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

Aloneness

Just a bit of background information to this post, perhaps on the verge of TMI (too much information) – About ten days ago, my doctor diagnosed me with a urinary tract infection and prescribed an antibiotic. The following morning, I woke up chilled and couldn’t get warm. Funny when you have a high fever you feel really cold. I wrapped up tighter in my blankets and went back to sleep.

When my alarm went off to get up for work, I couldn’t seem to wake up. I turned it off and went back to sleep. My husband made coffee and breakfast, but I still couldn’t seem to wake up and get out of bed. I would try to get up and then just lay down and go back to sleep. Meanwhile, my temperature kept going up and up until it reached nearly 103 degrees. By then, my husband couldn’t get me to stay awake and I wasn’t coherent.

Joe called my boss to say I wouldn’t be in to work. He then called my doctor’s office to find out what to do. Poor guy was freaking out. They told him to take me to their urgent care clinic, which he did. With all of the COVID stuff, the urgent care staff comes to the car to check you out before they actually let you in the building. The person checking me out called the doctor over right away after taking one look at me and they immediately sent me to the ER.

Long story short, the UTI had gone up into my kidneys and I was technically septic – not the kind of septic where the bacteria has gone into the blood stream yet, but, rather, a set of criteria (low blood pressure, low oxygen level, high fever, dehydrated, lack of coherence, etc.) that fits that particular medical diagnosis. As each of the doctors kept telling me every time they came in my room, “You were really sick!!” They got me on an IV, oxygen, antibiotic in the IV, tests, scans and then admitted me to the hospital once a room became available.

Thankfully, I responded fairly quickly to the regimen, much to their amazement. They actually kept me an extra day to monitor me and to make sure the progress wasn’t a fluke and that it “stuck.”

I can’t say that I could recommend the hospital I was in. It’s the same one my husband was in when he had his heart attack, but has been bought out by a different company – and not with great results. I felt the staff was pleasant and trying really hard, but that they were stretched thin and overworked. For example, I had a horrible, horrible headache the whole time I was in the hospital. They gave me two Tylenol the first day before I left ER to go to my room. I again asked for additional Tylenol or something to help on the second day, but was told it was not on my charts and they would have to ask the doctor. I understood and was okay with that, but it took five hours (after reminding the staff again) and another half an hour after that to get two Tylenol and an ice pack. It also a long time to get checked in to ER, they took me to a room that had been double booked (already had someone in it), tests and scans took forever as I sat in a wheelchair in a holding room for some machine to free up.

And, I have to say, I would not feed the hospital food to my dog!! I didn’t have much of an appetite at all, but I’ve never been served worse food in my entire life, including meatloaf that looked like it was made up dog food! I was extremely thankful that Joe was allowed in with me – plus, he brought me decent food to eat!!

I am getting better, much more slowly than I would like. Much to my doctor’s chagrin, I have returned to work a couple of hours each day this week, just to put out fires and stay on top of urgent issues. I promised I would listen to my body and go home when I felt tired – and I have kept that promise. Heaven knows, I don’t want to go back to the hospital again!! The thought of the hospital food is enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. At least I see forward progress each day.

One thing I realized while I was in the hospital was how alone I felt. Joe stayed with me as much as he could, but at times he had to go home, get rest, and tend to some other things. I kept the hospital room door shut while I was there, as I ended up being a bit noise sensitive after Jason died. Once that hospital room door closed and everyone left, it gave me a lot of time to reflect on things. One of the things that came to the forefront – one of which I am quite aware, but tend to ignore – is how alone we are. Our son is all the way across the country, grandkids that make no effort to contact or connect with us at all, daughter 4 hours away, son-in-law and daughter-in-law who make no effort to really connect with us.

Add on top of that how guarded I am after being burned so many times by people I considered to be friends, it’s no wonder we feel so alone at times. I’m friendly, but I’m not very open at all (for example, I initially actually didn’t tell anyone other than our son and daughter how sick I really was when I was in the hospital) and really don’t make any effort to connect with people any more as friends. I just don’t make friends easily. Never have, and it’s even harder now. It just feels like opening up to make a new friend is an opportunity to get burned again. Most of that stems from how we were treated after Jason died. It’s hard for me to make friends, to be open, and I don’t know how to change that. I’d like to; I just don’t know how. And so, until I figure out how to do that, I will struggle with feeling alone.

I’m not depressed or unhappy; I’m just not really very happy. Everything is tinged with Jason’s absence. Oh, how I miss him.

Joe and I are not ones to sit around. We never have been, but at times it feels more urgent to find “something to do” than it used to. Our daughter calls us “high maintenance.” I think, in my personal opinion, that when we don’t have something “to do,” it emphasizes the emptiness in our lives caused by Jason’s death and resulting trauma. (There’s really no word for it other than “trauma,” is there?)

Staying busy keeps the aloneness, emptiness and ever-present shadow of grief somewhat at bay. “Staying busy” has been a little difficult since my recent illness and the fact that recovery has not been very fast. We’ve both struggled with trying to figure out what to “go and do” that won’t set me back or zap my energy too badly. We’re both restless at times. We have been looking for a home to buy, trying to figure out where we fit and where to move (again). I’m not sure it matters where we move. The restlessness, aloneness, emptiness and grief are inside of us. What we have gone through contributes to who we are now.

It’s ironic that at Jason’s memorial service we played the song “Friends (are friends forever)” by Michael W. Smith. It fit Jason at the time. He was a good friend to so many and valued those friendships so much. I believed that our friends would stand by us, the way we had stood by them and the way Jason had stood by his friends. I can’t even listen to the song any more, because I no longer believe the words or the sentiment – that friends will stay by you forever because you both serve the same God.

I realize that it falls on me to figure this out. I’m just not sure I have the energy to do it. But, I am aware of it and keep working on it. It never ceases to amaze me how long the tentacles of grief are and how much our lives are affected following the death of a child. I’m not sure it ever ends to some degree or other. We just have to figure out how to make it work.

Life would be so different if you were here, my precious boy. I miss you so much.

~Becky

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

Wishes

Joe and I went out to dinner tonight at a local restaurant. As we entered the door, a cute little blond-headed boy in a high chair sitting with his grandparents watched us come in and sit down. He waved to us and then proceeded to play peek-a-boo with me. What a cutie. Such a friendly, open little guy. He reminded me so much of Jason.

As we waited for our food, Joe and I sat and talked about how much he reminded us of Jason, how much we imagined and wished that would be us – grandparents taking our kids out to eat, having the grandkids over to play, little Jason’s running around our house. Wishes of things that will never be.

As they grandparents and little boy left, he waved goodbye. I told them how much he reminded us of our son when he was a little boy and asked his name. His name is Jase, which was one of our nicknames for Jason. Oh, how I miss my precious boy.

~Becky

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

Mother’s Day 2021

I woke up Saturday morning in a funk that I had a hard time shaking for a good part of the day. At first, I didn’t specifically identify it and couldn’t figure out why I was so grumpy. Yeah, you’d think I’d realize by now. Mother’s Day was the next day.

Sometimes the day or days before an “event” – birthday, anniversary of Jason’s death, holiday, Mother’s Day, etc. – are harder than the actual day. Anticipatory grief takes the lead, I think, whether or not we allow ourselves to be consciously aware of the upcoming event. Since Jason died, I just want to skip over Mother’s Day entirely. It just brings up too much pain – pain of wishing I had been a better mother, pain of things that haven’t turned out the way I wish they had, pain of things and times long gone, pain of losing Jason.

I slept horribly on Saturday night. I laid in bed thinking about times when I could have done a better job as a mother, things I wish I had done differently. I woke up on Sunday morning and didn’t want to get out of bed. I stood in the shower and cried. I did the best I could at the time with what I knew at the time, but there are so many things I wish I could do over again, do better.

When I was in fourth grade, I remember our teacher asking us what we’d like to be when we grew up. The only thing I ever wanted to be was a mother, so that was what I said. For some reason, the teacher didn’t think that was an adequate answer and wanted me to think of something else, a “real” profession. Because both of my parents were teachers, that’s what I told him I wanted to be, just to appease his sense of what the “right” answer should be. But all I ever wanted to be was a mother.

My husband took me out to breakfast for Mother’s Day and, as the waitress wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, tears sprang up in my eyes and I could hardly speak. I’m sure she wondered what was wrong with me. She gave me a red rose when we got ready to leave, once again wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day – and once again tears filled my eyes. Roses always remind me of Jason.

My arms long to hug my precious boy. I long to have a close, fun, good relationship with our grandchildren. I long for good relationships with our children’s spouses; it would make things so much easier. I long for joy unshadowed by grief and regrets. I long to be close to family so we don’t feel so alone all the time.

My husband is a wonderful man. We went for a drive in the North Carolina mountains and explored. We talked about Jason and some fun memories of when he was a little boy. We talked about the girl we thought he might marry and how wonderful that would have been. We talked about how much we wanted good things for our kids and how we wish we had the power to make things better for them. We talked about a lot of things, but mostly just got away for the day. We ended the day going to our favorite Thai restaurant and then home to talk to our daughter on the phone and open the gift she had sent me for Mother’s Day. She is also a thoughtful, wonderful person and I love her with my whole heart.

Another Mother’s Day is in the books, and I’m glad it’s behind me. I will forever be thankful that I was given the gift of being Jason’s mom. I will forever miss him and wish he was here. My precious boy.

~Becky

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

I dreamed about Jason last night

I rarely dream at all. If I do dream, I usually don’t remember them.

I haven’t dreamt much about Jason since he died. When I do, they are very vivid. I dream that it’s all a huge mistake that Jason died, that he is alive. I dream that I am looking for him, that he must be somewhere and I need to find him.

Last night I dreamed that the place we lived had a Mount Vesuvius-type volcanic eruption. Jason and the girl he loved had been somewhere together when the blast happened. I couldn’t get to them to protect them and, when the blast was over, I frantically searched and searched and searched for them. I ran through the ash-covered streets checking each person who had succumbed to the the volcanic eruption to see if it was Jason and his love. The ash was so deep that it made it difficult to tell what exactly the shapes were, whether they were human or an inanimate object. I looked in every possible hiding place I could find to see if they had taken shelter in one of them. I desperately wanted to find them alive and for them to be okay.

I couldn’t find them anywhere and kept getting more panicky by the minute.

And then I woke up. I laid in bed and thought about how much I miss Jason, how incredibly different our lives would have been in SO many ways had he lived.

No matter how long it’s been, I think our hearts always long for our children to be alive and with us. We desperately want them to come home and to be able to hug them tight. We want them to be safe. Sometimes the longing comes out in our dreams.

Missing you, my boy, today and always.

Love,

Mom

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

Daffodils

Jason always loved flowers. When he was a little boy, he would collect bouquets of dandelions and bring them to me.

Jason giving roses to fellow “Our Town” actor

As he got older, he gave flowers to those he cared about – a rose to every girl who was in the play “Our Town” with him, daisies to a friend for her birthday, roses to his sister when she was going through a rough time.

Picture table at the memorial service

At Jason’s memorial service, we scattered the photo memory table with red rose petals.

Because we had to drive by the accident site on the way to work, to school, for shopping and most everything else, I purchased daffodil and crocus bulbs prior to the first anniversary of Jason’s death as soon as I saw them become available at Costco and planted them by the side of the road – bright yellow daffodil bulbs for Jason and purple crocus bulbs for Alina. Yellow flowers remind me of Jason’s bright, sunshine-y personality and purple was Alina’s favorite color. I wanted to drive by a sign of spring and life on the anniversary of Jason’s death at a time when my world seemed so dark and sad.

I went to the hardware store, bought potting soil, mixed the bulbs in with the potting soil so they would be ready to plant. I took a shovel, parked by the side of the road where the accident happened, dug a hole and put my pre-mixed bulb mixture in the hole, making sure the bulbs were right-side-up so they would grow. I carefully covered them over with more potting soil. I had no idea if they would actually grow along the side of such a busy road where the road shoulder was so hard and rocky, where the big mowing equipment regularly came by to mow with their giant chains, and where the wild animals robbed gardens of things that tried to grow.

But they came up.

I watched as they gradulally came up out of the soil, green shoots reaching for sunlight. On March 2nd, the day before the first anniversary of Jason’s death, I noticed tightly closed bulbs on both the daffodil and crocus plants. As I headed to school on that first March 3rd anniversary, bright yellow daffodils and purple crocuses greeted me as I approached 180th Street from Interurban Road, the site of the accident. I sat in my car and cried, both with longing for my precious boy and for the miracle that the flowers had actually bloomed on that very day. They never came up again any successive year, but I am so glad they bloomed that year.

Flowers still strongly remind me of Jason – roses, daffodils, and daisies, especially. They remind me of his brightness, his kindness, his specialness, his thoughtfulness. I look for the first flowers to come up in the spring, especially daffodils, and take pictures of them because they remind me of my precious boy.

On Friday, we drove out to the Biltmore Estate – one of my favorite places to photograph flowers. About the only flowers growing right now outside of the conservatory are daffodils, crocuses and pansies. But their beauty reminds me of Jason and his beauty, both inside and out.

I miss you, my boy.

~Becky

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

ALL PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN BY AND COPYRIGHTED BY REBECCA R. CARNEY