Worry

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the difference in the person I was before Jason died and the person I became after he died. There’s no doubt that I am a different person now. I don’t think people realize how much bereaved parents change and how their lives forever are affected by the death of a child. One thing that I’ve noticed is that I worry about things so much more than I used to.

I don’t remember having that many worries when I found out I was pregnant with our first son. I quit drinking coffee, ate healthy, went to regular checkups, had good reports about how my pregnancy was progressing, went to childbirth classes, prepared for the baby. Everything was peachy-keen and on schedule. Things don’t always go according to plan, though.

My blood pressure went up too high four weeks or so before my due date. On doctor’s orders, I couldn’t continue working and immediately was placed on total bed rest. At the time, we lived in a little house in Southern California that had no air conditioning. That year, we just happened to have an unseasonably hot June, even for Southern California. It was so hot!! We would open all the windows and turn on the fans during the night to cool off the house, and then get up first thing in the morning to close all the windows and blinds to keep out the rising heat. By noon, it didn’t matter; it was as hot inside as it was outside. Once again, I would open all of the windows and turn on the fans to move the air around while I lay around, waiting for Eric to be born.  I was really looking forward his birth, partially because I would be able to have a few days of air conditioned comfort in the hospital!

One week before my due date, I drove to my doctor’s appointment, which was 40 minutes away. As I said, I was really looking forward to delivering the baby, but the doctor said he hadn’t even dropped yet. She expected that, not only would I not deliver the baby early, I would probably go a week or more past my due date! I cried all the way home, imagining two or three more weeks of being hugely pregnant and miserable in the boiling heat. I begged God to have mercy on me. Much to my and my doctor’s surprise, I went into labor in the early hours of the very next day.

Although we had planned to have a “normal” delivery with Joe in the delivery room as my coach, fetal monitors showed that Eric’s oxygen level dropped every time I had a contraction. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, so I was prepped and rushed into surgery for a Cesarian section. Joe wasn’t able to be in the delivery room with me, and I didn’t see Eric right away because of being under anesthesia for the delivery. Fortunately for me, because I was so well rested from being on bedrest, I recovered very quickly from the surgery. The baby was healthy. I was healthy and recovered well. My husband was thrilled with our baby boy.

Because of the C-section (along with my desire NOT to have another one) and my high blood pressure during my pregnancy with Eric, both pregnancies and deliveries with Jason and Jenna were considered high risk. V-backs (natural delivery following a C-section), as they were called at the time, were a fairly new thing. After discussing it with my doctor, she decided that she was willing to try the births without another C-section if the baby’s estimated weight didn’t go over 8 pounds. At birth, Jason weighed in at 9 lbs, 10 1/2 ounces, and Jenna weighed in at 8 lbs, 10 1/2 ounces. Both of them were born without having to have a C-section. We had three happy, healthy children.

With each pregnancy, though, I became more aware that things don’t always go according to plan. I was much more aware of each twinge that didn’t seem quite right during pregnancy, and those twinges worried me a bit. I worried about having a healthy baby. I wasn’t consumed with worry, but I was certainly much more aware of so many possibilities of things that could go wrong.  I was aware that miscarriages sometimes happen and babies don’t necessarily live until birth, but I learned the real impact of not carrying a pregnancy to live birth and healthy baby when our fourth child died in utero at 19 weeks. As I said in an earlier post, that was a very black year for me.

With the birth of each child, I also was much more aware of potential dangers to my children. I discovered that my kids might get hurt no matter how much I tried to protect them. We did everything we could to keep them safe. Even so, I worried about my kids as they got older and moved toward their independence, out from under our protection. I prayed and prayed and then prayed some more for their safety, and I felt God heard and answered my prayers. I felt very blessed to have three healthy children and a husband who was crazy about them and me. Life was pretty good. And then Jason died and my world view shattered. I shattered.

After Jason died, the stark realization that I am not immune to something absolutely-beyond-belief-horrible happening to my family and to those I love went deep into my very being. Tragedy struck our family. It wasn’t someone else’s family; it was ours. I felt incredibly vulnerable. I felt raw and exposed. I felt deserted by God and man. I felt like I didn’t know where tragedy was going to strike next, like I was waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Because of some PTSD-like symptoms, I was hyper-aware of sirens. If I didn’t know where my family was when I heard a siren and thought they might be close by to whatever tragedy was happening, I would get anxious and start to panic.  I would immediately try to call to make sure they were safe.

One night about six weeks after Jason’s death, I heard a lot of sirens close by our house. Jenna was long overdue arriving home after attending an activity and I couldn’t reach her for hours. I was practically beside myself and nearly out of my mind with worry as the time inched on. My mind went into overdrive trying to figure out where she was, why I couldn’t get ahold of her, and what could have happened to her. She was fine and got home safely, but that didn’t dispel the worried agony I had felt.

Vulnerable. Unsure. Worried.

That feeling of vulnerability has never entirely gone away. Sirens still worry me, and sometimes I still call to make sure Joe and Jenna are okay when I hear them. I worry about things, sometimes a lot more than I should. I imagine the worst in many situations…because I know that the worst CAN happen to me. The worst CAN happen to people I dearly love. I miss the Becky that didn’t feel so vulnerable so much of the time. I miss the Becky that didn’t stress out and worry about things so much. I don’t give my heart or friendship very easily any more, but when someone has a place in my heart, I worry about them because I want the best for them. I want them to be safe and okay. I need my family to be safe and okay…and I worry about them.

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

Regrets

This week my daughter was teasing me about how I used to make the kids do jobs around the house when they were young, and how sometimes I checked their workmanship to make sure they had done a good job of their task.

I’m sure I felt at the time that it was important to teach the kids responsibility and that they learn to do a good job at whatever was tasked to them. And I’m sure they profited from being taught to do a good job, in the long run. Jason was a very focused and great worker. Eric and Jenna are outstanding workers.

But, looking back, I wish I had taken more moments to play with the kids instead of seeing so much through the eyes of responsibility and instruct-able moments. I would give anything to go back and just hug my kids more, read more stories, play more games. I want my kids to remember how much I loved them, and not how I was so concerned that the dust bunnies didn’t multiply.

It’s a balance, this being a parent. Those years with young kids are so full of such busy times. We are trying to instill values and life lessons for the adult they will one day be. We want them to learn early in life how to manage time and to do a job in which they can take pride. We want to teach them to be kind and caring. So many things to teach. And the next thing we know, they are gone. In my case, gone forever. Jason is gone forever.

In recently looking at photographs, I know we did a lot of fun things together. I hope Eric and Jenna – and Jason, before he died – remember more those fun things than the responsibility things. But there are no more days of playing Yahtzee or chess with Jason, no more days of going to the beach with him, no more playing volleyball in the back yard with him. I will never have a chance to do those things that Jason loved with him again…or with his kids, either, since he will never have any kids.

The day before the accident, I remember I was trying to orchestrate everyone helping get the house clean and groceries bought for the week so that we could relax and enjoy our Sunday together. It seemed so important at the time. But then Jason died in the early hours of Sunday morning. Instead of fun family time together, our nightmare had just begun. If I had known what I know now, the cleaning could have waited, not only that day, but many other days. I had a clean house for people who came by for consolation visits, and Jason had helped clean the house.

Take time to enjoy the time you have with the ones you love. Let them remember your love, kindness, empathy. Yes, teach your kids the important things, but make sure they remember the fun times and not only the chores.

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Lost in Thought

I feel like I just need to sit and think about Jason for a bit this weekend. Thursday, March 3rd, will mark the beginning of another year without our precious, bright, sunshine-y boy in our lives. The days and weeks leading up to March 3rd are always a roller coaster of emotions for me. I’ll be going along as usual and then, all of a sudden, realize that I’m sad. It’s been enough years now that I know that, whether I consciously realize it or not, I’m very aware that the anniversary of Jason’s death is marching toward me.

This past fall we went to Oklahoma to pick up what’s left of our “stuff” and had it shipped to North Carolina where we live. We had disposed of most everything we owned when we left Washington, keeping only things such as photographs and memorabilia of our lives. When we left Oklahoma, we were not sure where we were going to go and what we had left ended up going into a storage unit and has remained there for the past six years.

I have recently opened the boxes to briefly remind myself what was in them. Jason’s hats. Jason’s chess set. The police investigation records from the accident (which are tightly taped shut, and I have never looked at and probably never will). Jenna’s baby bonnets. Jenna’s favorite stuffed animal. Eric’s favorite toy as a baby. The guest book from Jason’s memorial service. Photographs. Memories.

It’s all very bittersweet. Photographs of wonderful times long ago. Pictures of a smiling woman that I know is me…or was me…and I’m aware that I am no longer that person in those pictures. People I used to know, people I thought were my friends. Fun times with extended family. Drawings and notes from the kids. Memories that make me realize how much I miss Jason and those times long gone. Memories of a time when things were much more simple and I didn’t have this emptiness and sadness inside of me. Memories that make me smile. Memories that make me cry.

I am so very thankful Jason was born into our family. I feel so privileged to have been his mother. I found this as I was going through some boxes this week, an email Jason wrote to me in October, 2001 that I had printed off. So thoughtful. So sweet. Bittersweet. It makes me smile, and then it makes me cry.

Email from Jason

Oh, Jason, how I miss your kind and loving heart, your beautiful smile, your wonderful hugs. I miss you. I love you. You will never be forgotten.

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

Happy birthday, my precious Mr. Jay…

AND CAN IT BE, IN A WORLD SO FULL AND BUSY, THE LOSS OF ONE CREATURE MAKES A VOID SO WIDE AND DEEP THAT NOTHING BUT THE WIDTH AND DEPTH OF ETERNITY CAN FILL IT UP?         Charles Dickens

Oh, my precious boy…how I miss you…I love you…

Jason's birthday - July 29, 1982

Jason’s birthday – July 29, 1982

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My precious Mr. Jay

 

Jason David Carney - 7/29/82 - 3/3/02

Jason David Carney – 7/29/82 – 3/3/02

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney

 

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

 

Growing up as a preacher’s kid, Christmas was all about the birth of Christ and there was no focus on Santa whatsoever. We, as kids, knew that some kids truly believed Santa (Saint Nicholas) landed on the roof top in his sleigh and came down the chimney, delivered their presents and filled all the stockings. But, to us, Santa was a story of a man in a red suit who represented a nice concept of giving at Christmas. That was it. To our family, Christmas was all about Jesus being born in a manager.

imagesMy husband’s family, on the other hand, did the whole Santa thing. When we got married, Joe firmly told me that, when we had kids, we would NOT allow Santa to be the focus our Christmases. He said that he felt betrayed and lied to by his parents when he found out that his parents bought the gifts and that they were not delivered by Santa.  He couldn’t understand how they could lie to him like that. He felt like he was supposed to be able to trust that his parents, of all people, would be honest with him! It was a traumatic experience for him as a little kid.

It is kind of creepy, if you think about it. You’re told a man in a red suit is watching you all the time. He knows what you’re doing. Your parents lie to you and use it to control your behavior at Christmas. Just my opinion. I guess I never understood the fascination with Santa.

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
He’s gonna find out
Who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake…

Christmas Carols – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town Lyrics | MetroLyrics

When Eric was a baby, though, we were given a stocking for him that had been hand-made by a family member. It was cute and thoughtfully given, so we bought stockings for rest of us to up as decorations. We decided they would be a good place to hold fun little gifts for each other, and they became a part of our holiday tradition. A few years later, my sister gave beautifully hand-made stockings for each of us and we put them up every year. Finding little “stocking stuffers” to put in each other’s stockings became part of our Christmas tradition. It was the fun way we ended our Christmas Day celebration every year by “opening” our stockings, stuffed to the top with fun little gifts, all at the same time. A Christmas tradition.

As I said in my previous post, that first Christmas after Jason died was so hard. As I sat on the family room floor, crying while surrounded by Christmas decorations, I truly didn’t know how we were going to celebrate Christmas without Jason. I couldn’t even get the decorations on the tree because I was so raw with the pain of missing Jason. I could barely function that Christmas. We had tried to instill a sense of tradition at Christmas and create memorable moments for our family. How were we going to maintain our family traditions when our family was broken and missing Jason?

One thing I remember is sitting on the family room floor that Christmas, trying to figure out if I should put up the stockings. I stared at the five nails above the fireplace. If I put all five of them up and we filled them with little gifts for each other as we usually did, I didn’t think I could handle seeing Jason’s stocking hanging there empty. If we put something in Jason’s stocking, it would be sad because he wouldn’t really be there to “open” his stocking with the rest of us. I couldn’t put up the rest of our stockings and not Jason’s. It would be obvious he was missing and would feel like a betrayal by excluding him. If I didn’t put them up at all or put them up and didn’t put anything in them, we wouldn’t be maintaining one of our traditions. Was that fair to the rest of the family? I didn’t know what to do. None of the choices seemed right, because it didn’t seem right that Jason was gone.

We tried to maintain some of our traditions that year, just because we didn’t know what else to do. Our Christmas traditions had become woven into our family way of life. We didn’t want to cheat the rest of our family out of celebrating our traditional Christmas, but every tradition we tried to maintain that first year after Jason died just emphasized his absence.  No matter what we did or didn’t do that Christmas, it was obvious Jason wasn’t there. It was so hard.

That’s the thing about traditions – they are tightly woven into and become meaningful remembrances of a holiday. The hanging of the stockings was just one of many of our Christmas traditions that carried weight of meaning to us as a family tradition. Yes, it was just a fun little part of our Christmas morning, but every single tradition we had was part of the way WE celebrated OUR Christmas as a FAMILY. Now part of our family was gone. And there were so many more traditions we had as a family besides hanging the stockings, each one spotlighting Jason’s absence. Asian food for dinner Christmas Eve. Candlelight service as a family on Christmas Eve. Cinnamon rolls Christmas morning. On and on. So many traditions.

Traditions. What do you do with your family traditions after a child dies? I think it takes many years to figure out which traditions to keep and which ones are too painful to continue. Some traditions can be bittersweet reminders of past Christmases before our child died. Some are put away for a while and may be started again at some point. Some are put away for good because they just hurt too much. New traditions are added in. For us, I think it continues to be a work in progress, this finding of traditions to add special meaning to our family Christmas. I guess I’m still not used to the idea of celebrating Christmas without Jason. I don’t think I ever will be.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Christmas Hurts My Heart

I think most everyone would agree that losing a child is an unbearably hard thing to experience. Life just isn’t the same, and it definitely is not easy life to lead after the death of a child. I also think it would be fair to say that some days in the life of a bereaved parent are harder than others. The reason some days are so hard partially has to do with missing our child so much and the longing for days when he or she was with us. Certain days shine the spotlight on that loss more than others.

For me, some of the hardest days of the year are Jason’s birthday, the day Jason died, and Christmas. Not every day is as hard as it used to be, but some days are just plain tough. Those are the days when the longing to have things the way they were before Jason died is especially strong. A parent who has lost a child never stops missing them, never has that longing go away to have his or her child with them, never has the grief of the death go away.

I have found that the days leading up to the actual “day” – whichever day that may be – can be harder than the actual day itself. For example, as March 3rd approaches, I find myself getting more emotional, restless, and unsettled. It’s not something I plan on; it just sort of happens and it’s really nothing over which I have control. Over the years, I’ve been able to recognize what’s going on and the cause of it. I try to extend grace to myself to allow myself to feel what I need to feel and to do what I need to do to observe these days that have so many memories attached to them and carry great emotional weight for me. For some reason, usually the “day of” is not as difficult as the days leading up to that day. I guess the anticipation of those difficult days is harder than the actual day once it arrives.

The thing about Christmas is that it’s such a public holiday and observance. We end up being bombarded with the reminders that CHRISTMAS WILL SOON BE HERE even before Halloween is over. Jason’s birthday and the day he died are more private observations. It’s not blasted at me in every store, on every street corner, on the radio and TV for months on end. Even holidays like the 4th of July, which was one of Jason’s favorite holidays, doesn’t impact me like Christmas does. Once Christmas is on the radar, we constantly are reminded that “the most wonderful time of the year” is about to arrive. Frank Sinatra reminds us that we should “let our hearts be light,” that “our troubles will be miles away,” and that “faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more.” Those sentiments are not necessarily true for a parent who has lost a child.

Before Jason died, I couldn’t wait to jump on the “Christmas is most wonderful time of the year” train. I couldn’t wait to go shopping for Christmas presents and to “do” our holiday traditions.

One thing thing Joe and I tried to create for our kids from when they were very little was a sense of wonder and tradition at Christmas. We wanted to make it a very special time for them. We made a conscious choice not to do the Santa thing since Joe felt betrayed and lied to by his parents when he found out as a young boy that his gifts came from his parents and not Santa. We chose instead to concentrate on celebrating the birth of Christ and the love of family and friends. We tried to instill a sense of what Christmas was really about – the ultimate gift of God’s son being born reflected in the gifts we give to others.

Over the years, we developed so many wonderful Christmas traditions. Going to Christmas events as a family or with friends. Looking at Christmas lights and decorations. We came up with a 1 to 10 rating system as we drove by decorated houses. Going to cut down or pick out our Christmas tree as a family. Going home after we’d found the “perfect” tree, getting out the boxes of Christmas decorations, putting on Christmas music, drinking hot chocolate, and decorating the tree together as a family. Joe would put the lights on the tree. I would unwrap the decorations and hand each person his or her own decoration to put on the tree. As he got taller and older, Jason always put the angel on the top of the tree. We went out for Asian food on Christmas Eve. I baked cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Joe read the Christmas story as we ate cinnamon rolls. Jason had asked me that last Christmas if I would teach him how to make cinnamon rolls. I haven’t made cinnamon rolls in many years. We took turns opening presents, starting with the youngest person picking out a present for someone else and then next youngest person picking out a present for someone until we got to the oldest person picking out a present, and then we started over with the youngest person again.

I saved every decoration the kids made. Each year I would go out to buy a Christmas tree decoration that seemed to fit each person that particular year. I would then use a gold permanent marker to write the name and date on the bottom of each ornament. My plan was to give each child his or her set of ornaments collected over the years when he or she got married or had their own home. Now, they sit in boxes in a storage unit in Oklahoma. I haven’t seen them in years. We haven’t had a “live” Christmas tree in years. Our Christmas ornaments on our fake tree don’t have any memories tied to them.

The Christmas after Jason died, we tried to maintain some of those traditions. I can’t tell you how many stores I had to leave because I almost starting crying. I remember driving by houses lit up with Christmas trees and lights, thinking how lucky those families must be to not hurt as I was hurting and how lucky they were to have people who wanted to be around them. I felt like such a pariah that year, like being around us would impinge on someone else’s holiday joy. I remember sitting on the family room floor, all by myself, amidst Christmas tree decorations trying to figure out how to decorate the tree. Looking at the decorations and the empty tree with tears coursing down my face. There are some days since Jason died that, when I think of them, it’s like I can step back into the scene and feel the raw, agonizing pain of that time. That day is one of them. The cinnamon rolls that must have had a bit of extra salt added to them from tears I couldn’t stop crying as I made them. Boy, that was a tough year.

I have found that for me, as a bereaved parent, I have to tread lightly around potential land mines at Christmas. Christmas is hard for me. I miss my boy so much at Christmas. I miss the family we used to be and the wonderful traditions we had as we celebrated Christmas together. The longing to be together as a family is especially strong at Christmas. I miss the unadulterated, innocent, complete joy of Christmas, one not overshadowed by the awful knowledge of what it’s like to have a child die. Now I tend to put a cocoon around my heart for a while until I sort of get used to the idea of another Christmas without Jason.

At first, I feel like I’ve been hit right in the heart when I walk into that first store of the season that has been decked out with Christmas displays. My heart just hurts!! I can feel myself sort of withdrawing into myself for a while. It takes me a bit to get over the funk I sort of settle into and begin to enjoy the season. I let Christmas in a little bit at a time until I can handle it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas any more, it just takes me a while to get on board the Christmas train, so to speak.

We’ve tried to come up some new traditions. I truly appreciate the time we spend together with family and some of the traditions we still do. I love my family more than words can say and I want to take time at Christmas to let them know it. I want them to know how special they are to me. Once I get out of my funk, I have a lot of fun trying to find the “right” gift for each person. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the idea that Jason not here for Christmas, though; the thought of it just makes my heart hurt.

We were talking the other day about our favorite Christmas song. I said mine is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” It’s a wistful song. I think it speaks to the longing to have Jason with us and to be “at home” as a family once again, and knowing that that place exists only in my dreams. The birth of Christ is the only reason that I know for sure we will see Jason again. For that I am truly thankful.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

I’m dreamin’ tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it’s a long road back
I promise you

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents under the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
If only in my dreams

Songwriters
Walter Kent;Buck Ram;Kim Gannon

Published by
GANNON & KENT MUSIC COMPANY

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

You Never Know When, How, or Whose Life You Will Touch

I received an incredibly touching comment on one of my blog pages this morning:

Dear Becky,
When I was young in the early 1970′s, my father would take me fishing and hunting with him in Wyoming. We spent lots of time around LaBarge Wyoming. On Sundays, as we drove along beautiful rivers and streams near the Salt River Range and the Wyoming Range, my dad always found ‘The Singing Knudsens’ on the radio. I believe it was KMER, the radio station out of Kemmerer. We thought you guys were great. I remember thinking how brave you must have been to sing on the radio. I think about those times a lot because I was very close to my father. Those were such incredible times. I was just thinking about LaBarge, my dad, and listening to the Singing Knudsons. I searched the internet and found you here. I have three sons of my own now. I was truly heartbroken when I read your story. I can not imagine losing one of my boys. I wonder if I could even survive it. You and your family will always be very special to me. I wish happiness and love to you and your family always. Thank you for bringing much to mine.

Sincerely,
Peter

It was such an encouragement to me right now, and was something I really needed to hear. I have been struggling lately with not being stressed and discouraged with some things going on in our lives.

This was so timely and such a huge reminder that we can’t really see the big picture at any given point in our lives. Sometimes it seems as though our lives don’t make a difference no matter how hard we try. Something I was just a small part of so long ago made a difference in someone’s life. My family is a part of some wonderful memories of special times Peter spent with his dad. That’s just amazing and so very humbling to me. Thank you, Peter, for such a huge encouragement and the reminder to keep on trying when it seems like what you’re doing isn’t making any difference. You just never know when, how, or whose life you may be touching.

Becky

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney