About Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective

My name is Becky Carney. My husband, Joe, and I have been married for 40 years. We have two living children, Eric (37) and Jenna (32). 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.

“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”

December 7, 1941 was the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the U.S. naval base at Oahu Island, Hawaii. Because of this action, the United States entered World War II. December 7th was designated as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day by the United States Congress in 1944, and today marks the anniversary of that day in the history of the United States. Every year, including this 76th anniversary of that “date which will live in infamy,” Pearl Harbor survivors, visitors, family and friends visit the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument to pause and remember those who died on that day.

There are few wars that don’t affect someone we know. Henry, my husband’s uncle by marriage, fought in the Pacific in World War II, and died when his ship was sunk. He had lived in the Philippines (originally from Colorado), and his wife (Joe’s aunt) had died in a car accident a year or so before the war started. Following Henry’s death, Joe’s grandmother went to the Philippines to bring home Henry’s (and her daughter’s) twin children, then barely aged 2. While she was there, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Joe’s grandmother and the twins were sent to the Santo Tomas internment camp, where they spent the rest of the war until they were liberated in February, 1945.

As I was driving to work this morning, I thought about the meaning of “a date that will live in infamy.” Infamy means being known for something horrible. We, as parents whose children have died, have our own date that will live in infamy. My personal date that will live in infamy is March 3, 2002, the day Jason died.

Similar to survivors of war, we parents have endured a specific horrendous event on our personal date that will live in infamy, one that affects us and changes our lives in so many ways, more than we ever could have imaged. We are changed so much we, along with our family and friends, don’t even know who we are any more. Some of us end up with PTSD. Some lose friends because of a lack of understanding about the struggle we are having or the path we now are walking. Some have marriages that end. For some, it’s a lifelong struggle. Some never recover. It takes years to recover any semblance of normalcy (if there even is such a thing) and rebuild lives.

We are all changed by our personal date that will live in infamy, the day our children died.

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

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“Who You’d Be Today”

Who You’d Be Today

Sunny days seem to hurt the most
I wear the pain like a heavy coat
I feel you everywhere I go
I see your smile, I see your face
I hear you laughing in the rain
I still can’t believe you’re gone

It ain’t fair you died too young
Like a story that had just begun
But death tore the pages all away
God knows how I miss you
All the hell that I’ve been through
Just knowing no one could take your place
Sometimes I wonder who you’d be today

Would you see the world, would you chase your dreams
Settle down with a family
I wonder what would you name your babies
Some days the sky’s so blue
I feel like I can talk to you
I know it might sound crazy

It ain’t fair you died too young
Like a story that had just begun
But death tore the pages all away
God knows how I miss you
All the hell that I’ve been through
Just knowing no one could take your place
Sometimes I wonder who you’d be today

Today, today, today
Today, today, today

Sunny days seem to hurt the most
I wear the pain like a heavy coat
The only thing that gives me hope
Is I know I’ll see you again someday

Someday, someday

Written by Aimee Mayo, William Luther • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group, Words & Music A Div Of Big Deal Music LLC
I heard this song this weekend, and it just spoke the words that have been in my heart. A story just begun. I miss you, my boy. I love you. “The only thing that gives me hope is I know I’ll see you again someday.”
~Mom
© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

Missing You

IMG_5729

The way I feel

 

They say there is a reason,
They say that time will heal,
But neither time nor reason,
Will change the way I feel,

No-one knows the heartache,
That lies behind my smile,
No-one knows how many times,
I have broken down and cried,

I want to tell you something,
So there won’t be any doubt,
You’re so wonderful to think of,
But so hard to be without.

~Author Unknown

 

I miss you, Jason, now and forever. I love you beyond words and beyond earthly bounds.

~Mom

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

Comparative Grief and Comparative Loss

On Facebook recently, Alina’s mom, Marie, wrote a long, transparent, heartbreaking post about some of the difficult things she has had to walk through in her life. (Alina was one of Jason’s best friends and died in the accident with him.) She talked about how difficult this time of year is because her oldest son, Andrew, died on November 16, 1991 at the age of 15 in a car accident. Alina’s birthday follows close behind on December 12th. She posted quite a few pictures of their family, and received a lot of positive responses, supportive comments, and outpourings of love. Without a doubt, Marie deserves all of the support and compassion she could ever receive. I have no problem with that at all.

But, in all honesty, it brought up feelings that I have had to deal with over the years – comparative grief and comparative loss.

Because we were all part of the same homeschool group and the kids had a lot of friends in common, a lot of people knew about the death of Andrew and knew his family at that time. The Christianson’s had been a part of this particular homeschool group at the time Andrew died, while we had joined the group in 1995. Logically, a lot of support from that group when Alina died went to Alina’s parents and sister. Don’t misunderstand me – I am so very glad Marie has had support. Even Marie, years later when we went back to Seattle for a wedding, told me how much support she had when Alina died compared to when Andrew died. She told me she had support from local family, the homeschool group, her church, and friends. She also told me how true it is that, over the years, your address book changes as people get tired of your grief.

I feel like I’ve talked ad nauseum about how alone we were after Jason’s death. It’s a fact, and I do not exaggerate. We had no geographically close family for support and almost non-existent support from anyone else. To say that we were so alone and it was so difficult is a gross understatement. It has changed us forever – physically, emotionally, spiritually.

But, one of the things I’d like to discuss is this thing about comparative grief and comparative loss. Our family was treated as if our loss was the “lesser loss.” It wasn’t just the homeschool people rallying more (after the initial dropping off of meals) around Alina’s family and not ours. It was everywhere.

I went to a Compassionate Friends group meeting for moms, trying to find some answers and support. They asked me if I wanted to introduce myself. When I said that our son and his best friend had died a few weeks ago, one gal told me, “Oh, you’re just a baby [in the grief process].” It felt very dismissive. But, then when I started talking about the accident, one gal interrupted and said that she had read the newspaper articles about the accident. Everyone started discussing how awful it was that Alina’s dad, Brian, had been on site when the accident happened, how awful it was that they had lost an earlier child in a car accident, that they had now experienced the death of a second child, on and on they went about how horrible it was for Alina’s family. All of a sudden, I was invisible, and my loss and my grief no longer “counted.” Comparatively speaking, the death of Jason, our grief, the loss of our son was the LESSER TRAGEDY. After discussing at length how horrible it must be for the Christianson’s, the discussion moved on to other things. My grief and loss no longer mattered, by comparison. I couldn’t wait to get out of there and never went back.

The newspapers, intentionally or not, really jumped on the comparative bandwagon. They went for the sensationalism. Most articles talked about Brian witnessing the accident and about the Christianson’s tragedy of the second death of a child. One article, in particular, was so hard to read. Where the author talked about the accident and called both Brian and Alina by their first names, Jason was addressed as “Carney” through nearly the whole thing.

The Bothell man continued on to Carney’s house but found neither Carney nor Alina, nor were they at Alina’s home.

About an hour later he learned there were two in the damaged vehicle and both had been killed: his daughter and Carney. The driver of the other car left the accident scene before police arrived.http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20030329&slug=alina29m

After the article came out in the paper, Marie called me to apologize for the tone of the article. Even coverage of the sentencing of the young man who killed Jason and Alina focused on the Christianson’s greater tragedy. It only briefly mentioned us or Jason. When we walked into the courtroom for the sentencing, the first two rows had been set aside for the Christianson family.

I remember being given books written about the death of a child or people telling me about others who lost loved ones, as if I should count my blessings and be thankful I hadn’t suffered a greater loss.

Other than my post about the baby we lost and some of the things we have walked through following Jason’s death, I have chosen not to discuss some of the other very difficult things we have walked through in our lives. The thing is, we don’t have the right to judge someone else’s loss and deem whose loss is greater and whose loss is lesser. We have no idea what they have had to walk through or how deeply the loss affects them. We don’t have the right to dismiss their loss as the “lesser tragedy.”

It is a tragedy – and adds to the already horrible tragedy – to make someone feel like their loss, their grief doesn’t matter. We do not have the right to invalidate someone else’s loss or grief. I don’t care whether it’s the death of Elvis or the people who died on 9/11 or the death of our precious Jason and his best friend Alina on 3/3/02. The loss of life is the loss of a life, and the people who dearly loved the ones who died DO NOT comparatively walk through lesser grief or comparatively feel a lesser loss. We invalidate the grief and loss by making the griever feel like they have experienced a lesser loss or that someone else has suffered a greater tragedy. It’s not fair. And it needs to stop. Everyone who suffered a deep loss needs to feel like their loss and their grief matters.

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Inarticulate Comfort

Inarticulate – not able to express clearly what you want to say.  (Macmillan Dictionary)

Death – and the accompanying deep grief affecting those caught in its wake – is no respecter of persons. It affects people from all age ranges, economic status, race, religion, gender and political ideology. No one is immune, and the death of a dearly loved one is devastating and the resulting grief is deep, long-lasting and life-changing.

Equally true is that people surrounding those who deeply grieve usually don’t know how to respond. Death and deep grief make people EXTREMELY uncomfortable. People from all age ranges, economic status, race, religion, gender and political ideology get awkward around people who deeply grieve. They don’t know what to say to the griever. They duck down grocery aisles to try to avoid the griever. They look straight through or past the griever, as if they didn’t see the person. They disappear. They back away and observe from a distance. They stare at the griever and talk to each other about the griever from across the room or wherever, while never actually approaching or contacting. They care, but don’t know what to do. They say nothing or they do nothing out of fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. They say stupid or insensitive or inarticulate things, albeit with good intentions. As Angela Miller wrote on the Still Standing website:

If only there was a way for the world to learn how to speak compassionately to the brokenhearted.  What many people believe is a comforting statement, most often is not…There seems to be a large gap between intention and what’s actually being communicated to those of us who are hurting. (http://stillstandingmag.com/2014/01/6-things-never-say-bereaved-parent/)

We have experienced all of these, and so I know them well. My own mother didn’t know what to say to me and called me maybe four times that first year. One time, I could tell she put some thought into what she wanted to say and had written down some talking points to assist her in talking to me. It wasn’t that she didn’t care; she care immensely. Her own heart was broken over the death of her grandson. She felt helpless to provide any level of comfort to her family. She lived far away and had to rely on the phone to communicate. With all her heart, she wanted to comfort me, but she didn’t know what to say to me. She didn’t want to make me cry and she didn’t know how to help.

I’m not condemning or judging anyone. I simply am stating a truth. I’m a person who sees both sides of the coin. Because of that, from the beginning I have understood with my head that it was difficult to be around us. I understood it was not easy or do to say the right thing. I understood. Just because I understood it didn’t make it any easier for us. Because my head understood doesn’t mean my heart understood. I still bear the scars from being left so alone at a time when I needed most to know someone cared enough to apply the salve of kindness to my broken heart. I have worked hard to forgive and extend grace to those who were uncomfortable around us and caused secondary losses and scars.

I’m not sure which is worse – to have someone disappear and say/do nothing, or to have someone fumble around trying to say something meaningful to communicate their sorrow at our loss. I think it may be worse to have someone disappear and say/do nothing. At least if someone is talking to you, there’s a possibility for support and meaningful communication. At least you know they care.

I’ve tried to stay away from anything political on my blog, and so my comments here are not intended to be political in nature. I just have to say, though, that this whole kerfuffle with President Trump, his condolence call to the widow of the serviceman who died in Niger, and the actions of Rep. Frederica Wilson really bothers me. It grieves my heart for there to be so much ugliness and political grandstanding in the face of such deep grief and horrific loss.

Inarticulate though he may have been in trying to offer comfort, I tend to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt in making such a difficult call. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy thing to do, and I have read reports that he tried to get advice on how to go about it and what to say. As Angela Miller (above) said, “There seems to be a large gap between intention and what’s actually being communicated to those of us who are hurting.” That President Trump may have had a gap between his intentions and what he communicated is no surprise to me. It happens to a LOT of people. I know and understand this gap intimately. My attitude is more along the line, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” In other words, can any of us guarantee that we would have been the perfect, shining example on how to make such a condolence call? Can we guarantee that we would not have offered inarticulate comfort?

The actions of Rep. Frederica Wilson, though, absolutely make me sick. I see no other way to interpret her actions than to use the death of a serviceman for her own personal political capital. She is not the first politician to do so. She has laughed about the situation and called herself a “rock star” because of the attention she has garnered. I feel like she keeps stirring the pot so she is in the spotlight. She has attacked chief of staff John Kelly, who lost a son in Afghanistan. She’s on talk show after talk show, making one inflammatory accusation after another. And President Trump’s response and the response of other people to the attacks of Rep. Wilson haven’t help de-escalate the situation. There are very few clean hands here, and more insensitivity than sensitivity. I feel like the loss of a life has taken a back seat to politics and political grandstanding.

Emotions run high following such a tragic loss. Emotions are raw and grievers are hypersensitive. Things that happen hurt more, especially when they are negative, and the pain goes deeper. The loss of this life is being played out in a public forum. My heart goes out to this serviceman’s family and the families of the other servicemen who died in this horrific attack in service to our country. It’s such a sad, sad situation, and painful to watch.

This has been front-page news for more than a week now. I remember the newspaper articles about Jason’s accident, calls from reporters wanting statements from the grieving parents to sensationalize the stories they were writing, seeing a photograph of Jason and Alina on the front page of the Sunday Seattle Times, giving a statement to the judge in front of a packed courtroom, seeing pictures and reading articles in newspapers about the accident and the sentencing of the young man who killed Jason and Alina.

But, after the attention has moved on to something else and all of the press has gone home, the fact remains that someone has lost a dearly loved person and the grief resulting from that loss will go on for a very long time. The proverbial “fifteen minutes of fame” is infinitesimally small compared to the years of grief. The attention fades away, but the grief remains.

May God have mercy on us all and give us comfort in our losses.

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Where were you on 9/11/01?

There are moments that are indelibly burned in my memories. They are the moments that forever changed my life or changed the way I look at the world. The clearest and most significant is the night Jason died. That night was incredibly traumatic and has affected me – and continues to affect me – in ways I never could have imagined. Second clearest is 9/11/01. It shattered my sense of security as an American. Third is the day JFK was shot, although I was only eight years old at the time. It shattered my sense of innocence. I still remember watching my elementary school teachers cry.

On the morning of 9/11, my sister called from Tulsa to tell me to turn on the TV. The first plane hit the North tower at 8:46 a.m. ET (5:46 a.m. Washington State time) and the second plane hit the South tower at 9:02 a.m. ET (6:02 a.m. Washington State time). I turned on the TV just a few minutes before the South tower fell. It was all too horrifying to believe.

Jason had gone to California with two friends on a road trip before starting school that year. They had planned to go to Disneyland that day sixteen years ago, but, of course, their plans changed. He called me mid-morning to check in. He just needed to hear my voice. As with most Americans, the attack shook all of us to the core. It was a time for needing to reach out to those you love and to hold them close, and I was so glad he had called. I hadn’t been able to reach him – pre-cell phone days, you know. I just wanted to be able to hug him tight and to make sure he was all right.

When Jason came back from Florida, he told me that he was seriously considering joining one of the branches of the armed forces. He wanted to fight the terrorists that had attacked America. Hearing that terrified me, although I didn’t voice my fears. He always had a strong sense of right and wrong and had a strong sense of loyalty to those he loved. He wanted to protect those he loved. I knew there would be a very real possibility that he wouldn’t return if he joined the armed forces and I couldn’t imagine the possibility of losing a child. School started the week after he returned. Jason got busy with school and he didn’t join.

Little did I know at the time that, just less than six months later, he would be gone. Oh, how I miss my boy.

Today – this day sixteen years later – it breaks my heart too much to watch the ceremonies commemorating those who died that day. I can’t watch them. My heart goes out to their families, because I truly understand the hole left in their lives by the death of their loved ones. I understand that those spaces can never be filled and that the pain never truly goes away. I understand the agony of celebrating birthdays, holidays, life events and anniversaries without those we love. Although Jason’s death did not affect our entire country as the deaths of those on 9/11 and the symbolic terror attack on America they represent, I would venture to say that his death was just as traumatic to me, to our family, and to those who knew and loved him. Loss is loss, and deep grief is deep grief.

May God have mercy on us all and give us comfort in our losses.

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney