“You’ve Got Mail”

I watched the movie You’ve Got Mail the other day. It came out in 1998 and Jason absolutely loved that movie. As a matter of fact, Jason’s friend Alina (who died in the same car accident as Jason) had bought the DVD for him the Christmas before he died.

It took me years to watch You’ve Got Mail after Jason died. When I finally felt like I could watch it, I cried and cried all the way through it. It came up the other day as I was looking for a movie to watch, and so I decided to watch it again. It still made me cry and cry. Certain memories of Jason are so strongly associated with this movie. It suited his personality – fun, upbeat, caring, romantic, lover of flowers and giving them to those he loved.

Besides Jason’s love for the movie, quite a bit of the music in the movie reminds me of Jason. We played the “The Puppy Song” by Harry Nilsson at the beginning of the slideshow at Jason’s memorial service – a fun, upbeat song that suited Jason so well and his love of his friends. It was the very first song in the memorial slideshow.

“The Puppy Song”
Dreams are nothing more than wishes

And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true, woo woo

If only I could have a puppy
I’d call myself so very lucky
Just to have some company
To share a cup of tea with me

I’d take my puppy everywhere
La, la, la-la I wouldn’t care
And we would stay away from crowds
And signs that said no dogs allowed
Oh we, I know he’d never bite me
Whoa de lo…….
We, I know he’d never bite me

If only I could have a friend
To stick with me until the end
And walk along beside the sea
Share a bit of moon with me

I’d take my friend most everywhere
La, la, la-la I wouldn’t care
We would stay away from crowds
With signs that said no friends allowed
Oh we, we’d be so happy to be
Whoa de lo………….
We, we’d be so happy to be together

But dreams are nothing more than wishes
And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true
Whoa whoa……….

Dreams are nothing more than wishes
And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true
Whoa whoa woo……..

Dreams are nothing more than wishes
And a wish is just a dream
You wish to come true


There are a couple of other Harry Nilsson songs in the movie that bring me to tears when I hear them – Remember and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Other songs in the movie by other artists, too, tug at my heart and make me miss Jason tremendously. Dreams by the Cranberries was on Jason’s favorite playlist at the time he died. Dream by Roy Orbison speaks to the longing of when things were better and memories of when Jason lived.

Remember (Christmas)”

Long ago, far away
Life was clear
Close your eyes

Remember, is a place from long ago
Remember, filled with everything you know
Remember, when you’re sad and feelin’ down
Remember, turn around
Remember, life is just a memory
Remember, close your eyes and you can see
Remember, think of all that life can be

Dream, love is only in a dream
Remember, life is never as it seems

Dream, love is only in a dream
Remember, life is never as it seems

Long ago, far away
Life was clear
Close your eyes


Long ago, far away…life was clear. Remember. Missing my boy with my whole heart. Oh, my precious boy, how I miss you.


© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Another Thanksgiving in the books

Holidays are filled with landmines and pitfalls following the death of a child. I remember the “firsts” of the year Jason died – first Easter, first 4th of July, first birthday, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first New Years. Holidays just are never the same when a child dies. Sometimes they are incredibly difficult.

For some reason, this Thanksgiving was particularly difficult for me. Perhaps it’s the whole pandemic isolation thing, being so far away from family. Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of where we are going to live and feeling like we are still at loose ends. Perhaps it’s that so many things feel temporary. We haven’t had a home of our own in so long that it’s beginning to feel like it will never happen. Perhaps it’s a lot of things combined.

I woke up on Thanksgiving morning and just couldn’t seem to find a smile in me. I felt like there was a huge lump in the pit of my stomach that made it hard for me to breathe, like I could cry at the drop of a hat. I had a hard time holding it together. I long for the day when we could all be together in a home of our own. That day is gone and will never be again. It’s just so hard sometimes.

Christmas is right around the corner and the Christmas spirit seems so far to be very elusive this year, too. My mind can’t seem to wrap itself around the fact that we have to spend another Christmas, another year without Jason. I’m doing the best I can, but I feel like I’m failing miserably. A new year is rapidly approaching.

Another year without my boy. Sometimes I just don’t know how to do this.

I love you, Jason, and I miss you with my whole heart.


© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney


Life in boxes, once again


We have boxed up our belongings and rented a storage unit to store them. Again. The few remaining items we use on a daily basis are ready to be boxed up, our clothes in suitcases ready to be zipped shut and rolled out the door. On Tuesday, September 15, the local Two Men and a Truck moving company will come to pick up our boxes and move them to the storage unit.

My life is in boxes once again. Since we have lived in a small furnished rental for the last eight years, we have no furniture to move, just boxes. We have not owned a vacuum cleaner or couch or a bed or a table and chairs in 11 years.

Since our landlord unceremoniously dropped the bomb about us having to move out by the end of September, we have run the gamut of emotions. First, we were in shock at the unkind, unwarranted, horrible manner in which we were treated by someone to whom we had tried to show kindness. Next, we embraced this as an opportunity to make some changes for the better, to try to find that elusive place to finally be “at home” in a home of our own. We have been trying to decide where that might be. We looked at homes in Charleston, where our daughter lives. We have looked at homes where we currently live. We are trying to find a nice, comfortable, affordable home without breaking the bank, so to speak. We would like to be near family (with our daughter in Charleston and our son in Seattle, they are coasts apart), but either one would involve me giving up my job and trying to find another – in the middle of a pandemic and on the cusp of turning 65 on September 30. Plus, any place we want to live the housing is very expensive. There’s no way we could qualify for a home loan – or even an apartment rental – on just Joe’s Social Security, and as much as employers are not supposed to consider a person’s age, I am cognizant of the fact that my age not in my favor in looking for a new job somewhere else.

We have tried to find a short-term, furnished rental or vacation rental to buy ourselves some time to work things out (and so I can continue working at my job), but that, too, is proving nearly impossible. Vacation rentals are booked because it’s headed into fall and “leaf peeping” season here along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Other rentals, such as apartments, want long-term leases. We don’t have time to find a place to purchase. We just don’t know what to do any more. Right now, my emotions on the verge of full-on panic.

We have no place to go and have to move out in 17 days. We continue to look, but it’s not hopeful. I guess there’s always a hotel.

I’ve hit lots of other emotions, too. I’m so worried about how all of this stress is affecting my husband who had a heart attack a scant nine months ago. Once a person has a heart attack, his chances of having another are greatly increased. I am struggling to hold onto my carefully constructed facade of togetherness. I wake up in the middle of the night, desperately searching for a place to live. I sit alone in the dark, break down and cry for all we have lost. Too many losses over the years. The losses easily come to the surface when one is stretched so thin. I’m embarrassed that we find ourselves in this position at our ages. It has not been an easy road since Jason died. We have lost our home, friends, income, security, hope, faith. My faith in God and in his people has not been the same Jason died.

My sister has tired to encourage us, recently sending this Bible verse and her interpretation of it.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

Jeremiah 29:11-14 – NLT

God has had plans for you all along. They are good plans, not plans for disaster or poverty or hopelessness. Rather, they are plans that will cause a spring of hope and joy in your hearts when you think of them in your future. Even now, today, when you reach out from that place of uncertainty and pray in faith, God promises that he will hear you. Your words won’t just bounce off the wall, but He will actually listen and take to heart the words that you are saying. He will reveal Himself to you, bringing comfort and direction. You will begin to notice the sadness and emptiness that has dogged you for so long, come to an end and a real joy and hope will return. You will begin to see things that you’ve lost be restored to you. Your wandering will end and you will return to your home again to your own land.  These are the plans that God has for you, Plans that will give you hope and a future, says the Lord.

My response:

I truly appreciate that you are trying to encourage us. It has really been a discouraging time, that’s for sure. 

I will tell you that I used to wholeheartedly get behind this verse. So much so, in fact, that I had printed it out on nice heavyweight paper with a pretty font. I purchased a incredible frame, put this printed verse into the frame and gave it as a special gift to Jason as an encouragement for his future. It was sitting by his bedside on the night he died. Both Joe and I truly believed from the minute he was born that God had a special purpose for Jason. I used to wake up in the middle of the night nearly every night, go downstairs and pray for our kids, for their friends, for their futures, for their future spouses, for our grandchildren, for protection and blessing for my family. I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that my prayers “availed much.”

But no one told me that God would turn a deaf ear to my earnest prayers for protection for my kids and allow Jason to die, that he would not protect Jason, that the “plans” and “future” (and as a promise from the Bible I used as an encouragement for him) that he had for Jason was for him to die at the hands of a drunk driver at the age of 19, that Eric would marry someone who has so undermined our relationships with him and our grandchildren to the point where our grandchildren hardly have anything to do with us, that so much would happen to Jenna that has cost her so much, that our good “Christian” friends would leave us so alone when we needed them the most. Joe, Jenna and I have paid a high, high price because Jason died, a higher price than anyone truly knows. [Although I have written about what we went through, there are still many things I am not at liberty to write about.] I’m sorry and I don’t mean any disrespect and I by no means mean to sound harsh, but I just do not so blindly believe this any more. If God has some special plans for us, he needs to show up pretty soon and prove it. 

I honestly do thank you, though, for thinking of us and for caring about us. You are really the only one who has stuck around at all, despite all those people on Facebook who say that they care or are praying for us. Perhaps they do care and do pray, but it’s difficult to trust in people any more. It’s difficult when people say something but don’t follow up with actions. I’m not fooled; I remember which ones of them stood by us when Jason died. They were few and far between. They told us they prayed and cared, but then left us so alone. They did nothing and that hurt. It really hurt. I’ve always said that my head understood that we were difficult to be around but that my heart didn’t understand. It’s still true – my head still understands that they just didn’t know what to do to help. My heart still hurts at being abandoned. I don’t really want an answer or discussion or a sermon. I just wanted to let you know this verse doesn’t necessarily mean to me or to Joe what it means to you. 

My faith in God was shaken when Jason died. It’s never really recovered. I want to believe and I honestly try, but I still struggle. At first, I prayed God would use this horrible evil and loss for good. Then, I hoped and believed God would restore and bless us as he did Job in the Bible. It’s been nearly 19 years and I’ve yet to see such a thing. My faith in people was shaken when people died. Many have disappeared from our lives, never to return. Only my friend Mary stepped up. I miss her. I have a hard time making friends any more. I have a hard time believing in friendship. My heart was a broken beyond repair. I still miss my boy so much. I miss the life we had as a family.

You never could have convinced me that at 72 and 65 years old, respectively, Joe and I would be in the position we are now in. Unless we find something to move into in the next 17 days, we will once again be houseless/homeless. We faced a similar time in the big 1993 Seattle Inauguration Day storm when a big tree fell on the house we were renting. The house was so damaged we had to move out the next day, putting all of our things in storage. We were without a home for several months while we looked for a place to buy. We stayed in a hotel, stayed with friends for a while, I went on an extended trip to visit relatives in the Midwest. We ended up renting a small apartment while we had a house built.

One difference between then and now – other than our ages and the fact that our Eric and Jenna are grown, live on different coasts and Jason is dead – is that it was easier for me to have hope. I had hope that things would get better, that we had time for things to turn around. I had not yet gone through so much loss. We had not yet traversed for so long on such a long, rocky, tiring journey. The whole “He leads me beside still waters, restores my soul” thing has been an elusive promise. We just don’t know what to do any more and we’re running out of time.

Our days are numbered and I am well aware of that. Both of my parents died when they were 78 years old. Joe is 72 and had a heart attack nine months ago. He has been struggling with some memory issues lately, now exacerbated by all of the stress we are under. I am very aware – probably more than most – that those we love die and that each moment is precious. I want to find a place where we can enjoy the years we have remaining, a place close to family, a place where we can be “at home.” I want the illusion to become a reality.

Meanwhile, our lives are in boxes once again.


© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Looking for a place to call home

My husband and I visited Charleston for the past few days. Charleston is where our daughter and son-in-law live, and we are considering Charleston as a possibility for a place to live. We need to be near family, near people who care about us.

It’s different visiting a location when you are just on vacation, as opposed to when you are thinking about living there. Joe wants to buy a house. He’s tired of renting. So am I. If we do buy a house, this will probably be the last one we ever buy. We have to decide if Charleston – or any place, for that matter – is a place we really want to spend the rest of our lives.

We miss our family. We miss our daughter. But we can’t decide on a place based solely on a city she now lives. If they decide to move some place else based on jobs or whatever, will that place stand independently as a place we want to live?

Charleston is expensive. I don’t know if we can afford to buy a house there, one that’s close enough to our daughter to warrant moving, leaving my current job, trying to find another one. My boss’s “business restructure” gives me questions about my job security, but at least I have a job for now. Is it wise to move and try to find a new job in the midst of a pandemic? We have no choice but to move. We just don’t know where. I long for a place to call home. I haven’t really had one for a very long time. I’m not sure there is such a place for us any more, at least not here on this earth.

It’s a scary world to me right now, one with no certainties. The world looks unkind, one where we have been betrayed by people we thought we could trust and who cared about us. The world was such a more beautiful, kind place before Jason died. He made it that way for all of us.

While visiting our daughter, the conversation one morning somehow rambled around to discussing the time after Jason died and the people who were in our lives then, people we trusted and who disappeared or were not kind. We don’t talk about that time much. It’s just too painful. When we do talk about it, we still shake our heads in wonder at how we were treated at that time. People probably think I exaggerate about it, but I don’t. I – we – have kept much of it to ourselves entirely.

I had a meltdown last night. After unloading the car following our trip back from Charleston, my husband stubbed his toe hard. It was like the tipping-point pain that put us both in tears. Pent-up frustration and wounded-ness came pouring out. We just stood in the living room, hugging each other and sobbing. I worry so much about the stress this is putting on my husband’s heart. He is such a good, kind man. He deserves to be treated better than this.

As I walked in the bedroom, my Nixplay had somehow automatically started to play while we were gone. Photos of Jason played, one right after the other. I bent down with my elbows on my desk and watched the photos go by. “I miss you, my precious boy,” I said as tears streamed down my face. The world was so much a better place before Jason died. I miss that world. Our world changed so much the minute he died. It has never been the same. I have never been the same. My husband and our daughter have never been the same.

We have no answers to our questions. Today is another day and we rise to keep on trying – trying to keep our heads up, trying to figure out where to live, trying to keep a good attitude, trying to take care of ourselves as best we can. I am off to work to try to do the best job I can do. That’s all we can do.


© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney


As we talked on the phone recently, my daughter told me recently , “Mom, you sound like you’re beat up.”

It’s true. I feel like I’m beat up. I’m exhausted. And that was before this latest development hit this week.

This pandemic has been really hard on us. With my husband having a heart attack less than nine months ago and being over 65, he exactly fits that vulnerable population they keep talking about. We have done everything we can to protect him. I can’t have him get sick. I can’t have anything happen to him. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

We have felt isolated, unable to go see our daughter and son-in-law in Charleston or our son and his family in Seattle. We have been unable to do many of the things we like to do. We really have no friends here. It’s been lonely.

My boss put me on a 7-week layoff early in the pandemic. He re-opened the office mid-May, offering me a reduced work schedule. He is in the middle of “restructuring” his business, he told me recently. I’m not sure what that means for me and for my job. Joe has quit driving for Uber on doctor’s orders. He can’t take the chance of being in an enclosed car with someone who might have the coronavirus.

The isolation wasn’t too bad at the beginning. It’s wearing thin. We feel lonely, alone, frustrated.

And then the latest thing hit.

We have lived in Asheville in the same small apartment for eight years. We have looked for a home to purchase, but it’s so expensive here. We just can’t afford to buy a home and then have enough left over to live on for the rest of our lives. My previous boss’s father-in-law offered by build us a home (a shell we would have to finish). We calculated the cost and felt like we couldn’t financially do it. In addition, the fact that it was right next to a cemetery really bothered my husband. Some people find solace in cemeteries after the death of a child. For some, it’s a constant reminder of the huge gaping hole in their lives. I am the former; my husband is the later. My husband just couldn’t live by a cemetery. And so we have stayed put.

Our landlord is a difficult man. He knows it all and he is never wrong. He talks down to people. If he feels you don’t know something or don’t know what he’s talking about, he’s good about making sure you know how stupid you are. And you never question him or give him attitude. He gets angry and is proud of his anger. He is proud of his past physical altercations and will go into detail telling how he put someone in their place. If you cross him, he is harsh and unkind. There is no grace. He has driven away nearly everyone.

He lives right behind us, just a driveway width away.

We have managed to stay relatively under the radar of this side of him. Joe has tried to be a good friend to him, helping him mow the lawn, dig up roots in the driveway, cut down trees, clean up fallen branches and fallen trees. Our landlord is 78 years old, and Joe really has had a heart to help him. My husband is one of the kindest, most generous, giving men I know. He has helped our landlord a lot. He has climbed on top of a motorhome to wash it and or on roof of our second story apartment to clean gutters. Joe has rushed over to help our landlord get his wife off the floor after she has fallen (she had a stroke before we moved in) or to help with her iPhone when she can’t figure something out. He has stepped up to the plate whenever our landlord needed help. Every week there has been many projects with which Joe has lended a helping hand. We have tried to be good tenants and neighbors, kind, sharing fresh-bought produce or just-out-of-the-oven muffins.

In return, Joe has at times borne the brunt of some derision. Our landlord is sometimes not kind in how he talks to Joe, especially if Joe asks a question or has an opinion about something. You know what they say about no good deed going unpunished.

A series of events recently has put us in the crosshairs. First, our landlord informed Joe that he was hiking our rent up by $200, and he felt like Joe “gave him attitude” when he was informed of this. He doesn’t like people to give him attitude. Second, because of some minor memory and cognitive issues, sometimes Joe struggles to connect the dots. He asks some extra questions to try to understand things. To our landlord, just in everyday conversations about everyday topics, this also has been interpreted as “giving him attitude” and questioning his superiority and authority.

And then, the septic system is having problems again. It was supposedly fixed a couple of months ago. Last week, instead of just informing Joe about it and asking us to conserve water, our landlord told him there was a problem with the septic system, instructed him we would have to take sponge baths and not flush the toilet, and – the kicker – that, if we didn’t do this, he would cut off our water. Instead of informing of the problem and asking us to work with him on water conservation until he could get it fixed, he went straight to threats and aggression and dominance.

Joe called me at work, upset at how our landlord addressed the problem to him. The whole “cutting off the water if we didn’t comply” threat has finally been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for Joe. He’s put up with a lot from our landlord, but felt this was over the top aggression for no reason. It was totally unwarranted. Joe did not confront our landlord about how this was addressed, as that is a losing proposition. Joe is not a large man and our landlord is large. Both our daughter and I have been concerned about Joe’s safety should verbal unkindness turn to aggression and then be pointed at Joe, especially when I’m not home.

I spoke to our landlord when I got home. He basically told me the same thing, but with less aggression. He did, however, also tell me he would have to turn off the water if we did not comply. As of today, it’s been more than a week and the problem is not fixed and I have no idea when it will be. We are doing our best to conserve water, although not to the extremes our landlord required.

And then when I got home a couple of days ago, our landlord was waiting for me. He told me he had some good news and he had some bad news. The good news was that the water table in the septic system was down 4 inches because of our conservation efforts. The bad news was that he was telling us we had 45 days to move out.

After eight years, countless hours of helping our landlord out, in the middle of a pandemic, with my husband having a heart attack less than nine months ago, being the best tenants we could be and as helpful and friendly as we could be, with no valid reason whatsoever, we are summarily told we have to move in 45 days. And he would appreciate it if we could move out sooner.

I’ve been feeling helpless about changing things for the better for a long time. I have been struggling with feeling hopeless. For some reason, Jason’s birthday really knocked me for a loop this year and I’m just plain struggling.

I worry about the extra stress all of this is having on Joe. His after-heart attack therapy doesn’t include so much stress. He doesn’t need this. I don’t need this. All of this stress is not good for him. It could cause him to have another heart attack, I’m fear. I can’t lose my husband because of this, because of the actions this horrible man.

I’m not sure what we’re going to do. I’m not sure where we’re going to move. So much unknown. It’s time for a change. Past time for a change. We should have moved a long time ago, gotten away from this toxic man. We should have known we weren’t immune from his harshness. We just didn’t know where to go. We still don’t. We have wasted eight years here. Where is a place we can finally be at home? I don’t know. I haven’t truly felt at home since Jason died.

I’m exhausted.


© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney



Happy birthday, my precious boy

Jason would have been 38 years old today. My precious, beautiful, sunshine-y boy.

There are days when it all comes crashing down. This is one of those days.

Perhaps it’s the unrest and incivility so prevalent in the United States these days. We could use a kind, loving, thoughtful beautiful soul like Jason in the world. He made it a more kind and beautiful place.

Perhaps it’s knowing that he died when he was 19 – half of what would have been his lifetime had he lived (19 + 19 = 38).

Perhaps it’s because I have tried so hard to live a life that would have made him proud of me, tried to find a life or purpose and meaning, tried to find a place to belong in this world – and I feel I have made not made much inroads in all of that.

Perhaps it’s just that I miss him so much.


My precious boy. Happy birthday. I miss you with all my heart.


© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

Between a Rock and a Hard Place – After the Death of a Child: Trying to figure out how keep on living

I originally wrote this post two years ago on July 12, 2018. It is a post that recently has been viewed a lot, more than many posts I’ve written so far, so I thought I would share it again. On the advice of a fellow bereaved mom, I have changed my original terminology in this post from “committed suicide” to “died by suicide.”

To end stigma of suicide we prefer it be “died by suicide” rather than “committed” which makes it a crime. It was a cry for help unheard.

~from fellow bereaved parent Kathy


Originally posted 7/12/2018


I recently got a text from a friend whose co-worker’s daughter died by suicide. When I told my husband about it, he said, “I don’t understand why anyone would [die by] suicide. Why would someone not want to live? Why would they want to die?” Joe is a very black and white person, while I have always been a person who sees both sides of a coin. When Joe was a young boy, his grandfather (the person for whom Joe was named) died by suicide. Suicide has never been something that he could get his head around.

After sitting there for just a moment, I told him that I could understand why someone wouldn’t want to live any more. Sometimes the pain is so great that it reaches a point where it seems no longer bearable. I told him that, right after Jason died, there were a few times when I just wanted to drive in front of a semi truck to end the extreme, crushing pain in my broken heart. I told him there were also a few times when I had to specifically and determinedly take just one sleeping pill that the doctor had prescribed and intentionally put the pill bottle away, because, when the pain and agony of losing Jason were so great and so overwhelming, I really wanted to take the whole bottle. I could hardly stand the pain of Jason’s death. It just crushed me. I had to specifically, determinedly, intentionally choose to live when the pain was so great that I just wanted to die. I realized that dying was not an option for me. Dying may have ended my pain, but I would have passed it on exponentially to those I loved and that was one thing I could not do.

I had to focus on living. There were days when remembering Jason, the wonderful, beautiful person he was and his love of life were the only things that got me through. There were days when only the thought of our daughter, Jenna, got me through. There were days when I had to find something of beauty to focus on. There were some days when I struggled to find something to focus on, but I kept on trying.

When I told these things to Joe, he said, “I didn’t know that. Why didn’t you tell me?” I didn’t tell him because I didn’t want to add to the burden of grief he was already carrying. I don’t like feeling like I’m a burden. It’s taken me 16 years to actually say these things out loud to him.

I know that I am not the only bereaved parent who has had the thought of wishing to die following the death of their child cross their mind, whether it’s just a passing thought or actually becomes a struggle to choose to live.  It’s just not something we talk about.

No one tells you that you may want to die. No one tells you that you may lie in bed and pray for your heart to stop. That even your most cherished and beloved children and husband may not be able to rouse you from the depths of your sorrow. That even the breathtaking sunrises and majestic shooting stars above won’t give you pause.

No one tells you this.

(Although written about the death of a sibling, this is equally true – if not more so – about a parent whose child has died.)




Parents of children and adolescents who die are found to suffer a broad range of difficult mental and physical symptoms. As with many losses, depressed feelings are accompanied by intense feelings of sadness, despair, helplessness, loneliness, abandonment, and a wish to die [28]. Parents often experience physical symptoms such as insomnia or loss of appetite as well as confusion, inability to concentrate, and obsessive thinking [17]. Extreme feelings of vulnerability, anxiety, panic, and hyper-vigilance can also accompany the sadness and despair.



Research on the impact of bereavement as a trauma has emphasized significant negative psychological and health outcomes. For instance, Stroebe, Stroebe, and Abakoumkin (2005) found that bereaved persons, especially those with extreme emotional loneliness and severe depressive symptoms, are at risk for suicidal ideation. Li, Laursen, Precht, Olsen, and Mortensen (2005) found that bereaved parents, especially mothers, were at increased risk for a first psychiatric hospitalization as compared with nonbereaved parents. In fact, maternal risk of hospitalization remained significantly elevated 5 years or more after the death. Using Danish national registries, these investigators also found that mortality rates were higher among bereaved than nonbereaved parents, particularly for deaths due to unnatural causes (e.g., accidents and suicide) within the first 3 years after the child’s death (Li, Precht, Mortensen, & Olson, 2003). Bereavement was associated with long-term mortality due to illness (e.g., cancer) for the mothers, presumably because of stress, a weakened immune system, or poor health behaviors (e.g., smoking, alcohol consumption).


Now, I’m not saying that all bereaved parents (or even some) are going to want to die or will have to be committed to a mental hospital or anything like that. What I am saying is that it is not an easy thing to do, this figuring out how to keep on living and finding meaning in life when your child has died. Besides my own experience, I can give three examples from my own life of people I personally knew who struggled following the death of their child.

  • The first is a woman whose children were part of the homeschool group when our kids were in grade school. Among other things, they were in a grade-school choir with our children. I lost track of her after we moved to the north end of Seattle and our kids grew up. After Jason died, I heard that her son, as a young adult, died by suicide. Not long after his death, she chose to end her own life.
  • The second is a woman whose son died when he was struck by a train the year after Jason died. At the time, what I remember people talking about is how, in their opinion, she was drinking way too much alcohol. This was less than a year after Jason died, and I remember thinking it was so unfair to judge her for drinking and that, if I had been so inclined, I probably would have been drinking too much, too. I don’t remember hearing sympathy or discussions of ways to help; I only heard judgment.
  • The third is a woman from the homeschool group we were in when our kids were in junior and senior high. Her son was born the same year Jason was and was in some homeschool classes and activities with our kids. He came down with aggressive pancreatic cancer as a young man – 21 years old, married with two small children – and died after a short, horrific illness. Going to his funeral was so incredibly hard for me. I sat in the back row in case I needed to leave in a hurry. Four and a half years after he died, his mom came down with a similar and equally aggressive cancer, dying within a few months after diagnosis. Both of them are buried a stone’s throw from where Jason and Alina are buried. (Because I had written the earlier article following the death of the young man hit by a train, after this young man died of cancer, I heard from several people how helpful a resource it was in their efforts to support his mom.)

The loss of a child is widely accepted as one of the most profoundly painful, intense, and devastating types of bereavement. It has been associated with heightened risk for various poor psychosocial and physical health outcomes, including psychiatric illness, existential suffering, marital problems, and even mortality…Grief also tends to persist longer among bereaved parents than for other bereaved populations, often lasting in some intensity for the remaining duration of the parent’s life…This longevity of suffering largely may be due to the struggle parents frequently encounter in making meaning of their untimely loss. Prior studies have in fact demonstrated that parents’ difficulties with finding meaning often persist for years, and for those who initiate a search for understanding but fail in their quest, the risk for poor adjustment increases considerably…

Following the loss of a loved one, individuals are often driven to search for meaning in both the loss and their lives…The loss of a child can be especially disruptive to one’s meaning structures; it is often perceived as “senseless” …and can rattle a parent’s sense of understanding about the way the world works and his or her purpose in life. Forced to transform their identity as a “parent,” a bereaved mother or father frequently faces a unique existential crisis…A large proportion of these parents must somehow reconcile an event that challenges the expected order of life events and threatens their sense of identity, purpose, and legacy as well as the very meaning of their child’s life…

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3745996/ – Please see original for citations; removed for readability purposes.

The fact of the matter is that every day we have to find a way to choose to keep on living. We may struggle to try to find some sense in the senseless act of our child’s death. Perhaps we find that elusive “meaning” or “purpose.” Perhaps we simply do the best we can with what we have and live our lives as best we can.

No matter what the circumstance, if you are struggling with finding a reason to go on, I hope and pray that you realize that you are not alone. Talk to someone – a pastor, a friend, a counselor. Call the national suicide prevention line (1-800-273-8255).

If the first or second or third person doesn’t really hear you, keep on trying. There are a lot of uninformed/misinformed, fearful (of deep grief) people out there, professionals included. I talked to a counselor (no idea how to deal with deep grief, not every counselor can be an expert on everything), I tried to talk to friends (yeah, a lot I could say there). I went to a Compassionate Friends meeting (awful experience, never went back). I called and left a voicemail for Jason’s soccer coach (who had lost two children in a fire, no reply). I eventually stopped trying, although I really wish I hadn’t. It’s a very lonely walk when you feel like no one wants to walk with you.

If you are one of those people who a bereaved parent reaches out to, don’t be “that person” who turns a blind eye or deaf ear or just disappears. Read books or articles on how to help. You may not be equipped or know how to respond or help. Be honest. Ask how you can help. Listen. Don’t give advise! Listen! Do something! If the bereaved parent doesn’t respond right away, try again later. And then try again later. And then try again. Don’t give up. And if the parent asks for help, do what you can to actually help or try to find someone who can help. If you say you are going to do something, then actually do it.

You have no idea how much effort it takes for a bereaved parent to actually reach out and ask for help. No matter how scared you are, the bereaved parent is afraid of this journey, too. No matter how exhausted you are, the bereaved parent is exponentially more exhausted. No matter how much you are affected by the death, the bereaved parent is affected more than you could ever imagine. It’s a long, difficult, lonely, scary walk. Don’t let them feel like they are going it alone.

You are in my thoughts and prayers. You are not alone.


© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney