Self Care

On March 3rd, 2002, our 19 year old son died when he was broadsided by a drunk driver going more than twice the posted speed limit. In a couple of weeks, it will be 19 years that he’s been gone. Jason would be 38 years old this year had he lived. He’s been gone the same number of years that he lived. It’s just so hard for me to process.

I work with a young man who is 38 years old – college-educated, home-owning, married, two beautiful young kids, his whole life ahead of him. That’s what Jason should have.

Most March 3rd’s, I have attempted to do what I thought I had to do on those days – school, work, etc. I guess I thought if I focused on some type of “normalcy,” the horror and significance of that day would not be quite so much in focus. It never works.

I remember the first March 3rd after Jason died, the first anniversary of his death. I had gone back to school just months before Jason died, furthering my education so I could get a good job after homeschooling the kids for so many years. I don’t exactly remember why I thought I had to be in school that day – a test or something due. I should have just told the teacher what was going on and taken the day off. I remember sitting in a philosophy class, aware of one of Jason’s best friends who was in the same class sitting across the room, both of us lost in the misery of the day. I can’t really remember much about that day except that I trudged through the day in public and cried and cried in private.

I’ve always been very independent. I have had to grieve alone, not through my own choosing. I just don’t think I can soldier through another March 3rd, putting on a brave face as if I am okay. I’m not okay. I’m heartbroken that my boy is gone. 19 years. I can’t believe it’s been 19 years.

I got a massage yesterday. I don’t get massages for the luxury of getting a massage. I don’t go to one of those fancy spas where they serve champagne or mimosas. It’s more of a therapeutic massage to keep me moving physically. My massage therapist and I were talking about how alone and how isolated people have been during the pandemic.

My husband, who is retired, is alone a lot, especially when I’m at work. I worry about him being alone so much, especially since his heart attack. I mentioned how we have lunch together most every workday, and she thought that was so cute. She asked how long we’d been married. I told her that June will mark our 45th anniversary, and she remarked how unusual it was to hear someone being married that along nowadays. It doesn’t seem like we’ve been married that long. We’ve had our ups and downs, as most marriages have, but we have worked through them and still love each other very much.

As she continued my massage, I started thinking about the different significant numbers. 45 years of marriage. My age, Joe’s age, our kids ages, how old Jason would have been, how many years it’s been since Jason died. I was 46 years old when Jason died. It’s so strange how I feel like I am stuck at 46 years old. Life has gone on, but I feel like so much of my life ended then and I am still 46 years old. My body is aging, events happening, time is passing, but I feel stuck at 46.

I’ve been working a lot – one job for two financial advisors in the office and one job for a financial advisor at home on a remote basis. Each has their own business, their own needs and ways of doing things, their own systems and issues that come up. I wake up in the middle of the night at times thinking of work and what I need to do. I like to do things right the first time and sometimes my brain kicks in gear and won’t shut off. I sometimes get up at 3 a.m. or so to take care of whatever I can at home on my computer, just to get it off my mind so that I can go back to sleep. I really do appreciate having a job, especially when so many people don’t. I want and need to keep working until we can figure out what we want to do and where to move.

I had mentioned to my massage therapist that I had been working a lot. I’d even had to cancel my last massage so I could get caught up. As I got ready to leave, she said to me, “Becky, you have to take care of yourself.”

I tend to take care of everyone else first. I always have. I bought clothes or treats or whatever for the kids or Joe before I ever bought clothes or anything for myself. I have taken care of business outside of work hours, even when I’ve been exhausted. I am trying to do a better job of taking care of myself, though. I’m going to take a couple of days off around March 3rd this year and try to figure out how and what we can do to make it a day of celebrating Jason’s life and to make it a time of self-care. I need it.

Take care of yourself. Good advice.

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

A Place to Call Home

On Inauguration Day 1993, Seattle was hit with one of the strongest windstorms ever to hit the area. Winds reached Category 1 hurricane level at one point, and a tree fell on the house we were renting. I previously wrote about this storm in my post, “Of Falling Trees and Such.”

Following that dramatic event, we immediately had to move out of the house we were renting (since it was too damaged to continue living in), put our things in storage (I didn’t realize this would be the theme of my life!), and stayed with friends while we looked for a house to buy. Interest rates had gone down to a place where we felt we could afford to purchase a house. While Joe went to work, the kids and I looked at house after house with a realtor. In particular, I remember a house with red shag carpeting on the walls in the basement, among many others. We made an offer on a house, only to have it fall through on inspection. Other offers were topped by higher offers on several occasions. It was a tough market to find something close in so Joe wouldn’t have to drive too far to work.

At one time during this journey, I entered a poem in a contest sponsored by local Christian radio station about “what makes a house a home,” winning awesome mini blinds for our entire home. Since we didn’t actually have a home at the time, the company granted our request to hold onto our win until we actually had a home. It was a tremendous encouragement at the time to have that hope to hold onto, that we would actually have a home one day.

As spring began to turn into summer, we took a break from house hunting. We drove to Southern California so we could take the kids to Disneyland and then went to Colorado to see Joe’s folks. From there, Joe flew back to Washington to work, rented an apartment for us to live in while we looked for a place to live, and I drove on to the Midwest to visit family in various locales over the summer. In the fall, I drove back to the Seattle area so we could begin our house hunting again. We ended up purchasing a lot and having a house built. And, yes, one of the first things I did when the house was complete was to order our mini blinds.

Years later, I ran across a list I had made very early on in that journey that contained things I really wanted in a home. I had forgotten that I had written down such a list early in our search and was surprised how many things on that list were part of the home we had built. I loved and miss that house, not so much for the house itself, but for the time we spent in it with our family. It was our home.

I woke up this morning with an urgency to find a house to buy. As in 1993, interest rates once again are at a historic low and will not remain that way for long. We need to do all we can to make our limited resources work for us.

We have been without a home of our own since 2010 and the few things we have left have been in storage since then. Through various circumstances, we have lived in furnished rentals in Florida and North Carolina (without really even owning any house possessions, such as couches or even our own beds or pots and pans), but have really wanted – and have pursued such over the years – to purchase our own home to live out the rest of our lives. It’s time. Our latest drama has left us exhausted.

So, once again I will make a list again for what will probably be our final home purchase: small house or quiet townhome with low HOA fees in a place with interesting things to do, a place relatively close to family, reasonable price, not too large or too small, not too crowded next to other houses, one level or possibly two, cozy, 2-3 bedrooms with one I can use for an office for my writing and research (I was working on a series of posts for this blog, research now in storage, when we had to move out of our last place), 2 – 2 1/2 baths with a walk in shower in the master (no soaking tub to clean!), lots of sunshine that comes in the windows, hardwood floors, an updated kitchen with plenty of storage and counter space (and a gas stove, if possible), and a small backyard with a patio or screened-in porch. Not too much to ask for, is it?

Home. I long to be finally at home in our own house with our own furnishings. We’ve been making do for far too long. I just don’t know where “home” is any more or where we fit. Joe and I talk about different places and then one of us says to the other, “What’s there for us?” And the other of us says, “I don’t know.” We’re discouraged. We honestly don’t know where we fit or belong. That makes it difficult to know where to buy a house.

We also are constrained by our income. Once I retire, my income drops considerably. Because I homeschooled the kids for so many years and didn’t work during that time, I have a lot of years when I didn’t contribute to Social Security or any retirement plan. I wouldn’t have missed the time with my kids for anything in the world, but the reality we live with now is that we have less to live on in retirement. Joe’s also income dropped precipitously after Jason’s death, so his pension and Social Security are quite a bit less than they would have been had he worked full-time until he was 65 or so.

It’s amazing how secondary losses come into play following the death of a child and how many things and for how long the death of a child can touch. I can honestly say our current situation is at least in part a result of Jason’s death and our brokenness from losing our precious son, and the decisions we made in and based on that brokenness. It is what it is and we have to make the best decisions we can on what we have and where we are now.

Both Joe and I truly struggled incredibly following Jason’s death. We still do. We have always been a positive and optimistic people, but we are discouraged and tired of this journey. It has been hard to find hope. My heart longs to be at home, a place to rest our broken hearts and hopefully find some peace, but I don’t know if we will truly find it until we join Jason in our ultimate home in heaven.

Please keep us in your prayers as we continue to look for a place to call home.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Sorting through a deceased child’s belongings

A while ago, I wrote briefly about taking time to go through your child’s belongings in my blog, “A Few Things I’ve Learned in the 10 Years Since Jason Died.” I’ve also responded on Facebook to bereaved parents who’ve asked about what to do with their child’s things. It dawned on me yesterday that I’ve never actually written a specific post with my recommendations on the subject.

When you were ready, here are my suggestions for going through your child’s belongings.

Take your time

First of all, don’t let anyone rush you or push you to go through or “get rid of” your child’s belongings. This is something that’s a very difficult thing to do and you should be given the grace to do it on your own time frame. Let me say that again – your own time frame. Yours. Only yours. Not a time frame someone else has decided for you. Even within family members, the time to go through a child’s belongings should be based – not on the FIRST person who decides or feels like they are ready – but rather on the LAST person reaches the decision that they are ready. If you are the first person to reach this decision, extend copious amounts of grace to everyone else. When it comes to sorting through your child’s belongings, no one should feel rushed or mowed over.

If you absolutely have to consolidate belongings because you have to move or for some other valid reason, that’s one thing. Even then, you should not let anyone push you on their schedule. If someone intimates or outright tells you that you are making a shrine to your child and makes you feel like that it’s a bad thing to wait until you – and only you – are ready to tackle this task, just chalk it up to their not having been in your shoes. They have no idea what they’re talking about, and we need to hope that they never will.

Be gentle with yourself

Going through your child’s belongings is not a marathon or a mountain to be climbed. It is not a task to be conquered. If you begin and find it too overwhelming, it’s okay to take a break or close the door and wait until another day. There is no rule or set time when this task needs to be started or finished. If you need to stop and take time to grieve, extend yourself the grace and time to do so.

Realize that it’s a hard task

No matter how long you wait to begin sorting through your child’s belongings, acknowledge to yourself that it’s an emotional and difficult task to do. It will always feel like you are erasing part of your child’s life from your own. The older the child, the more things they will have collected, the more you will have to sort through.

If you need to, ask for help

If you have a trusted friend or family member who will follow your lead and be sensitive to what you’re going through, ask that person to help you. Don’t be offended if someone says no. Not everyone can handle such a difficult and emotional task and walk beside you as you do this. Let them know it will not be an easy task and make sure they know it’s okay to be honest with you if it becomes too much for them to handle. When we started to go through Jason’s room, our daughter said, “This is more difficult than I thought it was going to be.” She thought she was ready to help, but couldn’t do it and had to leave. And that was okay.

Make a plan and be prepared

Purchase some Rubbermaid totes or other types of long-term storage containers and some boxes. Make sure you have on hand some type of labeling material that does not easily come off of boxes/containers (permanent markers, stick-on labels) and sealing materials (package sealing or duct tape). You may need some file folders, hanging file folder holders, file folder labels and bankers boxes for organizing papers. Also get some various sizes of Ziplock bags for grouping small or similar items and some recycling and garbage bags.

Organize

To begin, choose a small, less-emotionally charged area to sort. Try not to take everything in all at once, as it may become overwhelming. Focus on one specific area. Success breeds success, and you will feel more able to continue when you have successfully completed one small area.

Divide things up into five sections: 1) absolutely have to keep; 2) not quite sure yet whether to keep or not or what to do with; 3) special things you want to give to certain people; 4) things to donate to a charitable organization; and, 5) things to throw away. As you go, box up the things you know you want to keep and label the contents of each container. The same goes for the “not quite sure” items. For the special mementoes, put items you want to give in individual Ziplock bags/boxes and label who you want to give them to. Box up donations, label where they should go and bag up garbage to go where it need to go.

While the others sections may be obvious, the one area that may be overlooked and yet is very crucial is the “not quite sure” items (# 2 above). It’s okay not to know if you want to keep something or not. You don’t have to decide at that very moment. Let me say that again – you absolutely DO NOT have to decide everything at that very moment. I strongly suggest boxing up the things you are not sure about in long-term storage containers and then setting them aside in storage for review at another time. With distance, things may be clearer. It’s an absolute tragedy to give or throw away something you later wish you hadn’t. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and there usually is no way to ever recover those items. Box up those items you are not sure about, store them in your basement or garage, and go through them again when you feel you are ready – whether it be months or even years down the road.

Before making final storage/disposal of items, be sure you check with family members to see if they have any input, changes, or wish to go through your decision choices. Disposal of your child’s things really feels permanent, like the closing of a door, and it’s worth the effort to consider the feelings of others before taking this step.

Final Comments

All of these suggestions are made from experience – either things I did well or wish I had done differently. My greatest errors were allowing myself to be pushed to go through Jason’s room before I was ready to do so, and to not set aside things I wasn’t sure about to review another day. At the end of the day I was totally traumatized at a time when I didn’t need any more trauma. I gave away or “got rid of” things I wish I never had. If I can encourage anyone to take time and give themselves or another bereaved parent grace with this heart-wrenching task or save someone the agony of giving away something they wish they hadn’t, then this post has accomplished its task.

If you have any additional suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

“You’ve Got Mail”

I watched the movie You’ve Got Mail the other day. It came out in 1998 and Jason absolutely loved that movie. As a matter of fact, Jason’s friend Alina (who died in the same car accident as Jason) had bought the DVD for him the Christmas before he died.

It took me years to watch You’ve Got Mail after Jason died. When I finally felt like I could watch it, I cried and cried all the way through it. It came up the other day as I was looking for a movie to watch, and so I decided to watch it again. It still made me cry and cry. Certain memories of Jason are so strongly associated with this movie. It suited his personality – fun, upbeat, caring, romantic, lover of flowers and giving them to those he loved.

Besides Jason’s love for the movie, quite a bit of the music in the movie reminds me of Jason. We played the “The Puppy Song” by Harry Nilsson at the beginning of the slideshow at Jason’s memorial service – a fun, upbeat song that suited Jason so well and his love of his friends. It was the very first song in the memorial slideshow.

“The Puppy Song”
Dreams are nothing more than wishes

And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true, woo woo

If only I could have a puppy
I’d call myself so very lucky
Just to have some company
To share a cup of tea with me

I’d take my puppy everywhere
La, la, la-la I wouldn’t care
And we would stay away from crowds
And signs that said no dogs allowed
Oh we, I know he’d never bite me
Whoa de lo…….
We, I know he’d never bite me

If only I could have a friend
To stick with me until the end
And walk along beside the sea
Share a bit of moon with me

I’d take my friend most everywhere
La, la, la-la I wouldn’t care
We would stay away from crowds
With signs that said no friends allowed
Oh we, we’d be so happy to be
Whoa de lo………….
We, we’d be so happy to be together

But dreams are nothing more than wishes
And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true
Whoa whoa……….

Dreams are nothing more than wishes
And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true
Whoa whoa woo……..

Dreams are nothing more than wishes
And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true

 
 

There are a couple of other Harry Nilsson songs in the movie that bring me to tears when I hear them – Remember and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Other songs in the movie by other artists, too, tug at my heart and make me miss Jason tremendously. Dreams by the Cranberries was on Jason’s favorite playlist at the time he died. Dream by Roy Orbison speaks to the longing of when things were better and memories of when Jason lived.

Remember (Christmas)”

Long ago, far away
Life was clear
Close your eyes

Remember, is a place from long ago
Remember, filled with everything you know
Remember, when you’re sad and feelin’ down
Remember, turn around
Remember, life is just a memory
Remember, close your eyes and you can see
Remember, think of all that life can be
Remember

Dream, love is only in a dream
Remember
Remember, life is never as it seems
Dream

Dream, love is only in a dream
Remember
Remember, life is never as it seems
Dream

Long ago, far away
Life was clear
Close your eyes

https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/harrynilsson/rememberchristmas.html

Long ago, far away…life was clear. Remember. Missing my boy with my whole heart. Oh, my precious boy, how I miss you.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Another Thanksgiving in the books

Holidays are filled with landmines and pitfalls following the death of a child. I remember the “firsts” of the year Jason died – first Easter, first 4th of July, first birthday, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first New Years. Holidays just are never the same when a child dies. Sometimes they are incredibly difficult.

For some reason, this Thanksgiving was particularly difficult for me. Perhaps it’s the whole pandemic isolation thing, being so far away from family. Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of where we are going to live and feeling like we are still at loose ends. Perhaps it’s that so many things feel temporary. We haven’t had a home of our own in so long that it’s beginning to feel like it will never happen. Perhaps it’s a lot of things combined.

I woke up on Thanksgiving morning and just couldn’t seem to find a smile in me. I felt like there was a huge lump in the pit of my stomach that made it hard for me to breathe, like I could cry at the drop of a hat. I had a hard time holding it together. I long for the day when we could all be together in a home of our own. That day is gone and will never be again. It’s just so hard sometimes.

Christmas is right around the corner and the Christmas spirit seems so far to be very elusive this year, too. My mind can’t seem to wrap itself around the fact that we have to spend another Christmas, another year without Jason. I’m doing the best I can, but I feel like I’m failing miserably. A new year is rapidly approaching.

Another year without my boy. Sometimes I just don’t know how to do this.

I love you, Jason, and I miss you with my whole heart.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Scars

You know how sometimes you say something, and then realize you just put into actual, out-loud words how you really feel deep inside? Perhaps you didn’t even realize you felt that way? Something you’ve subconsciously never revealed to anyone…or even acknowledged to yourself? Something perhaps you didn’t even realize how much affected you? That doesn’t happen to me often, but it did recently.

I’m a person who doesn’t give my opinion much. I don’t post political things or memes on Facebook. I don’t ask people their income, weight or age. I try to be helpful and supportive. I try not to hurt anyone. I do everything in my power to go above and beyond for those I love.

I’m independent. I handle things on my own. I swallow my hurt and move on.

Our daughter came to visit us recently. We were sitting, talking about how it is really hard to see the true motivation of someone, what makes them think and act a certain way, how it’s hard to see inside the “why” of why someone does something, how it’s hard to peel the protective layers to truly understand what makes a person tick, how easy it is to be jaded once you’ve been deceived or hurt. I said, “If you could cut me open (metaphorically speaking, of course), basically all you would see is scars.” I was as surprised as my daughter that I said this out loud. She said, “Really?” And I realized that, yes, it was true. That’s how I feel – scarred. Very scarred.

I know we all get hurt in this life. There’s no way around it. Things happen. People are unkind.

We get hurt. We heal. We move on.

But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t leave a scar. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t permanently affected us.

I feel things deeply, more deeply than I let on. I hurt deeply, more deeply than I put into words. It takes me a long time to heal. I have been affected by all of the things that have happened in my life – Jason’s death, family and friends deserting us, putting time and effort and care into people who have not been worthy of my trust, investing myself in something or someone only to be left behind like an old couch, people you trust stabbing you in the back, people you trust to have your best interest at heart who prove otherwise. So many things over the years. It hurts. The wounds may have healed, but I am scarred.

We got a call yesterday that something had been delivered for us to our previous address. I called our old landlord and arranged to pick it up. Joe has not wanted to even see him at all. I dropped Joe across the street at the gas station while I went to pick up the package.

During the night, I noticed Joe was tossing and turning, not sleeping well. I asked him if he was all right. He said he couldn’t shut his brain off, he kept thinking about our old landlord. He said it brought back so many bad memories. It was as if my eyes were opened and I really, truly could see how traumatized Joe has been – and still is – by this whole being-unceremoneously-kicked-out-of-our-home thing – trying to be a good friend for so many years, the hurt, the betrayal, the unkindness. He has been wounded. He has obviously not healed from this wound yet, but I have no doubt it will leave a scar. And it will be added to the others that he has.

We all have been wounded. We all are scarred. We all need to treat each other kindly, because we have no idea what another person has gone through or how many scars are right below the surface.

Hugs.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney