Hope

Our pastor preached on hope this past Sunday. I like our pastor. He’s funny. He gets his message across without condemning. He’s real. He’s also a bereaved parent, and that carries some weight with me.

But, it got me to thinking about hope. It’s what all of us, especially as bereaved parents, want. We want the “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” that old hymn talks about.

There are many things I believe and know. I believe in God. I believe in heaven. I believe that Jesus was born, died, and was raised again so that I could have eternal life. I know that Jason was a Christian and that I will see him again. I know that all of my questions will be answered when I see God. I know that, although I see through a dark glass now, someday I will understand. Someday all my tears will be wiped away.

Here on earth, though, sometimes I struggle. I have had a long struggle with my faith since Jason died. Research has shown that many bereaved parents question and examine their spiritual beliefs following the death of a child. I didn’t understand why God didn’t protect Jason after I had prayed and prayed for our kids, their lives, and their protection. I don’t know why we’ve had to walk this long, lonely, difficult path. I have had a long struggle believing the validity of fellow Christians actually being the hands and feet of God on this earth and getting into the trenches to help those who deeply grieve. I have questioned the concept of the church as a hospital for the wounded. I didn’t go to church for a while. It was just too hard. It’s taken me a long time to allow myself to “hope” again.

I can’t deny what we have experienced or what we have seen with our own eyes. It’s been a rough journey; that’s a fact. I would have to acknowledge that, for the most part, fellow Christians and the church failed us miserably after Jason died. On my part, I was extremely hurt and reacted by pulling even farther away. I built up a protective wall around my heart and hunkered down behind it.

Was that the right thing to do? I don’t know. In retrospect, probably not. There are many things I would do differently if I had to do them again. I did what I knew how to do  and what I had the energy to do at the time. That’s all any of us can do.

But, I don’t want to convey a hopelessness to others who may be early on in their grief. My experiences are not be the same as yours. There is so much more information available for helping those who deeply grieve. You are not alone. You will make it through. You are stronger than you know. Reach out to others. You may be surprised who reaches back. Others have walked a similar path before you. Those who have suffered a great loss generally have a deeper, more empathetic outlook on life. They survived; you will, too.

More than anything, though, I want to encourage those surrounding grievers to be proactive. Do something! You can make a difference! I want to encourage those in the church to look outside of their own group of friends or acquaintances to see if there is someone new or someone who is hurting. Someone may need more than your shaking their hand “good morning.” You can give hope by small acts of kindness…but you have to be involved with them beyond a perfunctory smile to do that.

It’s easy to stay within our comfort zones. We are creatures of habit. We like to sit in the same place at church or hang out with the same friends. We like to be around people we know. We go to lunch with the same people, go to the same Bible studies, attend the same social events. But maybe there is someone new who needs a friend or just a kind word. Maybe there is someone right in front of you who needs some hope. Are you unintentionally excluding someone who may need a glimmer of hope?

My dad used to joke about people who would pray, “God bless me, my wife, my son John and his wife. Us four, no more. Amen.” He wanted to encourage others (and especially “us kids”) to realize that there are more people that God wants to bless besides those within our own little circles…and he may want to use you to do it.

I have long contemplated how I can best help those who grieve. I have a “helper” personality and am strongly empathetic. How can I best help? I’m still trying to figure that out. Maybe this blog is one of my attempts to do just that.

I realize friendships and relationships take a while to grow. It takes time to connect. But there has to be a reciprocal desire by both parties. I may have a need to reach out to you and I may make the effort to do that; but if you don’t see me reaching out and reach back, there’s no chance for a connection. There’s no chance for a relationship. There’s no chance to encourage or give hope to someone who may need it.

Does that make sense?

There may be people around us reaching out for friendship, for hope, for encouragement. Do we see them? Do we take the time to notice? Do we take time to share some hope?

I subscribe to GriefShare and receive “A Season of Grief” daily emails from them. The last few have encouraged those who grieve to find support in a local church. Are we, as a church, prepared to do that? There are people, in their deep grief, looking to us for hope. Are we ready to show them hope – “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”? Are we, by our actions, ready to show them the God of all hope?

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:14-18)

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

“Inserting” People Back in Our Lives

From my journal dated December 16, 2002:

I don’t know if it’s Christmastime that makes it “safe” for people to call – people we haven’t heard from in months and months – but we have had more calls than usual lately. Maybe they feel like they’re on “safer” ground to call now that some time has passed. Maybe they think of us and feel they should call since it’s Christmas. Maybe it’s that they feel enough time has gone by that we should be “okay” or “better” by now. Some days it feels like I’ll never be “okay” ever again. I’ll probably reach a point of being functional, but I’ll never be the same.

I feel like it would be hard to just “insert” people back into our lives now, especially the ones we depended on, the ones we felt so abandoned us when we needed them most. Honestly, do people think they can just pop back into our lives after disappearing and being no support for so long, and everything will be the same?

I know in my head it’s true what I’ve been reading, especially in the Ann Finkbeiner book, After the Death of a Child. People don’t want to look at mortality when it comes to the death of a child. They don’t want to “catch” it for their own kids. It’s a hard thing to look at and to think about. It’s easier to look away, pretend like it never happened, wait until things are “better.” My head knows all that; I can reason it and maybe even understand it. But my heart doesn’t. My heart hurts. It hurt my heart when they all disappeared. It hurt my heart to see my family struggle alone.

The thing about people trying to reconnect with us now is that they want to reconnect the person they are – and have continued on the same path to be – with me (or Joe or Jenna), the person they think they know, the person they used to know, the person we used to be before the accident. They have been waiting for me to “come back” to them (as someone recently said to me) as the same person I was. They’ve been waiting for me to get over or get better so we can pick up the relationship we had as it once was.

The problem is that, while they may be the same person they were, I’m not the same person I was. For the most part, she’s gone; she’s changed. We’ve been devastated by the death of our precious son. Our world turned upside down. Nothing is the same. We, as a family, have had to walk alone through so many, many things. I’ve been crushed. I’m hurt. I’m still struggling. My heart has been broken. I’m less trusting of relationships. I’m so much more guarded.

When we go to Tulsa to visit my sister, we usually hang out with her friends. Her friends feel like they know me, because my sister has talked a lot about me. They know LOTS about me; my sister is quite the talker and shares nearly everything! The problem is that it’s one-sided. I don’t know them at all. I know hardly anything about them other than a name. I’ll start to tell some story – and they’ll say, “Oh, yeah! Doris told us about that! That was so funny!” They feel a connection with me and my life (through my sister) that I don’t feel for them. It’s not equal; it’s not reciprocal. They feel like they know me, but they are total strangers to me. I have to take the time to get to know them; they have to take the time to get to know the real me, instead their interpretation of my sister’s version of me. It’s an artificial relationship in that it’s not equal. It’s not real.

The flip side is true for me now. I know these people; I know quite a bit about them. I’ve known some of them for a long time. But they don’t know the person I am now. Do they want to take the time to get to know the “new” me? Can they accept the “new” me for who I am? Or do they just want to pick up where we left off before Jason died and just ignore or skip over the past 9+ months? They expect me to be the same. I may look like the same Becky, sound like the same Becky, act like the same Becky, but I’m not the same Becky I was on March 2nd.

It’s like we have to start all over again with our relationships. True relationships and friendships take time and energy. They take concerted commitment over time by both parties. I don’t think I have the energy right now. Sometimes I think it would be easier to start over with people I don’t know. We’d start on an even playing field. That way I wouldn’t have my own abandonment issues to deal with; we could start with a clean slate. Sometimes I wish people would just say they were sorry they left us alone. That way I would know they realize and acknowledge what they had done and how much it hurt us, so I could forgive them and move on. Maybe that would help. I don’t know.

The issues are mine. I bring them along with me whenever I see the people I know. I’m trying really hard to deal with them, to get rid of the hard feelings, and keep my heart right. But it makes it hard to just “insert” people back in my life. I can’t do it. It takes all the energy I have to do what I need to do. It takes a lot of energy to grieve, to keep on keeping on, to go to school, to take care of my family.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Just walk beside me and be my friend

From my journal dated November 8, 2002:

I think I need to find someone to be my friend. Not someone who wants to “rescue” me, but someone who cares about me, cares about who I am now; someone who is willing to listen to me, to do things with me, to call me. I don’t need someone to talk at me or quote Scriptures or religious platitudes at me. I don’t need someone to give me books, hoping I’ll “get” whatever they think I need to know from them. Just walking beside me would be nice. It would really help.

I know it’s a fine line, and I’m sure it’s hard for other people to figure out how to walk it. But I just don’t feel like I have an honest-to-goodness support system right now. I haven’t really had one since the beginning.

I’ve been walking with Mary Sutton on a fairly regular basis, but I know that it takes time to establish an ongoing friendship. I’m looking forward to getting to know her better, though.

A new friend

From my journal dated September 26, 2002:

Mary Sutton called to ask about walking together sometimes. I was so glad to hear from her! I think I’ll take her up on it!

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Notes:

Mary was a lifesaver for me! She asked me several times if I wanted to start walking with her on a regular basis before I took her up on it. It helped me so much in so many ways – it gave me something to look forward to; it gave us an activity to do together (since we really didn’t know each other very well at the time); it gave me some exercise, which I badly needed to relieve stress. Walking together built a basis over time for a friendship, one which I will always cherish. Relationships don’t happen automatically; they take time, but can be well worth the effort.

Mary, dear friend, you are always in my heart!!

How do I make people comfortable around me?

From my journal dated August 18, 2002:

Jenna told me tonight that I need to make people feel comfortable around me. I’m not sure how to do that when I sometimes feel awkward and don’t really know what to say. I’m not a chit-chatter, small-talker. Sometimes I feel like I just don’t care any more. It takes too much effort when I have no energy to even try…it just looks too huge, too much work. I think I’ve been left alone for too long…I don’t know how to deal with people any more.

I’ve tried…but I’m still not breaking the cycle. I’ve reached out, but have felt ignored or blocked in my efforts. I just don’t have energy to put into relationships that are going nowhere. How do I break the cycle? I don’t want to be lonely forever.

We saw Pamela* at Marymoor Park last night. She said something to me about people don’t know if they should invite us to do something fun, like normal. You know, sometimes I have tolerance and understanding why people avoid us or don’t do anything…and sometimes I flat-out don’t!!

Sometimes I wonder what I’d do, and I see that side of the coin…and sometimes it just seems to me that people either have no guts or don’t really care. Just because they’re not sure what to do…just because it’s too uncomfortable to get out of their own comfort zone…we are left terribly alone without adequate support.

Same old song, another verse. Will it ever end? How do I make it change?

People are getting tired of our troubles

From my journal dated July 19, 2002:

I remember the year the tree fell on the house we were renting in Bellevue on Inaugural Day 1993. We were “houseless,” staying with people and trying to find a house to buy. We made a bid on a house and it fell through. We looked and looked and looked for a house. We didn’t whine about it or complain; we just went about our business of trying to find a house. But by summer, we were still without a place to live. At one point, Eric said to me, “People are getting tired of our troubles.”

It’s very true. People don’t want you to struggle. They want you to be okay. SOON! NOW! They want you to be okay now! “Okay” is a much more comfortable place to be…and the sooner the better. If you do have problems, you’d better get them solved soon…or, if you are a Christian, you are deemed to not be trusting God. They get tired of your troubles and move on.

I’m not condemning. I’ve been there. I hope to God I’m not like that any more. I know I don’t have a great deal of patience, but I don’t want to be like that any more. We need to have a heart of compassion for one another and “not be weary in well-doing.” Remind me, God. Help me to remember.

People say to me, “I don’t know how you do it.” Well, I don’t know I do it, either. I don’t think I’m doing it very well, whatever it is I’m doing. I’m shutting down toward other people…and I’m sure it’s not going to help any of my relationships at all in the long run. I don’t want to fall apart in front of people…and I don’t want them to hurt me any more. I don’t want to have expectations of friendship and help…and then nothing comes of it.

It’s such a struggle for me to not feel hurt and bitter. I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t want to get stuck here and end up a bitter person. I have to figure out a way to forgive them. It might help if they realized it, said they were sorry and asked me to forgive them. Then there would have to be a change.

Pamela* apologized for not being here for me, realizing we had no family. I was so grateful that she realized it and said something…but that was almost two months ago, and I haven’t heard from her since.

I still haven’t heard from P.B.* [I had called the wife of Jason’s soccer coach whose child had died in a fire.]. Maybe she didn’t get the message…or maybe she doesn’t remember me. I just thought she could help me a little – pray for me with an understanding of having been there, comfort me with the “comfort she’s been comforted with.” Maybe it’s not meant to be. Maybe nothing helps.

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Notes:

If there is one thing I could communicate to those around a bereaved parent, I would say, “BE THERE!!”

Do: Be there! Say something! Stay around! Listen! Hug! Care! Cry! Remember – birthdays, anniversaries!! Help in practical ways! Try and try again!

Don’t: Don’t judge, don’t rush the bereaved parent, don’t disappear. Don’t quote platitudes, don’t try to “fix” the griever the way you want them to be fixed. Don’t give up.

Losing a child is a very difficult thing, to say the least. It takes a long time to integrate the loss of a child into life…you have to create an entirely new “norm”, a new life, a new framework of viewing/doing everything. You have to learn to live without your child. Jason was a part of our lives for nearly 20 years. It’s not reasonable to think that we would “get over” his death quickly, that it would not be a struggle to reconcile ourselves with the death of our precious son! How long do you think it would take to learn to live without one of your children?

Happy Birthday, Jason

Today is Jason’s birthday. He would have been 29 years old. I miss you, my precious Mr. Jay. I love you with my whole heart.

Very early on the morning of Jason’s 19th birthday, I woke up and wrote the following letter. I put it in his room so he could find it when he woke up.

July 29, 2001

My dear sweet Jason – Here you are turning 19 – I can hardly believe it!

I just wanted to take a few minutes and tell you some things that are on my heart on this birthday – I know it’s not a “momentous” one, per se – like the” big” numbers 16, 18 or 21 – but with each passing year, I know you are headed more and more out the door – making a life for yourself – which is as it should be……….

But I just wanted to tell you how precious you are to me – and how glad I am that you are in our family. My boy – so totally awesome!!! You have been such a ray of sunshine in my life – you’ll never know how much!!

When I think back – there are so many precious memories that play in my mind. Your precious hugs. Your joyous laughs when I’d tickle you when you were a baby – you were the most fun baby I’ve ever seen. You and Justin – bottle buddies. Your empathy – do you remember that book Aunt Faye sent to us about how things work – and there was a picture of this kid crying over sand on his hands – I think the question was how tear ducts work – but you’d sit there looking at the picture and almost cry over it because you just knew how that kid felt – he didn’t want that sand on his hands. We finally had to get rid of that book – it would automatically fall open to that page – and it would make you so sad. How hard you worked on memorizing all those Awana scriptures – and they had to put a limit on how many each kid could say in a week because of you – at the largest church in the entire Northwest! Your heart to do the right thing – over and over and over again in so many situations. How you’ve been such a good brother to Jenna. How you take time for your friends – you are such a good friend to so many people. When you drove for the first time – and almost hit a fence – and then told me it was nothing like a video game. How you take time for Michael – doing something fun for him – just because. So many fun memories – they just go on and on.

You just totally amaze me!! Whoever you marry is one lucky girl – I hope she appreciates you always. Your employer is one lucky company. Your friends

Jason turns 19 - July 29, 2001

are lucky people. Wherever you go, you will be a blessing. I continue to pray for you in your decisions – work, school, friends, spouse. I have prayed for you your whole life – and I’m not stopping now. Follow God with your whole heart, sweet boy. He has special plans for you.

I love you,

Mom