Recently, a friend who was approaching the fifth anniversary of his son’s death asked me if it ever got any better. I wish that I could have told him that it did. I told him that grief changes over time.
Grief ebbs and flows, but never goes away. Some days it’s a ways below the surface and doesn’t seem to show; some days it’s a gaping open pit I struggle not to fall into.
As I lay in bed last night, thinking about the significance of this day and how many years we have lived without our precious, wonderful Jason, it felt like my heart was breaking into so many pieces that it was turning into a pile of fine sand. Today I feel like I am moving in slow motion, my mind foggy as I struggle to think of what I need to do next.
We recently set up a small home gym in the garage. As we rearranged our storage boxes to make some room, I took the opportunity to organize the mementos in those boxes so that I can begin putting together some scrapbooks of my growing up years and those of the kids. It was an incredibly difficult thing to do. School projects, birthday cards, notes passed to a friend in class, pieces of paper with fingerpaint handprints of a small boy, drawings of a toddler with love notes to mom and dad, stories written by Jason about how he had met one of his best friends, poems about a dear friend and a girl he loved. Joe, who was helping me, kept saying from time to time, “It isn’t fair.” Again today, he said, “It isn’t fair.” No, it’s not fair. Such a wonderful young man, our precious boy, gone in an instant. For Jason, no college graduations, no weddings, no kids, no jobs, no more special events or holidays. For all of us, the memories and mementoes we have of Jason are all we will ever have. They all stopped March 3, 2002.
I wish I had some great insight, some great encouragement after walking this path for so many years, but I really don’t. I wish I could say that time heals all and that it gets better, but I can’t. The friend I mentioned earlier told me that I am an encouragement, but I’m not sure how I do that. I just try to live my life in such a way that would make Jason proud. As in the beginning, one day at a time. I look forward to the day I will see him again.
We love you and miss you, Jason. Every single day.
Too many times lately I’ve heard myself saying, “He who expects nothing is not disappointed.” I guess it’s supposed to serve as a reminder to myself not to put higher expectations or my own expectations onto someone else. Since my expectations sometimes can be a little higher than is realistic, it’s a way of lowering my expectations to meet reality.
I’m a person who sees both sides of the coin, was taught that it was better to turn the other cheek than to fight. I have a long fuse and give people way more chances than is probably healthy for me. I hang onto relationships long after they are over.
After Jason died, it wasn’t too long before nearly everyone we knew disappeared and we were left mostly alone. With our extended family thousands of miles away, we truly expected our friends to fill in those gaps. It just didn’t happen and we were alone a lot. At the time, I made excuses. I lowered my expectations. We were difficult to be around, I told myself. It wasn’t easy to know what to say to us or what to do when we really didn’t know ourselves what we needed. I tried so hard not to make people uncomfortable. I said to myself many times that my head understood but my heart just didn’t understand. My head kept trying to tell me that it was understandable, but my heart was breaking. I tried to reason myself into understanding why people acted the way they did and to try to be okay with it.
As a personal standard, I try to do what’s right. I try to do a good job at whatever I am doing. I try to notice those in need and help out without fanfare or acknowledgement. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?
But isn’t this a two way street, too? Shouldn’t we ALL treat each other the way we would want to be treated ourselves? Shouldn’t we expect people who profess to care about us to actually CARE about us…and show it by actually doing something, by following through on their words? Do actions meet words for the ones who profess to be Christians, send a card with a religious sentiment, put a hand on your shoulder to pray for you or hug you but then don’t actually do anything or don’t act with integrity? As a person who has a strong sense of fairness, this just doesn’t add up for me.
I am not a squeaky wheel kind of a person. I am not confrontational. I usually internalize things and try to deal with it myself. If I do anything at all, I would rather calmly communicate, trying to help the other person see where I’m coming from while also listening to their side of the issue to (hopefully) come to a mutually-beneficial resolution. It’s not as easy as it sounds and rarely works out that way. It takes two people equally willing to work together and actually listen to each other’s point of view…and then actually DO something to fix the problem or address the issue.
I’ve never been a person who likes other people to see me cry. The person who cries openly and more easily seems to be the one people gather around to comfort. Or do people just disappear and avoid the griever entirely? I’m not sure. Perhaps if I had been more able or willing to show my grief, to publicly grieve, we would have had more support. I don’t know. People who didn’t see me flat on the floor, crying so hard I physically didn’t have the strength to stand or even sit, would tell me that it was okay for me to grieve. No one saw that…nor would they want to…nor would I want them to. If your child dies, people call you brave. I’m not brave. I never was. I just didn’t wear my grief on my sleeve; it’s not easy for me to be open and ask for help.
One day early on I was so worried about Joe that I did something very uncharacteristic – I asked for help. I emailed people we were closest to prior to Jason’s death, asking for support. No one responded at all. Not one of our “Christian” friends, people we considered extended family, showed up in response to my cry for help. Those types of things have had a lasting impact on me. I don’t trust easily. I don’t make friendships easily. From experience, professing Christianity doesn’t mean a person is going to do the right thing or is someone I can trust. I totally realize we’re all human and make mistakes and fail miserably, but sometimes you’ve just got to show up.
I would have to say that some of the people who I remember most clearly as showing up are people who I would not even know if they professed to be Christians. Joe’s boss who flew up from California to be with us – an extremely busy guy who simply showed up for us. The doorman at the Westin who genuinely asked Joe nearly every day how he was doing. The Westin manager who offered us employee rates so we could get away for a bit at a time when we didn’t know how to carry on. The officers investigating the accident, especially the one who told me he wanted to do such a good job that it would make Jason proud. The officers who took time off work to show up at the sentencing hearing to support us. The firemen who came to Jason’s memorial service. We were not close to them and had no expectations from any of them. We haven’t seen or heard from any of these people for years, but we have never forgotten their genuine kindnesses and how they showed up.
I consciously have been trying to let my guard down, to reach out to people, to make friends, to trust people again. It has not been easy. We have had a couple of situations recently where we specifically made the decision to step out side our comfort zone and trust someone else with decisions that have had big, lasting impacts on our lives. A couple of them have not gone well and our expectations have been lowered so much we practically had none left at all. It has cost us in the long run – money, trust, hope.
And, so, once again, I find myself telling myself, “He who expects nothing is not disappointed.”
But, shouldn’t we be able to have expectations of others, especially those who are in expected trust situations? Shouldn’t we expect people to have integrity, to keep their word? Shouldn’t we expect Christians to at least try to act like Christ? In practicality, how far does the “faith without works is dead” theology actually go? Shouldn’t we expect people who profess to care about us to show up when we need them and to do the right thing? Should we have to keep lowering out expectations until we have none at all, no trust at all in that person?
I include myself in this. Have I been dependable? Have I shown up when it was difficult? Am I a person of my word?
I consistently remind myself that I am responsible for no one’s actions but my own, just as everyone else is responsible for their own actions. This is the important thing. I am the one that will have to stand before God some day when all my actions (hidden or unhidden) are revealed for everyone to see, just as everyone else will have to. I do believe that there may be a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we run with endurancethis race called life. At least, that’s what I was taught in church. If nothing else, I’m sure God sees and knows all.
I’m running as best I can, but I get tired. I get frustrated. I get sad and lonely.
I was thinking recently about the story of the carpenter who had worked hard all of his life building houses, making a quality product but was never able to afford a home of his own. He was tired of working and decided to retire. His boss asked him to build one more home. Reluctantly, the carpenter agreed but his heart wasn’t in it. He didn’t build with his typical quality of workmanship. When the house was done, the boss surprised the carpenter and gave the home to him as his own. He quit too soon. He let his integrity slip because he was weary in well-doing.
They say integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. I suppose our “great cloud of witnesses” could be watching even if no one else is.
Jason had more integrity than any person I have ever met. I want to live my life so that I can make Jason proud. I want to keep persevering until I see my wonderful boy again. I look forward to and long for that day.
We have moved into our new house and are doing our best to make it feel like home. I looked at Joe the other day and said, “We are no longer storage unit dwellers!!” While unpacking boxes that have been in storage for so many years, we have found things we had forgotten we had.
As we ran across the box that had Jason’s hats in them, both Joe and I stopped to hug each other. I know they are just “things,” but when I look at them, I picture Jason wearing them. They seem so empty without him in them. Such a classy guy. We miss our boy.
It has had its glitches – completion, delivery and installation issues, things that need to be fixed by the builder or that we will do ourselves, internet not available for 4-6 weeks, realizing how many more things we need to get, etc.
One good thing about having very little of our own when we bought the house is that most everything is new. The flip side is that having to buy everything at the onset gets expensive. We will have to work at some things over time, just like we did when we first got married and started our lives together. A new beginning.
As have said previously, I have not felt “at home” anywhere since before Jason died, but we are giving this all we’ve got. I want to find a way to honor Jason in our new home, something special. I’m not quite sure what it is yet. He is always in our hearts.
It started this morning with a hug from Joe for Mother’s Day. I was holding together pretty well until then. We ended up sitting on the couch, holding each other with both of us crying. We miss our boy so much. Joe looked at me and said, “It’s just not fair.” One lesson we have learned well is that life is not fair.
It never ends. It never goes away. The grief, the reminder of broken dreams, the longing and empty arms. Most days we get up, carry on, keep on doing the best we can. We are thankful for what we have. But there are times when it hits us like a ton of bricks. And right now it hurts.
As Jason’s favorite classical piece, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, came up on Pandora this morning, I found tears welling up in my eyes and I started crying. I am just so brokenhearted. Another Mother’s Day without Jason. Another Mother’s Day with no family close by. I miss my boy so much. He made everything so much better.
Mother’s Day is another stark reminder of his absence, a reminder that I wish I had treasured every single moment so much more than I did, a reminder of all we have lost. We take for granted our kids will be around for the rest of our lives. We take for granted we will have another chance to make more memories, to share more hugs and celebrate holidays. Even after 20 years, there are days when I just don’t know how to do this life without my boy. Mother’s Day is one of them.
I guess Mother’s Day exposes those cracks in the facade I try so carefully to maintain and to hide, allowing a bunch of feelings to flood to the surface. Mother’s Day just really gets to me. We’ll be alone again this Mother’s Day. I know that I am still a mother even though Jason died, but I feel so incomplete and empty. I wish I could skip Mother’s Day entirely and wake up on the other side.
I miss you, my beautiful precious boy. My Mr. Sunshine. You made me happy when skies were grey. I love you with all my heart.
This is one of the first Easters in a long time we’ve been asked to do anything. Our landlord/neighbor upstairs (we are staying in an apartment while our house is being built) asked us to go to church with her and to join them and their family for Easter dinner later in the day.
We have been alone for so long and are so guarded that it was a big deal for us to say yes. Because of COVID, we don’t really know them well at all. We talked about it some before we responded. It was not an easy thing for us to do.
We – Joe and I – tend to do everything by ourselves any more. We don’t ask for help unless we absolutely need it. We would rather give than receive – financially, emotionally, supportive. When needed, we figure out a way to do everything on our own, if at all possible. We’ve always been independent, but being so deserted after Jason died – and some other things we have walked through during the years – has made us very cautious in relationships. We are not as open as we used to be. We’ve gone it alone for so long that it feels strange to do anything different. It’s hard to make a change.
But being so cautious in relationships can lead to loneliness. Always giving can deplete you so much that pretty soon you have nothing left to give – not even for yourself. It’s not a sustainable way to live. I’ve always thought of people of having a reservoir of energy – whether it’s to work a job, sustain relationships, help people or any number of things that require draining that reservoir in some way. You can only drain from that reservoir so much before it goes empty and you have nothing left to give at all. You have to find some way and take some time to fill up that reservoir, whatever is a meaningful way to do that. That could be any number things that refreshes your soul/spirit and fills up those reserves again. Spending time with a good friend is one way to do that.
Our daughter and I were recently discussing new relationships/friendships. I told her that I have always been of the mind that it takes two to tango, so to speak, when it comes to friendships. There has to be a desire on behalf of both parties to actually want or be open to a new friendship. And it takes the willingness and consistency to make the time and take the effort to make the connection. She is making an effort to be open to new friendships, and I am trying to follow suit. As I said in an earlier post, I’m hoping to make some new friends once we move into our new house. Time will tell.
The wall I have built around myself so I don’t get hurt again is high, thick and strong. It’s been in place a long time. I peer over the top at people and activities, unsure if I want to tear the wall down. It will take a lot of effort and vulnerability for me to do so, something I’m not sure I have the energy to do, energy I’m not sure I have to heal should things not go well. I don’t want to be hurt again. Jason’s death and the ensuing years depleted me in ways I don’t know that I will ever recover. I keep trying – cautiously, but I keep trying.
At times I am comfortable in my fortress – perhaps too much so. But it’s also very lonely. It’s been made lonelier recently by one of my bosses (I had two jobs, two bosses) “restructuring his business” and restructuring me right out of one of my jobs. I still work remotely part time for my favorite boss, so I’m thankful for that. He’s awesome. And we had already qualified for the loan on our home, so I’m thankful for that, too. But it’s been an adjustment to spend so much more time alone and to reconcile to a more limited income.
There are so many things I miss. I miss a more connected life, a more carefree one without the shadow of loss and grief. I miss my one and only best friend in my whole life, Mary. I miss the continuity of our lives. I miss my family. I miss my daughter and son. I wish we lived closer. We’ve missed out on all of our grandkids growing up years. I miss the home and life we had when Jason was alive. He made everything better.
I remember the year all the kids were off to college and my homeschooling days were over. It was a big change for me. I was trying to figure out what to do next with my life. Most of the other homeschool moms I knew were making changes, too, and moving on. One morning, all of the change overwhelmed me and I felt so incredibly lonely and disconnected. (I don’t think I really, truly understood loneliness and emptiness until Jason died, though.) Jason noticed I was discouraged and came over and gave me the best hug to let me know he cared. When he got to school, he sent me this sweet email.
On Easter morning when the kids were younger, I filled baskets with things I had collected and placed them outside their bedroom doors so they would see them first thing in the morning. It was fun to collect fun things to surprise them. I’d scour the stores for weeks ahead of time, waking up super early on Easter morning to put them together. It always included a cute stuffed animal. They’d bring the baskets down to the kitchen table to open together. It was so much fun.
I know that because of Easter and our risen savior I will see Jason again. I am thankful for that. We are doing the best we can in the here and now based on that hope, but we miss him.
Oh, how I miss my boy. Such an incredible young man.