop with everyone stopping and then taking their turn. As they sat there about three cars back, waiting their turn, a large pickup truck charged through the intersection without even slowing down and broadsided a smaller car trying to get through from the other direction. My boss proceeded to tell me in detail how the car nearly flipped over, looking like it was going to land on its top, before settling back on all four wheels. He said the car was hit on the passenger side, but there were no other passengers in the car. A police officer was also stopped at the intersection and appeared to assist the people fairly quickly, so he turned around and went the other way.
But he had to make sure he told me about it – in detail.
The thing about car accidents is that they are a huge trigger for me. I cringe at the sound of sirens. I cringe when I see wrecks on the freeway. And I can’t stand for car accidents to be explained in detail to me.
Each of these events take me right back to the time when Jason died. The phone call. The sirens. Driving to the accident site. All the flashing lights from the police and fire trucks. My pleading with God to spare my precious boy. Standing at the intersection beside my car, shivering and waiting for the policeman to come and tell me what was going on. Jason’s car shielded by a big fire truck so I couldn’t see how bad it really was. It couldn’t be my precious boy. He couldn’t be gone. But he was.
Jason was driving a car that was broadsided – right on the driver’s door – by a drunk driver going more than twice the posted speed limit. I don’t really need to hear about car accidents.
My boss tends at times to describe to me maladies or illnesses of people he knows or his clients. Most of them are people I don’t know or barely know (he visits most clients out of the office). I just find myself shutting down. I don’t want to hear it. I can’t listen to it. I know he wants me to sympathize or empathize, perhaps because he has heard people who have had a child die have more empathy for tragedy, but I just don’t have it in me.
Recently, he told me about a client whose spouse has developed Alzheimers very quickly. After telling all about it, he made the comment, “This was not how they imagined things happening.” I responded, “I have discovered that things rarely go the way we imagine they will.” He then looked at me in an almost irritated way and sternly admonished me, “Becky, you need to learn to be thankful for what you have.” And then he walked away.
It’s not like I don’t care. I just don’t have many reserves or resources left any more, not enough energy to go around. I don’t really have any friends. I don’t have a support system. We don’t have any family very close by. Whatever energy and caring I have goes into my family. That’s all I can do for now. That’s what’s most important to me – my family.
I need to come up with some response when things like that happen. I think I’ve decided what to say, especially if the car wreck thing comes up again. I’m going to say something along the line of, “Because of Jason’s death, hearing about car accidents are a trigger and cause anxiety for me. I’m sorry to hear about this, but I need to pass on hearing the details at this time.”
I realize this happens because of a lack of understanding or misinformation or just plain not thinking. Nevertheless, it is a huge trigger for me. It really affects me and I need to figure out how to deal with it.
If you are a person who feels the need to talk about tragedies in detail to a person whose child has died, I would suggest you stop to think what you are saying and to look at your motivation for trying to “share” more tragedy with someone who has already gone through such horrendous loss. Turn up the tuner on own sympathy/empathy. Engage your brain. Pay attention to how people react when you talk. Some people may not mind; some may mind a whole lot. Maybe it would be best to find someone else to talk to about these tragedies.
Tomorrow is Jason’s birthday. He would have been 39 years old.
I realized tonight as I got ready for bed tonight that I had felt such an emptiness all evening, like my arms were trying to reach out to hug Jason. He gave the best hugs in the world.
I wasn’t actually physically reaching out with my arms, but it was almost as if my whole being wanted to reach out, bring him close and hug him tight. But it felt like there was a huge, empty, gaping hole right in front of me where Jason should be, a void that could only be filled by Jason. My arms just felt so empty and there was such a huge ache in my heart.
We can talk about holding memories close. We can remember certain events and relive them in our minds. We can look at photographs and reminisce.
I remember what Jason’s hugs felt like. I remember his laugh and his smile. I remember his beautiful blue eyes. I remember so many things about him.
But a memory doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing. For me, there will be no more Jason hugs, more more memories to be made or events to be celebrated with Jason, no more Jason anything. I can’t wrap my arms around him and feel his wonderful bear hugs. And my arms feel so empty tonight.
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.
Just a bit of background information to this post, perhaps on the verge of TMI (too much information) – About ten days ago, my doctor diagnosed me with a urinary tract infection and prescribed an antibiotic. The following morning, I woke up chilled and couldn’t get warm. Funny when you have a high fever you feel really cold. I wrapped up tighter in my blankets and went back to sleep.
When my alarm went off to get up for work, I couldn’t seem to wake up. I turned it off and went back to sleep. My husband made coffee and breakfast, but I still couldn’t seem to wake up and get out of bed. I would try to get up and then just lay down and go back to sleep. Meanwhile, my temperature kept going up and up until it reached nearly 103 degrees. By then, my husband couldn’t get me to stay awake and I wasn’t coherent.
Joe called my boss to say I wouldn’t be in to work. He then called my doctor’s office to find out what to do. Poor guy was freaking out. They told him to take me to their urgent care clinic, which he did. With all of the COVID stuff, the urgent care staff comes to the car to check you out before they actually let you in the building. The person checking me out called the doctor over right away after taking one look at me and they immediately sent me to the ER.
Long story short, the UTI had gone up into my kidneys and I was technically septic – not the kind of septic where the bacteria has gone into the blood stream yet, but, rather, a set of criteria (low blood pressure, low oxygen level, high fever, dehydrated, lack of coherence, etc.) that fits that particular medical diagnosis. As each of the doctors kept telling me every time they came in my room, “You were really sick!!” They got me on an IV, oxygen, antibiotic in the IV, tests, scans and then admitted me to the hospital once a room became available.
Thankfully, I responded fairly quickly to the regimen, much to their amazement. They actually kept me an extra day to monitor me and to make sure the progress wasn’t a fluke and that it “stuck.”
I can’t say that I could recommend the hospital I was in. It’s the same one my husband was in when he had his heart attack, but has been bought out by a different company – and not with great results. I felt the staff was pleasant and trying really hard, but that they were stretched thin and overworked. For example, I had a horrible, horrible headache the whole time I was in the hospital. They gave me two Tylenol the first day before I left ER to go to my room. I again asked for additional Tylenol or something to help on the second day, but was told it was not on my charts and they would have to ask the doctor. I understood and was okay with that, but it took five hours (after reminding the staff again) and another half an hour after that to get two Tylenol and an ice pack. It also a long time to get checked in to ER, they took me to a room that had been double booked (already had someone in it), tests and scans took forever as I sat in a wheelchair in a holding room for some machine to free up.
And, I have to say, I would not feed the hospital food to my dog!! I didn’t have much of an appetite at all, but I’ve never been served worse food in my entire life, including meatloaf that looked like it was made up dog food! I was extremely thankful that Joe was allowed in with me – plus, he brought me decent food to eat!!
I am getting better, much more slowly than I would like. Much to my doctor’s chagrin, I have returned to work a couple of hours each day this week, just to put out fires and stay on top of urgent issues. I promised I would listen to my body and go home when I felt tired – and I have kept that promise. Heaven knows, I don’t want to go back to the hospital again!! The thought of the hospital food is enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. At least I see forward progress each day.
One thing I realized while I was in the hospital was how alone I felt. Joe stayed with me as much as he could, but at times he had to go home, get rest, and tend to some other things. I kept the hospital room door shut while I was there, as I ended up being a bit noise sensitive after Jason died. Once that hospital room door closed and everyone left, it gave me a lot of time to reflect on things. One of the things that came to the forefront – one of which I am quite aware, but tend to ignore – is how alone we are. Our son is all the way across the country, grandkids that make no effort to contact or connect with us at all, daughter 4 hours away, son-in-law and daughter-in-law who make no effort to really connect with us.
Add on top of that how guarded I am after being burned so many times by people I considered to be friends, it’s no wonder we feel so alone at times. I’m friendly, but I’m not very open at all (for example, I initially actually didn’t tell anyone other than our son and daughter how sick I really was when I was in the hospital) and really don’t make any effort to connect with people any more as friends. I just don’t make friends easily. Never have, and it’s even harder now. It just feels like opening up to make a new friend is an opportunity to get burned again. Most of that stems from how we were treated after Jason died. It’s hard for me to make friends, to be open, and I don’t know how to change that. I’d like to; I just don’t know how. And so, until I figure out how to do that, I will struggle with feeling alone.
I’m not depressed or unhappy; I’m just not really very happy. Everything is tinged with Jason’s absence. Oh, how I miss him.
Joe and I are not ones to sit around. We never have been, but at times it feels more urgent to find “something to do” than it used to. Our daughter calls us “high maintenance.” I think, in my personal opinion, that when we don’t have something “to do,” it emphasizes the emptiness in our lives caused by Jason’s death and resulting trauma. (There’s really no word for it other than “trauma,” is there?)
Staying busy keeps the aloneness, emptiness and ever-present shadow of grief somewhat at bay. “Staying busy” has been a little difficult since my recent illness and the fact that recovery has not been very fast. We’ve both struggled with trying to figure out what to “go and do” that won’t set me back or zap my energy too badly. We’re both restless at times. We have been looking for a home to buy, trying to figure out where we fit and where to move (again). I’m not sure it matters where we move. The restlessness, aloneness, emptiness and grief are inside of us. What we have gone through contributes to who we are now.
It’s ironic that at Jason’s memorial service we played the song “Friends (are friends forever)” by Michael W. Smith. It fit Jason at the time. He was a good friend to so many and valued those friendships so much. I believed that our friends would stand by us, the way we had stood by them and the way Jason had stood by his friends. I can’t even listen to the song any more, because I no longer believe the words or the sentiment – that friends will stay by you forever because you both serve the same God.
I realize that it falls on me to figure this out. I’m just not sure I have the energy to do it. But, I am aware of it and keep working on it. It never ceases to amaze me how long the tentacles of grief are and how much our lives are affected following the death of a child. I’m not sure it ever ends to some degree or other. We just have to figure out how to make it work.
Life would be so different if you were here, my precious boy. I miss you so much.
Joe and I went out to dinner tonight at a local restaurant. As we entered the door, a cute little blond-headed boy in a high chair sitting with his grandparents watched us come in and sit down. He waved to us and then proceeded to play peek-a-boo with me. What a cutie. Such a friendly, open little guy. He reminded me so much of Jason.
As we waited for our food, Joe and I sat and talked about how much he reminded us of Jason, how much we imagined and wished that would be us – grandparents taking our kids out to eat, having the grandkids over to play, little Jason’s running around our house. Wishes of things that will never be.
As they grandparents and little boy left, he waved goodbye. I told them how much he reminded us of our son when he was a little boy and asked his name. His name is Jase, which was one of our nicknames for Jason. Oh, how I miss my precious boy.
I woke up Saturday morning in a funk that I had a hard time shaking for a good part of the day. At first, I didn’t specifically identify it and couldn’t figure out why I was so grumpy. Yeah, you’d think I’d realize by now. Mother’s Day was the next day.
Sometimes the day or days before an “event” – birthday, anniversary of Jason’s death, holiday, Mother’s Day, etc. – are harder than the actual day. Anticipatory grief takes the lead, I think, whether or not we allow ourselves to be consciously aware of the upcoming event. Since Jason died, I just want to skip over Mother’s Day entirely. It just brings up too much pain – pain of wishing I had been a better mother, pain of things that haven’t turned out the way I wish they had, pain of things and times long gone, pain of losing Jason.
I slept horribly on Saturday night. I laid in bed thinking about times when I could have done a better job as a mother, things I wish I had done differently. I woke up on Sunday morning and didn’t want to get out of bed. I stood in the shower and cried. I did the best I could at the time with what I knew at the time, but there are so many things I wish I could do over again, do better.
When I was in fourth grade, I remember our teacher asking us what we’d like to be when we grew up. The only thing I ever wanted to be was a mother, so that was what I said. For some reason, the teacher didn’t think that was an adequate answer and wanted me to think of something else, a “real” profession. Because both of my parents were teachers, that’s what I told him I wanted to be, just to appease his sense of what the “right” answer should be. But all I ever wanted to be was a mother.
My husband took me out to breakfast for Mother’s Day and, as the waitress wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, tears sprang up in my eyes and I could hardly speak. I’m sure she wondered what was wrong with me. She gave me a red rose when we got ready to leave, once again wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day – and once again tears filled my eyes. Roses always remind me of Jason.
My arms long to hug my precious boy. I long to have a close, fun, good relationship with our grandchildren. I long for good relationships with our children’s spouses; it would make things so much easier. I long for joy unshadowed by grief and regrets. I long to be close to family so we don’t feel so alone all the time.
My husband is a wonderful man. We went for a drive in the North Carolina mountains and explored. We talked about Jason and some fun memories of when he was a little boy. We talked about the girl we thought he might marry and how wonderful that would have been. We talked about how much we wanted good things for our kids and how we wish we had the power to make things better for them. We talked about a lot of things, but mostly just got away for the day. We ended the day going to our favorite Thai restaurant and then home to talk to our daughter on the phone and open the gift she had sent me for Mother’s Day. She is also a thoughtful, wonderful person and I love her with my whole heart.
Another Mother’s Day is in the books, and I’m glad it’s behind me. I will forever be thankful that I was given the gift of being Jason’s mom. I will forever miss him and wish he was here. My precious boy.