Poignant Days

There are days when I feel your absence so acutely,

Days that remind me of what was,

Days that remind me of what could have been,

Days that remind me of what I wish with all my heart had been.

This is one of these days, and I miss you so much.

I love you, Jason.

 

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

International Bereaved Mother’s Day

From https://thelifeididntchoose.com:

18268565_697026167165887_4661629661358390851_nInternational Bereaved Mother’s Day is observed the Sunday before Mother’s Day in the United States. May 7, 2017.

I didn’t even know such a day existed until I was a mom that needed it.

For those of us who have children in heaven, setting aside a day to acknowledge that unique mother/child relationship is helpful.

Traditional Mother’s Day is meant to be a time of celebration. A day when children send cards or flowers or give gifts to honor their mom and let her know that years spent pouring into their lives are appreciated.

Lots of church pews and restaurant tables are filled with family as children come home to be with mom.

But our child can’t come home.

That makes Mother’s Day complicated for me.

It means that while I am thrilled to spend it with the children who can make it home, there is always a tinge of sadness to the celebration. And I hate that. Because they deserve a whole-hearted mother.

So I’m thankful this other day exists. Thankful for a day when I can think about and speak about and embrace the child that won’t be with me next weekend.

Because our child is STILL our children. They’re still very much a part of our hearts. And I need to be able to speak that aloud for others to hear.

Some mamas will be drawing or painting hearts on their hands and writing their missing child’s name inside as a beautiful outward testimony to an inward reality. Every day we carry our missing child in our hearts.

international bereaved mothers heart brave and courageous

So if you know a bereaved mother, give her a hug today.

Make time and give space for her to share.

And then listen, love and lift her up.

 

https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/05/06/international-bereaved-mothers-day/

Edit:

PLEASE NOTE: I have changed the above citation to give credit to the original author of this post. When I first wrote this post, I had originally given credit to the Facebook https://www.facebook.com/GrievingMothers.org/, which is where I first read it. The Facebook page did not cite the original author, which was not the right thing to do. Melanie at https://thelifeididntchoose.com contacted me when she saw my post to let me know this had been plagiarized from her original post. She is the original author. I always try to give credit to the author of a writing or photograph, because I understand how hard it is and how personal it is to write about the death of a child. My apologies to Melanie and to those who read this blog.

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

Easter Just Isn’t the Same Any More

IMG_6927Easter just isn’t the same any more, not since Jason died.

Growing up in the home of a pastor, we always celebrated Easter in a special way. New dresses, new shoes, special radio program prepared by the “Singing Knudson’s,” special music and message for church service. We, of course, did none of the Easter bunny stuff at all. It was all about celebrating the burial and resurrection of Jesus.

1988 Easter  36.jpgWe continued the traditions after Joe and I got married and our kids were born. I bought or sewed new clothes for the kids. I made a new dress for myself. I got up really early on Easter Sunday morning and put together the kids’ Easter baskets, filling them with things I had been secretly collecting for weeks. I put the baskets in front of their bedroom doors to find when they first woke up. After breakfast, off we went to church, bright and early on Easter Sunday morning, to celebrate our risen Savior. We went out to lunch after the service, clothed in our Sunday finest. We had Easter egg hunts, either in the park or at our house, with Joe hiding the eggs over and over again for the kids to find. One year, my mom came to visit us for Easter. It was so much fun. Easter was full of fun and joy.

After Jason died, it seemed as though we tried to carry on with the way things had been. We tried to be “normal,” like we used to be. When your world shatters and everything you know changes or disappears, I suppose you try to hold on to what you know in an effort to find your bearings again. Joe had gone back to work, and Jenna and I had gone back to college a week after Jason died. Since Jenna was participating in the Running Start program (going to college and receiving both high school and college credits while still in high school), she needed to complete her credits in order to graduate. So, we went back to school. The car she had shared with Jason had been destroyed in the accident, so we rode to school together until we could find a car for her.

Easter 2002 was on March 31st, just four weeks after Jason died. On Easter Sunday morning, we got up, got dressed and got ready to go to church. As we started to drive to church, Jenna told us she just couldn’t go. Joe and I realized that we just couldn’t go, either. We turned around and went back home, sat on the bed and cried and cried and cried. It was a horrible day, our first “holiday” without Jason.

I think that was the day I began to realize that I didn’t have to – I couldn’t – carry on the way things had been in the past. The “normal” I had known was gone. It was just a very small inkling of realization, one that I would continue – and keep continuing – to learn. I didn’t have to push my family or myself to keep trying to carry on as usual, because the “usual” was no more. I wasn’t the same. None of us were the same. We didn’t have to go to Easter Sunday service four weeks after Jason died, just because it was something we always had done. We needed to do what we felt we could do, what we wanted or needed to do for ourselves.

I wish someone had told me this way back then, that it was okay to give myself permission not to keep on trying to do things the way they had been done. I kept trying to be strong, kept trying to put on a good face, kept trying to go on the way I had before. It was so exhausting trying to act like I had “before.” That’s the thing, though. For a parent whose child has died, there is a very clear line between the “before” and the “after.” Nothing is the same. Nothing will ever be the same. Easter – and all holidays – can never be the same. How could they be? There is a huge hole in our families, in our lives, in our celebrations. We just have to find a way to find new meaning in those events or special days, and new traditions or ways to celebrate.

I am thankful for the hope that Easter represents: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a way for us to reconcile our sinful, human natures with the holiness of God, Jesus Christ’s victory over death when he rose from the grave, and the promise of eternal life after death. Without the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, I would have no hope of seeing Jason again. And I am so incredibly thankful for that hope.

My precious Jason, I miss you in this Easter season and every day. I love you. I look forward to the day I will see you again.

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

 

I miss my life

I don’t know what’s going on with me lately. I’ve just really been struggling. You’d think after nearly fourteen and a half years, I’d have this whole grief thing down and be on a smoother, less rocky path.

I think I just get weary of the journey at times. Unless you’ve been there, I don’t think people realize how much effort it takes day after day, year after year to get up every day and face this reality, this life without our child, this life that is so much different than we had hoped for, planned for, expected. Some seasons or holidays take more energy than others. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries – sometimes they’re hard-to-face, emotional times that require more energy and effort than other times.

I just celebrated my 61st birthday. I was 46 when Jason died. How can I still struggle so much at times after all these years? When Jason died, I remember writing in my diary, pleading with God for something good to come out of all this loss. I prayed that the positive impact of Jason’s life and his beautiful, loving spirit would radiate out like ripples from a stone being thrown into a pond and impact the people he knew for good. I prayed that something meaningful would come out of such a senseless death, out of so much loss. Joe and I always felt, from the moment of Jason’s birth, that God had a special purpose for his life. And then he died at age 19. My beautiful, wonderful boy. After all these years, I still don’t see the “greater good” or the reason for so much pain.

Sometimes the loss overwhelms me, especially around birthdays and holidays. They seem to be times of introspect and reflection. I look at my life and wonder what it’s all about. I see a woman who still deeply grieves the death of her son. I see a woman who is lonely and unsettled. After all these years, we still haven’t found a place to be “at home.” We sold most everything in our nearly 3000 square foot home when we left Washington, and, believe me, I mean most everything! We bought a 1700 square foot house and some furnishings when we moved to Oklahoma, but then sold it all again when we left there three years later. We rented a furnished one-bedroom condo when we lived in Florida and now rent a furnished one-bedroom apartment in North Carolina. Most of what we own is packed and stored in less than 25 boxes. We don’t own the couch we sit on, the bed we sleep in, vacuum cleaner we use, or most of the dishes we eat on.

It’s not like we haven’t tried to find a house to rent or buy or a place to “anchor.” We have.   Housing is expensive where we live, and we just haven’t found anything we can afford that we really like enough to move. I’m not sure this is the right place for us, anyway. We just don’t know where we fit. I feel adrift and have felt that way since we left Washington. And now, it looks like our daughter and her husband may be moving away from here. I don’t know what I’ll do without her. I know she needs to live her own life and I want her to be happy. She’s been through so much and deserves to be happy. It’s just that I’ll just miss her so much.

I miss feeling connected and confident, knowing the direction I was headed, knowing my family was safe and happy. I miss imagining a future that looks bright and full of possibilities. Sometimes I look at my life and can’t believe this is my life now. Things just haven’t worked out the way I thought they would. We are so unsettled, disconnected in so many ways. We struggle to make friends, to fit in. We work, but to what end? We do this and that, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem to have any meaning or dispel our restlessness. Our grandchildren live on the other side of the United States and we hardly know them. I expected to be one of those grandmothers who was involved in her grandkids’ lives, taking them places, doing fun things together, making crafts, baking. I expected to be wanted, needed, loved, hugged. Our relationship has never been easy with our daughter-in-law, so that makes it difficult as she does not encourage or foster our connections with our grandkids much, if at all, even when we visit them. It makes me so sad.

I was looking forward to Jason getting married and having kids. I could just imagine little Jason’s running around our house, along with our other grandkids. Joe has told me that he, too, expected us to stay in our Washington house for the rest of our lives, having a place for everyone to come home to visit, playing with our grandkids there. I’ve never known anyone so involved with his kids as Joe, someone who gets so much enjoyment spending time with his family. He’s a wonderful man with an amazing heart for kids, both his own and others. How do we put broken dreams to rest? I don’t know. What could have or should have been – it trips me up sometimes. The losses of what we no longer have trip me up sometimes, too.

My sister is coming to visit in a couple of weeks. As I was doing some cleaning this morning in preparation for her arrival, I got so frustrated with the less-than-adequate vacuum cleaner that is part of our furnished rental that I just yelled, “I miss my vacuum cleaner!! I miss my own stuff!! I miss my home!!  I miss my life!!!”

Silly to miss a vacuum cleaner, I know. It was just the symbol of the frustration, loneliness and sadness I’ve felt lately. I keep on trying. God knows, I keep on trying. Each new day, I keep on trying to find a purpose, trying to find meaning in the day, trying to do the best I can, trying to find the positive and good, trying to be thankful, trying to find a reason to go on. Sometimes it takes a lot of energy to keep on trying, and I simply run out of the energy reserves I have and get weary. I guess I’m just weary right now, needing something to go right.

Tomorrow is another day, and I will rise to try again.

~Becky

 

A Momentous Year

IMG_2552

Birthday letter to Jason July 29, 2001. The pastor read this letter at Jason’s memorial service.

The morning of July 29, 2001, I woke up really early, and I knew the instant I woke up that I wanted to write Jason a special note for his 19th birthday. I just had to let him know how special he was to me and how much I appreciated him for who he was.

We tend to think of milestone birthdays as those  more momentous than others and seem to carry more “weight” or reason to celebrate than others. It’s not that the other years aren’t celebrated, it seems that bit more emphasis tends to be placed on those birthdays than others. What those birthdays represent have a stronger meaning. Turning sixteen tends to represent being able to get a driver’s license. Eighteen represents becoming an adult and going off to college or some other type of independent step. For some, twenty-one represents being able to purchase alcohol. Latin cultures have a huge quinceañera celebrations when a girl turns fifteen. Jewish communities celebrate the milestone of a boy turning thirteen with a bar mitzvah. In my mind, as I wrote in the note, I thought it wasn’t one of the ones we typically think of as momentous.

IMG_2558Little did I know, at the time, how momentous that birthday would be. It was the last one we would ever celebrate here on this earth with him.

That year, we celebrated on Jason’s actual birthday with our family and some of his closest friends, and then we had a large joint birthday party at a local park for Jason and his good friend, Justin. Just looking at those pictures, I can tell he was happy and that he knew he was loved. He loved being with family and friends. He loved to have fun.

On July 29th this year, we would have celebrated Jason’s 34th birthday. I can only imagine what his life would have been like and what he would have accomplished by now. What would he be doing? Who would he have married? Would he have children? We’ll never know the answers to those questions.

I am so glad Jason was born into our family. He was 9 pounds, 10 1/2 ounces of pure joy. Kind, loving, thoughtful, empathetic, intelligent, funny. There aren’t enough words in my vocabulary to describe what a special guy he was and how much I love him. And no matter how many years go by, I will always love and miss my precious boy. Happy birthday, Jason.

 

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

Strong, Brave, Courageous

It’s fairly common for parents whose child has died to have someone tell them how strong they are. I think that perception comes from the fact that we are able to bury our children and still function. People see us greeting memorial or funeral attendees and wonder how we can stand up there and actually do that. They think we must be so strong. Initially, I think our instinct to behave as we have in the past takes over. We are numb, and so we instinctually try to act or react, at least for a little while, as we would have before our child died. It’s sort of like muscle memory.

Muscle memory is a term that means our muscles “remember” how to do something. It’s procedural memory, meaning we have repeated a procedure until our muscles automatically complete the task. For example, last May we went on vacation to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. One of the best ways to get around the island is by bicycle. Although we used to ride bikes a lot when I was a kid, I hadn’t been on a bicycle in nearly 40 years. I was nervous about riding a bike again after all those years, but I got on and rode as if I had never missed riding all those years. My body – my muscles – remembered how to ride a bike.

Muscle memory applies to a lot of activities we do – typing, skiing, writing, playing video games, playing an instrument, even walking. We don’t necessarily have to think about these activities, we just do them. I think it’s very interesting that Alzheimer’s patients may not even remember that they were musicians, but can sit down and play the piano or some other instrument.

At first, that’s what bereaved parents do. We try to act according to our previous patterns. We can’t keep doing that, because nothing is the same, but I think that’s how we start out.

I tend to organize and plan things. I’m not as organized as some people, but I spent years organizing homeschool field trips, classes, school schedules, etc. So, when Jason died, my instinct was to take the steps necessary to do what needed to be done. Honestly, I don’t know how I did it.

I went home and started calling people. Who else was going to call them? I had called Eric from the accident site, making sure he had someone else who drive him to our house. I called my sister. I called my mom. I called some of Jason’s friends. I called church people I thought of as extended family. I answered the phone when one of Jason’s tutoring students called and had to tell him Jason had died. I hugged and comforted people who came by the house. I ran to tightly hug Joe or Jenna when they collapsed and sobbed uncontrollably. They did the same for me. The rest of that day was mostly a blur. I was a mess. I had such horrible headache from crying. The next day, though, there were things we needed to do.

It’s strange. Think about planning an event – a party or wedding – and how much time and effort goes into such an event. Weeks, months of planning. Bereaved parents have only a few days to plan their child’s funeral or memorial service.

There is so much to do and so many decisions to make after a child dies. Choosing a place to bury your child. Choosing a casket. Choosing a headstone and what to put on it. Flowers. Visitation or no visititation. Open or closed casket. Funeral or memorial service. Private family graveside service, or open attendance memorial or funeral. Location, date, time of service. Officiant. Music to be played before and during the service. Asking people to participate in speaking or playing an instrument or singing. Choosing photographs for the video montage and music to accompany it. Picking out photographs or memorabilia to display at the service. Picking out what your child should wear. Picking out what you will wear. Trying to figure out where out of town guests would stay and who would get them from the airport. Talking to the officiant to plan the order of service. Deciding which newspapers to put notices in and what to say in the notices. On and on it goes. It’s overwhelming. We had a private graveside service and a open attendance memorial, so we had to plan two events. We made all of these decisions in a matter of a day or two. We had help with some things, but most of the plans and decisions were only ours to make. It’s just crazy for me to think about, even now.

While we were doing all of this, Alina’s parents were doing the same thing. After we made all of our plans, we found out (without any prior knowledge for any of us) that we had chosen the exact same casket as Alina’s family and a burial plot one space away from where Alina would be buried. The odd thing to me – and it has always seemed so odd – is that a person named Henderson is buried between them, and Jesse Henderson (don’t know if any relation) is the person who killed Jason and Alina.

Were we strong or were we just acting on instinct? Perhaps some of each.

I recently read a post on Mother’s Day that talked about how brave mothers are who have lost a child. I’ve never thought of myself as strong or brave. I see myself as broken. I shattered when Jason died, and I feel like I still have so many pieces missing. I’m still such a mess sometimes. I struggle and have lots of scars from Jason’s death and all that happened afterward.  But that post started me thinking of the paths bereaved parents journey after their child dies and some of the situations we encounter that are unique to our journey, and I just have to say that I have changed my mind. Bereaved parents: We ARE brave. We ARE strong. We ARE courageous.

We bury our children and keep on going. We try to find a reason to keep on living. We go back to school. We go back to work. We have to learn how to help others deal with our loss when we don’t even know how to help ourselves. We comfort others when we are are the ones in desperate need of comfort and understanding. We educate ourselves on the process of grieving. At times, we have to put on a mask to hide our grief or find ways to make our grief palatable to those around us. We deal with friends who disappear, either initially or after a while when we don’t “recover” quickly enough for their comfort. We endure people telling us what to do and how we should grieve when they have no idea what they’re talking about. We deal with the hurt when people pretend they don’t see us and choose a getaway down another grocery aisle. We forgive those who hurt us even when no one has asked forgiveness. We have to figure out how to find a new normal. We keep working on rebuilding our lives. We take care of our remaining families.

We deal with people judging us for how we grieve. We deal with people telling us we should “move on” or giving us a time limit of when “we should be over it.” We make allowances for inconsiderate people who don’t understand what it’s like to lose a child. We rejoice at the weddings or graduations of others, knowing our children will never have the same opportunities. We find ways to honor the memory of our children. We make new traditions for holidays while embracing memories of ones gone by. We write and speak and try to educate people on how to help others whose children have died. We live our lives, day in and day out, with broken hearts and a burden of grief we hope no one else will ever have to carry. We cry until we can’t cry any more, and then dry our tears to start a new day. We have walked such difficult paths when it seems others have walked easier ones. We may not do it perfectly, but we keep on going. We deal with so many hard things, but keep on trying. We get knocked down and get back up. We live. We love.

I would just like to say bravo to all of you bereaved parents out there. Most people don’t have to do what we have had to do. Keep trying. Keep walking. Keep writing. Keep speaking about your children and your love for them.

Hugs to each of you,

Becky

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney