Jury Duty

I received a summons to serve on a jury in a few weeks, one of only three I’ve received in my lifetime.

The first one, as instructed, I called in the night before I was to report and was told I wasn’t needed.

The second one, I asked to be excused from serving. I had received the summons not long after the criminal court proceedings had concluded and the young man who killed Jason and Alina was sentenced to prison. There was no way I could go back into that same courthouse so soon after that. Once I explained the circumstances, I was readily excused.

This time, I will just have to wait and see what happens. I know that most criminal cases never reach the jury stage; they are dismissed or reach a plea bargain. I’m happy to complete my civic duty in this regard, although I strongly feel the potential weight of deciding someone’s fate held in the hands of us mere mortals.

I haven’t written much about the criminal court proceedings following Jason’s and Alina’s deaths. Most people don’t realize that there may be an additional criminal court element to a child’s death when the death is not of natural causes, and this can really complicate or prolong the grieving process. Perhaps I’ll write about it soon. Things like this jury summons have brought to mind that part of our journey.

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

Soldiering On

Growing up on a home with an older father – one of old-fashioned, strict, stoic Norwegian heritage – one thing I learned early was now to soldier on no matter what else was going on. Bad day at school or big test the next day? Didn’t matter. We got off our 1.5 hour bus ride home (school was 50 miles away) and off we went to Wednesday night church service, a 30-minute drive the opposite direction. I only missed one Wednesday or Sunday church service my entire growing up years. Huge snow storm and -40 degrees? Didn’t matter. Off to church or school we went. Argument with my mother about wanting to wear jeans to church on Sunday night? Didn’t matter. Out came the positive attitude and the nice-y, nice-y smiles if someone called or dropped by. One big, happy family.

I recently had a discussion with my sister about a bluegrass group we saw that was made up of siblings aged 7, 10 and 12. As a person who sees both sides of the coin on nearly everything, I wondered equally at their amazing talent and whether they had been coerced into forming a family band. The girls looked uncomfortable at times. The boy (7 years old) did most of the talking and sounded very scripted. He just didn’t sound like a typical 7-year old would sound. I guess it reminded me of our growing up years.

Our discussion included whether we felt coerced to perform or whether it was just the life we knew. One of my earliest memories was being paraded on stage and standing beside my sister as she quoted the 23rd Psalm to the audience. I’m sure it was really cute to have these two little girls up on stage (we were probably 2 and 4; we’re 16 months apart), but I remember feeling uncomfortable and looking up at my sister, wondering how she could remember all those words.

Was it our choice to perform at church, on the radio? I honestly don’t know. It was the life we knew from our birth. With both of my parents being school teachers as well as my dad being a pastor and all of us being on the radio every Sunday morning, I grew up feeling like I had the word “example” tattooed on my forehead. My dad felt a very strong mission to preach the gospel, and he took his family along on the journey. I would rather have gone on the journey than be left out. Sometimes it was really fun, sometimes it felt like a burden. But we always did what was expected of us and soldiered on.

This morning I did something that was unusual for me. I’ve had a bad cold that has settled into my lungs and sinuses. I stayed home a couple of days last week when it was at its worst, mainly because I didn’t feel it was fair to share it. Because of a cough that I can’t seem to kick, I have hardly slept at all for quite a few nights. However, I have gotten up and gone to work every day this week, no matter how tired I was or how bad I felt. That “soldiering on” mode just keeps kicking in. I learned it well.

Anyway, this morning I was just dragging. I thought, “What am I doing? What am I trying to prove and to whom am I trying to prove it? I just need some extra rest!” So, I sent a message to my boss that I was going to work a couple of short days and try to get some additional rest so I could feel better. Take care of myself. What a novel idea! His response was positive; he was okay with that. I laid down on the couch and immediately fell back asleep for over an hour. The extra rest was what I needed.

After Jason died, not knowing what else to do, we all went back to what we knew. Jenna and I went back to college. Joe went back to work. Eric went back to college and work. Jason had died on a Sunday. By the following Monday – six days after the accident – the memorial service was over, Jason was buried, everyone had gone home, and we were back on the treadmill of the life we knew. Soldiering on.

Except that the life we knew was no more. The “we” we knew were no more. Relationships we depended on were no more. People we counted on were gone. Everything changed. Absolutely everything. You can’t soldier on when everything changes. It’s way too exhausting and simply not necessary. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

Grieving is such hard work – mentally, physically, spiritually, in every other way you can think of, even if you have lots of support. We had no resources and very little support. We were exhausted. I have come to the opinion that, without resources and support, grief and the things we experience and the secondary losses following the death of a child go much deeper, affect us to a greater degree and stay with us a lot longer.

I am so thankful that there are so many more resources now than there were when Jason died. If a griever or friend of a griever really wants to, they can find a resource that may help. Not to say that finding a resource in any way diminishes the depth of grief; it just may provide some guidance along this long and difficult path and let the griever know they are not alone.

My suggestion to parents and families who have lost a loved one is this: don’t try to soldier on. Take care of yourself. Take care of your family. Give yourself time to grieve, no matter how long it takes. People who have not walked this walk of deep grief won’t understand the journey or how long it takes, anyway, and you have nothing to prove to them. Be true to yourself and your own journey. Some things have to be taken care of, that’s true. Do what you have to do and let some of the other things go. Give yourself permission to get off the treadmill. Give yourself permission not to solider on. Give yourself permission to grieve.

~Hugs,

Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

Remembering and Chocolate Chip Cookies

On Saturday, I posted on FaceBook a similar post to the one I posted here. Several people responded about baking chocolate chip cookies on March 3rd to remember Jason, along with other kind remembrances. I just had to share one of my favorite responses from a friend of Jason’s and Alina’s who baked chocolate chip cookies with his daughter.

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Juliette and I made chocolate chip cookies this evening. We talked a lot about Jason and Alina and how significantly treating people nicely can affect others.

(Posted with permission)

When I asked for permission to post this on my blog, the friend said this:

I think of both Jason and Alina often and what a positive impact they would have made on this world if things had been different. I hope that in some way our memories of their positive spirits can allow some of that impact to live even without them being here.

This whole exchange touched me incredibly. What more of a legacy could a person wish to leave than he or she be remembered by how nicely they treated other people? That this young man would use the memory of Jason and Alina and their lives to help teach the next generation to be kind is such an amazing thing. I think that would have made both of them very happy. It’s exactly what this world needs more of – niceness and kindness.

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

Memories

sc0021f1ec01I’m going to be honest. This is a really rough time of year for me. Tomorrow is the anniversary of Jason’s and Alina’s deaths at the hand of a drunk driver.
 
“Anniversary” is such an out-of-place word to use when talking about the death of a child. “Anniversary” is usually used in conjunction with a happy occasion. If a person says, “It’s my anniversary,” there is an automatic assumption that that person is celebrating the number of years he or she has been married. It’s a happy occasion commemorated with dinner and gifts and congratulations.
 
I know people use the word “anniversary” when talking about other things, too, though. 9/11. War events. Floods. Mud slides. Not every anniversary is celebratory.
 
For the first couple of years, I hated the 3rd of every month, beginning with that first March 3, 2002. It marked a horrifically agonizing, lonely, and excruciatingly painful time – Jason had been gone one month, two months, three months. At the two year mark, I sort of switched to years. Two years, two and a half years, three years. It sort of reminded me of the way I marked the ages of our kids when they were little – giving their ages as so many months and then switching to so many years. Instead of marking the celebration of life, it marked the number of agonizing days we had walked the earth without Jason.
 
Jason has now been gone 17 years. I can’t believe it’s been that long. It seems like forever ago…and yet yesterday. I still tend to rebel against even the thought of it. I remember that day as clear as a bell, every single thing. My heart is still so broken. I know that this whole experience has changed me in so many ways. I miss him so much. Grief lasts as long as love does – forever – and we will forever have a Jason-sized hole in our lives. He had so much of life to live, so much to give. As one friend said, “The world is a darker place without him in it.”
 
I hope you will take time to remember Jason and Alina tomorrow, the lives they lived and the people they were. We, their families, are the “keepers of the memories.” I’m sure each and every bereaved mother or father would say that one of their greatest concerns is that their child will be forgotten as the world moves on without them.
 
If you would like to honor Jason tomorrow, you could play a game of chess (Jason’s favorite game), bake and share some chocolate chip cookies (Jason loved to bake chocolate chip cookies), give someone some flowers (Jason generously gave flowers to those he loved), share an act of kindness (Jason was the most kind and loving person I have ever known), be nice to a stranger (Jason knew no strangers), hug your family and friends tight (Jason gave awesome hugs), listen to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata or Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “A Mad Russian’s Christmas” or many other songs he loved.
 
Julie Lindsey, a homeschool mom, generously gave and prepared a scrapbook for Marie and me. She asked us what we would like in them. I had asked that the scrapbook contain photos I didn’t have and written memories about Jason from those who knew him. It just happened to be around the time when people were writing victim advocate statements to present to the court for the sentencing of the young man who killed Jason and Alina, so most of the efforts went to writing letters to the court. I am very thankful for those who wrote to the court and have copies of all of those letters. It was a lot to ask for at that time.
 
Whatever memories and photographs we have of Jason and Alina are the only ones we will ever have. There are no graduation, wedding, birth of children, holiday celebrations or any other memories or photographs we will ever have of Jason past the date of March 3, 2002. The opportunity for additional memories and photographs died right along with Jason, along with his future. In our minds, Jason will forever be 19 years old.
 
Thank you for taking the time to remember Jason and Alina. We appreciate it.
 
~Becky
© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

I Just Wanted You to Know

My husband and I went to a bluegrass festival last weekend. Bluegrass more one of Joe’s preference of music style than mine, but I can certainly appreciate the musicianship and enjoy the time we spend together doing something Joe is enthusiastic about.

One of Joe’s favorite bands is called Carolina Blue. They played a song called, “I Just Wanted You to Know.” It brought tears to my eyes, because it reminded me so much of the relationship between Joe and Jason. Joe was so involved with the kids, teaching them to swim, leading them to accept Jesus into their hearts, playing games and swamp monster with them, reading to them at night. He would come home from work and take them swimming or whatever they wanted to do. The list goes on and on. He was crazy about his kids.

Joe and Jason had a special relationship. After Jason died, I remember waking up one night to find Joe sobbing, lamenting about not being able to protect him. There was absolutely nothing Joe could have done to keep that drunk driver from hitting Jason, but he still felt like he should have been able to protect him, would have protected him at all costs if he could have. I think sometimes dads are not given the adequate time to process the loss of a child. They are expected to be strong, to get up and go back to work, to carry on for everyone else.

I am so thankful for Joe and his love of his family. If there’s one thing they know, it’s that their daddy loves them.

 

I Just Wanted You to Know

That old barbershop sure was a crowded place 
When we took you for your first hair cut that Saturday 
But you sat there like a good boy, so quiet and so still 
Words can’t express the love and pride I feel

When you first called me "daddy" my heart skipped a beat 
And when you took your first big steps on those little feet 
I wish that I could slow down time ‘cuz our lives are moving fast
Why can’t these precious days of childhood last?

And your smile lights up the world I’m living in 
And your laughter is music to my soul 
And no matter what you do in life, no matter where you go 
Your daddy loves you; I just wanted you to know

The way you tap your little toes when the music starts 
And your warm smile would melt the coldest icy heart 
I want to give you all the things my dad couldn’t give to me 
And help you be the man I couldn’t be

I hope the Lord has heard all these prayers that I’ve prayed 
And He’ll help me be the best dad for you each and every day 
To guide you down life’s pathways and keep your footsteps right 
And show you all the love I have inside

And your smile lights up the world I’m living in 
And your laughter is music to my soul 
And no matter what you do in life, no matter where you go 
Your daddy loves you; I just wanted you to know

And no matter what you do in life, no matter where you go 
Your daddy loves you; I just wanted you to know

(I couldn’t find copyright information on this song, but it was written by Bobby Powell of the Carolina Blue bluegrass band.)

Missing my precious boy. Jason David Carney 7/29/82 – 3/3/02

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Walking Wounded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, how I miss my boy.

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney