About Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective

My name is Becky Carney. My husband, Joe, and I have been married for 42 years. We have two living children, Eric (39) and Jenna (34). 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.

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IMG_1489They’re building a new house behind the office where I work. As I looked out the window this morning while waiting for my coffee to brew, I realized that it made me nostalgic for the time we had our house built in Washington. It was a fascinating and exciting experience watching our home come together from a piece of raw land to the finished product.  Not everything went perfectly, as things rarely do, but we were thrilled to watch it going together and even more thrilled when it was complete.

We built our house after a tree fell on the house we were renting. It was quite a journey and nearly two years between the falling tree and moving into our newly-built home. We had stayed with a couple of friends for a while, looked and looked and looked for a house, made an offer on one house that fell through, moved a family of 5 into a small apartment while still having most of our belongings in storage.

images-1At one point in the journey, I was very discouraged. It didn’t seem like we were ever going to find a place to call home. Right around that time, a local radio station just happened to sponsor a poem contest in conjunction with the home show that was going on at the Kingdome. The poem had to be something that reflected the true meaning of the word “home.” I thought, “If there’s something I know (after all we had been through), it’s what the true meaning of a home is.”

imagesI wish I had kept a copy of that poem. It was something about a home being more than the sum of its walls and doors. The poem won second prize, which was high-quality, custom mini blinds for the winner’s whole house. We didn’t have a house at that point, but it gave me hope. I knew that, whenever and wherever we found a home, I had won mini blinds for it!! I felt like God had heard my prayer for a home of our own and this was sort of a down payment on that home-to-be. I called the radio station to let them know we didn’t have a house quite yet, and they and the mini blind company were gracious enough to extend the deadline to claim the prize. One of the first things I did when we moved in was to order our mini blinds!

A few years ago, I found my “wish list” for a house that I had written not long after we had to move out of the tree-damaged rental and early in our house search. It was amazing to look at that list and realize that our Washington house had hit every single thing I had written on that list. No wonder it felt so much like home to me.

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I’ve driven by our home a couple of times when I’ve been in Washington. I still think of it as our home. It looks much the same, with only the trees and shrubs taller. The neighbor told us that the “new” owners have paved the driveway. I wonder if our names are still in the concrete where we wrote them in the wet cement of the just-poured foundation.

When we were back in Washington for Christmas recently, we had lunch at the pizza place owned by our former neighbors. It’s interesting to me that every single member of that neighboring family still refers to the house as “your house.” We sold the house over 12 years ago. We’ve been told quite a few comments such as, “They taking good care of your house for you,” and “They paved the driveway up to your house.” I guess we’re not the only ones who still think of it as our home.

That-House-was-a-Perfect-House-Tolkien-Quote-Free-Printable-Hand-Drawn-Artwork-from-The-Inspired-RoomI’ve written about what our journey has been since we sold that house, how difficult it was for me to leave Washington and how unsettled and “home-less” (not “homeless”; “home-less” – without a home) I have felt since then. The small one-bedroom apartment we now rent simply doesn’t feel like home. It’s dark; it doesn’t get much sunshine because of the trees surrounding it. None of the furnishings belong to us. A lot of our belongings are still housed in boxes. It’s temporary. Asheville, in general, feels less like home to us since our daughter and her husband moved away, too.

I miss the house that we built in Washington mainly for the reason that it felt like home to me, something I haven’t felt for a very long time, not since we moved from there. It felt like my haven. It was a place filled with sunshine and baking and projects and laughter and game-playing and studying and traditions and friends and family. It was the home filled with the beautiful, sunshine-y presence of our precious Jason. Those were the things that made that house our home.

I miss that true feeling of being “at home.” I don’t know where that is or how to find that feeling again, but I hope to find it some day.

“The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.” – Thomas Jefferson

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Missing my boy, today and always.

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

February 13

 

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My dad died 31 years ago today. It was not unexpected, but that did’t negate the feelings of finality of such a death. Although I had had several months to get used to the idea that he was dying (he had gone in the nursing home in August of the previous year after several strokes), it still felt like a shock to me. Seeing my dad in that coffin took my breath away, just by the pure realization of finality right in front of me. When someone dies, you no longer have the opportunity of resolving differences, creating new memories, or just sitting and talking. Everything you had together was in the past; there is no future with that person.

I’m a lot more like my dad, personality-wise, than I am my mom and I was closer to my dad than my mom. I tend to be independent, stoic, never ask for help. My sister is more emotional and relational like my mom was. Jason was a lot like me.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about my dad today. I wish my kids had had a chance to know him better – maybe a younger version of himself before he was so ill. They were quite young when he died. They really would have loved really knowing him. We lived a long way apart, so we didn’t get to see them much. Distances are hard on establishing or maintaining close relationships.

I have written about him before: https://onewomansperspective02.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/happy-fathers-day/ and https://onewomansperspective02.wordpress.com/2015/06/21/lost-in-thought-on-a-sunday-morning/

I think one of the most encouraging things that happened since Dad’s memorial service was when someone found my blog online and posted the following comment:

Dear Becky,
When I was young in the early 1970′s, my father would take me fishing and hunting with him in Wyoming. We spent lots of time around LaBarge Wyoming. On Sundays, as we drove along beautiful rivers and streams near the Salt River Range and the Wyoming Range, my dad always found ‘The Singing Knudsens’ on the radio. I believe it was KMER, the radio station out of Kemmerer. We thought you guys were great. I remember thinking how brave you must have been to sing on the radio. I think about those times a lot because I was very close to my father. Those were such incredible times. I was just thinking about LaBarge, my dad, and listening to the Singing Knudsons. I searched the internet and found you here. I have three sons of my own now. I was truly heartbroken when I read your story. I can not imagine losing one of my boys. I wonder if I could even survive it. You and your family will always be very special to me. I wish happiness and love to you and your family always. Thank you for bringing much to mine.

Sincerely,
Peter

I was so thankful that he took the time to share these memories, even though it was so many, many years later. A fellow blogger, Melanie DeSimone, recently wrote a post entitled “Child Loss: Helpful Tips for Interacting With Bereaved Families.” One of the tips was: “It’s never too late to reach out. NEVER.” So true. No matter how many years it had been, it was so nice to hear these memories of my dad and for Peter to let me know that he remembered.

Let people know you remember their loved ones. It could mean the world to them.

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

Walking Wounded

Jason’s death was a very, very traumatic event for me. Having people we thought we could count on leave us alone was traumatic. Although not nearly as traumatic as Jason’s death by a long shot, it caused lasting damage. Going through Jason’s room and cleaning it out before I was ready was traumatic. Moving from Seattle to Oklahoma when I didn’t want to and wasn’t ready to move was traumatic. Each successive move hasn’t done much in the grand scheme of things to lessen the trauma and emptiness. Opening my heart in recent years and trusting people who have proven untrustworthy has hurt me horribly and has been traumatic. In some ways, I feel like I’ve given up on trusting people and making meaningful friendships.

Although I have never been to a doctor who diagnosed me with PTSD, I have had (and still have) PTSD-like symptoms. I probably should have talked to a professional counselor or something about it a long time ago. At the time, PTSD was something that was almost entirely associated with Vietnam-era veterans and not bereaved parents. There were not many coping or helpful resources at the time for a parent whose child had died. I tried going to a grief support group, but that was a disaster. We had very little support. I was so used being independent, to doing everything on my own, to coping on my own before Jason died that I just kept on going by sheer willpower the best I knew how. At one point after Jason died, I talked to my general physician about some of what I was feeling, and he put me on anti-depressants for a while.

At the time, my husband and I were trying to decide if we wanted to open a coffee shop or what we wanted to do with our lives since he had been laid off at his job. I knew someone who owned a coffee shop and was looking for help, so I asked her if she would hire me. I wanted to start at the very bottom rung – cleaning toilets, washing floors, taking out trash, closing up the shop – so that I could learn each job, both to determine if we wanted to actually take on this venture and so that I would know what each job entailed should we decide to go ahead with it.  I ended up doing every job and then managing the place before Joe and I decided that was not what we wanted to do.

One day, a lady I distantly knew from homeschooling came in to get coffee. I greeted her and told her my name when I realized she didn’t remember who I was. She seemed shocked and said, “You’re Jason’s mom! But you’re smiling and laughing!!”

Now, there are a couple of things I would like to say about that encounter. First of all, this lady’s demeanor and tone communicated to me that she didn’t seem to feel that, as a parent whose child had died, I should be smiling or laughing. I felt judged for smiling and laughing.

I want to state unequivocally that it’s okay to smile after a child dies. At first, I felt guilty for even smiling, let alone laughing. I would put my hand over my mouth when I smiled. I felt guilty. I guess we almost have to give ourselves permission to enjoy certain things again and to laugh after our child dies. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do when the death of a child and grief looms so large. It can take a long time to laugh or to smile again.

The second thing about that encounter was that I realized that the anti-depressants weren’t actually helping me. Yes, they took some of the edge off of what I was feeling, but I realized that what they were doing was helping me to avoid the necessary things I needed to do to grieve Jason’s death. For me, it felt like I was artificially suppressing my grief behind a facade. The pills were masking my true feelings and my grief. I may have been depressed to some degree, but I think that I was also deeply grieving.

I understand that sometimes bereaved parents end up clinically depressed when a child dies and that there may be a place for use of medication to treat depression. There is no shame in that. I think sometimes the symptoms of depression and deep grief are mixed up or confused, even by medical professionals. Did my doctor rush to medicate me? I don’t think so. I think he just didn’t understand how long the grief process following the death of a child could be, and he was trying to help me cope.

This same doctor prescribed sleeping pills for me the day Jason died. I had called him because I had such a horrible headache. I guess I was just reaching out for help. I didn’t know what to do, either for the headache or how to grasp the unthinkable fact that Jason died. He prescribed something for the headache, but he also prescribed sleeping pills.

I probably took the sleeping pills way longer than I should have. I took them for a long time just to get some rest at night so I could function during the day. Some days, I specifically had to concentrate on taking just one of the sleeping pills and putting the rest aside. Some days I was in so much pain and I felt so broken and lost, I really wanted to take them all. One day, I just decided I shouldn’t take them any more at all. I wanted to learn to sleep and function without them.

It’s tempting to want to use medication to take the edge off of grief. Grief can be so overwhelming. Living life after the death of a child can be so hard and so overwhelming. Some days it seems impossible to do.

I look back now and I really don’t know how I made it through those times. I got up, I went to school. I did what I had to do – one day, one step, one breath at a time. I did most everything alone. I tried to pretend I was okay, when I really wanted to die. I cried and cried and cried. And then I cried some more. Some days I was so overwhelmed with grief I couldn’t even walk. I had no energy to walk even more one step; I just fell to the floor like a rag doll and cried. I railed at God for not protecting Jason when I had prayed and prayed for our kids and for how betrayed I felt by “His people” deserting us.

It’s almost as if I can step back into that time. I remember it all – the phone call from Alina’s dad telling me Alina and Jason weren’t at their house and that he had driven by a bad accident, the mud I left on the steps as I left the house to go to the accident scene, the sound of the sirens, praying to God, “Oh, God, please NO! Please, God. NO!! I need him!!” Asking the fireman if that was our son in the car in the ditch. Joe telling the policeman, who had confirmed Jason’s death to us, that maybe he was just unconscious and needed to go to the hospital. Going home to call family and friends. Answering the phone in the afternoon when one of Jason’s tutoring students called to ask him a math question and having to tell the boy that Jason had died. Rushing to hold Joe or Jenna as they sobbed uncontrollably, and them doing the same for me. I remember everything about that day like it was yesterday.

I guess I tend to get reflective as those “huge” days approach – Jason’s birthday, holidays, the anniversary of his death. March 3rd, the anniversary of Jason’s death, is approaching rapidly, and memories and feelings feel so much closer to the surface. My mind tends to drift to that time.

I still have a huge emptiness inside of me, a huge loneliness, a huge sadness. I get up, I go to work. I do what I have to do – one day, one step, one breath at a time. I try to do my best, to be the best version of myself I can be and to treat people as I would want to be treated. I still do most everything alone, especially now that our daughter and her husband have moved away. Our older son is across the country and busy with his life, business and family, and our daughter-in-law is not especially helpful in promoting close reltionships. I still try to pretend I am okay, when some days it takes concerted effort and energy to make it through the day. I don’t take sleeping pills any more, but some nights sleep is a welcome refuge. I still hurt so bad at times. I miss my boy every single day. I try to hide it, but I am still walking wounded.

Oh, how I miss my boy.

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

 

This world is not my home

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This world is not my home I’m just passing through
my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
the angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door
and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
© 1937, Ren. 1965 Albert E. Brumley & Sons

About six months after Jason died, one of my husband’s contracts, a large chain hotel in downtown Seattle, offered us employee rates to stay at one of their resort hotels in Hawaii. It was a very kind and generous offer, one which we desperately needed and could not have afforded otherwise.

I have not flown much at all in my life. As a matter of fact, my first flight ever was when Joe and I got married and went on our honeymoon. Flying usually made me very nervous and was a stressful experience, but I realized as we took off from Seattle to go to Hawaii that I wasn’t afraid or stressed at all. I realized that I no longer feared death. If I knew that if I died, I would be in heaven with Jason, and that would be a much better place to be.

I haven’t felt at home or connected to any place at all since Jason died. I know that I am just passing through and one day I will truly be at home. And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.

 

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

Helping Your Grieving Friend — Listening to Him

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Timewise I’ve really only just begun this painful journey of deep grief, but I’ve already learned a number of significant lessons. I’m sharing some here both for future reference for myself, and in hopes that they might be helpful to others walking alongside grieving friends. I dislike the ever popular lists of “15 things you […]

via Helping Your Grieving Friend — Listening to Him

If you are a person of faith, this post has some excellent suggestions on how to help a friend who may be grieving.

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

Don’t Assume Everyone Has Adequate Support in Grief

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This photo recently showed up on on two different sites on my facebook page. It was interesting to read the comments. There were the ones who thankfully gushed about the people who supported them. And then there were the comments by people who were definitely deeply hurt by the lack of support they received. You can almost feel the intense pain coming from those words.

When bereaved parents have support, I’m sure it’s hard for them to imagine those who don’t, those who basically end up all (or nearly all) alone. I’m sure it’s hard for people who know a bereaved parent to imagine that parent has little to no support. But it happens more than anyone would imagine.

With absolutely all immediate family more than 2000 miles away and nearly everyone we knew disappearing, we fell in the latter category. It was a very, very lonely and very, very painful and difficult time for us. The lack of support we experienced has had a huge impact on our lives. The secondary pain of not being able to count on support from those I assumed would support us and instead having to walk this walk almost all alone hurt and affected me more deeply than I can ever put into words. I’m happy for those who have support, but it’s important to remember that’s not always the case.

Let me encourage you to discard some assumptions you may have. Don’t assume that bereaved parents have support. Some will. Some won’t. Don’t assume someone else is supporting a bereaved parent. Maybe someone is. Maybe no one is. Don’t assume someone else is taking the time to write a note or memory to encourage the bereaved parent. Maybe someone is. Maybe no one is. Don’t assume someone else doing something, that someone else is doing anything. Maybe that person needs to be you.

Don’t assume that it has to be something big or that you have to know the person well. Even a small gesture can let someone know you care. Just make sure it’s genuine and that your motives are genuine. Don’t offer one gesture and then give up because it appears it wasn’t appreciated or wasn’t heard.

In the fog of grief that surrounded me, I was looking for support from people I knew, people I assumed would support us. One gal I barely knew asked me several times over many month’s time if I wanted to go walking with her. In my grief, I didn’t really hear her at first, but she didn’t give up. Her offer really didn’t register with me for about six months, as I desperately reached out to people I knew and thought would support us. In September, nearly six months after Jason died, I finally took her up on her offer. Now, as I look back, I don’t know what I would have done without her.

There are some excellent resources to give ideas on how to support a bereaved parent, much more so than when Jason died. I’ve written about this multiple times, as have many others.

Like some people commented in response to those photos on Facebook, I will never forget those who stepped forward. I will forever be grateful for my friend Mary, someone I barely knew when Jason died but one who stepped forward, who continued to ask me to go walking with her until I actually heard her, and who gradually became a wonderful friend. I will never forget the manager of a large hotel chain, one who was a client of my husband’s company and who barely knew us, who arranged for us to pay employee rates at a resort hotel in Hawaii. Without his kindness, we never would have been able to afford the respite we so desperately needed at the time.

But, like other comments, I will never forget those who didn’t. I will never forget the friends who disappeared. Those losses cut deep and I’m not sure that the scars from that time will ever disappear. I’m not saying I haven’t worked on forgiving; I’m just saying that I will never forget.

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney