Comparative Grief and Comparative Loss

On Facebook recently, Alina’s mom, Marie, wrote a long, transparent, heartbreaking post about some of the difficult things she has had to walk through in her life. (Alina was one of Jason’s best friends and died in the accident with him.) She talked about how difficult this time of year is because her oldest son, Andrew, died on November 16, 1991 at the age of 15 in a car accident. Alina’s birthday follows close behind on December 12th. She posted quite a few pictures of their family, and received a lot of positive responses, supportive comments, and outpourings of love. Without a doubt, Marie deserves all of the support and compassion she could ever receive. I have no problem with that at all.

But, in all honesty, it brought up feelings that I have had to deal with over the years – comparative grief and comparative loss.

Because we were all part of the same homeschool group and the kids had a lot of friends in common, a lot of people knew about the death of Andrew and knew his family at that time. The Christianson’s had been a part of this particular homeschool group at the time Andrew died, while we had joined the group in 1995. Logically, a lot of support from that group when Alina died went to Alina’s parents and sister. Don’t misunderstand me – I am so very glad Marie has had support. Even Marie, years later when we went back to Seattle for a wedding, told me how much support she had when Alina died compared to when Andrew died. She told me she had support from local family, the homeschool group, her church, and friends. She also told me how true it is that, over the years, your address book changes as people get tired of your grief.

I feel like I’ve talked ad nauseum about how alone we were after Jason’s death. It’s a fact, and I do not exaggerate. We had no geographically close family for support and almost non-existent support from anyone else. To say that we were so alone and it was so difficult is a gross understatement. It has changed us forever – physically, emotionally, spiritually.

But, one of the things I’d like to discuss is this thing about comparative grief and comparative loss. Our family was treated as if our loss was the “lesser loss.” It wasn’t just the homeschool people rallying more (after the initial dropping off of meals) around Alina’s family and not ours. It was everywhere.

I went to a Compassionate Friends group meeting for moms, trying to find some answers and support. They asked me if I wanted to introduce myself. When I said that our son and his best friend had died a few weeks ago, one gal told me, “Oh, you’re just a baby [in the grief process].” It felt very dismissive. But, then when I started talking about the accident, one gal interrupted and said that she had read the newspaper articles about the accident. Everyone started discussing how awful it was that Alina’s dad, Brian, had been on site when the accident happened, how awful it was that they had lost an earlier child in a car accident, that they had now experienced the death of a second child, on and on they went about how horrible it was for Alina’s family. All of a sudden, I was invisible, and my loss and my grief no longer “counted.” Comparatively speaking, the death of Jason, our grief, the loss of our son was the LESSER TRAGEDY. After discussing at length how horrible it must be for the Christianson’s, the discussion moved on to other things. My grief and loss no longer mattered, by comparison. I couldn’t wait to get out of there and never went back.

The newspapers, intentionally or not, really jumped on the comparative bandwagon. They went for the sensationalism. Most articles talked about Brian witnessing the accident and about the Christianson’s tragedy of the second death of a child. One article, in particular, was so hard to read. Where the author talked about the accident and called both Brian and Alina by their first names, Jason was addressed as “Carney” through nearly the whole thing.

The Bothell man continued on to Carney’s house but found neither Carney nor Alina, nor were they at Alina’s home.

About an hour later he learned there were two in the damaged vehicle and both had been killed: his daughter and Carney. The driver of the other car left the accident scene before police arrived.

After the article came out in the paper, Marie called me to apologize for the tone of the article. Even coverage of the sentencing of the young man who killed Jason and Alina focused on the Christianson’s greater tragedy. It only briefly mentioned us or Jason. When we walked into the courtroom for the sentencing, the first two rows had been set aside for the Christianson family.

I remember being given books written about the death of a child or people telling me about others who lost loved ones, as if I should count my blessings and be thankful I hadn’t suffered a greater loss.

Other than my post about the baby we lost and some of the things we have walked through following Jason’s death, I have chosen not to discuss some of the other very difficult things we have walked through in our lives. The thing is, we don’t have the right to judge someone else’s loss and deem whose loss is greater and whose loss is lesser. We have no idea what they have had to walk through or how deeply the loss affects them. We don’t have the right to dismiss their loss as the “lesser tragedy.”

It is a tragedy – and adds to the already horrible tragedy – to make someone feel like their loss, their grief doesn’t matter. We do not have the right to invalidate someone else’s loss or grief. I don’t care whether it’s the death of Elvis or the people who died on 9/11 or the death of our precious Jason and his best friend Alina on 3/3/02. The loss of life is the loss of a life, and the people who dearly loved the ones who died DO NOT comparatively walk through lesser grief or comparatively feel a lesser loss. We invalidate the grief and loss by making the griever feel like they have experienced a lesser loss or that someone else has suffered a greater tragedy. It’s not fair. And it needs to stop. Everyone who suffered a deep loss needs to feel like their loss and their grief matters.

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney


Drink, Drive, and Go to Prison with the “Big Boys”

From my journal dated March 2, 2003:

This past Thursday was the omnibus hearing. What an awful time for this hearing to be set, with March 3rd right around the corner. It was an uneventful hearing, but we had decided that we really want to be involved and aware of what’s going on in the legal process concerning the accident. We just can’t ignore the legal stuff going on; that wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be fair to Jason.

The most sobering thing was watching the 25 prisoners come in for their own hearings – dressed in their red or blue jumpsuits with a chain around their waist and hands linked by another chain to the waist chain. It was sobering for me to realize that J.H.*, the cocky, good looking, 19-year old who killed Jason and Alina, would probably be one of those prisoners one day. He may very well be the “new meat on the block” soon. So few of them even had anyone in the courtroom as support. It was a scary sight.

J.H., his parents and attorney weren’t in the courtroom yet when the prisoners came in, although we saw him in the lobby when we came in. I’m sure it would have been an eye-opening experience had they been there. J.H. has been acting so arrogant and cocky at every hearing, so condescending when he looks at the Christianson’s or us. I turned to Jenna after the prisoners were seated and said, “If I were J.H. and saw that, it would scare the literal hell out of me!” I’m sure this was not what he bargained for when he and his friends started out partying the night of March 2, 2002…or, in the early hours of the morning on March 3, 2002, when he got behind the wheel of his friend’s car drunk and barreled down the road over twice the speed limit. He didn’t think of the consequences of his actions – that he could kill people and might be going to prison with the “big boys” as a result of his choices.

We met with the prosecutor after the hearing. She said she will probably be meeting with J.H.’s attorney later in the week for “negotiations.” She thinks he’ll try to get the charges lowered so J.H. can get off without jail/prison time. If he continues to plead not guilty, she’ll use the next hearing to amend the charges and add an additional vehicular homicide charge [J.H. had initially been charged with only one vehicular homicide charge – for the deaths of two people].

Jenna commented to me after the hearing that [the family in our homeschool group whose son was hit by a train] doesn’t have to deal with the legal stuff on top of their grief. She said all of the legal stuff brings everything back up. We have to live it all over again…and over again…and over again. It rips the scabs off and everything is fresh all over again.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Don’t Drink and Drive

I’ve often thought that if I had a chance to speak to high schoolers on the subject of drinking and driving, I would ask them if they realized going to jail or prison (if over the age of 18) could be the end result to a night of partying should they choose to drink and drive.

We’ve all seen the stories or videos of simulated accidents portrayed to students in a drunk driving “scared straight” program. Simulated accidents or “grim reapers” try to impact students with the possible outcomes of driving drunk. I wonder how many of them include information or speakers about the possibility of prison time.

The young man (18 years old and a high school senior) who hit Jason and Alina had a “bad boy” reputation at school and with the local police. I’m sure none of it prepared him for going to prison with the big boys, though. Under Washington State’s “three strikes” law, had the charges of two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of felony hit and run stood, he could have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Talk about being scared straight!

J.H.*, in a plea bargain, pleaded guilty to the two counts of vehicular homicide. The felony hit and run was reduced to a misdemeanor in order to avoid the three strikes law. At 19 years old, he was sentenced to four years in prison for the vehicular homicide counts and one year in jail for the hit and run. He served 2 2/3 years in prison, and the judge waived the jail time.

I hope, with all my heart, J.H. has taken the opportunity in front of him to make good choices with his life. We have all paid high prices for his bad choices.

From my journal dated January 10, 2003:

I found out recently that an acquaintance’s recent “non-driving” status/ability is because of a DUI drivers license suspension after wrecking his car. He was driving home drunk and ran into a telephone pole. He walked away just fine except for a few bumps and bruises, but it sure has put a crimp in his style. I know it’s frustrating and depressing for him. Embarrassing and expensive, too, I imagine. Fines, insurance rates go up, having to replace the totaled car.

But the whole crux of the matter is that it was his choice to drink and then drive. How could he choose to drive drunk after what happened to Jason and Alina?? I hope he’s at least learned something, or will stop and think before driving drunk again. If he’s too drunk to make good choices, someone just needs to take his keys away. He only hurt himself and his car this time, but he easily could have hurt or killed other people.

I’m sure J.H.* [the young man who hit and killed Jason and Alina] and his friends had no conception when they started partying and drinking the night of March 2, 2002 that their actions would end with the death of two great young people. I’m sure going to prison never even crossed their minds when they got into those cars drunk.

If drunk drivers only hurt themselves, that would be one thing. Their choices. Their actions. Their losses. But so many accidents caused by drunk drivers involve others – innocent bystanders – who pay the price while the drunk driver walks away. J.H. broadsided Jason and Alina and literally walked away.

Our price tag seems so much higher than J.H.’s. Sure, he and his family have to pay for a lawyer, and J.H. may do jail time for a few years. But our “sentence” – our price tag – is a “life sentence.” They have imposed a life sentence on us by their choices. For the rest of our lives, we are without Jason. Our lives are never going to be the same.

J.H. can bargain down his sentence, take a plea bargain, or serve a few years for vehicular homicide. But he at least has the opportunity to go on. If he chooses to, he can make a good life for himself, make better choices, marry, have a family. J.H. and his family will move past this because, once he gets through whatever the consequences are, he still has a life to live. He has to live with the fact that he killed two people, but the fact of the matter is that he still has a life.

Jason and Alina don’t. Their lives are over, taken by the hand and choices of another. We don’t have their precious lives or presence with us any more. We had no choice. Jason and Alina had no choice. By his choices, J.H. stole it from them, from us.

Jason and Alina weren’t doing anything wrong. They were making good choices. They made good choices that night. Movies at our house, kettle corn, sodas, laughing, joking. Fun. Enjoying each other’s company.

It seems that people who drink, drive, and then kill someone as a result deserve a more than a slap on the hand. There has to be some kind of accountability. There has to be something to stop this insanity. When will people who drink and drive realize their choices affect others?? Their choice to drink and drive kills.

We, who have done nothing wrong, are paying the price for these kids’ choices and stupidity. Jason and Alina have paid the ultimate price for the choices of J.H. and his friends. They paid the price with their lives. The cost just goes on and on. We pay in so many days every day, and we will continue to pay for the rest of our lives.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Our No-Fault Society

From my journal dated December 2, 2002:

Today was the arraignment of J.H.* [the drunk driver who killed Jason and Alina]. Between all of us representing the Carney’s and Christianson’s, we took up the entire front row of the courtroom.

He had on a great-looking suit, looked cocky and confident…almost defiant. His folks and girlfriend were there, too, all dressed up. Don’t they care that he shattered our lives?

J.H., of course, pleaded “not guilty.” The omnibus hearing is set for February 27, and the court call date is March 28. He went out the side door after the proceeding. Then the whole row of us got up and left. I think his folks were surprised there were so many of us there. They quickly and quietly went out the back door. I don’t know what else they could have done, I guess. This whole thing is just so surreal.

We were to meet with the deputy prosecutor in a conference room so she could explain the legal process to us.

Marie said something along the lines of “We’ve all Christians here. We’re all praying for him. Now we all know how to pray.” Quite honestly, I’m not praying for him at all right now. I don’t know if I ever will. I don’t feel anything for him – no rage, no revenge, nothing. My feelings toward him are just dead.

Neither Jason nor Alina were preachy in their lives about their beliefs or Christianity. The lived their lives as examples – and that speaks so much louder than words many times.

Marie and I had talked about giving pictures of Jason and Alina to the prosecutor. Marie asked her at one point if she’d ever seen our kids. She said that she’d only seen the black and white picture from the Seattle Times article.

Marie gave her a photo of Alina and I gave her one of Jason. She looked at them for a really long time. I thought she was going to cry. She definitely teared up. She gave them back to us and said thank you for showing them to her. She said that she couldn’t imagine what we were going through, that she was a mother herself.

The deputy prosecutor also said that his attorney has already tried to get a reduced sentence. He’ll probably spend less than five years in prison for the deaths of two excellent young adults if he serves anything at all. She also said that it sounds like he is a kid whose parents bailed him out of every scrape. He’d gotten mad once and peeled out of his girlfriend’s driveway, hitting another car. His dad came and paid off the other party. No consequence to J.H. at all. And she also said that she feels they might think they can bail him out of this somehow.

It just feels like our laws have so little bite to them, no consequences for actions. We live in a no-fault society – no-fault divorce, no-fault insurance, no-fault killing of two excellent young people. Our justice system is broken!! They have to file reduced charges just in hope of making something stick!! That’s just wrong!!!

Not Just a Formality

From my journal dated November 25, 2002:

The arraignment [of the person who killed Jason and Alina] is on Monday. The prosecutor said it’s just a formality; it should take only five minutes. She said we don’t have to be there.

I don’t really care if it ends up being a 5 minute deal. I feel like I really need to be there. I want to be at all of the hearings. I want to put a face to those who who died and to those who lost such a precious family member.

It’s not just a formality. It’s our precious son whose life was stolen by a drunk driver. It’s our lives that will never be the same because of someone else’s reckless actions. It’s our hearts that have been shattered because Jason died in a horrendous crash not of his own doing. We miss our boy so much. Anything concerning Jason is not just a formality to us.

They are dearly loved and missed

From my journal dated November 21, 2002:

I went by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office today to order copies of the charging documents. As I left the courthouse, I saw a sign for the Prosecutor’s Office. I decided to stop by and introduce myself. It was just a whim, but I really wanted to put faces to the people involved.

I had to wait a few minutes, but the deputy prosecutor made time for me. She is definitely not a warm, fuzzy person. I guess you couldn’t really be warm and fuzzy in her position. She apologized for the victim’s advocate not calling us when they filed charges.

I told her I wanted to meet her because, although she technically represents the State against J.H.*, she also also represents our kids. They are not just faceless numbers involved in fatalities in Snohomish County. They are people who are dearly loved and missed.

Options vs. No Options

From my journal dated November 21, 2002:

Monday night a radio talk show host in Seattle discussed the charges filed in Jason’s and Alina’s accident. He felt that murder charges should be filed against a person who kills another with a vehicle, especially while driving drunk, instead of vehicular homicide charges. Murder charges would probably result in a 20 year range. Vehicular homicide charges will probably result in a 3-5 year range. Quite a disparity!

Would a higher incarceration range for convictions of vehicular homicide be a deterrent for drunk drivers?? I don’t know. Killing someone is killing someone, whether it’s accomplished with a gun or vehicle. I guess I don’t understand the huge difference in sentencing. It’s not like I am out for revenge. I don’t hate this kid. I’m not sure I know what I feel about him.

On the forum discussion page of the site, in response to its article printed a few days ago, someone who knew Jason and Alina stated that this drunk driver had no idea how much he’d taken away from so many people.

Then someone who knew the driver’s family wrote about what a nice family they are, how J.H.* has to live with the grief the rest of his life.

I don’t know how someone even begins to deal with taking the life of another person; but, in my opinion, “grief” is the wrong word. “Regret,” maybe. But, grief – no! Not even his mother knows the extent of grief that Marie and I do. No matter how long he spends in jail, she still has her son. He’s still alive! There’s always room for something good to happen for him. He still has options and choices. It’s all up to him what he does with them.

Jason and Alina have none. No options; no choices. They were the ones making good choices with their lives…and now they’re gone. We have a huge loss forever. Nothing can change that. J.H.* killed our precious kids. He may lose some years in jail, but he’ll still be young when he gets out. He can can still make something good of his life.

Options vs. no options. Life vs. death.

I hope he starts making some better choices with his life. We’re paying the price for the choice he made to drive drunk at more than twice the speed limit. He has no idea how much his choice has cost us.