Between a Rock and a Hard Place – After the Death of a Child

The thing about the death if a child is that it doesn’t only change one thing…or even a group of things. It changes everything!

The first thing changed, of course, is the huge vacancy left by the departed child. There is absolutely nothing that can fill that void. The whole landscape of a parent’s world has changed; their whole lives have changed. Bereaved parents speak of losing their bearings, of feeling like they are falling down a black hole with nothing to stop their fall, of being adrift on a vast ocean with waves of grief threatening to down them, of losing themselves or of feeling lost, of the world looking bleak and dark. Absolutely everything surrounding a bereaved parent changes. Nothing is the same.

The second thing changed is the people involved. The closer a person is to the child who died, the more that person is changed. As a mother, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am nowhere near the person I used to be. Once strong, I am now broken. Once trusting, now wary. Once open, now guarded. Once hopeful, now struggling with hopelessness. Once easily laughing, now struggling to hide my sadness. Once positive, now skirting the depths of depression. I could go on and on.

The third thing changed is relationships. People disappear immediately or over time. Friends we thought we could count on are no longer anywhere to be found. Meeting new people is difficult, because some of them can’t handle or don’t know how to react to such a loss. Even answering the simple question “How many children do you have?” is tricky. It’s the rare person who comes alongside a broken person for the long haul.

The fourth thing changed is the future. The path of graduations, marriages, grandchildren – all of these change. The assumed path is obliterated, and we have to find a new path to walk – one that will no longer include these events for or with our child. We have to figure out a way to rejoice in the celebrations and events of others while masking our own sorrow at not being able to celebrate these events with our child who died.

The fifth thing changed is our physical being. Energy levels drop. Some people find solace in drugs or alcohol. Weight gain, insomnia, eating too little, eating too much, heart palpitations, hair greying or loss, just to name a few. Grief is a huge stressor on our bodies, so it is a logical conclusion that our bodies would be affected. And, yes, you can die from a broken heart, as recent research has shown.

Another thing that changes is jobs and hobbies. A job or career that once brought satisfaction or fulfillment (or at least was worth working to pay the bills) no longer satisfies or fulfills. Hobbies that were once fun now are fraught with painful memories or no longer hold the same appeal. There is a deep yearning for life to have meaning, and former jobs/careers or hobbies no longer seem to hold much meaning. Bereaved parents look for a new way to find fulfillment. Surely something good has to come from all this pain, doesn’t it? Surely there is something I could do that would honor the memory of our son and his life.

I’m sure there are many other changes bereaved parents experience. We are truly between a rock and a hard place – wishing we could change that moment in time when our child died, all the while trying to figure out how to create a meaningful future. I welcome your input. Hugs to each of you on your continued and changed journey.

~Becky

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

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As a mother who has two children waiting for her in heaven, this made me cry. I look forward to that day when I will see Jason again and meet the baby we never knew. (By the way, just a reminder that this is not about politics. It’s about the death of a child and a joyful reunion.)

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Credit: https://www.facebook.com/marshallramseyfanpage/posts/1665775960142290?hc_location=ufi

A death more painful than her own:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/04/17/one-last-time-barbara-bush-has-already-faced-a-death-more-painful-than-her-own/?utm_term=.e1fa854e9722

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

Missing Pieces

As I mentioned before, I have been working on a memory quilt. I have been using pieces of fabric from clothes my grandmother, mother, daughter, sister and I have sewn over the years, supplementing  with pieces of new fabric depicting something that creates a memory for me. I still haven’t gotten up the courage to cut the shirts I saved that belonged to Jason.

 

 

To supplement the fabric I had, I have bought pieces of fabric that remind me of playing Yahtzee and other games with Jason, fabric that reminds me of making fresh strawberry jam and Jason using a piece of bread to get the last bit off the bottom of the pan. Fabric with a teddy bear hugging a blanket that reminded me so strongly of Jason when he was a baby that it made me cry. He loved his blanket – his “EE,” he called it. I have bought pieces of fabric that remind me of family vacations and other things we used to do. Memories.

 

 

 

The local fabric shops haven’t had much of what I have been looking for, so I have had to resort to ordering online – etsy, fabric.com, eBay, etc. Of course, it ends up being much more expensive than walking into a local fabric store to make a purchase because shipping costs really add up on top of the cost of the fabric. Also, I take the chance of the item not being the quality I would want or the size I need to fit into my quilt pieces or whatever.

I ordered several pieces from a few vendors on etsy, after spending a great deal of time looking and looking. Each package comes with tracking, so I can see when they are delivered. Two packages showed they were delivered to our mailbox on Saturday, March 17th, at 1:09 p.m., but they simply weren’t there. They never showed up. I asked our neighbor if he got them by accident, and he had not.

My husband went to the post office with the tracking numbers on Monday, and the postmistress (after looking up the tracking numbers in their GPS system) said they were delivered to and left in the mailbox of an entirely different address nowhere near us!!! They flat out gave them to the wrong people.

She asked the driver and, of course, he didn’t remember anything about them and they weren’t in his truck. She drove out the the address and couldn’t find them in any mailbox or locate anyone to ask if they had received them. When I called to ask her on Tuesday about the packages, she said that people usually realize they have something that doesn’t belong to them and bring them back in. She suggested we just wait a couple weeks to see if they show up.

I called her again on Friday to find out the status of my packages. She said that on Thursday they had put notices in the mailboxes of any address that was similar enough to ours that could have received the package, asking them to return them to the post office if they had them. So far, they still haven’t shown up.

This is just so frustrating to me. Besides the absolute incompetence of the post office delivering my items to someone else and some person having the audacity to keep what doesn’t belong to them, I feel like I have such an emotional investment into making this quilt that it’s hard not to react emotionally. It just makes me want to cry or yell at someone or something. Don’t they know how important this is to me? No, of course they don’t, and they really couldn’t care less.

The vendors did not ship the packages with insurance, so I have no recourse for them to replace the items. They shouldn’t have to replace something and be out of pocket because the post office lost their shipments. I shouldn’t have to put out more money to replace them because of the incompetence of the post office. If they don’t show up this week, I’m going to contact the U.S. Postal Inspector and file a report with them.

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

UPDATE: 3/27/18

Still no lost packages found and delivered by the post office. I stopped by today to talk to the postmistress. She said she has done everything she could do. I asked if I could file a claim with the post office to get the money back I had spent for the items they had lost. She said that, unfortunately, if the shipping vendor didn’t think the contents were worth insuring (which neither of them had sent with insurance), then the post office doesn’t consider them of any value and will not pay for the lost items.

Perhaps it’s time to switch gears for a while and start collecting fabric for the butterfly quilt I’ve been thinking about. I’m open to suggestions on where to get some fabric that won’t cost me an arm and a leg!!

 

Music

Some days I need to turn up the music loud, concentrate and breathe…just to turn down the sadness in my heart so I don’t fall apart. Today is one of those days.

Jason loved to brighten his family’s and friend’s day by surprising them with flowers, and his last Valentine’s Day was no exception. I had the privilege of going with Jason as he picked out the biggest and best bouquet of roses for the girl he took out on that last Valentine’s Day. His sister was going through a rough time, so he also picked out the biggest and best bouquet of roses for her to encourage her and let her know she was loved and valued. He was just so thoughtful like that.

Oh, my boy, how I miss you.

~Becky

Memory Quilt

When we lived in Oklahoma, I started making a memory quilt. I pulled it out last week to start working on it again. Even though I have lost so many things that meant something to me in our many moves, I somehow managed to keep pieces of leftover fabric from my family of sewers – from my grandma, my mom, my own sewing from jr. high on, my sister’s sewing (my wedding dress, Easter outfits for Jenna, etc.), Jenna’s sewing, etc.

I have pieces of fabric from one of the first dresses I ever sewed for myself, pajamas I made when the kids were little, shirts I made for the boys and dresses I made for Jenna. I have a piece of fabric from a robe I made and wore in the hospital when Eric was born. I have scrap pieces from shirts my grandma made for herself and from dresses and shirts my mom made for herself. In my mind, I can picture each and every article of clothing and the person who wore it. I am supplementing with fabric I’ve purchased that triggers a memory for me – a piece of fabric with pictures of chocolate chip cookies (because Jason loved to make chocolate chip cookies), video games the kids used to love, chess pieces (Jason’s favorite game), math quotes, etc.

One thing I terribly regret is not keeping more of Jason’s clothing. I’ve talked before about feeling pushed to go through his room before I was ready and how I would do things differently if I knew then what I know now. I kept a couple of shirts, his letterman jacket, a sweater and a sweatshirt he wore all the time. I have a Halloween costume I made when Jason was little, a white tee shirt and one with the Pillsbury dough boy that he loved. I’m not sure I actually have the courage to cut them up to put into my quilt. I also have a couple of Jason’s hats that he loved as a little boy.

Jason didn’t have a lot of clothes and, even though he was a tee shirt kind of guy, he always looked classy. He loved dressing up in three piece suits, white shirt and tie, dress slacks and a vest, a tux and his top hat, white gloves and cane for extra-special occasions. I have his hats and gloves, although the cane was lost somewhere along the way.

This week I sat hugging his letterman jacket and crying. It’s a tough time of year for me, this approach to March 3rd. Hugging a coat is a poor substitute for hugging my boy.

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Jason David Carney – 7/29/82 – 3/3/02

Missing you, Jason. I love you.

~Mom

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Baby Mine

jumbo_dumbo_storkI love most Disney movies, and one of my early favorites when the kids were little was Dumbo. The gist of the story is that, after a long-awaited arrival, the stork delivers baby Dumbo to his mother, Mrs. Jumbo. Everyone thinks he is so cute – until he unfurls his huge ears, and then everyone is shocked and horrified because he is so different. They turn their backs on him and exclude him. They make fun of him and one of the other elephants calls him a “freak.” Mrs. Jumbo, though, adores him just as he is.

clipdumbo212As the circus opens to the public, mama elephant proudly encourages her offspring to meet the people. But, as kids at the circus make fun of him for his ears, his mother moves him away from the tormentors to protect him. When they keep harassing and making fun of him, she goes berserk at the thought that anyone would hurt or torment her precious little one. She would do anything to protect her baby from the insults. As a result of her actions, she is deemed violent and forcibly separated from Dumbo, locked up in a solitary cage. At one point, lonely Dumbo goes to visit mama elephant in her prison, and Mrs. Jumbo sings the song “Baby Mine” to Dumbo, her precious little one. It’s a universal song with a universal message – one that every mother would wish to impress upon the hearts of her children – of how wonderful and precious they are, just as they are. In the end, Dumbo learns that what makes him different is what makes him special.

I recently watched an interview on PBS of Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer-winning journalist whose son is autistic. Of the Dumbo film, Mr. Suskind says:

“Dumbo, in a way, is a simple story, and its simplicity – the core of it – is of such powerful resonance that it sneaks up and just whacks you…It’s a moment of love and of arrival, of birth. And then the ears!! Oh, my! Just look at those ears! There isn’t anyone who doesn’t feel pain then. ‘It’s all the fault of that f-r-e-a-k.’

‘I don’t want to be the outcast. Don’t leave me behind. And the things that make me different, I want to hide them. I don’t want people to see that. I don’t want to be left out’…Dumbo’s about how we all yearn to be part of the main, how we all just want to be like everyone else.

I’m just different, but the thing that make me different is the not a thing I need to wrestle with and hide. It’s a thing, once I recognize, it allows me to soar. It’s not ‘in spite of’ what makes me different that I did it, it’s because of it.”

Not to over-analyze a children’s cartoon, but this story speaks to me on several levels.

First – for all of those children who are different or feel different, for those who aren’t accepted or are bullied for some real or perceived flaw – you have something inside of you that makes you very special. Some very successful people have gone through periods of time when others didn’t believe in them (Albert Einstein, John Lennon, etc.). People who were considered “geeks” in school have changed the world (Bill Gates, and many others). Believe in yourself. Give yourself time to soar.

Second – a mother’s love is stronger than any chain. My kids have all been – as the song says – “close to my heart never to part…you’re so precious to me, sweet as can be, baby of mine.” I hope they know how much I loved them from the minute they were born and how much they have meant to me every minute of every day from the minute I knew I was pregnant. The only thing I ever wanted to be in this life was a mom. There have been times when my heart was so full of love for my children – so full of awe and wonder that they were actually our precious children, born into our family and given to us by God –  that my heart could hardly hold it all.

Third – no one likes to feel like an outsider. The one thing about the deep grief following the death of a child is that it can be a very lonely walk. I remember recognizing the feeling that I would never be the same, that people would never look at me the same after Jason died. After his death, one of Jason’s friends posted on his social media account  that he would never be able to look at us or Alina’s parents the same, that he would always see us as “marked.”  At a Christmas concert that first year, I remember glancing across the room in time to see friends, heads huddled close together talking, as they were obviously discussing Joe and me.

As bereaved parents, you become the ultimate outsider. I remember feeling like I was on the other side of the glass wall, looking in, as people celebrated this or that. The everyday joys belonged to others and not to me. I still feel that way. Unless you have walked this walk, I can’t imagine one would understand what it’s like to have relationships with people you value disappear into thin air – not just for a while, but literally for years or forever. We became pariahs, through none of our own actions. I literally never heard from some people ever again, people I had known for years and considered great “Christian” people, good friends.

Others expected me to understand how difficult it was for them to be around me. One gal wrote, “You have often been in my prayers, my thoughts. I want to call, come to visit, but I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to relate to your pain and like a chicken I stay away and I don’t call and I don’t visit. I have many reminders of you…so I do pray…and my thoughts go to you and your pain and how hard it must be every day to live with the reminders and the emptiness.” She goes on to talk about how difficult it is going to be to have her son, Jason’s friend, go off to college and how much she will miss him and that the hardest part of parenting is letting go. She ended the note by saying she would have access to a car soon and that she would “make work of seeing” me. I never did hear from her.

I learned early on that I had to hide my grief and make it palatable so that people would want to be around me. At least, I thought I had to make it palatable. In retrospect, I’m not sure it made any difference. People disappeared, anyway, and I don’t think there was anything I could have done about it.

I, especially, think it was difficult for our daughter being “different” at 17 years old. It’s never easy being the teenage girl who is different than everyone else, and losing your brother in a car accident really sets us apart from everyone else. While other girls were buying prom dresses and planning for graduation, she was helping pick out her brother’s casket and choosing photos and songs for his memorial service. I wish I could say her friends stepped up and surrounded her with love and caring, but that was far from the case. She and Jason were so close their entire lives, and I would have done anything to spare her the pain she walked through. Losing a brother is horrendous; being made to feel an outcast because of it is also a horrible thing.

I’m not sure I agree entirely with the last paragraph of Mr. Suskind’s comments about difficulties or differences making us soar. It rather feels like one of those “what doesn’t kill us makes us strongerplatitudes. But, because of what we have walked through, I feel like I have a deeper empathy for those who suffer deep loss. I hope so. And I hope I can do my small part to raise awareness of what it’s like to be the bereaved parent and sibling to a fantastic, wonderful, incredible, phenomenal young man like Jason. If I can encourage some measure of kindness toward bereaved families, I will feel like I have done my part.

Miss you always, my precious boy.

Baby Mine

Baby mine, don’t you cry.
Baby mine, dry your eyes.
Rest your head close to my heart,
Never to part,
Baby of mine.

Little one, when you play;
Don’t you mind what they say.
Let those eyes sparkle and shine,
Never a tear,
Baby of mine.

If they knew sweet little you
They’d end up loving you too.
All those same people who scold you;
What they’d give just for the right to hold you.

From your head down to your toes,
You’re not much, goodness knows.
But you’re so precious to me,
Sweet as can be,
Baby of mine.

All of those people who scold you,
What they’d give just for the right to hold you.

From your head down to your toes
You’re not much, goodness knows.
But you’re so precious to me,
Sweet as can be,
Baby of mine.
Baby of mine

Dumbo photos courtesy of https://www.disneyclips.com
© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

Too much time on my hands

I came down with that nasty flu bug a week ago. It hit me hard and then went into pneumonia. About the only place I have been out of the house for the past week has been to go to either urgent care or to the emergency room. It’s left me totally miserable, with barely enough energy to take a shower some mornings. Add on top of that that I had “ice pick” headaches nonstop in addition to a horrible “regular” nonstop headache for the first five days, it’s about put me at my max. (Ice pick headaches are just what they sound like – horrible, sharp headaches that feel like someone is hitting your head with an ice pick.)

My husband and I are not ones to just sit around the house. We like to go and do things. We don’t watch tv during the day. Because I grew up without a tv until I was in high school, I max out on tv fairly quickly. But, because of being so sick, let’s just say there’s been a lot of sitting and laying around the house on my part. I’ve been napping when I felt tired, which I suppose is what I need to do, but it’s messed up my sleeping schedule some. I’ve been waking up at night and my mind won’t shut off.

Last night, I woke up thinking of Jason. Not that he’s ever far from my thoughts, but the pictures and vignettes of things we used to do played clearly in rapid succession. My cuddly little baby boy. High energy toddler. Determined little guy. Loving hugger. Oh, how I wanted to step back into that time and hold that little guy in my arms. I started crying and couldn’t stop.

Oh, how I miss you, my boy.

~Becky

 

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney