I miss my life

I don’t know what’s going on with me lately. I’ve just really been struggling. You’d think after nearly fourteen and a half years, I’d have this whole grief thing down and be on a smoother, less rocky path.

I think I just get weary of the journey at times. Unless you’ve been there, I don’t think people realize how much effort it takes day after day, year after year to get up every day and face this reality, this life without our child, this life that is so much different than we had hoped for, planned for, expected. Some seasons or holidays take more energy than others. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries – sometimes they’re hard-to-face, emotional times that require more energy and effort than other times.

I just celebrated my 61st birthday. I was 46 when Jason died. How can I still struggle so much at times after all these years? When Jason died, I remember writing in my diary, pleading with God for something good to come out of all this loss. I prayed that the positive impact of Jason’s life and his beautiful, loving spirit would radiate out like ripples from a stone being thrown into a pond and impact the people he knew for good. I prayed that something meaningful would come out of such a senseless death, out of so much loss. Joe and I always felt, from the moment of Jason’s birth, that God had a special purpose for his life. And then he died at age 19. My beautiful, wonderful boy. After all these years, I still don’t see the “greater good” or the reason for so much pain.

Sometimes the loss overwhelms me, especially around birthdays and holidays. They seem to be times of introspect and reflection. I look at my life and wonder what it’s all about. I see a woman who still deeply grieves the death of her son. I see a woman who is lonely and unsettled. After all these years, we still haven’t found a place to be “at home.” We sold most everything in our nearly 3000 square foot home when we left Washington, and, believe me, I mean most everything! We bought a 1700 square foot house and some furnishings when we moved to Oklahoma, but then sold it all again when we left there three years later. We rented a furnished one-bedroom condo when we lived in Florida and now rent a furnished one-bedroom apartment in North Carolina. Most of what we own is packed and stored in less than 25 boxes. We don’t own the couch we sit on, the bed we sleep in, vacuum cleaner we use, or most of the dishes we eat on.

It’s not like we haven’t tried to find a house to rent or buy or a place to “anchor.” We have.   Housing is expensive where we live, and we just haven’t found anything we can afford that we really like enough to move. I’m not sure this is the right place for us, anyway. We just don’t know where we fit. I feel adrift and have felt that way since we left Washington. And now, it looks like our daughter and her husband may be moving away from here. I don’t know what I’ll do without her. I know she needs to live her own life and I want her to be happy. She’s been through so much and deserves to be happy. It’s just that I’ll just miss her so much.

I miss feeling connected and confident, knowing the direction I was headed, knowing my family was safe and happy. I miss imagining a future that looks bright and full of possibilities. Sometimes I look at my life and can’t believe this is my life now. Things just haven’t worked out the way I thought they would. We are so unsettled, disconnected in so many ways. We struggle to make friends, to fit in. We work, but to what end? We do this and that, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem to have any meaning or dispel our restlessness. Our grandchildren live on the other side of the United States and we hardly know them. I expected to be one of those grandmothers who was involved in her grandkids’ lives, taking them places, doing fun things together, making crafts, baking. I expected to be wanted, needed, loved, hugged. Our relationship has never been easy with our daughter-in-law, so that makes it difficult as she does not encourage or foster our connections with our grandkids much, if at all, even when we visit them. It makes me so sad.

I was looking forward to Jason getting married and having kids. I could just imagine little Jason’s running around our house, along with our other grandkids. Joe has told me that he, too, expected us to stay in our Washington house for the rest of our lives, having a place for everyone to come home to visit, playing with our grandkids there. I’ve never known anyone so involved with his kids as Joe, someone who gets so much enjoyment spending time with his family. He’s a wonderful man with an amazing heart for kids, both his own and others. How do we put broken dreams to rest? I don’t know. What could have or should have been – it trips me up sometimes. The losses of what we no longer have trip me up sometimes, too.

My sister is coming to visit in a couple of weeks. As I was doing some cleaning this morning in preparation for her arrival, I got so frustrated with the less-than-adequate vacuum cleaner that is part of our furnished rental that I just yelled, “I miss my vacuum cleaner!! I miss my own stuff!! I miss my home!!  I miss my life!!!”

Silly to miss a vacuum cleaner, I know. It was just the symbol of the frustration, loneliness and sadness I’ve felt lately. I keep on trying. God knows, I keep on trying. Each new day, I keep on trying to find a purpose, trying to find meaning in the day, trying to do the best I can, trying to find the positive and good, trying to be thankful, trying to find a reason to go on. Sometimes it takes a lot of energy to keep on trying, and I simply run out of the energy reserves I have and get weary. I guess I’m just weary right now, needing something to go right.

Tomorrow is another day, and I will rise to try again.



Cherish the Moments

As I walk through retail or grocery stores, I am usually very aware of how parents talk to their kids. I notice the ones who lovingly pay attention to their children and speak to them respectfully. I notice the ones who are harried and (sometimes quite rudely) rush their kids along. I notice the ones who are so rude and harsh to their kids – it makes me cringe to listen to those parents. I notice the ones who are just awful to their kids – those are the ones that break my heart. Sometimes it sounds like they actually hate their kids!

I remember, when our oldest son was born, we were given a poem by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D. entitled “Children Learn What They Live With.”

If children live with criticism,
They learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility,
They learn to fight.
If children live with ridicule,
They learn to be shy.
If children live with shame,
They learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement,
They learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance,
They learn to be patient.
If children live with praise,
They learn to appreciate.
If children live with acceptance,
They learn to love.
If children live with approval,
They learn to like themselves.
If children live with honesty,
They learn truthfulness.
If children live with security,
They learn to have faith in themselves and others.
If children live with friendliness,
They learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Although children make their own choices, which are sometimes outside of what the parent would wish (especially as they get older), I am a firm believer that a positively-involved parent can make a huge difference in a child’s life. Children hear our words; they see our actions and learn to emulate them. We make a difference in their lives!

More than once, I have been tempted to stop a harsh, harried, or rude parent and say, “What are you teaching your child by your words and actions? Do you realize what are you imprinting on their lives? Don’t you know what a precious gift you have? Do you realize how quickly these years go by? Would you be acting the same toward your child if you knew they could die at any time? Would you regret your words or behavior if you no longer had your child to hold close? Cherish the moments with your child! The shopping will wait; the housework will wait! Slow down and enjoy being with your precious child! This moment won’t come again.”

We’ve all been there – in a hurry, upset, impatient, mad about something. There is no perfect parent. Children aren’t perfect, either, and that can make parenting a challenge. As the saying goes: parenting is not for the faint of heart. It’s not an easy job, that’s for sure.

After children are grown and away from home, we empty-nest parents have a full realization of how quickly those growing-up years have passed, never to return, and then we wish we had them back to take our time and enjoy more. When a child has died (no matter what the age), the opportunity to spend time and cherish any moment with that child is gone. Our child is gone! All we have is memories, and perhaps regret for missed opportunities to spend time together with our child.

If I had the chance, there are so many things I would do differently. As a homeschooling parent, I probably spent more time with my kids than most. I loved it, and counted it an honor to be involved in their lives as they grew up. But, I am far from perfect, and there are times when the “should have’s” tap me on the shoulder to remind me of things I could have done better or differently. I would love to have the opportunity to spend time with Jason, to play another game of chess or Yahtzee. I would love the chance make chocolate chip cookies together, to teach Jason how to make my “famous” cinnamon rolls, or type up his homework papers as he dictated them to me (Jason’s “thinking juices” flowed best as he walked around the room and thought out loud). I would gladly hand over the keys to our new car and encourage Jason to drive it to take Alina home that night – maybe he would be alive today if he had been driving a different car. I would love to… The list goes on and on. Most of all, I would just love to have my precious boy here.

We always think there will be more time, another opportunity. Sometimes there just isn’t.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

“Angry stage”? Perhaps.

This is probably the harshest, angriest journal entry I wrote after Jason died. I was very hurt at the time. The mama bear in me raised her head and roared. The “angry stage” of grief? Perhaps. I’m not a big fan of labeling stages of grief. They make grief look too neat, too tidy, too linear, too easy for someone else to apply their own assumptions to where the griever should be in the “stages” or what the bereaved should be doing. In an effort to promote understanding, I have promised not to shy away from the harsh things we faced following Jason’s death, so I am including it below. It’s where I was and how I felt at the time. I was angry.

From my journal dated January 4, 2003:

Well, we took the Christmas tree and decorations down today. All is put away and cleaned up for another year. Every Saturday and Sunday are the same – and this one is no different. We do what we need to do, and then we sit on the couch and look at each other. “Now what do we do?”

Janice stopped by last evening and brought us some flowers. If she’s in town, she tries to remember the 3rd in some way. I really appreciate that. Since we were about to sit down to dinner, I invited her to join us.

Janice started asking Jenna about what she’d done and about who she had seen over Christmas, specifically asking if Jenna had done anything with [the two gals who stopped by the other day for coffee where Jenna works]. I think Janice thought people who were home from college would get together with Jenna. She thought friends would call, invite her to do things with them. People like to picture happy, rosy scenarios – when it’s just not that way. After Jenna left, I just vented some of my frustration about “friends.” I’m just so mad. I honestly can take the desertion for myself, but it’s just so hard to see how everyone has been treating my family.

We’ve served in the church, in the homeschool community. We’ve opened our home and lives over and over again. I’ve spent hours and hours praying for our kids and their friends. We’ve cared about them, invested our lives in them. Now they avoid us, pretend they don’t see us, duck down the next aisle at the grocery store. It makes it hard to respect some of the Christians we know. Aren’t Christians supposed to have a heart after God? Aren’t Christians supposed to be the hands and feet of God on this earth? Doesn’t the Bible say that faith without works is dead?

Janice kept saying how, whenever she sees anyone we know, they ask her how we’re doing. They tell her they think of us daily, that they’re praying for us. They very well may be, but…honestly! How are supposed to know that? We see no evidence of it at all! To leave us so alone, we really can’t tell one way or the other.

Janice said the typical “people don’t know what to do, don’t know what to say, don’t want to intrude in our family time.” Intrude on our family time??!! Really? Our “family time” all by ourselves screams the lack of Jason’s presence. Our “family time” emphasizes the huge hole in our family. Our “family time” isn’t what it used to be; it’s not what everyone must picture. Jeesh!! I have such a hard time swallowing those excuses. That’s what they are – excuses! I told her I don’t understand how practically everybody we know doesn’t have the guts to step up to the the plate and be here for us. Seriously! Where are they? Even if some of these kids and parents are dealing with their own grief, can’t someone step up to the plate?? Anyone? We know lot of people!!

I told her that it’s almost too late now for any of these people to try to “be there” for us. It’s been so long…too long. How do we trust them? How do we believe that NOW they want to be around us?

I don’t want Janice to feel that she needs to go and “talk” to people, to guilt them into calling or trying to hang out with us or whatever. I made sure she knows that motives are extremely important to us. We are not a project. We don’t need anyone to sweep in and fix us or rescue us. We don’t want anyone to do anything out of guilt. Either they want to be around us or they don’t. Either they care about us or they don’t. Either it shows or it doesn’t.

Janice said several times that a lot of people care about us. Really?? Where are they????? It’s really hard to tell. Are we just supposed to “feel” the caring in the airwaves? Maybe it’s the “faith” kind of caring. We just have to have faith that people care…because we sure flat out don’t see it and we don’t feel it.

I told Janice I can’t wait to move far away. She said it would be starting over in a place where we didn’t know anybody, that at least we know people here and there’s a chance to restore relationships. But how do we trust those relationships now? How do we believe these friendships and relationships are true? If they are true, why have all of us been so alone since Jason died? Do I want to restore those relationships? How would I go about doing that? How do I trust them? It just looks like so much work on my part. Even thinking about it is exhausting.

Trust once broken is not easily mended. You don’t just snap your fingers and things are as they once were. I trusted those people! I trusted them to be here for us when we had absolutely no family close by. They knew we had no family here. I trusted them to be gentle with our hearts. I reached out to them and they did nothing! They did nothing!! Nothing! I told Janice trust has been broken in those relationships, and I don’t have anywhere near the energy that it would take to restore them.

In talking later with Jenna about what Janice and I discussed, Jenna said, “People and the way they have treated us have made it 100 times worse.”

“100 times worse” may be a little high, but it definitely has caused wounds on top of wounds. It has affected us. It has made this grieving so much harder. So much lonelier. People don’t see that when they do nothing they create a greater hurt or wound than if they at least tried to do something. Even doing something small with the right heart is better than doing nothing!

A small kindness goes a long way. If people just put on their thinking caps – along with a little sensitivity – a person of any age can do a small kindness that helps the healing…or at least momentarily lessens the hurting to some degree. It doesn’t take much, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or some aged wise man to figure out something small that would help. Kindness. We just needed kindness heaped our broken and wounded hearts.

Janice has a tendency to excuse the “kids” – Jason’s and Jenna’s friends. “They don’t know what to do.” “They don’t know how to deal with it.” Okay. I can understand that. Truly, I do. But when they ignore “it,” they ignore us. We pay the price again and again. How do I trust or respect these people again? I just don’t believe people any more. I don’t see how they could possibly even care when it looks to me like they haven’t even thought of us in months and months. At least, that’s the way it looks from this side. They haven’t even bothered to reach across the grief barrier to us for what seems like an eternity – and, whenever they decide it’s “safe” to call or whatever, we’re supposed to believe them, welcome their words and open up our hearts/emotions like a book?? How do we do that?

Trust has always been a big issue for me. Trust. Truth. Honesty. They’re important to me. It’s hard for me to trust once it’s been broken, especially now. It just feels like the stakes are so much higher. Our hearts are involved. Our hearts are broken and fragile. I feel so vulnerable and hurt. I feel like I’ve had to put up walls to protect myself from more pain, more broken trust, more broken relationships. I’ve crawled inside those walls. I feel so depleted emotionally. I’m worn down. It takes a lot of energy grieve. It takes a lot of energy to heal wounds – not only the huge one from Jason’s death, but all of the secondary wounds. I guess it takes less energy to keep the walls up than tear them down to let people in.

I’m sure I came across harshly to Janice, but I think she was trying to understand. I really appreciate that. I don’t want to be mad. I don’t want to be harsh or bitter. It helps no one and hurts no one but me. No one really knows what it’s been like to be so alone.

God, forgive us if we’re jaded. It feels like we’ve been walking across a long, harsh, empty, barren terrain of grief. We’re all so very, very weary.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

The Question of Faith

From my journal dated December 16, 2002:

I keep praying and praying for my family. But I struggle so much with my faith right now. It’s hard to trust a God who didn’t protect Jason. Does He hear me? I have prayed and prayed and prayed for my family over the years, for their lives, for their protection. And yet Jason died. Did God hear me when I prayed for Jason?

Sometimes I feel like scrapping my faith entirely. But I know I won’t, because I do believe in God. It’s who I am. It goes to the very core of me. I have, without a doubt, seen God answer prayers. There’s so much I question, though. There’s so much I don’t understand.

During the offering “ad” at church yesterday morning, the pastor taking the offering said something along the line of “give your tithe and God will bless you,” “pressed down, shaken together,” stuff like that. I looked at Joe and said, “I just don’t know if I believe some of this any more.” He agreed.

We have given our lives to God; we dedicated our kids to Him; we have given our tithe; we have prayed; we have fasted; we have read the Scripture; we have served in the church. But I do not feel blessed of God right now! How can it be a blessing that Jason is gone??!! How can it be a blessing that the rest of us are struggling so much? It doesn’t add up for me. The formulaic approach doesn’t work for me. Do this and God will do that. Faith without works is dead. We’ve had the faith, done the works. Jason is the one who is dead. I just can’t understand how God would let this happen.

The pastor’s sermon was on joy at Christmas. I just don’t feel it this year. I can’t be phony, paste a smile on my face, and jump for joy.

I know that – without the birth, life, and death of Jesus – there would be no resurrection, no hope of seeing Jason again. I do believe. I do believe that Jason is in heaven. I do believe we will see him again; that we will see my dad, the baby we lost, my grandpa, and all the others who have gone on ahead. I do believe that Jesus was born, that he died for our sins, and that He rose again so that we can have eternal life.

I’m just really struggling with parts of what I believe right now. I question so much. What’s real faith and what’s not? It’s an odd position to trust in/believe in God and all that goes with that – and yet being so angry at him that sometimes I feel like grabbing Him by the lapels (assuming He has any), shaking Him, and asking Him why He didn’t protect Jason and why my family has to walk through all of this.

I trust, but I question. I trust, but I’m mad at Him. Church has always felt like a safe home for me, but I’m struggling with being angry at “His people” for abandoning us when Jason died (and since then). I suppose I’ll eventually find some middle ground. I’ve been a Christian for a long time. I picture my faith like a large tree with roots that go deep. But that tree has been nearly cut off at ground level. I’m questioning everything I took for granted – the sayings, the teachings, the cliches, the formulas, the things I thought I knew and understood to be true. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. I think God is big enough and has enough grace to handle my questioning.

I feel like my faith will grow again from the roots up, but it may not look the same as it did. I don’t want some pie-in-the-sky cliche. It’s got to apply to the tough stuff, to daily life. I want a faith and a hope that is real, practical, strong. I want a “rubber meets the road” faith in God that will carry me until I see my boy again.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

“How Are You?”

From my journal dated December 7, 2002:

I stopped by the cemetery yesterday. I was just so sad and missed Jason so much! All of me cries out for him to be here.

Someone had left 18 long-stemmed, red roses. They were so beautiful. I don’t know who left them, but it made me feel less alone to know that someone took the time to remember Jason.

Sometimes it seems like everyone has moved on, and here we are facing Christmas with a horrendous hole in our family and in our hearts. We just all feel so alone. Sometimes someone will call, but it still doesn’t feel like a call every once in a while is any type of support.

D.G.* called on Tuesday. Haven’t heard from her in months and months. I hate it when people call once every few months, and then expect me to answer the question, “How are you?” It’s always asked in this hyper-sympathetic tone. Like I’m going to be transparent about the most sensitive, deepest hurt in my life – losing my precious Jason! Especially to someone who hasn’t had the guts or even bothered to call once in months! Calls like that just make me mad and tire me out! If they really cared, they would have called earlier…and more often!

8 months

From my journal dated November 3, 2002:

Sunday – November 3, 2002

8 months – 8 long, horrendous, lonely months

I hate it. I still hate it all.

  • I hate the emptiness Jason’s absence leaves.
  • I hate the 3rd of each month, aware of how many months Jason has been gone.
  • I hate the way our house is so silent most of the time.
  • I hate the emptiness of Sundays and going to church, just Joe and me.
  • I hate going so many places and doing so many things by myself.
  • I hate making dinner – enough to feed a crew, but the crew isn’t around any more.
  • I hate that Jenna doesn’t have her special brother in her life any more.
  • I hate that people avoid us, like they might catch something from us.
  • I hate going by Jason’s closed door every day, knowing his stuff is still there just as he left it when he took Alina home that night.
  • I hate the darkness and heavy sadness in my heart.
  • I hate that Thanksgiving and Christmas are marching toward us…they will never be the same.
  • I hate that it seems like everyone has forgotten Jason…like the accident never happened.
  • I hate it that Jason is gone.