Empty Arms

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.

Oh, how I miss you, my precious boy.

~Becky

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

I dreamed about Jason last night

I rarely dream at all. If I do dream, I usually don’t remember them.

I haven’t dreamt much about Jason since he died. When I do, they are very vivid. I dream that it’s all a huge mistake that Jason died, that he is alive. I dream that I am looking for him, that he must be somewhere and I need to find him.

Last night I dreamed that the place we lived had a Mount Vesuvius-type volcanic eruption. Jason and the girl he loved had been somewhere together when the blast happened. I couldn’t get to them to protect them and, when the blast was over, I frantically searched and searched and searched for them. I ran through the ash-covered streets checking each person who had succumbed to the the volcanic eruption to see if it was Jason and his love. The ash was so deep that it made it difficult to tell what exactly the shapes were, whether they were human or an inanimate object. I looked in every possible hiding place I could find to see if they had taken shelter in one of them. I desperately wanted to find them alive and for them to be okay.

I couldn’t find them anywhere and kept getting more panicky by the minute.

And then I woke up. I laid in bed and thought about how much I miss Jason, how incredibly different our lives would have been in SO many ways had he lived.

No matter how long it’s been, I think our hearts always long for our children to be alive and with us. We desperately want them to come home and to be able to hug them tight. We want them to be safe. Sometimes the longing comes out in our dreams.

Missing you, my boy, today and always.

Love,

Mom

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

Temporary Home

As I sat having lunch in the park with my husband, Carrie Underwood’s song “Temporary Home” came on the radio. It always makes me cry when I hear it. It’s such a beautiful song, one more of hope than loss. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to it, I urge you go do so now.

I can relate with this song on so many levels. I feel like my husband and I have been living a “temporary life” for so many years that it’s difficult to remember what it’s like to be settled in a home of our own. On top of that, since Jason died, I have been so incredibly aware of how temporary things here on earth are – friendships, life, happiness, health, etc. – and that this world definitely is not my ultimate home. I long to see my precious boy again, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will see him again one day.

This world is just my temporary home.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

A Place to Call Home

On Inauguration Day 1993, Seattle was hit with one of the strongest windstorms ever to hit the area. Winds reached Category 1 hurricane level at one point, and a tree fell on the house we were renting. I previously wrote about this storm in my post, “Of Falling Trees and Such.”

Following that dramatic event, we immediately had to move out of the house we were renting (since it was too damaged to continue living in), put our things in storage (I didn’t realize this would be the theme of my life!), and stayed with friends while we looked for a house to buy. Interest rates had gone down to a place where we felt we could afford to purchase a house. While Joe went to work, the kids and I looked at house after house with a realtor. In particular, I remember a house with red shag carpeting on the walls in the basement, among many others. We made an offer on a house, only to have it fall through on inspection. Other offers were topped by higher offers on several occasions. It was a tough market to find something close in so Joe wouldn’t have to drive too far to work.

At one time during this journey, I entered a poem in a contest sponsored by local Christian radio station about “what makes a house a home,” winning awesome mini blinds for our entire home. Since we didn’t actually have a home at the time, the company granted our request to hold onto our win until we actually had a home. It was a tremendous encouragement at the time to have that hope to hold onto, that we would actually have a home one day.

As spring began to turn into summer, we took a break from house hunting. We drove to Southern California so we could take the kids to Disneyland and then went to Colorado to see Joe’s folks. From there, Joe flew back to Washington to work, rented an apartment for us to live in while we looked for a place to live, and I drove on to the Midwest to visit family in various locales over the summer. In the fall, I drove back to the Seattle area so we could begin our house hunting again. We ended up purchasing a lot and having a house built. And, yes, one of the first things I did when the house was complete was to order our mini blinds.

Years later, I ran across a list I had made very early on in that journey that contained things I really wanted in a home. I had forgotten that I had written down such a list early in our search and was surprised how many things on that list were part of the home we had built. I loved and miss that house, not so much for the house itself, but for the time we spent in it with our family. It was our home.

I woke up this morning with an urgency to find a house to buy. As in 1993, interest rates once again are at a historic low and will not remain that way for long. We need to do all we can to make our limited resources work for us.

We have been without a home of our own since 2010 and the few things we have left have been in storage since then. Through various circumstances, we have lived in furnished rentals in Florida and North Carolina (without really even owning any house possessions, such as couches or even our own beds or pots and pans), but have really wanted – and have pursued such over the years – to purchase our own home to live out the rest of our lives. It’s time. Our latest drama has left us exhausted.

So, once again I will make a list again for what will probably be our final home purchase: small house or quiet townhome with low HOA fees in a place with interesting things to do, a place relatively close to family, reasonable price, not too large or too small, not too crowded next to other houses, one level or possibly two, cozy, 2-3 bedrooms with one I can use for an office for my writing and research (I was working on a series of posts for this blog, research now in storage, when we had to move out of our last place), 2 – 2 1/2 baths with a walk in shower in the master (no soaking tub to clean!), lots of sunshine that comes in the windows, hardwood floors, an updated kitchen with plenty of storage and counter space (and a gas stove, if possible), and a small backyard with a patio or screened-in porch. Not too much to ask for, is it?

Home. I long to be finally at home in our own house with our own furnishings. We’ve been making do for far too long. I just don’t know where “home” is any more or where we fit. Joe and I talk about different places and then one of us says to the other, “What’s there for us?” And the other of us says, “I don’t know.” We’re discouraged. We honestly don’t know where we fit or belong. That makes it difficult to know where to buy a house.

We also are constrained by our income. Once I retire, my income drops considerably. Because I homeschooled the kids for so many years and didn’t work during that time, I have a lot of years when I didn’t contribute to Social Security or any retirement plan. I wouldn’t have missed the time with my kids for anything in the world, but the reality we live with now is that we have less to live on in retirement. Joe’s also income dropped precipitously after Jason’s death, so his pension and Social Security are quite a bit less than they would have been had he worked full-time until he was 65 or so.

It’s amazing how secondary losses come into play following the death of a child and how many things and for how long the death of a child can touch. I can honestly say our current situation is at least in part a result of Jason’s death and our brokenness from losing our precious son, and the decisions we made in and based on that brokenness. It is what it is and we have to make the best decisions we can on what we have and where we are now.

Both Joe and I truly struggled incredibly following Jason’s death. We still do. We have always been a positive and optimistic people, but we are discouraged and tired of this journey. It has been hard to find hope. My heart longs to be at home, a place to rest our broken hearts and hopefully find some peace, but I don’t know if we will truly find it until we join Jason in our ultimate home in heaven.

Please keep us in your prayers as we continue to look for a place to call home.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Sorting through a deceased child’s belongings

A while ago, I wrote briefly about taking time to go through your child’s belongings in my blog, “A Few Things I’ve Learned in the 10 Years Since Jason Died.” I’ve also responded on Facebook to bereaved parents who’ve asked about what to do with their child’s things. It dawned on me yesterday that I’ve never actually written a specific post with my recommendations on the subject.

When you were ready, here are my suggestions for going through your child’s belongings.

Take your time

First of all, don’t let anyone rush you or push you to go through or “get rid of” your child’s belongings. This is something that’s a very difficult thing to do and you should be given the grace to do it on your own time frame. Let me say that again – your own time frame. Yours. Only yours. Not a time frame someone else has decided for you. Even within family members, the time to go through a child’s belongings should be based – not on the FIRST person who decides or feels like they are ready – but rather on the LAST person reaches the decision that they are ready. If you are the first person to reach this decision, extend copious amounts of grace to everyone else. When it comes to sorting through your child’s belongings, no one should feel rushed or mowed over.

If you absolutely have to consolidate belongings because you have to move or for some other valid reason, that’s one thing. Even then, you should not let anyone push you on their schedule. If someone intimates or outright tells you that you are making a shrine to your child and makes you feel like that it’s a bad thing to wait until you – and only you – are ready to tackle this task, just chalk it up to their not having been in your shoes. They have no idea what they’re talking about, and we need to hope that they never will.

Be gentle with yourself

Going through your child’s belongings is not a marathon or a mountain to be climbed. It is not a task to be conquered. If you begin and find it too overwhelming, it’s okay to take a break or close the door and wait until another day. There is no rule or set time when this task needs to be started or finished. If you need to stop and take time to grieve, extend yourself the grace and time to do so.

Realize that it’s a hard task

No matter how long you wait to begin sorting through your child’s belongings, acknowledge to yourself that it’s an emotional and difficult task to do. It will always feel like you are erasing part of your child’s life from your own. The older the child, the more things they will have collected, the more you will have to sort through.

If you need to, ask for help

If you have a trusted friend or family member who will follow your lead and be sensitive to what you’re going through, ask that person to help you. Don’t be offended if someone says no. Not everyone can handle such a difficult and emotional task and walk beside you as you do this. Let them know it will not be an easy task and make sure they know it’s okay to be honest with you if it becomes too much for them to handle. When we started to go through Jason’s room, our daughter said, “This is more difficult than I thought it was going to be.” She thought she was ready to help, but couldn’t do it and had to leave. And that was okay.

Make a plan and be prepared

Purchase some Rubbermaid totes or other types of long-term storage containers and some boxes. Make sure you have on hand some type of labeling material that does not easily come off of boxes/containers (permanent markers, stick-on labels) and sealing materials (package sealing or duct tape). You may need some file folders, hanging file folder holders, file folder labels and bankers boxes for organizing papers. Also get some various sizes of Ziplock bags for grouping small or similar items and some recycling and garbage bags.

Organize

To begin, choose a small, less-emotionally charged area to sort. Try not to take everything in all at once, as it may become overwhelming. Focus on one specific area. Success breeds success, and you will feel more able to continue when you have successfully completed one small area.

Divide things up into five sections: 1) absolutely have to keep; 2) not quite sure yet whether to keep or not or what to do with; 3) special things you want to give to certain people; 4) things to donate to a charitable organization; and, 5) things to throw away. As you go, box up the things you know you want to keep and label the contents of each container. The same goes for the “not quite sure” items. For the special mementoes, put items you want to give in individual Ziplock bags/boxes and label who you want to give them to. Box up donations, label where they should go and bag up garbage to go where it need to go.

While the others sections may be obvious, the one area that may be overlooked and yet is very crucial is the “not quite sure” items (# 2 above). It’s okay not to know if you want to keep something or not. You don’t have to decide at that very moment. Let me say that again – you absolutely DO NOT have to decide everything at that very moment. I strongly suggest boxing up the things you are not sure about in long-term storage containers and then setting them aside in storage for review at another time. With distance, things may be clearer. It’s an absolute tragedy to give or throw away something you later wish you hadn’t. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and there usually is no way to ever recover those items. Box up those items you are not sure about, store them in your basement or garage, and go through them again when you feel you are ready – whether it be months or even years down the road.

Before making final storage/disposal of items, be sure you check with family members to see if they have any input, changes, or wish to go through your decision choices. Disposal of your child’s things really feels permanent, like the closing of a door, and it’s worth the effort to consider the feelings of others before taking this step.

Final Comments

All of these suggestions are made from experience – either things I did well or wish I had done differently. My greatest errors were allowing myself to be pushed to go through Jason’s room before I was ready to do so, and to not set aside things I wasn’t sure about to review another day. At the end of the day I was totally traumatized at a time when I didn’t need any more trauma. I gave away or “got rid of” things I wish I never had. If I can encourage anyone to take time and give themselves or another bereaved parent grace with this heart-wrenching task or save someone the agony of giving away something they wish they hadn’t, then this post has accomplished its task.

If you have any additional suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

We Remember Them

At the rising of the sun and its going down,

We remember them.

At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,

We remember them.

At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring,

We remember them.

At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn,

We remember them.

At the beginning of the year and when it ends,

We remember them.

As long as we live, they too will live.

They are a part of us,

We remember them.

~from Gates of Prayer, Judiasm Prayerbook

Jason David Carney

July 29, 1982 – March 3, 2002

My precious boy, I will never forget you. I love you.

~Mom

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney