Photographs and Memories

 

“Why are the photographs of him as a little boy so incredibly hard to look at? Something is over. Now instead of those shiny moments being things we can share together in delighted memories, I, the survivor, have to bear them alone. So it is with all the memories of him. They all lead into blackness. All I can do is remember him; I cannot experience him. Nothing new can happen between us.”

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

 

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

See You Again

 

I realize this song can mean many different things to many people, but, to me, it speaks to my heart of how much I miss Jason. I know I will see him again, just not on this earth. I know that my emotions are close to the surface right now; this song really made me cry tonight.

Jason, you are forever in my heart. The thought of you makes me smile; it also makes me cry. Memories call me back to a time when you were here. I try so hard to stay strong, to honor your memory. I miss you. I love you.

Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
Said goodbye, turned around
And you were gone, gone, gone
Faded into the setting sun,
Slipped away
But I won’t cry
‘Cause I know I’ll never be lonely
For you are the stars to me,
You are the light I follow

I will see you again, oh
This is not where it ends
I will carry you with me, oh
‘Till I see you again

Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can hear those echoes in the wind at night
Calling me back in time
Back to you
In a place far away
Where the water meets the sky
The thought of it makes me smile
You are my tomorrow

I will see you again, oh
This is not where it ends
I will carry you with me, oh
‘Till I see you again

Sometimes I feel my heart is breaking
But I stay strong and I hold on ’cause I know
I will see you again, oh
This is not where it ends
I will carry you with me, yeah yeah

I will see you again, oh
This is not where it ends
I will carry you with me, oh
‘Till I see you again
Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
‘Till I see you again (Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh)
‘Till I see you again yeah yeah yeah whoa
‘Till I see you again
Said goodbye turned around
And you were gone, gone, gone.

Songwriters
DAVID HODGES, HILLARY LINDSEY, CARRIE UNDERWOOD

Published by
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

Groundhog Day

We watched the movie “Groundhog Day” tonight on this February 2nd, the day celebrated in the United States as Groundhog Day. It’s a very funny and well-acted movie about a man who lives the same day over and over again, trying to figure out how to get out of that one day so he can move on to the future. He wakes up every morning when his alarm goes off at 6 a.m. to the realization that, no matter what he has done in the previous day, nothing has changed and he’s living the same day over again. He’s stuck. As the realization sinks in that he’s stuck living the same day over and over, his emotions and actions run the gamut from disbelief to frustration to doing stupid things to depression to suicide to trying to make himself a better person. After a while, he tries to learn new skills and to become a better version of himself, getting to know and care about the people around him.

Not to put a downer on a funny movie, but I had just a brief thought flash through my head as we were watching it. That’s kind of what it was like after Jason died. When my alarm went off, I woke up every morning from a sound sleep (a deep sleep from taking sleeping pills every night) to the realization that I was stuck in the same nightmare day after day. No matter what I did during the previous day, I woke up to the same nightmare every morning – the nightmare that Jason had died. As I went from that blissful, unaware state of sound sleep to a state of awareness and wakefulness, the horrible realization that our son had died hit me again anew each morning. There was nothing I could do to change the fact that Jason had died and I had to figure out how to make the best out of the day ahead of me without Jason. It took a very long time for me to feel like that nightmarish cycle ended and to see hope and future in a new day. I think there’s still a part of me that wakes to that nightmare every day, stuck in a world without Jason.

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

My Life in Boxes

Last fall, we went to Oklahoma to get the last of our things out of storage and to move them to North Carolina where we now live. They’ve been in storage for seven years since we moved from Oklahoma. We spent two days repacking things into smaller, uniform moving boxes and and once again whittling down our earthly possessions. Again. Deciding what’s important to keep and what’s replaceable. Again. Taking boxes and boxes and boxes of household goods, kitchen items and clothes to Goodwill. Again. I’ve done this process too many times and it’s hard on me every time. If I never again hear the words “we need to get rid of” or the phrase “Are you really keeping that???,” it will be too soon. It seems I always feel pushed into giving away something that really was important to me or that I later wished I had kept.

The last remaining things of our life in Seattle. The last remaining physical items I have that connect me to Jason. The history of our lives. Photographs. Scrapbooks. Christmas ornaments. Momentos of our lives when the kids were little. Jason’s chess set. A few books. A couple of my dad’s Bibles. Tax records. Important papers.

Less than 50 12″ x 12″ x 18″ boxes. Less than 50 boxes is all we moved. That’s all we have left. Seriously, that’s all we have left that we can call our own (since moving from Oklahoma seven years ago, we have lived in rented, fully-furnished one bedroom apartments in both Florida and North Carolina, so we don’t have any furniture, etc.). Less than 50 boxes. It seems like such a small amount of things that reflect the busy, fun, full life we had before Jason died and the big house and home that was so filled with love and activity. Sometimes it feels like my life has shrunk so small since then.

But, those items in those boxes also are a reminder that physical things are just that – things. They are just things. I lived without seeing or physically touching those things for seven years. Although those things may remind us of Jason and the time he was alive, there is no way those flat, one-dimensional items can truly reflect the real Jason – the awesome person he was, his intelligence and humor, his beautiful blue eyes, the many facets of his wonderful and Godly character, and his truly kind and loving nature. Those are things that can only be held closely and fully in our hearts and memories.

Holding you close in my heart and in my memories today, my precious boy. I miss you and I love you more than words can say. I look forward to the day I can see you and hug the real you once again.

~Becky

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

A Better World

I dream of a better world

But how can there be a “better world” when you are not in it?

You made this world better and brighter

And it is so much less so now that you are gone.

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I miss you, my precious boy.

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

The High Cost of Losing a Child

I think it’s safe to say that those who have not experienced the death of the child can understand, on some level, that it is a huge, incomprehensible loss. I’m not sure anyone outside the “club no one wants to join” – the “club” of parents whose children have died – can truly understand the impact of such loss, though. I would never wish that understanding on anyone, because that would mean they would have to walk this horrible walk of grief. But, I also think it is safe to say that there is even less understanding regarding secondary losses following the death of a child.

Before Jason died, I never could have imagined the walk we have had to walk. It’s been a rough one, and saying that is an understatement. Jason’s death has affected our family in so many ways. Our lives were shattered when Jason died. And then it seemed like so many other things have broken off and shattered, too, along the way. Friendships. Income. Loss of identity. So many additional losses. Secondary losses.

I think the whole secondary loss thing caught me by surprise. These additional losses were really hard to process. Friends who disappeared. People who avoided us. Questioning my faith. Too many losses to count. I’ve written about some of these secondary losses over the years. It’s difficult to understand how someone who has suffered such a huge loss would continue to have additional losses piled on top. Losses on top of more losses. It’s hard to comprehend and process so much loss. The secondary losses make the load of grief even heavier to bear.

I recently read a good article that talks about secondary losses. The author explains that secondary losses are a result of the primary loss. Our grief encompasses both the primary loss AND the secondary losses. The secondary losses are precipitated by the primary loss (the death of our child), but they become a part of our overall grief.

secondary-loss-5

The author writes, “Though it is easy to think that our grief is solely the grief of losing the person we cared for so deeply, our grief is also the pain of the other losses that were a result of the death.” One grief, many  parts. Yes, I grieve Jason’s death. His death is the big, huge hole in our lives and is the main reason for my grief. But his death also created other losses that I grieve.  I miss friends I used to have. I miss our home. I miss the feeling of security. Had Jason not died, I would not have experienced these and many more losses. All of these secondary losses are interconnected to the primary loss to some degree.

The also author states, “Understanding the possibility of experiencing grief from these secondary losses can help build self-awareness and help identify complexities of our own grief.  Once we have identified these losses we are better equipped to face and mourn them.  We begin to understand that the whole of our grief is comprised of many parts, including the primary loss and the secondary losses.” (http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/secondary-loss-one-loss-isnt-enough/)

I’m not sure I agree completely with this particular concept that we can build a self-awareness in order to be better prepared for secondary losses, especially right after the death of a child. And I’m not sure why there would be a reason to anticipate we would want to prepare for such losses if we didn’t know our child was going to die. Perhaps this would help in the event of a terminally ill child, but, wouldn’t the parent be dealing with enough anyway? I don’t know. Sometimes there’s just no way to prepare for certain things.

I don’t think it would have been helpful to me if someone had come up to me early on in this grief journey, right after Jason died, and said to me, “Just wanted you to be aware that you will probably experience additional losses in your life besides the loss/death of Jason, so you had better prepare your self for it.” I was so overwhelmed by Jason’s death, in and of itself, that I don’t think I could have handled it and probably would have rejected the concept of more loss. At some point, we all will deal with secondary losses; I guess it’s just a matter of timing. It didn’t help me, for example, when I went to a local Compassionate Friends group right after Jason died, to hear one gal say to me (after I had explained to the group why I had started to attend), “Oh, you’re just a baby (in your grief process).” I realize now that, at the time she said that to me, I was just a few steps into this journey and that I had (and still have) a long journey ahead of me. At the time, though, it was not a helpful comment and was poor timing. (I never went back to that group.)

But, I still think she has some good things to say about understanding and identifying secondary losses. I also think it’s important to understand that the primary loss of the death of a child can create secondary losses. Those secondary losses may be immediate or the may happen over time. For example, our loss of friendships was more or less immediate. Another mother told me that she had great support after the death of her daughter, but then nearly all of her friends disappeared over time as they got tired of hearing about her grief and felt like she was not “getting over it” quickly enough. No one will experience the same grief or the same losses, whether primary or secondary.

I hope you will take time to read the article: Secondary Loss – one loss isn’t enough??!! As always, I appreciate your input.

~Becky

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

 

What’s in your toolbox?

I’ve always been a rather independent person. In junior high and high school (and even younger), I wasn’t one who longed to fit into the “in” crowd. I didn’t care particularly what people thought about me or whether I was popular or not. It’s not that I wasn’t friendly or didn’t have friends. I just didn’t live or die by the acceptance or rejection of other people. Besides, the fact that we lived 50 miles away from the junior and senior high schools I attended did not give me many opportunities to interact socially with my peers outside of school. For six years of my life, three hours a day were spent on a school bus, riding an hour and a half each way to and from school. I rarely had the opportunity to participate in after school activities or do things with friends after school. I read a lot of books, got all my homework done on the bus. I was a bit of a book worm, so, even during school hours, I would be found more often than not reading a good book in the loft of the library during free time instead of socializing. I participated in the things I liked (clubs, school musicals, yearbook staff, etc.) and didn’t sweat the things that didn’t work out for me to do. I was aware of being an outsider, but it really didn’t matter that much to me. Our church was 30 miles the opposite direction, so there were few activities outside of church, either. On top of that, until I was a junior in high school, we lived 2 miles outside of the closest town, which had a population of 200.

Both of my parents were school teachers in the same school I attended (my mom taught me in 3rd grade; my dad taught me in 5th, 6th and 12th grades). My dad was also the local Baptist preacher, so I grew up feeling like I had the word “example” stamped on my forehead. Preacher’s families had to look like they were perfect, you know. Teacher’s kids, too. As a teacher’s kid, especially in grade school, the expectation by others was that we should be good students and should do well in school. The funny thing is, when we did well in school, we would have people tell us, “You did well because your parents helped you.” When any of us didn’t do well, we would hear, “Why didn’t your parents help you do better?” Being both a teacher’s kid and a Baptist preacher’s kid in a state that has one of the highest Mormon populations (we lived 200 miles from Salt Lake City, UT) kind of set us apart a bit even further. So, growing up, we were pretty isolated and my closest friends and playmates were my brothers and sister. The day I graduated from high school, I was so glad to be DONE – done riding the bus so far, done driving to church so far, done having to always feel like an example, glad to be moving on to the next phase of my life, glad to be moving to a bigger city (Denver) with more people and more opportunities – that I literally walked out the door of the school after the graduation ceremony and never looked back.

As an adult, though, I realized that my independence in high school, coupled with the long distance from the social world of school and church, was a bit of a disadvantage in that it really had not taught me how to make close, lifetime friends. My problem was that, while I enjoyed having friends, they tended to be situational friendships rather than friendships that lasted a lifetime. Growing up, I had situational friends at school and I had situational friends at church. The friendships I had made operated within one or the other particular, isolated situation. That’s what I knew – situational friendships. I felt like I didn’t know how to make friends or how to be a really good friend outside of a particular situation. I decided to work on establishing deep and lasting friendships.

One of the problems with my “making deep and long-lasting friendship project” was that my independence and lack of proximity to social activities growing up had made me somewhat socially awkward. I’ve never wanted to be the center of attention or the life of the party. I tended to sit off to the side of groups, waiting for someone to befriend ME, to reach out to ME. I didn’t really know all the “rules” for making and keeping longterm friends. I tried all the typical friend-making things I could think of. I volunteered at church and in the homeschool groups. I served on the board of homeschool groups. I taught Sunday School classes. I set up play dates for the kids. I tried everything I could think of.

The thing about establishing a connection with some and becoming true friends is that it takes time. It takes a desire to be friends and a commitment on the part of both parties. Most importantly, I discovered, is that it takes room in the other person’s life for you. That’s a biggie. It has to be a two way street.

There was one gal in the church we attended that I really tried to become good friends with. Our kids were close in age, our husbands got along, she was a lot of fun and I really liked her. And so I pursued her friendship (not in a weird, stalking way; just tried to be available as a friend, hoping to develop a good friend). I babysat her kids whenever she asked me, we took her kids with us on outings, we invited them to do things with us. We became friends, yes, but it was definitely not an equal friendship. Have you ever felt like you were down the list a bit with someone when it comes to friendship? She already had a longstanding best friend…and a second best friend…and a third best friend…and none of them were me and never would be me. She already had a circle of close friends and really didn’t have room or the time commitment or the desire for another member. I was outside of that circle.

This really came to light when I invited her and her kids to dinner one night when her husband was out of town for several days. I went all out. I guess I wanted to show her that I could be a good friend when she needed one. I cooked a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, right down to homemade rolls and pies. It took me all afternoon to get ready. The time came for her to come to dinner…and we waited…and we waited…and we waited. She finally showed up two hours late with barely an apology. She had been at her BEST friend’s house and just didn’t bother to call me to let me know she would be late. I felt so unvalued and stupid for even trying. One other time she un-invited us at the last minute to her New Year’s Eve party (the one with all of the close circle friends, the “in” group at church) with an excuse that her oldest daughter didn’t feel like Eric liked to play board games and that really bothered her daughter. It was the first time we had been invited into the “in” group’s private activities. I just don’t think there was room for us.

Another time, a ladies activity was organized for an evening out and we all were to meet at the church. I showed up, along with a couple of other gals, and we sat in the parking lot for a while. Finally, we realized no one else was going to show up and so we went home. Later, we found out the location to meet had been changed, but only the “inside” group members had been called. No one had even thought about calling the rest of us. (I know we weren’t the only ones in the church aware of the “inside” group…and then everybody else.) It wasn’t on purpose; it just never crossed their minds to call us. They all had a great evening out, we learned, while the rest of us just went home. We stayed friends, as did the rest of our families and the families in the group and other people in the church, but I always had a keen awareness of where I stood in the friendship hierarchy. I also learned that it doesn’t do any good to pursue friendships with someone who doesn’t equally value you.

All of those situations were bitter pills to swallow, but I swallowed them (along with my hurt), put on a good face, and carried on. That’s what I’d learned growing up as a preacher’s kid, wasn’t it? To hide whatever is wrong and put on a good face; be the perfect example of…whatever. I hadn’t learned how to problem-solve within interpersonal relationships. I had learned to suck it up, deal with it privately, get over it, smile, and keep going.

So, why am I telling these stories? Because whatever tools that are in your toolbox at the exact moment your child dies – emotional, spiritual, experiences, upbringing, support, family, mental health, physical health, whatever the tools may be that are available to you – those are the only tools you have available to you as you begin your walk into the “valley of the shadow of death.” When a child dies suddenly, there is no time to develop the tools needed to handle that horrendous loss. What you have in your toolbox is all you have in your toolbox to work with.

For me, most of my friendships were still situational. I realized this fact when the kids were all in college, I was done homeschooling, and I was transitioning into a new stage of my life. No matter how hard and how many years I had tried to rectify my tendency to develop situational friendships, I hadn’t entirely succeeded in breaking that pattern. It didn’t seem as though those friendships were carrying over into the next stage of my life, and it made me very sad. I felt very alone. I started going to the ladies Bible study at church (we were going to a very large church by then), trying to connect with people there. I went early, talked to people, made notes of what we had talked about so I wouldn’t forget. I reviewed my notes before going each time, in case I saw the same gal again. I invited someone now and then to have lunch with me afterward. Sounds pathetic, I know, but I didn’t want to live my life without friends. Once again, I found people have to have room in their lives for you and that it takes time. I decided I needed to put my energy into going back to school to prepare for the next stage of life…and then Jason died two months later.

So, when Jason died, my toolbox contained mostly situational friendships, biological family that all lived a long distance away, a large church we attended where we were not well connected. Nearly all of those people did not or could not walk with us after Jason died. They all disappeared. It contained an independent view of myself. It contained self-reliance. I was viewed as independent and self sufficient by others, too. It contained a helpful personality. I grew up in a family that never asked for help (we were taught to be very proud our stoic, independent Norwegian heritage), and so I didn’t see myself as needing help. I was a person who provided help and support – facilitating organizations and meetings, organizing study groups and field trips, helping out when someone needed assistance, teaching classes, etc.; I wasn’t the person who needed support or help.

Some tools I needed were definitely lacking. My toolbox lacked a strong support system. It lacked family that lived close by. It lacked the ability to know how to ask for help. (When I did ask for help, I failed miserably.) It lacked the ability  to know how to confront situations and resolve them, instead of swallowing the bitter pills and carrying on. It lacked any knowledge on how to handle such deep grief. My toolbox lacked a lot of the tools I needed for the walk of grief ahead of me.

Thankfully, my toolbox contained a strong relationship with my daughter and husband. It contained the connection to a gal who, although we were not close at the time of Jason’s death, became and still is my best friend. I don’t know what I would have done without them. It contained my intellect and my commitment to get an education to prepare for the next stage of my life, having started back to school two months before Jason died. It got me out of bed and out of the house.

Out of necessity, I have developed other tools that are now in my toolbox. Not all of them are particularly helpful, though. I carry a big shield that I keep at the ready. I hide behind it at times. I guard my heart with it. It keeps me from being open and vulnerable, especially with new people and those who have hurt me. It’s one I developed out of necessity – one I developed early on when my heart was so raw and hurting, and the people we counted on could not be there for us, deserted us, and hurt us so badly. It protects me from not being hurt like that again. It also keeps me alone and makes it difficult to make new friends. It also contains a lack of trust, a lack of belief that other people have the possibility of having our best interest at heart. And so, I hold people at arms’ length. I’m trying to change that one, but it’s not an easy thing to do.

My toolbox now contains the tool of deflection. I learned early on that most people don’t know how to react to being told our son died. Some do not react very well. Some pretend like I didn’t even mention Jason. Some people get really awkward, and then start treating us like a pariah. Some people act like we are invisible and that they don’t see us.

The summer after Jason died, I ran into a clerk that I knew in our local Albertson’s. She only worked part of the year (summer), since she and her husband wintered in Arizona. As she helped me with my deli order, she was very friendly and chatted away. Then she asked, “How are the kids? What are they up to?” I hadn’t quite developed this tool of deflection yet and said, “I suppose you heard Jason was killed by a drunk driver earlier this year.” It was like someone slammed the door in my face. Her physical reaction was dramatic; she just sort of crumpled. She didn’t say another word, frantically finished my order, shoved it across the counter at me and tried to get away from me as quickly as she could. She was a mess!! I went behind the counter and gave her a hug. I didn’t know what else to do. She wasn’t being mean or anything; she just didn’t know what to do or say, I’m sure. I deflect talking about Jason’s death or steer conversations away from certain topics, not because I don’t want to talk about him or because I don’t care about him, but that I’d rather choose how and when I talk about the death of our precious boy. I don’t want to intentionally cause awkward situations. I guess I just need to make sure that Jason’s death matters to the person I’m talking to and that they can handle it. It hurts me too much to feel that someone doesn’t care that Jason died.

My toolbox also contains compassion. I no longer have the fear of talking to someone who has lost someone close. When I worked for a probate attorney in Oklahoma, I had no hesitation in expressing my condolences and asking how I could help. I could talk about the subject of death with the client. I’ve always been one who hugs people, but now I am no hesitant to step forward and hug someone who is hurting.

Although this certainly is nowhere near the complete list of the tools I had in my toolbox when Jason died, the tools I lacked when Jason died, or the tools I have developed since Jason died, I think you get the idea. We bring with us into deep grief – like tools in a toolbox – our upbringing, our personality, our experiences, our education, our emotional growth. We bring our attitudes, our strengths and weaknesses. We bring our connections to friends and family. Whoever we are to that point in our lives and whatever tools we have developed and have available to us at the exact moment our child dies, especially in the case of a sudden death, those are the only tools we have available to us at that exact starting point of our grief journey. It affects so much of how we grieve, how we react, how much support we have, how long it takes us to come to grips with who we are now and what the world around us now contains (or doesn’t contain). It affects whether or not we have PTSD.

It’s important to know that there are now (better than when Jason died) some really good resources out there, and some really good information for both the parent who child has died and those who know a parent whose child has died. I am so thankful for bereaved parents who write and talk about their experiences. By far, no two grieving parents have the same experience after the death of a child. We are all so different, our losses are different, and the available tools we have in our toolbox are different. We can learn from each other, though, and encourage each other. We can’t affect how other people treat us or whether or not they stick beside us. But we can talk about our experiences and what worked and didn’t work for us.

What’s in your toolbox? Would love to hear your input on this subject.

~Becky

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney