A Momentous Year

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Birthday letter to Jason July 29, 2001. The pastor read this letter at Jason’s memorial service.

The morning of July 29, 2001, I woke up really early, and I knew the instant I woke up that I wanted to write Jason a special note for his 19th birthday. I just had to let him know how special he was to me and how much I appreciated him for who he was.

We tend to think of milestone birthdays as those  more momentous than others and seem to carry more “weight” or reason to celebrate than others. It’s not that the other years aren’t celebrated, it seems that bit more emphasis tends to be placed on those birthdays than others. What those birthdays represent have a stronger meaning. Turning sixteen tends to represent being able to get a driver’s license. Eighteen represents becoming an adult and going off to college or some other type of independent step. For some, twenty-one represents being able to purchase alcohol. Latin cultures have a huge quinceañera celebrations when a girl turns fifteen. Jewish communities celebrate the milestone of a boy turning thirteen with a bar mitzvah. In my mind, as I wrote in the note, I thought it wasn’t one of the ones we typically think of as momentous.

IMG_2558Little did I know, at the time, how momentous that birthday would be. It was the last one we would ever celebrate here on this earth with him.

That year, we celebrated on Jason’s actual birthday with our family and some of his closest friends, and then we had a large joint birthday party at a local park for Jason and his good friend, Justin. Just looking at those pictures, I can tell he was happy and that he knew he was loved. He loved being with family and friends. He loved to have fun.

On July 29th this year, we would have celebrated Jason’s 34th birthday. I can only imagine what his life would have been like and what he would have accomplished by now. What would he be doing? Who would he have married? Would he have children? We’ll never know the answers to those questions.

I am so glad Jason was born into our family. He was 9 pounds, 10 1/2 ounces of pure joy. Kind, loving, thoughtful, empathetic, intelligent, funny. There aren’t enough words in my vocabulary to describe what a special guy he was and how much I love him. And no matter how many years go by, I will always love and miss my precious boy. Happy birthday, Jason.

 

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

A Better World

I dream of a better world

But how can there be a “better world” when you are not in it?

You made this world better and brighter

And it is so much less so now that you are gone.

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I miss you, my precious boy.

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

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