The Hidden, Chronic Pain of Grief

Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective:

As a parent whose child died, I learned that I had to find a way to put on a mask in order to make other people comfortable around me. I felt like I had to appear to be “okay,”

Originally posted on john pavlovitz:

I have a couple of close friends who have struggled for years with undiagnosed chronic illnesses, and they’ve both shared with me on several occasions how isolating their conditions became because their pain wasn’t visible to others.

In the absence of outward, identifiable symptoms, people either questioned the reality or severity of their injuries, or they were simply unaware of them. If in another’s presence my friends smiled and refused to mention it, then their suffering (though real and debilitating) remained hidden. They appeared quite healthy and normal and even happy—all the while their insides were being ripped to shreds.

This is how it is to be a survivor of a loved one.
This is life in the Grief Valley.
Your pain is chronic and deep and most often, internal.
To show the suffering when it comes just simply won’t work most of the time.
So you hurt and you hide.

My father died two years ago…

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We Are Lost

So much changed when Jason died. My sense of connected-ness to my life, to people that I knew and thought were my friends, to God, to my faith, to my family, to a church and to a place to call home. All of these things literally changed overnight, that horrendous night of March 3rd.

The thing about such a huge loss is that, when your whole life is turned upside down and so much is lost, you have to work at rebuilding nearly everything and it takes so much longer than you or anyone else would expect. We are all a work in progress, but when a child dies, it’s just so much more work to rebuild so many things from scratch. It’s like a ship that has been hit by a hurricane and is ripped away from its safe harbor. You end up in a dark and violent storm, far away from land. The dark, huge waves of grief tower over you, threatening to pull you under. All landmarks are gone. You lose your bearings and all moorings have been ripped away. You feel lost in a huge sea of grief, far from anything and everything that was familiar. You fight and fight and fight not to go under while trying to get back to some semblance of solid and familiar land.

The problem is that, once you reach some kind of shore again, there is no “familiar land” left. Not only has the landscape changed, but you have changed. Both you and your life have been ravaged by the hurricane called grief. The huge waves and deep loss has caused irreparable damage. What was comfortable and familiar is now a stark and alien land. Landmarks are gone. Friends are gone. People don’t recognize who you are. They may not like who you are now. Your energy level and focus is at zero. Deep grief and trying to find a “new normal” (whatever that is) takes its toll. It’s such hard work and it takes so long.

The “Becky” I was before Jason died was confident and independent. She was a wife of Joe and a mother of three who homeschooled her kids until they went to college. She felt like she had done a reasonably good job raising her kids and preparing them for success in life. She was a leader in the homeschool groups to which she belonged. She set up fun field trips and organized graduation trips. She loved to laugh and sing. She had hobbies and interests. She had friends. She served on the boards of homeschool groups. She was involved and connected. She knew she was transitioning to a different phase of life from homeschooling mom to productive workforce employee. She knew some relationships were situation and were going to change, but she was getting used to the idea. She had a plan. She was going to go back to school and then was going to get a job where she could be productive. She knew who she was. She was looking forward to good things ahead – to her kids getting married, to having grandkids to spoil and love, to having a meaningful job and using her abilities to contribute to a better life for her family. She had hope.

And then that person was gone. That life was gone.

The “Becky” I am now still feels lost in some respects. I don’t think I’ve ever reached that place of “arriving,” whatever that is, wherever that is. When Jason died, the life I knew was gone, through no choice of my own. The “Becky” I knew was gone. I was thrown violently into a deep and dark hurricane of grief and I was in that storm for a very long time. I landed in a barren and foreign land, only to be pulled back into a sea of secondary losses. I was lost, lost in grief. Lost in aloneness. Lost without my bearings. Lost without my boy.

In the years after Jason died, I tried to keep moving forward. I had started back to school two months before Jason died, and I kept going for two years. Jenna and I both went back to school the following week after Jason died. Joe went back to work. I may have just gone through the motions, but I did what I could to keep moving forward. We all did. I did well in school and made the dean’s list every quarter. I don’t know how I did it, quite honestly. In spite of everything, we kept on going. I tried to figure out how to “grow,” even though I was grieving so much loss. Too much loss. I tried to find a job. I tried to find meaning and a reason to keep on living. I have learned that it’s not an easy thing to do following the death of a child.

My husband really struggled after Jason died. Understandable. He was really close to Jason and had always been involved in the kids’ lives. It was hard for us to live in a house that had been so full of Jason’s presence and so full of life, but screamed with emptiness after Jason’s death. It was hard to have to drive by the accident site day after day after day just to get to school and work. It was hard to lose the friends we had and to be so alone. I was struggling so much myself that I couldn’t help anyone else deal with the loss. I couldn’t help Jenna. I couldn’t help Joe. Joe felt helpless to deal with my depression and grief. Neither one of us had the energy to maintain a 4 bedroom house and large property.

Joe worked so hard all of his life to earn a decent living for his family. He worked in an industry where he always had to work really hard to stay on top of current technology, which was sometimes not easy for a non-techy guy. He was very well respected in his job. But, after Jason’s death, I think it was hard to see a reason to keep on trying so hard just to stay on top of everything. Grief makes you incredibly weary. When he learned that the company was going to downsize, he volunteered to be laid off so that none of the younger guys with families still at home would lose their jobs. Being laid off affected our income and Joe’s retirement income. He thought he would find something less stressful and more enjoyable as a second career. Although he’s tried several paths, none of them have really worked out the way he thought.

I also think Joe thought selling our house and moving from Washington would help us “start over,” so he pushed really hard to leave. He thought getting away from so many painful memories, so many painful relationships and so many places that reminded us our losses would help snap me out of my depression and deep grief. I didn’t have the energy to fight. We left a place I loved, the one friend I had made, and Eric and Jenna. In retrospect, leaving Washington caused me more harm than good. I still haven’t recovered from the losses, both primary and secondary. Jenna has moved to be near us and I am so thankful for that, but I feel like Eric’s kids – our grandkids – are strangers to us. We haven’t really had a chance to be involved in their lives, other than a week or two visit once in a while every year or so. That just breaks my heart.

I have decided that too much change compounds the already-too-much loss and prolongs the rebuilding process. Since leaving Washington, we have lived in Oklahoma, Florida and North Carolina, each for three years, and I don’t feel any closer to feeling “at home” than I did when we left. We haven’t found a church to attend that fits. We have been renting a furnished one bedroom apartment, surrounded by someone else’s stuff. What little we have left from our life in Washington has been in storage in Oklahoma for six years. We haven’t made any close friends here (or Oklahoma or Florida), the kind that you can just call up to go to a movie with, the kind of friend that just likes to hang out with you. I’m approaching one of those “big number” birthdays and feel like hardly anyone besides family would celebrate me. Even if I had a birthday party, I don’t know who would attend since we’ve been so unsettled and lived so many places. (Yeah…I’m on a pity party. Don’t worry; it won’t last too long. I will feel celebrated by my wonderful family. They are awesome. Have never been really big on outside-the-family birthday parties for me, anyway, and have only had a couple actual birthday parties in my life.) It’s been a lonely existence at times, though.

We have started looking for a place to buy in North Carolina. It’s not an easy process, this trying to find something in our budget that we like, especially when we are not sure this is really “home” for us. I’m not sure where “home” is any more. I feel like a woman without a country, without a place to connect and grow, without friends, without a “home.” I feel like we have been wandering in this desert of grief for a very long time, and we are just plain weary. We keep on trying. I try to do a good job at my place of employment. Joe has a couple of part time jobs and tries to take good care of Jenna and me. We try to find “something fun to do” on the weekends. We try to lead meaningful and productive lives, but sometimes it’s hard to see the purpose. It’s hard to see where we fit. It’s hard to feel connected and “at home.”

One blogger, a fellow bereaved parent, recently used a phrase that resonated with me – “the complexity of deep heartache.” The complexities of grief are truly deep and vast many, many years after the death of a child.

We had a rough weekend. Looking for houses. Looking for something fun to do. Not succeeding at either one. We just felt so weary and tired of “trying.” At one point, I looked at Joe and said, “We’re lost.” And he agreed.

Too much change. Too much loss.

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney

My New Reality … Notice I Did Not Say New Normal

Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective:

This amazing woman inspires me with her clarity of writing and her ability to communicate the depth and width of grief following the death of a child.

From Dee’s blog:

“People’s tolerance for grief runs out quickly. No one knows but those who live it. During these past two years I have met many grievers who have found it necessary to retreat in order to survive. Personally, I have always been afraid to give into that inclination. People do need people as I continue to realize. Many have taken my absence and silence personally just as I have reacted to their sudden hiatus from my life. Even in the early weeks after Amy’s sudden death, people could not resist reminding me how I had changed. How awful to assess a shattered person who is already so self-conscious and feels like an alien. As I recall that now, I understand even more the need to retreat in order to survive.

Grieving the loss of someone you share the deepest loving bond with can be difficult to witness. People will twist and turn your reaction to your devastating loss into intentional wallowing. To quote Mr. “T”, “I pity the fool.” Yes, yes — ignorance is bliss. The reality is that while I will grieve Amy the rest of my life, I remain fully aware my sadness will indeed isolate me from many people from my past. It already has as they need to be in the mood to deal with me and only reach out to me on certain days. Out of obligation, I guess. The confusion lies here as I am not able to go in and out of the ring with them. You are either with me or you are not. And just to be clear, grievers require so little and are not contagious.”

Originally posted on MourningAmyMarie:

The calendar I was desperately trying to ignore screamed the news to me at 12:23 a.m. on August 4, 2015. Everyone was sleeping when I jolted out of bed, sobbing quietly as I made my way to the sofa in the beach house we had escaped to for this week. Much to my surprise Bailey, our family healer, was stretched out comfortably on the floor in the hall which was so unusual because he never sleeps alone. Was he alone? Since we arrived, I noticed he was content to sit alone in the living room too instead of claiming one of our laps. Another un-Bailey like behavior — especially in a strange place. Our family dog is rather neurotic. It is no wonder he has issues as I wonder whether this 12 lb dog of pure love did indeed sign up for the mega job of comforting a grieving family.

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Happy birthday, my precious Mr. Jay…


Oh, my precious boy…how I miss you…I love you…

Jason's birthday - July 29, 1982

Jason’s birthday – July 29, 1982














My precious Mr. Jay


Jason David Carney - 7/29/82 - 3/3/02

Jason David Carney – 7/29/82 – 3/3/02

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney


Lost in thought on a Sunday morning

Listening to Pandora this morning – this Father’s Day 2015 – songs from my childhood have put me in a contemplative mood. “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.” “I Love to Tell the Story.” “Farther Along.” Songs that remind me of my dad and my growing up years in the church.

sc0018cf1c01Since my father was a preacher, Sundays growing up were busy with church and church-related activities. We kids were responsible for folding the bulletins on the way to church. Church was 25 miles north of where we lived, so we had a half hour to fold them and do whatever else we needed to do to get ready for the day. Dad had prepared the content of the bulletins on Saturday. Mom had typed them up and printed them out on the mimeograph machine in the dining room late Saturday evening.

sc00025c1301Sunday School  was followed by the morning church service where we, as a family, may or may not have been involved in singing “special music.” Since we were small children, all of us had been involved front and center of church services. Church was our second home. My very earliest memories are of falling asleep on a church pew, standing up in front of the congregation singing “Jesus Loves Me” or standing beside my sister as she quoted the 23rd Psalm. She couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5, and I still remember wondering how she could remember all those words and feeling bad because I was too nervous to chime in.

After church, we would go home, eat the pot roast that had been cooking on the stove while we were at church, and then get ready to record the music for the radio broadcast that would be played on two radio stations the following week.

sc0080c86eDad had prepared the “song list” for the day. We, in varying family-member combinations, sang trios, duets, solos or all together. Mom played the piano, organ and accordion; Dad played twelve different instruments, including the guitar, trumpet, trombone, banjo. Sometimes we would have a theme for the program. My favorite was the “old time cowboy service,” complete with sounds my dad made with his mouth that sounded like a horse clip-clopping up to the church door. Dad would add a 15-minute message to the music a day or so later, and the reel-to-reel tapes would be sent to a radio station in the neighboring town and off to another station over the state line in Utah.

sc003843be02In the evening, we would all get in the car and head back to church for the evening service, sometimes either preceded or followed by a “fellowship” time. Wednesday evenings were dedicated to a Bible study and prayer service. Since my junior and high school was 50 miles south, we would get off the bus after school on Wednesday evenings, eat a quick bite for dinner, and then head out for the 25 miles north to church. Up until I graduated from high school, I think I missed one service. One service. Period. And now I have a tough time just going to church.

Ever since Jason died, I have struggled with going to church and with my faith. At first, it was hard to watch people smiling and clapping just like “normal” when our lives were anything but normal any more. Carrying on “church” as we used to, like nothing had happened and as if Jason had not died, was impossible. The noise of the whole thing rattled my nerves and made me extremely antsy. And then there was the whole “disappearing act” by people we knew.

We felt so burned by the way we were treated by Christians after Jason died. I, especially, felt deserted by man and God. We had no blood-related family within 2000 miles, so all of us looked to and relied on our church and homeschool Christian “family” to be there for us. For some reason, they just couldn’t be the support we needed. And it has really affected me. It has affected all of us. Since then, finding a place where both Joe and I feel “at home” in a church has not been easy.

I’ve written extensively about how alone we were and how difficult that time was. I reached out to fellow Christians like a person drowning, desperately grabbing for a lifeline, and felt ignored or like I got my hand slapped. The church I knew as a source of comfort, support and friendship became a reminder of great loss and so many secondary losses. Loss of faith, loss of friendship, loss of support, loss of feeling safe and loved. The strong, genuine connection I felt to church, to fellow Christians and to God still feels somewhat broken. I no longer see church as a source of friendship, comfort or solace. I am very guarded toward church people…and toward being open with people in general. Instead of feeling comfortable and home-y, church still makes me tense and anxious, although not as much as it used to right after Jason died.

I’ve written about my crisis of faith before, too. As I said in my earlier post, I don’t believe that a crisis of faith is a sin. It just means that what I thought I believed didn’t line up with what I’ve experienced. It means I’m still working on adjusting my beliefs. There’s so much I don’t understand about this life and why things happen the way they do. I still struggle so much with Jason’s death and the way our lives have changed beyond measure. It’s just so hard to lose a child. Life is never the same. I keep on trying to find a purpose and keep trying to fan the flames of my faith. I miss feeling a part of something, though. I miss a strong and real connection to fellow believers. I miss my unquestioning faith and my strong connection to God.

Joe and I went to a bluegrass festival the end of February, just a week before March 3rd (the day Jason died) and attended the Sunday morning musical performances. A wonderful group of young musicians named Flatt Lonesome sang a song, He Still Hears, that brought both of us to tears. It’s comforting to know that, no matter what happens to me and no matter how much I struggle, no matter how , God still cares about me and hears me when I pray. He will never give up on me.

He Still Hears


When the days can seem so long and the nights are longer still

In times like these you can question God’s good will

Your heart is hurting so and you lost the strength to stand

Cry out the Lord He hears you still


He still hears when it seems you’re all alone

He still hears when your bread is turned to stone

God will work according to His perfect all-wise will

Cry out to the Lord He hears you still


When your heart is growing cold and the fire is all but out

And life’s hard work brings on an empty chill

Just stir the coals again rebuild the fire the storms have quenched

And cry out the Lord He hears you still


He still hears when it seems you’re all alone

He still hears when your bread is turned to stone

God will work according to His perfect all-wise will

Cry out to the Lord He hears you still

Today I will remind myself that I come from a history of faith and a heritage of believers. I will remind myself that the roots of my faith are long-standing and deep. I will remind myself that God still hears me when I pray.

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney

Edited 6/22/15


Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective:

I think most parents who have lost a child can relate to the recent blog on Soul Searching Solace about being labeled a “victim” for not moving on “quickly enough.”

Originally posted on Soul Searching Solace:

“You can be a victim in one situation but that doesn’t mean you are a victim in all situations. I’m just saying.”

Not positive, but I believe these words were directed toward me (in a sly way) after I expressed my hurt and disappointment in people in my life who I feel have not been there for me since Ben’s death. If they were meant for me, those words came from a person who I loved but have not spoken with in more than a year and a half. They hurt me deeply.

If I am allowed to be a “victim” in only one situation, I obviously became one on the day that Ben died. I supposedly used up my one chance then so I guess that means that I am to separate everything that has happened to me since Ben’s death, and who I now am, from the actual…

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How many children do you have?

My husband and I went out to dinner the other night with my bosses, their spouses and an out-of-town businessman whom I had only met once previously. In the course of conversation,  the businessman asked me, “How many children do you have?” “Three,” I answered. “How old are they?” he asked.

Most parents proudly rattle off the names and ages of their kids or grandkids, where they live, what they do, where they go to school, their latest accomplishments, and the like. To a parent who has had a child die, it’s not that easy or carefree any more.

You would think, after all these years, it would get easier to answer these questions than it used to be in the years following Jason’s death. I thought I had it figured out what to say, but then I stumble on the words.

I think I’ve come to the conclusion that, no matter how long it’s been or what the situation is, they’re never easy questions to answer when you have lost a child. Some questions just prick that tender spot in your heart. Sometimes it hammers the place in your heart. Sometimes tears are so close to the surface that it takes everything you have to keep yourself together.

As a person who generally sees both sides of every coin, part of me wants to stay absolutely true to who I am and the experiences I have gone through. I want to honor the memory of our precious son – the most wonderful young man in the world – no matter how uncomfortable it makes others. But, I also know that saying our precious son was killed by a drunk driver when he was 19 years old is conversation stopper. Conversation comes to a screeching halt and things get really awkward all of a sudden. It makes everyone uncomfortable. Conversation gets stilted and everyone tiptoes around the topic of a child dying while working to find a comfortable flow in the conversation again. It’s hard to be the one who makes people so uncomfortable.

One thing that a bereaved parent learns very early on is that, if you want people to stay around you and to interact with you, the responsibility falls on YOU to make people comfortable. In spite of everything we have gone through, WE have to work to make people comfortable around US. And sometimes that means that, in certain circumstances, I don’t mention the fact that I have lost the most awesome son in the world. It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s the way it is.

And so, I talked briefly about Jenna and what she’s doing…and about Eric, where he lives, what he does, how many kids he has…silently asking Jason to forgive me for avoiding talking about him. It’s just not easy any more.

I read an awesome post recently concerning the topic of bereaved parents hiding their pain. She talks about our reality being different than what we show people around us. I highly recommend reading it:

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney