Heaven

As a boy I thought of Heaven as a glorious golden city, with nobody in it but angels, and they were all strangers to me. When my little brother died, then I thought of Heaven as that great city, full of angels, with just one little fellow in it. Then my acquaintances began to die, and the number of my friends in Heaven grew larger. But, it was not until one of my own little ones was taken that I began to feel a personal interest in Heaven. Now so many friends and loved ones have gone there, that it seems I know more in Heaven than on earth. Now, when my thoughts turn to Heaven, it is not the gold walls I think of — but the loved ones there. It is not the place so much as the company that makes Heaven seem beautiful.

Author unknown

from Forever Remembered Compiled by Dan Zadra and Marcia Woodard, © 1997 by Compendium, Inc.

Once in a while, I cannot help but long for my heavenly home where Jason, our baby, my parents and grandparents, Alina and so many other friends and family have gone on before. I, too, no longer think of heaven in terms of its promised physical beauty, but in terms of the beautiful loved ones who are waiting there. I look forward to a day when our tears will be wiped away once and for all, where death and sorrow will be no more.

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

We Remember Them

At the rising of the sun and its going down,

We remember them.

At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,

We remember them.

At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring,

We remember them.

At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn,

We remember them.

At the beginning of the year and when it ends,

We remember them.

As long as we live, they too will live.

They are a part of us,

We remember them.

~from Gates of Prayer, Judiasm Prayerbook

Jason David Carney

July 29, 1982 – March 3, 2002

My precious boy, I will never forget you. I love you.

~Mom

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

Sit with me and be my friend

I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of why my loved one had died, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly. He said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.

Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask me leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listening when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.

~Joe Bayly

from Forever Remembered Compiled by Dan Zadra and Marcia Woodard, © 1997 by Compendium, Inc.

Struggling

One would think I would be used to some of this grieving stuff by now, but there are times when something raises its head and I have to deal with it all over again. Just when I think I’ve got at least a partial handle on the reality of the way things are now, something comes up and pierces my heart.

This time it’s grandkids.

Two of my boss’s grown children have recently surprised him and his wife with announcements of additional grandchildren arriving in the near future. He is so excited to show this kind of thing to me. He’s so proud of the way his children announced the news to them. Fun, cute announcements. So excited for more grandchildren arriving soon. Can’t wait to play with them, be grandpa.

I’m happy for them, but I’m also really struggling with it right now.

While it’s true we have three grandchildren, it’s also true that it has not been the Norman Rockwell-esque scenario we were looking forward to – not by a long, long shot. From the beginning of their relationship, our (now) daughter-in-law has done everything in her power – I’m not sure whether consciously or subconsciously, although maybe some of each – to cause division and problems between our son and us, and to make sure Joe and I know of how little value and importance she feels we are to their family. She has also done a more-than-adequate job of communicating this sentiment over and over again in many different ways to our son and grandkids. I will refrain from saying any more, although there is much more I could say. It has been a difficult pill to swallow. Since we live all the way across the country, it’s also a very difficult sentiment to counteract.

It breaks my heart. We have done everything we can, absent moving back to Seattle, to show them how much we love them and how much they mean to us. I don’t know how much good it’s done or if it’s even registered. It’s hard to tell. Even if we moved back now, it would be too little, too late. At ages 20, 13 and 9, the patterns have already been set, opportunities missed never to return.

Joe is and has always been a great dad. I could not have asked for a better man to be the father of our kids. When the kids were little, he would come home from work and play with them, read to them, play board games, take them swimming – all after a long day’s work. He’d make up games or change up the rules to games to make them more fun or different. He’d read books backwards, just to make the kids laugh. When the kids’ friends would come over, they would beg Joe to play “swamp monster” with them, to which he would happily oblige. As they got older, he always had time for them. He even helped our daughter and her friend dye their hair. He really was looking forward to doing the same with grandkids. He told me once that he could just imagine grandkids running around our house and it made him so happy.

I had my own vision of grandkid fun – baking, crafts, exploring, drawing, painting. Before we moved from Seattle, I tried to take our grandson places and plan fun activities as much as I was “allowed” to do so. Once we moved, those opportunities were gone.

Our daughter doesn’t want kids at all. She has said that exact same thing since she first took a babysitting class at the age of 12. We have come to the realization that she meant exactly what she said. It’s certainly her choice and we respect her wishes.

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Jason and our grandson Michael – Summer 2001

Jason was my hope – my hope for a daughter-in-law that would be glad to be a part of our family, for grandkids that we could love and spoil, who would be happy to see us and love us in return. The whole Norman Rockwell thing. I was looking forward to being that kind of grandparent, as was Joe – REALLY looking forward to it. Some days the realization of what we have missed because of Jason’s death hits us square in the face, right in the heart. And it hurts.

I’m happy for friends I know whose children have gotten married, had grandchildren, bought houses, etc. I see their photos and announcements on Facebook or wherever, and I’m truly happy for them. But my heart hurts that this part of our future died with Jason. He would have been a great husband, a great father. He was so fun, loving and kind. He loved kids. He loved us. I know he was looking to all of those adventures. We were, too.

And it makes me sad. Just being honest – I’m really struggling with this today.

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

Something that bears repeating regarding support

I wrote something in my last book review post that I feel bears repeating. To quote my previous post:

As one of ten kids and pastor of a large church, the author mentions several times about the incredible support that they had. In writing this section, as well as other places where the he talks about support or finding support, I realized that I have come to this conclusion: As difficult as it is for a person who has never experienced the death of a child to realize how difficult it is to walk the daily walk of a parent whose child has died, it is similarly difficult for a person who has had support in their walk as a bereaved parent to truly understand what it’s like to NOT have such support. The notion that everyone has or can find adequate support in their grief journey is an assumptive, erroneous one. I wish it were otherwise and that every bereaved parent had or could find adequate support, but I know firsthand that it’s not.

No loss is the same. No griever is the same. No grief is the same. Circumstances of death are not the same. Support and support systems are not the same. It’s important to realize that, although bereaved parents have all been thrown into the “club no one wants to join,” we all walk similar, yet different, paths. As fellow bereaved parents, we need to check assumptions at the door, just as we would wish the non-bereaved would check their assumptions at the door about what this walk of grief is like and how long and difficult it really is. I truly, truly rejoice with those who have support; my heart goes out for those who don’t.

Also, a previous post regarding assumptions about adequate support can be found here: https://onewomansperspective02.wordpress.com/2019/01/26/dont-assume-everyone-has-adequate-support-in-grief/

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Book Review: life after the death of my son; what I’m learning by Dennis L. Apple

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This book was written by Dennis Apple in 2008, 17 years after the death of his 18-year old son from complications of mono on February 6, 1991. At the time of his son’s death and also at the time of writing this book, Dennis was a staff pastor at a large church in Kansas.

I found this to be a refreshingly honest book written by a man whose son had died unexpectedly. In writing this book, the author went back to his journals written at the time of his son’s death and in the years following, using specific quotes from those journals to write about his experiences.

Typically, I have discovered, more articles, books and blogs on grief following the death of a child are written by women than they are by men. With some well-written exceptions, a number of the male-written articles and books on the grief experienced following the death of a child are written by men who are researchers or hold jobs in a professional capacity (psychologist, psychiatrist, pastor, etc.), and who have not actually walked the walk of a bereaved father. To me, I have found that an item written on the death of a child is more authentic and carries more “weight” if it’s been written by someone who has actually experienced it first hand.

Will It Always Hurt This Much?

In the first chapter, Dennis tells the story of walking into a grief support group two weeks following the death of his son. After telling the group their son had died two weeks earlier, “one of the women spoke up and said to us ‘Hang in there – the second year is often worse than the first!’ I remember thinking, If that’s true, then you might as well kill us right now. There is no way we’ll make it if it gets worse than this (p. 12).”

Looking back, I see that she was a trying to prepare us. Much of our first year was spent in a daze as we trudged through each day like sad robots…Fresh grievers don’t want to hear this truth, but it’s best to be prepared for what’s to come…When we faced the second year, the second round of painful reminders on the calendar, we knew we were in this for the long haul (p. 12-13).

Similar to the situation I encountered at a Compassionate Friends meeting when I was told, “Oh, you’re just a baby [in the grief process],” it’s a very hard thing to hear early on that this is a very long journey. No parent wants to know that it will take a lot of hard work and time to reach a new normal, especially when all they want to do is to wake up from this nightmare.

I’m torn on whether or not this is helpful to know this at the onset. I guess it depends on the people involved and the way it’s communicated – gently and with an assurance that they can make it through and that they are not alone in the journey. I remember early on trying to contact someone I knew who had lost two children in a fire. I just wanted someone to tell me I would survive, to pray with me. Although the author says it’s best to be prepared and to know this truth, he says in a later chapter that “it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know how long our winter of grief would continue, because it was much longer than I expected (p. 143).”

Bereaved parents feel as though they’re on a long, sad march but have no final destination. We feel as though this overwhelming sadness will be with us forever. We’re expected to move on, yet something within us resists these expectations to move on so quickly…Bereaved parents are also learning how to play hurt, but the casual onlooker has no idea how badly they’ve been injured or how long it will take to recover (p. 15).

Our injury is made even worse by people who try to fast-forward us through our grief. They suggest we should come to some sort of closure…I borrowed a phrase from another griever whom I heard say, “People close on houses, not on the death of a child (p.16).”

Few people whose children are living understand the formidable task that bereaved parents face. Gradually, bereaved parents must face the realization that their lives, and the lives of their entire family, have been changed forever. The struggle before them is to find a new “normal” (p. 17).

Will Our Marriage Survive This?

In this chapter on marriage, Dennis writes about some of the struggles he and his wife had in their marriage dealing with the differences in the way each approached grief. He calls it the “grief dance” they were having and uses an example of two amateurs trying to dance together and badly stepping on each others toes in the process. Their separate and individual approaches to grief, accompanied by his wife’s deep and lengthy grief process, nearly caused them to separate.

In the months and years following our son’s death, there were times when we thought about going our separate ways. We still loved each other, but the grief from our son’s death was like a dirty wedge, driving us apart.

…Sixteen years after Denny’s death, we still have sore toes from stepping on each other’s feet. A casual observer could easily look at us today and think we’re both accomplished dancers as we move together as one.

It wasn’t always that way. The truth is, we simply chose to stay with each other regardless of what happened. Each of us mourned differently and understood there were times we cold help one another. Other times, we simply couldn’t (p.44).

The author talks about the differences between the way men and women grieve: “Women mourn, but men replace (p. 31).” Two weeks after the death of his son, Dennis went back to work, using work and its hectic schedule in an attempt to outrun his grief. Meanwhile, his wife was left on her own to grieve alone. As time went by, Dennis got impatient with her grief while trying to ignore his own.

Along my grief journey I have met countless men, who, like me, have tried to outrun their pain by replacing it with something else. Whenever I see this happening, I remind them of an oil filter commercial. In that commercial, the mechanic holds up a dirty oil filter and says, “You will either pay me now or pay me later.” For grievers, the message is clear: if we try to stifle, ignore, outrun our sadness, and not talk about the pain we feel inside, there will be serious consequences down the road (p.33).

…Across the years, I have encountered several men who have tried to fast-forward the mother of a dead child through her grief and suffering. If I can be of any help to another man about this, I would say as hard as it may be, please allow her to express herself through her grief without being hurried. It may be the most difficult task you have ever faced, but stay with her and allow her to drain this cup of sorrow. She suffered through the labor pains as she gave birth to the child, and now she will likewise need your support as she faces the labor pains of grieving over her dead child (p. 42).

Am I Losing My Mind?

In this chapter, the author discusses the profound way we are affected by grief – mentally, physically, psychologically. He was surprised at how long the “fog of grief” lasted for him – not just weeks, but years – and how his body was affected by the grief over the death of his son.

Prior to Denny’s death, I had no clue about the many ways a parent is affected by this kind of loss. I remember seeing the sad faces of other bereaved parents in our community but had no idea of the mental and physical pain brought on by the death of their child. The consequences of this type of death are often hidden from the casual onlooker.

Mimi Guameri writes in her book The Heart Speaks, “Doctors will tell you, broken heart syndrome or stress-induced heart failure is a medical condition…This condition seems to be caused by high levels of hormones that the body produces during severe stress, which can be temporarily toxic to the heart.” In other words, you can die from a broken heart, and these days medical science is able to observe this happening in grievers. Now when I see people in deep grief holding their chests, I realize just how vulnerable they really are. Sometimes I felt as though I would die too (p. 55-56).

Where Is God?

The death of a child can bring into question a person’s beliefs and faith, and this pastor/bereaved father is no different.

I had always trusted the words of Jesus found in Scripture: “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). However, on February 6, 1991, everything I believed about prayer was challenged when God did not respond to my most desperate prayer (p. 64).

The author goes on to talk about his belief that shock following the death of a child is God’s way of protecting us when we experience tragedy. We can’t handle everything, every emotion, all at once. People tend to misunderstand the reactions of a bereaved parent who is in shock and misinterpret it as not caring, not crying, or that the parent is doing so well. “Little do they know that the survivors are in a deep, soul-numbing state and are not able to feel the full effects of their loss – yet (p. 68).”

He also talks about his beliefs in God coming into question and his anger at hearing someone tell how a “guardian angel” had protected their loved one from harm. “I tried my best to join them in their good fortune, but inwardly I was thinking, Where was my son’s guardian angel on the night of February 6? (p. 69).”

He continued working in his profession as a pastor, all the while trying to figure out why God had not answered his prayers and whether his beliefs of God were accurate. “Gradually, I came to the place in which I accepted the fact that we live in a fallen world, a place where the rain falls on the just and unjust…It may seem as though God has forsaken you, but He is still there with you, even though the fog may hide Him for a while (p. 76-77).”

I Don’t Want Him to be Forgotten

Losing a child is in a class by itself…We expect to see our children grow up, get their educations, marry, and have their families. We look forward to seeing our children’s children so we can enjoy the role of loving grandparents, take them to Disney World, carry their pictures with us, show them off, and brag (p. 82).

While others we know, including our child’s friends, move into new life adventures, bereaved parents are acutely aware of the myriad of events that are no longer possible, not only for their child, but for them as parents.

In this chapter, the author lists multiple ways to honor and remember a deceased child – scholarship funds, planting trees, sending greeting cards, commemorative bricks, and many more. The one thing a parent – especially us mothers – fear is that our child will be forgotten. We are the keepers of the memories. It is our job to make sure our child is not forgotten.

His Birthday is Coming Up

The first missed birthday was a nightmare, and I had assumed it would be rough. What surprised me was how future birthdays and holidays also affected me…I found myself wishing we could somehow skip these family times and simply stick to a yearly calendar without holidays (p. 98-99).

In this chapter, the author discusses the difficulty of birthdays, death days and holidays. He also discusses the “sneak attacks” of grief that happen when we least expect them, along with suggestions on how to deal with them.

When griever has one or several of these painful grief attacks crashing into his or her mind and emotions, it causes a pressure to build up, not unlike the steam pressure that builds up in a pressure cooker. When this happens, it’s important to find someone to whom you can confide about your internal pain. When someone chooses to be your companion and truly listen to your pain – without trying to fix you – you can begin to find relief and decrease the internal pressure (p. 112).

An editorial side note: As one of ten kids and pastor of a large church, the author mentions several times about the incredible support that they had. In writing this section, as well as other places where the he talks about support or finding support, I realized that I have come to this conclusion: As difficult as it is for a person who has never experienced the death of a child to realize how difficult it is to walk the daily walk of a parent whose child has died, it is equally difficult for a person who has had support in their walk as a bereaved parent to truly understand what it’s like to NOT have such support. The notion that everyone has or can find adequate support in their grief journey is an assumptive, erroneous one. I wish it were otherwise and that every bereaved parent had or could find adequate support, but I know firsthand that it’s not.

I Love My Church – But Sometimes It Hurts to Be There

Although the author talks about the incredible support he had, he also felt that “it was a place where we were misunderstood and wounded as well (p. 118).” His wife had a very difficult time being in church, partly because the all the families represented something that was no longer possible for her. The use of “encouraging” scripture to try to cheer them up, ignoring the pain, the “at least you will see them again” comments, and many other wounds opened his eyes to ways the church could better respond to those who deeply grieve.

Quite often I hear Christians use scripture to infer that because we have the confidence and hope of heaven, we should not grieve like the rest of the world. While it’s true that we grieve differently, scripture does not teach Christians to smile and bravely face our losses. It simply reminds us of the difference between our grief and the grief of those who have no hope (p. 121).

In those early days of my grief journey, I had several minister friends, asa well as members of the church, who seemed uncomfortable with my grief and sadness…It seemed they often used scriptures to try and cheer us up. One scripture in particular that was used…was I Thess. 5:16-18: “Be joyful always; pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

They would tell us to be joyful and give thanks for Denny’s death and to praise God in all circumstances. Some of my minister friends told me, “Christians with a strong faith will come through this faster.”

I listened to them and secretly wished they would finish what they had to say and move on – out of my presence. The people who said these things were never people who had lost children. Those who had lost a child knew better…It’s as though these people are the grief police, not wanting us to express our feelings of sadness. They want us to buck up and get over it (p. 123-124).

The author goes on to explain how the experiences in his church helped open his eyes to ways to minister to the grieving, instituting practices within the church that were adopted on a long-term basis.

I Didn’t Cry This Morning

Every newly bereaved person I talk with always wants to know how long his or her pain will continue, how long his or her bitter winter of sorrow will last. It’s a natural question to ask. After all, grieving is the hardest work we do, and it’s only natural to want to know “When do I get a break from this?” The soul-crushing weight of grief is almost more than a person can bear, and we often wonder if the day will ever come when we’ll smile or laugh again. Then, when we do start to get a “break” from our pain, we often feel guilty.

…It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know how long our winter of grief would continue, because it was much longer than I expected. Along the way, there have been times when I would get a glimmer of hope that we might survive it (p. 136-138).

It may take years before the green shoots of hope begin to appear in your life. Again, be patient and keep looking for them. They’ll reappear after your long winter of grief (p. 143).

The author then goes on and gives a list of 30 suggestions of where to look for encouragements of growth and healing – not crying yourself to sleep every night, going to the grocery store without falling apart when walking past your child’s favorite foods, you start noticing the beauty around you again, and many more.

In closing

The last two chapters, I’m Beginning to Live Again and A Wounded Healer?, focus on ways to find help (church, support groups, etc.), ways that the author has integrated his grief into his ministries in church and the purpose he found following the death of his son.

As I said at the beginning of this review, I found this book to be refreshingly honest and frank. Although the author talks a lot about the grief process and his own person grief journey, he also gives practical and helpful suggestions for the walk. I would highly recommend this book. As always, I suggest the reader consider what may apply to their personal lives and let go of that which may not.

(My criteria and process for reviewing books can be found here: https://onewomansperspective02.wordpress.com/2019/04/25/reviewing-books-on-grief/)

~ Becky

Apple, Dennis L, life after the death of my son: what I’m learning, Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City (March 10, 2008).

© 2019 Rebecca Carney

 

 

When memories are all that are left

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I uploaded this photograph on Monday, Jason’s birthday, as my profile picture on Facebook. Every time I see it, it’s as though he’s looking right at me, ready to reach out and give me a hug. I miss Jason’s hugs. I just want to reach out, pull him close, hug him so tight and never let him go.

The photograph was taken when he was 14. I loved his beautiful, curly hair at this age. He stood right between childhood and manhood, with one foot in each. He would still playfully plop down on my lap as I sat on the couch, yet he still wanted to get a summer job to earn money like a grownup.

I wanted to keep on making memories with this awesome son of ours, but that’s something I will never have a chance to do. Whatever memories I have are all I have left. They will never be enough.

Missing you, precious boy.

Jason David Carney 7/29/82 – 3/3/02

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney