Mother’s Day 2022

It started this morning with a hug from Joe for Mother’s Day. I was holding together pretty well until then. We ended up sitting on the couch, holding each other with both of us crying. We miss our boy so much. Joe looked at me and said, “It’s just not fair.” One lesson we have learned well is that life is not fair.

It never ends. It never goes away. The grief, the reminder of broken dreams, the longing and empty arms. Most days we get up, carry on, keep on doing the best we can. We are thankful for what we have. But there are times when it hits us like a ton of bricks. And right now it hurts.

~Becky

© 2022 Rebecca R. Carney

Brokenhearted Mother’s Day

As Jason’s favorite classical piece, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, came up on Pandora this morning, I found tears welling up in my eyes and I started crying. I am just so brokenhearted. Another Mother’s Day without Jason. Another Mother’s Day with no family close by. I miss my boy so much. He made everything so much better.

Mother’s Day is another stark reminder of his absence, a reminder that I wish I had treasured every single moment so much more than I did, a reminder of all we have lost. We take for granted our kids will be around for the rest of our lives. We take for granted we will have another chance to make more memories, to share more hugs and celebrate holidays. Even after 20 years, there are days when I just don’t know how to do this life without my boy. Mother’s Day is one of them.

I guess Mother’s Day exposes those cracks in the facade I try so carefully to maintain and to hide, allowing a bunch of feelings to flood to the surface. Mother’s Day just really gets to me. We’ll be alone again this Mother’s Day. I know that I am still a mother even though Jason died, but I feel so incomplete and empty. I wish I could skip Mother’s Day entirely and wake up on the other side.

I miss you, my beautiful precious boy. My Mr. Sunshine. You made me happy when skies were grey. I love you with all my heart.

~Becky

© 2022 Rebecca R. Carney

We see you. We care.

As many of you may have seen recently, a young girl in a bomb shelter in Ukraine has caught the attention of millions of people around the world for singing a song from the Disney movie “Frozen.” What an amazing thing to watch. It really puts a face to the Ukraine people and what they are going through. My heart just aches for them.

Young girl singing Disney “Let It Go” in Ukraine bomb shelter

The writer of the song, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and the actress who sang the song in the original movie, Idina Menzel, responded to the young singer. Kristen Anderson-Lopez wrote, “My husband and I wrote this song as part of a story about healing a family in pain. The way you sing it is like a magic trick that spreads the light in your heart and heals everyone who hears it. Keep singing! We are listening!” Idina Menzel wrote, “We see you. We really, really see you.” This just really struck a chord with me.

Now, I’m not equating the loss of a child with what the people are going through in Ukraine. Not by a long, long shot. They are entirely very different situations. But, it crossed my mind that there is a lesson that can be learned from this particular exchange that can apply to the loss of a child and many more traumatic situations in everyday life. It’s about acknowledging that person and their loss or the circumstances of the trauma. It’s saying in some way, “I see you and I care what you are going through.”

A bereaved parent doesn’t want advice. It’s not about the words you say. They want someone to see them, someone to acknowledge what they are going through, they want someone to care. They want someone to remember, to acknowledge the tough days without prompting, to see the unspoken pain and unshed tears.

They want someone – either by their presence or spoke words – to say, “I see you. I really, really see you. I care.”

~Becky

© 2022 Rebecca R. Carney

20 Years

“And can it be that in a world so full and busy the loss of one creature makes a void so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up!”

Charles Dickens

Jason David Carney

7/29/1982 – 3/3/2002

I feel like I should be able to write something really profound about walking this difficult path of grief for twenty years. I’m not sure I know what to say.

As the ten year anniversary of Jason’s death approached, I wrote a couple of blog posts about the things I felt like I had learned in those ten years. In re-reading them, I feel like they are still good suggestions:

A Few Things I’ve Learned in the 10 Years since Jason Died

and

A Few More Things I’ve Learned in the Ten Years Since Jason Died

Perhaps a few more…

Grief never ends. Very early in this journey (just a couple of weeks after Jason died), I went to a Compassionate Friends meeting for mothers whose children had died. Although they were not particularly helpful to me, one thing has really stuck with me over the years.

As the meeting began, one gal started sobbing, saying it was the one year anniversary of her daughter’s death. Most other people surrounded her and comforted her, seeming to understand what she was going through. In my lack of grief experience, my thoughts were, “It’s been a year. Isn’t she over it yet? Shouldn’t she be doing better?” As I look back, I’m ashamed of my reaction. My goodness, did I have a lot to learn!! I was starting on a similar path to the one she was on, but I had no idea how long and hard it would be.

I’m sure there are people who look at me and think, “It’s been twenty years! Isn’t she over it yet? Shouldn’t she be doing better?” To them I now would say, “Deep grief is the price you pay for deep love. You don’t just ‘get over it.’ Grief never ends.” As you walk the path of grief, the burden lessens somewhat over time, but you also get stronger and more adept at handling the weight of grief. (I hesitate to use the word “stronger,” as it may give the wrong impression of bereaved person being stronger than normal when all we do is try to find a way to survive.) But it never goes away.

Their friends and other people move on. The world doesn’t stop. Kids the ages of our kids who died keep on growing and their lives change. They grow up, go to college, get married, have kids of their own. No matter how much we wish the world would stop while we grieve, it doesn’t.

I’m not gonna lie. It’s a little difficult at times to hear other people talk about their grown children’s accomplishments, the most recent grandbaby, the blessings for which they are so grateful. Please, please, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m truly, honestly, genuinely happy for them, but I get a twinge of wishing it could be me, too. I wish Jason had lived to experience those things, too. Jason was a great student and would have gone a long ways. He would have made a terrific employee. He had a wonderful, loving heart that would have made a great husband and father. I was so much looking forward to seeing what he would accomplish, to seeing him married to the girl he loved, to having his kids run around our house.

Both Joe and I absolutely adore little kids and we were so looking forward to being grandparents. Yes, we have three grandchildren, but through circumstances beyond our control, those relationships have not developed into what we would wish. Most days it doesn’t seem like we have a relationship at all. It breaks my heart. It takes effort, encouragement and a desire for a relationship by all parties, especially when long-distance relationships are involved. I really tried to keep/establish connections when we left, sending “care boxes” for nearly every holiday and stuff like that. It’s hard to do. We wanted to be connected to our grandkids, even though we were not close any more. What do you do when so many of your dreams turn to ashes? I have no answer to that one.

You’ll still have sad days and you’ll still cry. I guess this goes along with the whole grief never ends thing, but I’m talking about days – particularly around “event days” such as birthdays, holidays, etc. – when you are just really sad. I’m talking about times when you just have to cry – not the silent tears running down your face, but sobs that come from the heart.

People who have not lost a child will have a hard time understanding. People will always say dumb things or tell you things like they understand your grief because their dog or great-aunt or whoever died recently. They will be thoughtless, like my boss did this afternoon when he proceeded to tell a client who was standing at my desk about his friend who recently almost died in a car crash. Yes, today of all days. He did apologize later, but it was difficult to listen to him at the time.

You’ll look at things differently. Both Joe and I have a really hard time listening to parents who crab at their children for something or other. It’s usually a small thing, like the kid isn’t listening to the parent in a store and the parent gets frustrated and starts ragging on the kid, yanking them down the aisle. It’s particularly awful to hear some parents berate their kids over something small. I would just like to say, “Stop and think a minute. If your child dies, is this – your actions or reactions at this moment – something you’ll regret?”

I wish I could go back and change so many things. It’s easy to be frustrated when you’re running late and trying to get three kids out the door to someplace or trying to get them to do their chores or whatever it might be. But, if I had it to do over again, I’d let some of the things I thought were important go. Because, looking back now, a lot of what I thought was so important at the time just isn’t. I’d play that extra game instead of rushing around to get dinner ready. I’d read that extra book at bedtime. I’d cherish every minute. I didn’t know I’d run out of time to make those moments count. I didn’t know I’d run out of the opportunity to make memories that included Jason.

Easy, carefree moments unshadowed by grief are not the norm any more. Yes, there are moments of fun and joy. I have found, however, that Jason’s absence and the cloud of grief are not too far away, especially on holidays and special occasions.

One other thing that I have struggled with – and still do – is the concern that something is going to happen to another family member. Once you have lost a child, there is a deep understanding that no one is immune from the death of a child. Never in my wildest nightmares did I ever imagine that a drunk driver going more than double the posted speed limit would broadside my son, killing him instantly.

I try not to worry when our daughter drives the four hour journey from her home to ours and back again. I try not to worry that my husband will have another heart attack. I try not to worry about our son and his family with all of the violence and shootings that seem to be pervasive close to where they live in the Seattle area. I pray for their safety, but, then, I prayed and prayed for the safety of my family before Jason died, too. I don’t think I’ll every solve my crisis of faith here on earth. I’ll always have questions about why God didn’t protect Jason. I don’t pray for as many people as I used to. I don’t tell people, “I’m praying for you,” unless I really mean it. I don’t have that absolute confidence any more that He hears me. It’s more like a wish or a hope that He does.

You will always miss and love your child. I miss Jason. I wish he were here. I miss his smile, his hugs, his beautiful giving spirit. It’s not easy.

I miss you, my precious boy. I can’t believe you’ve been gone twenty years. I am heartbroken and can’t stop crying today. You are missed. You are remembered. You are loved.

~Becky

© 2022 Rebecca R. Carney

Trepidation

March 3, 2022 is just around the corner, really only a couple of days away – the 20th anniversary of Jason’s sudden departure from this world. I can tell the day is getting close, as I can every year. It’s like I have an internal clock that reminds me, even though I don’t intentionally remind myself. I don’t need a calendar. I feel it in every fiber of my body.

All of a sudden I feel like I’m having a panic attack. I can’t breathe. I want to escape somewhere or to run to some place, but I have nowhere to go. There is no place without the pain of grief. Or a song comes on and tears spring to my eyes. This is generally not uncommon for me, but it happens more so this time of year. My emotions are much closer to the surface – not only grief, but all kinds of emotions. My patience is short, I am more easily frustrated or on edge. Out of the blue, I find myself incredibly sad. Situations that occurred during that time in our lives come to mind more often, even in dreams.

I dreamed the other night that two people – a gal in our homeschool group that I considered to be a friend and her daughter who was a friend of our daughter – had decided that they needed to write letters to me to apologize for the way they had acted when Jason died. They kept trying to give me their letters, but I was still so hurt by their actions (or lack thereof) that I was unwilling to read them. At the same time (in my dream), our landlord – the one who so unceremoniously kicked us out – drove by. His vehicle was full of other homeschool people we knew. With our landlord being the loudest, they were all leaning out the windows and yelling over and over, “I’m sorry!!!! I’m sorry!!! I’m sorry!!!” And then I woke up.

Over the years, I have worked hard on forgiveness, even though with one or two exceptions there have been no apologies, no acknowledgement of anything. At the lowest and most vulnerable place in our lives, we were left so alone for a lot of the time. I have written about some of what we all went through, but I am not at liberty to share all. I have to keep my mind from going to certain places. If I want to (and even sometimes when I don’t really try to), I see things that happened during that time so clearly in my mind and can step back into that time so easily. I don’t want to be a bitter person. I’ve read other bloggers who talk about incredible support. I’m happy to hear about bereaved individuals who have support, but, as you know if you’ve read any of my writings here, that necessarily wasn’t our case. It’s been a long, rough journey. There have been some kindnesses, to be sure, but a lot of loneliness and a lot of residual secondary losses/grief.

We watched a movie the other day called “Free Guy.” It’s a comedy starring Ryan Reynolds, who plays a character in a video game. It took a little while to get into the movie and decide whether we liked it or not, but, in the end, we enjoyed it. As we were watching it, I kept thinking, “Jason would really like this movie.”

Jason liked playing video games, even learning to play his favorite game of chess on an Atari game console when he was little. In college, he took a video game programming class. His professor wrote to me several years ago, saying he still had a copy of the game Jason developed and got it out once in a while to play it. It’s nice when people remember…and tell us about it. They say moms – family members, too – are the keepers of the memories.

I’m looking forward to getting our things out of storage when we move into our new house. We don’t have much left. About half of what we have in storage are photographs and momentos. My goal is to put together a scrapbook in memory of Jason – things that I saved from his time here on earth. Swimming awards, Awana Bible memory awards, things he’s written, pictures he drew, photographs, little everyday things that represent who he was. They are poor substitutes for Jason himself, but they are what I have, along with my memories.

Oh, my precious boy. I can’t believe you have been gone twenty years. I’m so incredibly sad you aren’t here. I miss you so much and I love you without end.

~Becky

© 2022 Rebecca R. Carney

Empty Arms

Tomorrow is Jason’s birthday. He would have been 39 years old.

I realized tonight as I got ready for bed tonight that I had felt such an emptiness all evening, like my arms were trying to reach out to hug Jason. He gave the best hugs in the world.

I wasn’t actually physically reaching out with my arms, but it was almost as if my whole being wanted to reach out, bring him close and hug him tight. But it felt like there was a huge, empty, gaping hole right in front of me where Jason should be, a void that could only be filled by Jason. My arms just felt so empty and there was such a huge ache in my heart.

We can talk about holding memories close. We can remember certain events and relive them in our minds. We can look at photographs and reminisce.

I remember what Jason’s hugs felt like. I remember his laugh and his smile. I remember his beautiful blue eyes. I remember so many things about him.

But a memory doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing. For me, there will be no more Jason hugs, no more memories to be made or events to be celebrated with Jason, no more Jason anything. I can’t wrap my arms around him and feel his wonderful bear hugs. And my arms feel so empty tonight.

Oh, how I miss you, my precious boy.

~Becky

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

Siblings

Today is our daughter’s birthday. Jenna was born two weeks to the day before Jason’s 2nd birthday. They were close in age, and very close in heart.

Our daughter was 17 years old when Jason died. While other kids her age were thinking about prom dresses and college, Jenna was helping pick out her brother’s burial site and planning his memorial service. My heart just hurts to think about what she has gone through as a result of Jason’s death.

A lot of what my husband and I experienced following Jason’s death was also experienced by our daughter in her own right and in ways specific to her. She not only lost her brother and the majority of her friends disappeared, she basically lost her parents in a lot of ways because of our deep grief at a time when she needed us most.

I am not at liberty and do not have permission to talk about some of the things she experienced following her brother’s death, but I will say that you would be shocked at some of the things she went through – at 17 years of age. Even now when I think about it, it just boggles my mind why people did (or didn’t do) the things they did (or didn’t do). It’s heartbreaking.

At the time Jason died, Jenna was a senior in high school and a freshman in college, participating in the Running Start program in Washington State. As happened that quarter, Jason, Eric and I were also taking classes at that college. The week following Jason’s death, both Jenna and I went back to school. Not only did Jenna go to school, she worked part-time. I marvel that she actually managed to continue on with her life and accomplish what she did. I don’t think I could not have continued on without her. I could barely function at the time. I know she was in so much pain, too.

I think Jenna felt she had to be brave for Joe and me. She didn’t want to be an additional burden on top one everything else. Plus, it’s not easy being a 17-year old whose brother died. No young person wants to “stand out” with the distinction of being the teenager whose brother died. They looked at us differently, and she was no exception. People would ask her how we were doing, never how she was doing.

After graduating from community college, Jenna transferred to a university about an hour from where we lived. She didn’t feel that she could live in a dorm with a lot of people, so we set her up in her own little apartment. She worked two jobs while going to school, all while maintaining excellent grades. By the end of her junior year, she was so burned out that she moved back home. She went to a year of technical college and became a massage therapist, graduating at the top of her class. Since then, she has gone back to the university and received her bachelor’s degree with honors (also while working two jobs) and then her Master’s degree with a 4.0 GPA (also while working). She is an amazing young woman.

Jason and Jenna were incredibly close from the moment Jenna was born. They were each other’s companions, best friends, confidants. They did so much together. They each had their own set of friends, but they could always count on each other for companionship at any time. They set up movie outings with their friends and could fill our house with people on the spur of the moment on a Sunday afternoon. They shared a birthday party one year and had a blast.

When Jenna was little, Jason was her protector. He fed her yogurt and made sure her automatic swing never ran low. As she got older, he always watched out for her with the most tender of hearts. She was the photographer of his high school senior pictures. He was the loudest to cheer at Jenna’s softball games. They were two peas in a pod and the best friends you could ever imagine.

The day before Jason died, Jason and Jenna hung out together for a good portion of the afternoon and went to Starbucks with Jason’s friend Alina (who also died in the accident). They all came back to our house and Jason and Alina watched a movie while Jenna went to see a friend. As Jason headed out just after midnight to take Alina home, he stopped by Jenna’s room to see if she wanted to go with him. She had had a difficult time with the friend she went to see and opted to go to bed. Within a few minutes, as he drove Alina home, Jason was broadsided by a drunk driver going more than twice the posted speed limit. And, just like that, her precious brother was gone.

Jenna doesn’t talk much about what she went through at that time, but I know it has affected her more deeply than anyone could imagine. At the time, I wished that I could take away the pain. I wish even more so now. I can only imagine what her life – and ours – would have been like had not Jason died. It hasn’t been easy. She has lived more than half her life without her brother. I know that she keeps him close in her heart and thoughts. She misses him like crazy.

Our daughter is a wonderful, thoughtful, kind, amazing, beautiful woman. We would give her the world if we could. We love her with our whole hearts.

~Becky

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney