Remembering Alina

This morning I am remembering and honoring Jason’s best friend Alina on her 32nd birthday. She and Jason spent part of their last day together here on earth. He was taking her home after watching a movie at our house when they were broadsided by a drunk driver who was going more than twice the speed limit. They both died instantly.

Alina was a sweetheart. She always had a smile and a hug for everyone. She always made our house warmer and more fun just by being in it. I know that she felt right at home in our house and that she knew we loved her. I miss her and will never forget her. Happy birthday, Alina.

 

My Very Best Friend
For Alina

By Jason Carney

How to describe my very best friend?
She’s one of a kind
No other even comes close to her
A shining jewel in my otherwise blackened existence.
She cares greatly for others,
And puts their needs in front of her own.

No matter what I do
She still cares for me,
And never turns her back to me.

Through thick and thin
She’s always been a friend.
I could always count on her
She always instilled confidence in me.

Ever since the start of our friendship
She’s accepted me for who I am.
I don’t have to act a certain way for her,
She liked me just the way I was.

Around her I have a feeling of security,
That I have with no other.
I can really be myself with her,
And not worry about rejection.

How well she knows me
Is a scary yet comforting feeling.
She can tell when I’m down,
Or I need to laugh, or just need a hug.

She always has a hug to offer me
On these gloomy days,
And brings a smile to my face when I’m down.

She’s always willing to listen,
When I need to talk,
And gives me advice
When I need council.

I never had such a great friend
And I thank God for our friendship.
Ah, she is a great best friend,
My very best friend indeed.

(Written by Jason for Alina)

 

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

The Gifts of Listening and Remembering

The Gift of Listening

One of the most precious gifts I received while I was in Washington was given to me by a long-time friend when we had dinner together. She gave me the gift of her time and her attention. She asked me if I was “ready to talk about it.” (It’s not that I have avoided talking about “it,” Jason, or that time…I just didn’t feel like anyone was ready or wanted to listen. It has seemed no one really has wanted to talk about Jason or that time – unless it’s briefly on his birthday or anniversary of his death – and so I just sort of gave up trying. Why make people uncomfortable and avoid you even more?)

I asked what she wanted to know; I would answer any questions. I talked. And she truly listened. She truly listened. She listened to my ideas on how I wanted to help bereaved parents. She cared. She asked questions. “What could I have done differently?” She apologized for not knowing what to do and for disappearing. Not once did she make me feel like I needed – at any time during the last ten years – to be fixed or that I should not have felt as I did.

As I began to talk, starting at the night of the accident, I started shivering. I thought I was cold – after all, going from 80 degrees in Florida to 28 degrees in Seattle was quite a change. I ordered coffee to warm me up, but it didn’t help.

Have you ever had a muscle that was knotted up tight for so long that it begins to shake? That’s what it was like, except through my whole body. It was like I had tried to hold together all alone and be strong for so long that my physical body reacted to “letting the story out,” to loosening my grip on some inner tension I didn’t even realize I had. Someone apologized. Someone cared. Someone actually listened to my story and looked me square in the eyes as I was telling it.

I realized the next day that something inside of me had changed. I felt freer than I had felt in a very long time. I have read about bereaved parents reaching a corner, a specific turning point, when something changes. I just didn’t understand it because it had not happened to me.

It’s been a rough ten years. Jason’s death; everything we dealt with concerning Jason’s death and the far-reaching after-effects (believe me, the ripple effects following the death of a child go deep, far, and wide); deep, prolonged grief that went far into my very soul; depression; too many relationship losses to count; watching my precious family struggle with losses and other difficult situations; job losses; my Mom died; loss of family relationships; moving, moving, moving; changes, changes, changes; pressure, pressure, pressure. I have felt like I’ve been hunkered down in a survival mode for a long time, that I’ve dealt with many, many things alone. It’s tiring. It’s draining. It ties you in knots, whether you know it or not.

I am so thankful for this precious friend taking time to ask questions and for listening. I know it wasn’t easy for her. I have worked very hard on my own at forgiving, even though there no apologies extended by people who knew they had hurt me/us badly and who knew they had deserted us. It was amazing to have someone say that our relationship was too important to lose. It was so freeing to hear someone say, “I’m sorry,” and to be able to respond, “I forgive you.” It was amazing to have someone truly listen with her heart and her full attention! What an incredible gift!

The Gift of Remembering

One of Jason’s good friends hosted a small breakfast get-together on the morning of March 3rd as a way to honor Jason and Alina. One precious young lady who attended took time to tell me how she would never forget Jason, how he was still the standard by which she measured guys, how Jason had once explained to her why he enjoyed classical music along with other types of music, and how she still listened to and appreciated classical music to this day because of what Jason had told her. It meant so much to me for her to take the time to tell me those things.

It meant so much, too, to me to listen to others who also spoke of Jason, who told me a story or memory and let me know he would never be forgotten. Every single person who shared with me memories of Jason gave me an incredible gift!

One of a mother’s nightmares following the death of a child is that her child will be forgotten. It’s almost like an unspoken job for a bereaved mother to make sure that never happens.

Following Jason’s death, a gal in our homeschool group offered to put together a scrapbook in Jason’s honor. I chose a scrapbook that would include photos (by those other than ourselves) and personal stories of Jason by those who knew him. At least I could remember him alive and hold his memory close through photos of things he had done and places he had been, by being talked about and remembered. Another gal was to contact people and spread the word so those who wanted could contribute to the scrapbook.

There were not a lot of contributions; the gal putting the scrapbook together was embarrassed and anxious I would be hurt. At first I was confused and hurt. I craved hearing about Jason’s life, about his experiences, about how he was remembered. I didn’t want my son to be dead. I felt like he was being forgotten. I didn’t want him forgotten. I needed to know that he was remembered – and would continue to be remembered – by those who knew him.

But then I realized that a couple of big issues were getting in the way. 1) The court hearings were just ahead and many people were composing impact statements to submit to the judge concerning how Jason’s and Alina’s deaths affected them (statements to help the court decide sentencing). That in itself had to be so emotionally draining. 2) In addition, a lot of these “kids” (and others) were still dealing with both Jason’s and Alina’s deaths (Jason and Alina had many friends in common); they were not able to vocalize their feelings just yet. It was too much to ask of them at that time. My need was greater than the ability of most people we knew.

With so few people talking or writing about Jason over the years, it was easy to wonder if he was being forgotten. I guess that’s one of the reasons it meant so much to me while I was in Seattle this time to have people specifically tell me their memories of Jason and that he would never be forgotten. They let me know that his memory had not disappeared with time, that Jason’s life mattered, not only to his family, but to others. He has continued to be valued, loved, remembered.

It was a good trip. Breakfast, coffee and conversation every morning with my precious friend Mary, who I have missed so much since we moved. Typical early spring Seattle weather – rain, snow, frost, sun. (Seattle weather has never bothered me.) And best of all, some people who listened, showed me they cared, and told me Jason was dearly remembered and would never be forgotten. They gave me the precious gifts of listening and remembering. It’s never too late to listen or remember.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

There’s No Place Like Home

For some reason, it just felt important to me to go back home to Seattle for March 3, 2012, the tenth anniversary of Jason’s death. Seattle still feels like “home” to me; I just wanted to be home this year. I wanted to be close to Jason, to be close to people who meant so much to him, to be in a place he loved.

Some people are scratching their head at that one, I’m sure. “Hasn’t she moved on yet?” “Can’t she just let it go?” “It’s been ten years already.” “Doesn’t she know Jason isn’t actually there?” I know, I know.

I try to listen carefully, though, to that quiet, little voice inside me that prompts me to do certain things. I’m learning that there’s usually a reason, especially when that prompting doesn’t go away and it feels like it might be something important. If I don’t listen and obey, I may miss out on something special. As I said, it felt important to me to be there on March 3rd. The ten year mark felt like it was monumental in some way and couldn’t be skipped over by not being in Washington, so I booked a flight and off I went.

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I had some people I wanted to see while I was there. Through varying circumstances and busy schedules, only a few were available to meet for coffee or whatever. I ended up with free time on my hands.

Deciding that being alone wasn’t bad and didn’t make me feel lonely, I retraced some paths I’d walked and places I’d been while Jason was alive.

I drove around Lynnwood, Monroe, Bothell – all of our old stomping grounds.

I drove through Woodinville and Snohomish, remembering the incredible privilege of being asked by Jason to escort him and a special girl on their first date (since Jason didn’t yet have his driver’s license). I remembered Jason taking this special girl’s dad out to breakfast to ask if it would be okay to date his daughter. I remembered Jenna taking Jason’s high school graduation photos in downtown Snohomish and along the Snohomish River.

I remembered Jason driving for the first time – almost overshooting a curve – and informing me it was nothing like a video game.

I pulled into the driveway of our old house, noticing how the three little evergreen starts (one for each of our children, picked up at a home show) we had planted so very many years ago when we first purchased our home were still there and were now tall trees. I noticed the katsura tree, with its heart-shaped leaves and given to us after Jason died, growing tall and healthy. I noticed the children of the people who purchased house joyfully playing in the yard as our kids used to do. I remembered Jason sitting on the kitchen counter, with one black-moccasined foot propped up on the edge of the counter, telling me about his day. “The funniest thing happened today, Mom…” I remembered making jam, and Jason somehow managing to arrive in the kitchen just in time to “clean” the bottom of the pan with a piece of bread. I remembered Jason’s great, big hugs. I remembered watching Jason and his friends from the kitchen window as they jumped on the trampoline. I remembered all the parties, all the kids hanging out, all the love and hugs we shared. So many wonderful memories tied to that house. So many sad memories tied to that house.

I drove by the Alfy’s Pizza, where the Youth and Government kids met before heading out to carol at Christmas, and by the Skate Deck where they would gather for a fun evening. I remembered Jason serving as a representative in the Washington State Youth Legislature and being so privileged to be a part of that organization and that time of his life.

I drove by the cemetery, taking Jason flowers and telling him how much I love him, that I wished with all my heart he were still here, that I miss him.

On and on the memories flooded my head as I drove familiar places. It felt so good to be home and in a place I love. It felt good to sit in certain places, allowing myself the time to remember. It felt good to feel so close to Jason.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

One Year

From my journal dated March 2, 2003:

I dread tomorrow. I am dreading everything about it and all it stands for.

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

One year. One long, horrendous year for without our boy. One year for Jenna without her best friend and brother. One year of not seeing Jason’s bright, beautiful, blue eyes. One year of not seeing Jason’s infectious smile. One year of not hearing Jason’s laugh that brightened my entire world.

How can he be gone? I just can’t seem to process it. I don’t know how to do this…whatever “this” is…and how to keep on doing it without Jason.

I had hoped the bulbs I planted in the fall by the crash site (various types yellow daffodils for Jason and purple and white crocuses for Alina) would be blooming by March 3rd. A lot of them are up and the buds are so close to opening. I just wanted something of vivid beauty to bloom at a site that signifies death.

I sent out Jason’s poem [the one I had printed on cards] on Friday and Saturday to his friends and to people who meant something to him. I really wanted the cards to arrive on March 3rd. I think a lot of people will be thinking of Jason and Alina, anyway. Maybe the poem will be an encouragement.

Oh, my boy, I miss you so. I can’t wait to see you again.

The Return

In the blink of an eye, there came a stillness in mid-storm.
The thunder ceased its roll, and the lightning its bolts
The rain dried its drops, and the clouds parted with anticipation.

From the sky there came a sound,
The sound of a solitary note.
Without hesitation, a chorus of voices joined
Filling the sky in joyous song.

Slowly, a man descended
With arms wide open – ready to embrace.
He had a sparkle in his eye
And his face beamed, giving unknown comfort.

Like a wave across the ocean,
The earth’s population fell to the ground.
Their eyes filled with tears of joy
For they knew they were going home.

Like a father’s touch across the face there came a breeze.
In that instant, a whirlwind of fire engulfed the earth,
And the long awaited reunion finally came to pass.

By Jason Carney, September 2000

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Don’t Drink and Drive

I’ve often thought that if I had a chance to speak to high schoolers on the subject of drinking and driving, I would ask them if they realized going to jail or prison (if over the age of 18) could be the end result to a night of partying should they choose to drink and drive.

We’ve all seen the stories or videos of simulated accidents portrayed to students in a drunk driving “scared straight” program. Simulated accidents or “grim reapers” try to impact students with the possible outcomes of driving drunk. I wonder how many of them include information or speakers about the possibility of prison time.

The young man (18 years old and a high school senior) who hit Jason and Alina had a “bad boy” reputation at school and with the local police. I’m sure none of it prepared him for going to prison with the big boys, though. Under Washington State’s “three strikes” law, had the charges of two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of felony hit and run stood, he could have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Talk about being scared straight!

J.H.*, in a plea bargain, pleaded guilty to the two counts of vehicular homicide. The felony hit and run was reduced to a misdemeanor in order to avoid the three strikes law. At 19 years old, he was sentenced to four years in prison for the vehicular homicide counts and one year in jail for the hit and run. He served 2 2/3 years in prison, and the judge waived the jail time.

I hope, with all my heart, J.H. has taken the opportunity in front of him to make good choices with his life. We have all paid high prices for his bad choices.

From my journal dated January 10, 2003:

I found out recently that an acquaintance’s recent “non-driving” status/ability is because of a DUI drivers license suspension after wrecking his car. He was driving home drunk and ran into a telephone pole. He walked away just fine except for a few bumps and bruises, but it sure has put a crimp in his style. I know it’s frustrating and depressing for him. Embarrassing and expensive, too, I imagine. Fines, insurance rates go up, having to replace the totaled car.

But the whole crux of the matter is that it was his choice to drink and then drive. How could he choose to drive drunk after what happened to Jason and Alina?? I hope he’s at least learned something, or will stop and think before driving drunk again. If he’s too drunk to make good choices, someone just needs to take his keys away. He only hurt himself and his car this time, but he easily could have hurt or killed other people.

I’m sure J.H.* [the young man who hit and killed Jason and Alina] and his friends had no conception when they started partying and drinking the night of March 2, 2002 that their actions would end with the death of two great young people. I’m sure going to prison never even crossed their minds when they got into those cars drunk.

If drunk drivers only hurt themselves, that would be one thing. Their choices. Their actions. Their losses. But so many accidents caused by drunk drivers involve others – innocent bystanders – who pay the price while the drunk driver walks away. J.H. broadsided Jason and Alina and literally walked away.

Our price tag seems so much higher than J.H.’s. Sure, he and his family have to pay for a lawyer, and J.H. may do jail time for a few years. But our “sentence” – our price tag – is a “life sentence.” They have imposed a life sentence on us by their choices. For the rest of our lives, we are without Jason. Our lives are never going to be the same.

J.H. can bargain down his sentence, take a plea bargain, or serve a few years for vehicular homicide. But he at least has the opportunity to go on. If he chooses to, he can make a good life for himself, make better choices, marry, have a family. J.H. and his family will move past this because, once he gets through whatever the consequences are, he still has a life to live. He has to live with the fact that he killed two people, but the fact of the matter is that he still has a life.

Jason and Alina don’t. Their lives are over, taken by the hand and choices of another. We don’t have their precious lives or presence with us any more. We had no choice. Jason and Alina had no choice. By his choices, J.H. stole it from them, from us.

Jason and Alina weren’t doing anything wrong. They were making good choices. They made good choices that night. Movies at our house, kettle corn, sodas, laughing, joking. Fun. Enjoying each other’s company.

It seems that people who drink, drive, and then kill someone as a result deserve a more than a slap on the hand. There has to be some kind of accountability. There has to be something to stop this insanity. When will people who drink and drive realize their choices affect others?? Their choice to drink and drive kills.

We, who have done nothing wrong, are paying the price for these kids’ choices and stupidity. Jason and Alina have paid the ultimate price for the choices of J.H. and his friends. They paid the price with their lives. The cost just goes on and on. We pay in so many days every day, and we will continue to pay for the rest of our lives.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Helping the Grieving

In January 2003, the son of a family in our homeschool group was hit and killed by a train. In an effort to encourage support for the family, I wrote the following article for publication in the homeschool newsletter and for copies to be made available at homeschool gatherings [edited slightly for clarification]:

Helping the Grieving

Saturday, March 2, 2002, was like any other Saturday – running errands, cleaning the house, doing homework, and preparing for the upcoming week. Jason (19) and Jenna (17) picked up a friend, Alina Christianson, to go get a coffee at Starbucks. They then came back to our home to watch a movie. No one could have convinced me that by Sunday our lives would never be the same.

A little after 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, as he took Alina home, the car Jason was driving was broadsided by another car. The young man driving the other car had been partying and was going more than twice the speed limit. He hit Jason’s car right on the driver’s side door. Both Jason and Alina died instantly.

Our wonderful son – intelligent, gentle, funny, Godly young man, best friend to his sister, leader among his peers – was gone in an instant. His hopes, dreams, future, graduation from college, possibilities for marriage and children all died with him.

The thing that I’ve observed personally, along with recent reading I’ve done on the subject of grief, is that most people are not sure what to do to help a grieving family. Sometimes the grieving family isn’t sure what to do to help themselves or what they need! It’s not typically a subject where people have received instruction beforehand. It’s not a subject people typically tend to read about “just because.” When the occasion arises, most people don’t have the time to read an entire book on the subject. Because of lack of instruction or understanding, sometimes help is poorly given – or not given at all.

As one who is “on the other side of the fence,” I thought it might be helpful if I made some suggestions for those who wonder what to do to help. I realize it seems like a tricky thing to figure out what to do or say, and there are no formulas; but maybe these guidelines will help. They are written from my perspective of losing a child in an automobile accident, but can apply to any grieving person.

  1. Be there. Support is crucial. “Being there” can mean just keeping someone company, watching a movie together, going for a walk, doing a chore. Don’t necessarily expect to sit and visit. The griever may or may not feel like talking. I sat like a zombie for a long time and just didn’t have the energy to carry on coherent conversations. I have found, from research contained in books I’ve read and from my own personal observation, that grievers tend to fall into two categories – those who feel tremendously supported and those who feel tremendously abandoned. Although it is never easy to lose a child, those who have adequate support “recover” (for loss of a better term) more quickly than those who don’t. Those who feel abandoned feel like they have support for about a week and a half, and then nearly everybody disappears.
  2. Do something. Bringing a meal is a good thing, but it’s only a start. Anyone, even a stranger to the family, can do that. If you know the family at all beyond just an acquaintance relationship, look for any practical help you can be – folding clothes, cleaning bathrooms, yard work. Be gentle, but tune into the daily responsibilities or necessary jobs that the family has no energy to do. Don’t say, “Call me if I can do anything.” It’s nearly impossible to make any calls at all for a long time. Be specific. “Do you need help with ______?” or “What is something I can do that will be of help to you?” If the griever responds to your offer, be sensitive to the fact that asking for help is hard, and he or she probably needs your help right away. Don’t offer something if you don’t mean it. That’s worse than doing nothing. You may have thrown a small lifeline to the griever, only to pull it away. Be creative and look beyond the basics. For example, put together a memory book. Think about how the griever would typically show caring, loving or serving (as in Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages). The way a person shows love is the way he or she would most appreciate having loved shown. Also, remember that the family may be under a financial strain on top of everything else they are dealing with. Burial and cemetery costs are very expensive, so some monetary contribution may help. It doesn’t have to be money, though; sometimes people feel awkward concerning money. Even a weekend away, a gift card, a day trip, tickets to a show or something else may be nice treat.
  3. Perception of time is not the same. It may have been one day, one week, or one month to you since you called or stopped by, but it may have seemed like an eternity to the grieving family. To us, weekends used to represent relaxing family time, a houseful of teenagers hanging out, or some fun activity with any number of people. After the accident, weekends were horrendous – long hours to try to figure out how to fill, a house that shrieked its silence. Sunday was no longer a joyous family day when we went to church together, out to lunch or to a movie. It also represented the day of the week Jason died.
  4. Don’t make the assumption that someone else is doing the job. That may not be true. A large turnout at the funeral or memorial service does not equate to support in the trenches. We are the hands and feet of God in this world; there is something you probably should be doing. The Word says, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8 NIV) To “demonstrate” means to show clearly, to make clearly evident. John 15:12 (NIV) says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” The line of logic is clear between these two verses. God loves us and did something to prove it; we are commanded to do the same. If you demonstrate something, you don’t just say something. You do something. Telling the grieving family that you love them and are praying for them (as long as you really are) is great. Putting action to your words/faith is even better. The “problem” with the death of a child is that it calls into question the goodness of God. Why didn’t God protect that child? It’s easier to pretend it never happened. Avoid. Out of sight, out of mind. The flaw in this behavior is that it’s never “out of sight” for the grieving family. As a matter of fact, it’s in our faces all the time. It’s in every nook and cranny, every event and holiday, every minute of every day forever. Pretending the death never happened or never talking about the child may be interpreted as lack of caring. Write a note, make a call, stop by, tell your favorite memory, remember birthdays, remember death anniversaries. It may not be someone else’s job. Maybe it’s your job to do something.
  5. Assumption, Part 2. Don’t assume that the family has each other to help or “be there” for each other. That’s like the drowning saving the drowning – everybody goes down. I’ve had people say to me, “It’s a good thing you and the Christianson’s (Alina’s family) have each other.” The same principle applies. It’s too hard. We’ve all been trying to keep our heads above water. Assuming that extended family is a support may not be true, either. There may be no local family or the extended family may be incapacitated with grief, too.
  6. Be consistent. Grieving is a long walk. It’s not like a wound to your physical body that heals over time. It’s not like starting at the bottom of a hill and climbing steadily upward. It’s up and down. It’s backward and forward. It takes a lot of energy, depleting all reserves. It honestly takes more than one person to be a support. We all have busy lives, but consistent support pays off. If you look at the story of the Israelites fighting the Amalekites in Ex. 17:8-13, you will notice something interesting – a lesson that could easily apply to support in grief. As the Israelites fought, Moses stood on a hill with the staff of God in his hands. As long as he had his hands lifted, the Israelites won. When Moses’s hands grew tired so that he could no longer keep them lifted, the Amalekites started winning. Aaron and Hur came to his rescue. They got a rock for Moses to sit on, and one of them stood on either side of Moses. They held his hands up and steady until the battle was done. They came alongside him to support him when he needed it most. They stayed with him. Personally, it’s hard for me to feel like someone who calls once every few months to “see how I am” is really a support. I am a guarded person, anyway. To bare my broken heart to someone requires a lot of trust in that relationship, a consistent “being there.” Don’t misunderstand me – by consistent, I don’t mean to the point of neglecting your own family or responsibilities. Just steady, ongoing.
  7. Say something. Don’t avoid us. Grieving does not make us blind or stupid. It may actually cause hypersensitivity because hearts and emotions are so raw. We do notice when someone pretends he or she doesn’t know us or didn’t see us. And it hurts. They’re called secondary wounds. We have unwittingly been made victims of a terrible tragedy. We did nothing to cause it. It’s not contagious. Don’t cause further hurt by pretending you don’t see us. The flip side to this, of course, is to put your brain in gear before you speak. Probably the biggest mistake people make is to say they know how the griever feels…or compare it to the death of their a relative or pet. Because every person is unique, no one grieves the same. Another thing to avoid is making the griever feel like you know when it’s time to move on. If the griever didn’t ask for your opinion, it’s best to keep it to yourself. It helps to have some empathy in the situation. How long would it take you to “get over” the death of a child? Just say you care.
  8. Be sensitive – but not too sensitive. That sounds contradictory, but the “bull in the china shop” mentality doesn’t work. Don’t come marching in with your own agenda. You may think you have a great idea and just want to do it right then! But don’t mow over the griever in your enthusiasm to do something you think would help. Do something, but be gentle. Take time early on to listen, notice, observe, interact. The time to do something or say something is right away when the need is so great. Later may be too late. As time goes by, it gets harder and more awkward to do or say something. On the other hand, don’t be offended. If something you would like to do seems not to be readily accepted, try again another time or try something else. Don’t quit trying, just try again later. Be open. No two people grieve the same or have the same needs. It’s okay to say, “I’d like to help and was thinking about doing _________. Is that okay or would something else (or another time) be better?” Or “I’d like to stop by to see you or to help. You don’t entertain me, and feel free to tell me if you’d like me to go.” Don’t be offended if we don’t act or react the way we used to. We are no longer the same person we were. We don’t mean to be rude. We may have just been having a particularly hard day. Grief is exhausting on every level you could possibly imagine.
  9. Don’t forget the siblings. Encourage your children to include the siblings in “regular” things they used to do. Children and young adults don’t like to be treated differently and may act as if everything’s fine (emphasis on the word ACT). They need break from the grief, though, and hanging out with friends doing normal activities is a good thing. The best way to encourage your children is by your own example – by doing something yourself, by including the siblings in what you do, by encouraging your children to include the sibling.
  10. Further reading: When There Are No Words by Charlie Walton; How Can I Help by June Cerza Kolf; After the Death of a Child by Ann K. Finkbeiner; When the Bough Breaks by Judith R. Bernstein; The Compassionate Friends website.

I could probably illustrate a few more points, such as “Motives matter (don’t make us a project); “Even small kindnesses count” or “Don’t worry that your crying will make us sad; we’re sad anyway.” But, suffice it to say, I understand it’s difficult to know what to do or say when someone’s loved one dies, particularly when it’s a child. It’s uncharted territory for many people – even for the grieving family – and it makes things awkward and uncomfortable. I do encourage those around the grieving family to step outside their comfort zone, though. Support helps, encourages, and comforts. Lake of support creates the exact opposite.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Alina’s Birthday

From my journal dated December 12, 2002:

Alina's surprise 18th birthday party

Alina would have been 21 today. I’m sure this is a tough day for her family.

This morning I was thinking about the surprise birthday party Jason and Hannah planned for Alina when she turned 18. That was so much fun – to so successfully surprise Alina, to have all those kids in our house, to be a just a small part of something that obviously gave Alina such happiness.

In my mind, I can still picture Alina, Jason, Hannah and all the other kids in our home that day – having so much fun together. They were all such good friends. I think I still have the birthday candles from the cake somewhere – chunky, yellow and green number 18.

Happy birthday, Alina. Miss you.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney