“It Never Becomes Okay”

A recent article stated that legendary actress Vanessa Redgrave is “still coping with the loss of her daughter Natasha Richardson.” Her daughter, Natasha Richardson, died in a skiing accident ten years ago. The article goes on to quote Ms. Redgrave as saying, “Time does not heal; that would seem to me to say that suddenly it’s OK, and it’s not…It never becomes OK.”

Any parent who has lost a child would agree that “it never becomes okay.”

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

My husband and I are going back to Seattle for Christmas this year. It’s been three years since we’ve been there. Although we no longer actually have a physical home there, Seattle will always feel like home to me. It’s never an easy thing to do, this going back to the “home” that used to be, the one that remained after Jason died.

I know that there will be times when we will be in places that are poignantly familiar. I know that, at times, there may be triggers. We will go to visit Jason’s grave. I know that we will miss Jason like crazy.

As I cleaned closets today, one of the songs that came on my iTunes was a song sung by Jimmy Durante – “I’ll be Seeing You.” It brought tears to my eyes.

I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through
In that small cafe
The park across the way
The children’s carousel
The chestnut trees, the wishing well
I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summers day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way
I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll seeing you.
Songwriters: Irving Kahal / Sammy Fain
I’ll Be Seeing You lyrics © BMG Rights Management
Here’s to you, my precious boy. I know that everywhere I look, I’ll be seeing you and missing you. Life is not the same without you.
~Mom
© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

‘Tis a Fearful Thing

‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch

A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –

to be,
And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

And a holy thing,

a holy thing
to love.

For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.”

Judah Halevi

For a parent whose child has died, the awareness that death CAN touch the people you love at any time is greatly enhanced. Before Jason died, I innocently was unaware of the ravages and searing grief the death of a child can leave in its wake. I guess I felt immune. I felt that God heard my fervent prayers and protected my family. My life had a plan. My kids were going to grow up, go to college, get married, have grandkids for us to love and spoil.

It never dawned on my that one of my children would die – at least not before me, not as a healthy, wonderful, handsome 19-year old with the whole world before him. I was so excited for Jason as he was ready to enter the next phase of his life – finish and graduate from college, get a job, get married, have kids. I couldn’t wait to hold Jason’s kids. I was looking forward to rejoicing with him on the various aspects of his life. He was my sunshine, my joy, my precious boy. I didn’t expect him to die. I didn’t expect to outlive him. I didn’t expect death to touch him.

For a long time after Jason died, panic and fear gripped my heart with each siren I heard.  I tend to worry about things concerning my family, anyway – Joe climbing on the roof to clean the gutters, Jenna driving a long distance, stuff like that – but now, there’s an understanding of stark reality behind the worry.

In some respects, I suppose it’s like anything traumatic – you don’t know the walk until you’ve actually walked the walk. We all know on some level of subconscious understanding that people we love will die. We know to some extent that it will be hard to lose someone we love and that we will grieve their death. We assume we will outlive our parents, our grandparents, but know that at some point they will die before we do. We just don’t expect our children to die.

I love my family so much. It is a fearful thing to realize that I am not immune from death’s reach, that they are not immune, that death can reach out and touch the ones I so dearly love. I don’t live in fear, but sometimes the window cracks open to that fear, because I truly know beyond a shadow of a doubt that death can reach out and touch any of those I love at any time. We are frail human beings. Jason worked out at the school gym and played various sports. He took care of himself. He was smart and wise beyond his years. He was physically strong. But he was physically no match for a speeding car driven by a drunk driver.

As I sat across from my husband in the Wild Wing Cafe yesterday, watching the Carolina Panther football game on the big screen TV’s, I felt a huge rush of overwhelming love for Joe. He is such a wonderful man and I love him so much. He is kind, thoughtful, fun. That rush of love was followed by the thought, “I don’t know what I’d do without him.” I seriously don’t know what I would do without him, and the thought of that gripped my heart with anguish. It is a fearful thing to think of a life without him. It is a fearful thing to think about living without any of my family.

Because Joe is retired and I am still working, Joe will call me quite often when he is close by to see if I would like to have lunch. I say Joe is retired, but he has never been one to sit still. He helps our older neighbor around his house and yard, he drives for Uber and Lyft, he helps out around the office with whatever may need done in the maintenance area. He likes to stay busy. I’m sure it seems odd to the people in the office that I go to lunch with Joe as much as I do, but I truly appreciate every moment I have with Joe.

In the whole scheme of things, we are rather frail, fragile creatures. No matter what precautions we take, there are a lot of things beyond our control. We and the people we love are given only a certain number of days. Our days are finite. We are given only a certain number of days with the people we love. I never, ever would have thought in my wildest nightmares that I would have only 7,157 days with Jason. We have to do our best to make each and every one of our days count, and to show the people in our lives how much we care for and appreciate them.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

Remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered–how fleeting my life is. Psalm 39:4

https://biblehub.com/psalms/39-4.htm

Oh, my boy. How I miss you. “Your life has lived in me, your laugh once lifted me, your word was gift to me. To remember this brings painful joy.” ‘Tis a painful thing that death reached out and took you from us. I love you yesterday, today, forever. ~Mom

Hugs,

as always,

~Becky

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

Empathy

One of Jason’s outstanding qualities, among his many, was his kind and caring heart and that he was a very empathic person. Even as a little boy, Jason had so much empathy. He had the ability to understand what others felt on such a personal level.

Empathy is described as “…the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own. You can imagine yourself in their place in order to understand what they are feeling or experiencing.” (Psychology Today – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/empathy)

One Christmas my husband’s sister sent a book to the kids, something along the line of “how things work.” One of the articles in the book had to do with tear ducts and showed a photograph of a child on the beach, crying because he had sand on his hands. As he looked at that book, Jason would stop at that page and stare at the picture. He felt so much empathy for the little boy in that picture that it truly made him sad. He could imagine what that child felt.

After a while, the book would automatically fall open to that page because Jason was looking at it so often. I think he, in his young child’s mind (in addition to his helpful and caring personality), he was trying to figure out a way to help that little boy to not be so sad. We eventually had to put the book away, because there was no way for him to actually solve the problem depicted in that picture and we didn’t want him to be unnecessarily sad.

When the kids were small, I made each of them a Raggedy Ann or Andy doll. I started making Raggedy Andy’s for Eric and Jason, and then made a Raggedy Ann doll for Jenna one Christmas when she was three years old. Jason watched me every step of the way as I made the doll for Jenna – stitching the features (eyes, nose, mouth) on the face, adding a hand-stitched heart on the chest, sewing the body together, adding the stuffing “just so” in every part of the body, hand-writing “I love you” in the heart with a fabric pen, adding row after row of bright red yarn-hair, sewing the dress and apron with the red rickrack. He was so excited to be a part of the secret, best-ever Christmas present for the sister that he adored.

When Christmas morning arrived, Jason could barely contain his excitement when it was time for Jenna to open her present. Jenna opened the present, looked at the Raggedy Ann and just set it aside. She didn’t really care about it one way or the other.

In her defense, Jenna was never one of these girls who was crazy about dolls, and I knew this about her. As a matter of fact, she didn’t like dolls at all and never understood why some girls liked them so much. But, both she and Jason absolutely loved stuffed animals. As a small child, Jenna carried around a yellow striped, stuffed tiger for a long time. The tiger’s tail curved around and connected to its body, making a perfect handle to carry it everywhere and anywhere. In my mind, I guess I thought Jenna might see the Raggedy Ann more as like stuffed animal than a hard, rubber doll, and imagined how great it would be for each of them to have a Raggedy Ann or Andy to make a complete set. However, I always had in the back of my mind that she might not like it because she might view it more as a doll than a stuffed animal.

Jason stood beside me for the longest time, with his hand on my arm or shoulder, carefully watching me. He was so worried that my feelings would be hurt because Jenna wasn’t absolutely thrilled about the Raggedy Ann I had put so much work into. I hugged him and kept reassuring that I was okay, that my feelings weren’t hurt. But his little-boy caring heart was concerned about me.

My precious, empathetic little boy grew into the most wonderful, kind and caring young man. I miss him beyond words!!

~Becky

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

Jason: Never Knew a Stranger

sc005ba7efJason was a people-person from the get-go. When he was a baby, he was happiest being held. As a baby, I carried him in a front-pack carrier nearly every day around the house, just because he wanted to be near me. As he grew older, it wasn’t uncommon for Jason to rest his hand on my arm, whatever we were doing. He loved human connection.

When Jason was barely three years old, I took the kids to the mall to let them run around a bit. It was a great place to go on rainy days when we needed to get out of the house. Back then, the malls were fairly empty during the day, so the presence of a mom with three kids didn’t bother anyone. Or so I thought.

As we walked down the mall, we saw a maintenance man working on some tiles on the floor. Jason went up to him to say hello and asked what he was doing. The guy didn’t look up at all and didn’t answer, so Jason asked him again what he was doing. Obviously not a kid person, the man looked up, glared at me and then Jason, and gruffly said to him, “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers?” Unaffected by the man’s grumpiness, Jason earnestly replied, “What’s a stranger?”

And that was Jason. He never knew a stranger. He connected with people like no one I’ve ever seen. Unassuming, yet friendly to everyone. Empathetic, kind, caring. His heart for those he knew and loved was immeasurable. He accepted everyone at face value. He valued and cherished people for who they were. He loved unconditionally. The world was a much better place, just because he was in it.

Missing my boy,

~Becky

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

Abandoning those who grieve

In its entirety, below is a blog post written by Melanie at https://thelifeididntchoose.com. She is an insightful and thoughtful author whose son died in a motorcycle accident in 2014. Please see my additional comments below. I would also encourage you to look at her original post and the comments below it.

I know that I seem to hit this subject hard – the aloneness of grief and abandonment of those who deeply grieve – but I think it’s important to emphasize this topic. By doing so, those who deeply grieve might gain some insight into the reasons people disappear and understand that they are not the only ones this happens to, and those who know someone who is deeply grieving might gain some insight into how awful the aloneness of grief can be and then make an effort not to disappear. The walk following the death of a child is an inherently one that must be walked alone, at least in some ways, but if I can encourage one person to not abandon a parent whose child has died, I will feel like my writing has been worthwhile.

Why Friends Abandon Grievers

It happens in all kinds of ways.  One friend just slowly backs off from liking posts on Facebook, waves at a distance from across the sanctuary, stops texting to check up on me.

Another observes complete radio silence as soon as she walks away from the graveside. 

Still another hangs in for a few weeks-calls, texts, even invites me to lunch until I can see in her eyes that my lack of “progress” is making her uneasy.  Then she, too, falls off the grid.

Why do people do that? 

Why is it, when we need them most, many friends-and I mean really, truly FRIENDSjust can’t hang in and hold on?

I admit in the early days I didn’t care WHY they did it. 

It broke my heart and enraged me all at the same time.  I felt abandoned, judged, forgotten, pressured to conform to some unwritten standard of how I was “supposed” to do grief and utterly, completely forsaken.

It took me months to begin to even consider their perspective and years to come to a place where I could forgive them.

Here’s what I’ve figured out this side of devastating, overwhelming, heart-shattering pain about why some friends run away:

  • I represent their greatest fear.  I am a billboard for loss.  My life screams, “We are NOT in control!” And that is scary.  Most folks run away from scary if they can.
  • I remind them that faith is a living thing, tender and vulnerable to trials and testing.  We love to tout Sunday School answers that follow like the tag lines on Aesop’s fables when asked about anything to do with Jesus or how God works in the world.  But it’s just not that simple.  The Bible is full (FULL!) of untidy stories where even the giants of faith got it wrong for a season.  I think people are afraid that if they follow me down the rabbit hole of questions they might never come back out.  Better to stand outside and hope I emerge safe and sound without risking themselves.
  • My situation is messy and they don’t want to get involved.  I will need ongoing, intense investments of emotional energy and time. Who knows where it might lead?  Who knows how many hours might have to be given to come alongside and support someone whose journey looks more like slogging through a swamp than a walk in the park?  These folks are just not going to risk entanglement.
  • Some friends and family are genuinely afraid of doing harm.  They feel my pain so deeply that they are frozen, unable to do or say anything because they fear they will make things worse.  These are the hearts most easy to forgive and the ones most likely to jump back in when I assure them they cannot make it worse but their support can make it better.
  • Some people were going to disappear anyway.  We don’t like to admit it but many friendships are only for a season-we go to the same church, live in the same neighborhood, our kids go to the same school-and as soon as circumstances change these people fade away.  Well, circumstances certainly changed!  They leave because our differences outweigh our similarities and it requires too much effort to maintain the friendship.

Understanding why people run away has helped my heart. 

It doesn’t undo the pain inflicted by abandonment of those I felt sure would stay close by my side, but it puts it in perspective.

Truth is, I’m not sure how many people I would have stalwartly supported for the long haul either before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  

None of us possess infinite emotional, mental, physical and relational resources.  It’s only natural that we portion them out according to our own priorities-even when that means abandoning friends who really need us.

Rehearsing offense only ties me in knots. 

It changes nothing.

I have limits as well. 

Forgiving those that chose to walk away frees me to use my resources in more fruitful ways that help me heal.  

https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/03/08/why-friends-abandon-grievers/

My comments to Melanie’s blog were this:

I am a person who sees both sides of the coin. Even from the very, very beginning my HEAD understood that it was difficult to be around us, the parents of a child who had died. I understood why people ran away, but that didn’t make it any easier. Oh, how it hurt my HEART. Because we had absolutely no family close by (our closest family was nearly 2000 miles away), when almost all of our friends disappeared, we were so very alone. It was like we were falling down a deep, black hole with no one to catch our fall. [And to be left so alone felt like no one cared.] These are part of the secondary losses – secondary wounds that can happen following the death of a child. And the wounds leave scars. We can forgive, but I don’t think that means that we are not changed by the experience.

The thing in the Christian community, I would venture to say, is that we, as Christians, are encouraged to be the bigger person, to turn the other cheek, to forgive, to go the extra mile, etc. Not only did I feel like we were expected to tell people how to help us after Jason died, I felt like we were expected to understand and be okay with why people didn’t want to be around us [and to understand and accept it without question when they disappeared]. It just seems backwards.

I’m glad that you stated that it took you months and years to understand and begin to forgive. Sometimes it’s a process that takes some time and effort to work through. I’ve worked very hard on forgiving people we knew, even though there has been no acknowledgement or apology given.

Let me say that again: I felt like we were expected to understand and be okay with why people didn’t want to be around us [and to understand and accept without question when they disappeared].

Melanie responded:

I also believe that forgiving does not undo the wounds that have been inflicted. You’re right-as believers we are often asked to travel the whole distance in the forgiveness process. I’ll be honest, sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. Life is hard and child loss makes it harder. I just don’t always have the resources needed to reach out to the person that has hurt me. I know there are those that will say I always have the necessary resources in Christ-they are theologically correct. But I can’t always seem to tap those in my daily life. I’m trying ❤

I feel like, when we were hurting the most and were the most vulnerable a parent could be, we were supposed to be “Christian” about people disappearing – turn the other cheek, forgive without ever receiving an apology, understand the unthinkable of why people left us alone or why they didn’t respond to our requests of support. Rise above. Take the high road. Be the bigger person. Take the initiative to reach out. Understand. Don’t let it bother you. We were supposed to be okay with the horrible way we were treated by the people we trusted and considered to be good friends. We’re supposed to understand how hard it is for other people to reach out to us. I will say this about how hard it was for other people: As hard as it was for other people, whatever the reason may have been, it was so much harder for us.

I think there are a lot of assumptions that happen, too. People assume, because you are deeply grieving, that you won’t notice certain things – like people who pretend not to see you, people who don’t make contact for months at a time, people who talk about you from across the room. I also think they assume someone else may be doing the job of “being there” for a bereaved family, when that very well may not be the case. They assume that platitudes will comfort.

People hear what they want to hear, and sometimes we, as bereaved parents, tend to say what we think people want to hear, just to avoid an uncomfortable situation or to make it easier for people to be around us. It’s easier for the non-bereaved to hear something like, “God has used this situation to help me grow” than it is to hear, “This has absolutely crushed me and I have no idea how to continue living after my child died.” We tend to say what we think will make people the most comfortable so they don’t disappear. Them – “How are you?” Me – “I’m fine” (when what I’m really feeling is soul-crushingly heartbroken and on the brink of tears).

One response/comment on Melanie’s blog I’d like to point out is the gal who said this, “Sometimes the people who try to help are pushed away, quite rudely ! “How is she going to help ?” – angrily and ugly screamed at me . . .” She felt like she reached out to help someone who was grieving and was angrily rejected.

I can understand her frustration, but I can also understand it from the bereaved parent’s position. I went through a very angry stage. I was mad because of what I had lost, what was taken from me, especially my precious boy. I was mad that other people’s kids were hanging out with friends, graduating from college, would get married and live their lives when Jason would never have that chance.

I was so mad at everyone who abandoned us. I felt so rejected by those I thought would be there for us that I wanted to reject everyone I knew or who knew me. (Since I had been in leadership at two large homeschool groups and was very visual in my positions, I knew a lot of people and there were a lot of people who knew who I was.) I lost respect for nearly everyone I knew and held in high regard. In my anger, grief and alone-ness, I felt like they didn’t care and couldn’t be a friend when I really needed one. I was so angry with them for deserting us. I was mad at everybody. Grief and pain and abandonment disguises or displays itself as anger. When and if they eventually reached out to me, I had a hard time letting them back in my life, because I felt like they really didn’t know who I was any more. I didn’t trust them with my heart. If they didn’t care then, why would they care now?

Of course, with some perspective (and after dealing with my anger), I came to realize they simply may not have known what to do, as Melanie outlined above. That realization didn’t make anything easier for us when we so alone and hurting, and we walked away with many scars, but it did help in the forgiving process as time passed.

At her specific request, I have not written about most of what our daughter went through following her precious brother’s death. Oh, the stories I could tell. As Jenna said at the time, “People and the way they have treated us have made it 100 times worse.” (Sometimes “the way people treat you” can be that they simply disappear or that they “encourage” you to move on or that they ignore you when you walk into a room. Sometimes it can be much more than that, either by actions or inaction.)

Believe me, you would be shocked and grieved and mad, too, if similar things had happened to your child, your family. But, we were supposed to understand and be okay with all of it. It seemed backwards to me then and it seems backwards to me still. As a mother, it still hurts my heart just to think of all she went through – at 17 years of age. When other 17-year olds were hanging out with friends, choosing prom dresses and filling out college applications, our daughter was dealing with so much alone. She was looking at burial sites and helping choose music for her brother’s memorial service. She was finishing up her last year of high school with little to no support. It was a difficult time.

I really had to work at getting over my anger and forgiving people. I’m sure I missed some opportunities to connect with people because they didn’t understand my anger or guardedness. Once they tried and I didn’t respond the way they thought I would, they didn’t try again.

One thing that has become clear to me over the years is that most people simply don’t want to “go there,” even after all these years. They don’t want to hear about what we walked through after Jason died – not at all, not even now, not even one thing. If I bring up Jason or something we have walked through regarding his death, I can tell it makes people very uncomfortable. They either change the subject as soon as possible or are very relieved when I see how uncomfortable they are and change the subject. They must think enough time has passed to make it “safe” to be around us. As Melanie said in her blog, some people don’t want to risk entanglement. They don’t want to take the risk of entering into a bereaved parent’s pain and grief. It’s too uncomfortable. It’s too messy. It’s too painful. It’s too scary. It doesn’t matter how many years it’s been, most people simply don’t want to step into your pain.

I have been changed greatly by the people who hurt and abandoned us. I am scarred. I don’t trust people with my heart. I’m very guarded. If I do let my guard down and let someone in, they get one chance. If they blow it, my guard goes up and I have a very hard time letting it down again. I’ve worked hard at forgiving people, but I have truly been changed by this experience and have the scars to prove it. But, as Melanie said, I do keep on trying.

~Becky

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

Edited for clarity 9/5/2018

 

 

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