Sweet Memories

For Thanksgiving Day and Christmas morning, I used to get up really early to start making fresh cinnamon rolls and dinner rolls for my family on these very special days. I would set my alarm for 4 a.m., go downstairs and begin the process of mixing the dough. I’d turn on the oven light for a bit, just long enough to warm the oven up a little, while I got the ingredients together.

The milk went into a large pan and onto a burner to warm to just the right temperature. When it got warm enough, I’d take it off the burner and add in the butter to melt and pinch of salt, gradually mixing in a flour/sugar/yeast mixture, along with the eggs, and then beat it on high for one minute. After that, I’d start adding more flour bit by bit and mixing by hand, eventually pouring the mixture onto the freshly-washed and floured kitchen table, kneading the dough until it was just the right consistency. Once it was all mixed to the perfect consistency, the dough (covered by wax paper and a clean kitchen towel) went back into the now-greased pan and into the oven that had been warmed by the oven light. There it would sit until it had risen to the perfect, fluffy height.

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Dough for cinnamon rolls – Christmas 2000

I’d go back to bed, setting my alarm to wake up and go back downstairs in another hour and a half or so. I would pull the dough out of the oven, carefully remove the wax paper, and then poke two fingers down into the dough. Sometimes it would have risen so much it would look like a muffin with dough pooching over the side of the pan. There’s something so satisfying about poking fingers into beautiful, raised dough. And it smells so wonderfully yeast-y. I’d then fold the dough in on itself to deflate it a bit so I could get it ready for the next step.

I’d take a big knife and carefully section each of the dough balls into quarter-portions – some for dinner rolls and the rest (most of it) for cinnamon rolls. I started with the dinner rolls, because they were the quickest to put together. Half dollar-sized chunks of dough were pulled off and rolled into little balls. Into greased cupcake pans they would go, three to a cup, to make cloverleaf dinner rolls. Covered and set onto the stove to rise, I’d move onto making cinnamon rolls.fullsizeoutput_139b3

The remaining sections of dough were individually rolled one at a time into rectangular shapes, and then slathered with partially-melted butter and generously sprinkled with cinnamon and brown sugar. Some had nuts and raisins added, some only nuts, some neither nuts nor raisins. The dough was then rolled up tightly into a long roll and scissored into sections with dental floss. Into the greased, waiting pans the dough would go, ready to be covered and set in the still-warmish oven to rise again.

This time, because the cinnamon rolls and dinner rolls didn’t need to rise as long, I usually set my alarm just to make sure I put them into the oven in time, but I didn’t sleep. Sometimes I’d use the time to take a shower and clean up the kitchen, although I usually cleaned as I went along.

fullsizeoutput_139bfOnce my alarm went off, back to the kitchen I would go to begin the baking process. The whole house filled with the wonderful smell of fresh bread and cinnamon. That usually brought everyone downstairs and we would begin our Christmas morning traditions – eating warm cinnamon rolls while Joe read the Christmas story. Orange juice, milk, coffee, and fruit would complete our Christmas morning feast.

We all munched cinnamon rolls while listening to the story of the birth of our Savior, sometimes taking turns reading so Joe would have time to enjoy the his cinnamon roll while it was nice and warm. The oven would then be repurposed to bake Christmas Day dinner –  sometimes a ham, sometimes a turkey, sometimes both.

I usually would mix up two or three huge pans of dough, having been sternly told by my family the night before to make sure I made enough cinnamon rolls. Believe me, we never ran out of cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. People would drift back into the kitchen all morning and into the afternoon to get another bite of a cinnamon roll.

I don’t make cinnamon rolls any more. I tried to continue with the tradition, but it never brought the same joy. That first Christmas after Jason died, I’m sure my tears were added to the dough. It was such a tough year to celebrate Christmas at all. Jason had asked me the year before to teach him to make bread, especially cinnamon rolls. He wanted to get up with me on the next Christmas morning and help me make them so he could learn. He didn’t live to see that next Christmas morning.

Yesterday, my husband and I went for lunch to a local cafe here in town called City Bakery. It’s really a combination coffee shop/bakery/sandwich shop. It has a very comfortable vibe with people drinking coffee or eating a sandwich while chatting with a friend or relative, students studying or people on their laptops.

One menu item that City Bakery has is something they call “sticky buns.” They look and taste almost exactly like the cinnamon rolls I used to make. Mine were a little bigger and had a little more gooey stuff inside, I think, but to eat a warm cinnamon roll at City Bakery is like slipping right back in time to those Christmases when Jason was here and I got up early to make cinnamon rolls.

 

 

Sweet memories, but, oh, how I miss my boy. I would give anything to go back to those days.

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

My husband and I are going back to Seattle for Christmas this year. It’s been three years since we’ve been there. Although we no longer actually have a physical home there, Seattle will always feel like home to me. It’s never an easy thing to do, this going back to the “home” that used to be, the one that remained after Jason died.

I know that there will be times when we will be in places that are poignantly familiar. I know that, at times, there may be triggers. We will go to visit Jason’s grave. I know that we will miss Jason like crazy.

As I cleaned closets today, one of the songs that came on my iTunes was a song sung by Jimmy Durante – “I’ll be Seeing You.” It brought tears to my eyes.

I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through
In that small cafe
The park across the way
The children’s carousel
The chestnut trees, the wishing well
I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summers day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way
I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll seeing you.
Songwriters: Irving Kahal / Sammy Fain
I’ll Be Seeing You lyrics © BMG Rights Management
Here’s to you, my precious boy. I know that everywhere I look, I’ll be seeing you and missing you. Life is not the same without you.
~Mom
© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

A Bereaved Parent’s Christmas

I wrote this five years ago, and find it still true today. Some Christmases seem to be more difficult than others, depending on what’s going on at the time or what we have walked through during the year. This year has been a difficult and stressful one for me, with some unexpected events or circumstances that have hurt me deeply. As a result, this Christmas has been a difficult one.

I’ve had a harder than usual time pulling it together – gift purchasing, enthusiasm level, etc. I still get the panic-y feeling that hits me the first time I walk down the Christmas aisle at the stores, and it hit me hard this year. My energy level and enthusiasm have been low. I’m doing the best I can, but still feel like it’s not enough. Not the same, as though it could ever be. Even as long as I’ve been at this, I tend to subconsciously have the misconception that it should get easier with time. It does, but it still ebbs and flows, rises and falls, hits hard and subsides a bit.

Hugs to all of you this Christmas.

~Becky

Grief: One Woman's Perspective

Christmas…

I’ve been sitting here, listening to Christmas music, and thinking about our Christmases since Jason died.

The first Christmas when I was so numb, hurting so bad, and at a total loss on how to “do” Christmas any more without our precious boy. Finding a chair in the corner at a Christmas party and trying to figure out how not to be the “wet blanket” at the celebration…and trying to be social so people would quit avoiding me – I failed miserably at both of those attempts. Sitting all by myself in the midst of the Christmas decorations strewn all over our family room floor, crying my eyes out as I tried to figure out whether it hurt more to put up or not put up the stockings and decorations we’d collected over the years. The friend who stopped by to pick something up while I was sitting there…

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The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

 

Growing up as a preacher’s kid, Christmas was all about the birth of Christ and there was no focus on Santa whatsoever. We, as kids, knew that some kids truly believed Santa (Saint Nicholas) landed on the roof top in his sleigh and came down the chimney, delivered their presents and filled all the stockings. But, to us, Santa was a story of a man in a red suit who represented a nice concept of giving at Christmas. That was it. To our family, Christmas was all about Jesus being born in a manager.

imagesMy husband’s family, on the other hand, did the whole Santa thing. When we got married, Joe firmly told me that, when we had kids, we would NOT allow Santa to be the focus our Christmases. He said that he felt betrayed and lied to by his parents when he found out that his parents bought the gifts and that they were not delivered by Santa.  He couldn’t understand how they could lie to him like that. He felt like he was supposed to be able to trust that his parents, of all people, would be honest with him! It was a traumatic experience for him as a little kid.

It is kind of creepy, if you think about it. You’re told a man in a red suit is watching you all the time. He knows what you’re doing. Your parents lie to you and use it to control your behavior at Christmas. Just my opinion. I guess I never understood the fascination with Santa.

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
He’s gonna find out
Who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake…

Christmas Carols – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town Lyrics | MetroLyrics

When Eric was a baby, though, we were given a stocking for him that had been hand-made by a family member. It was cute and thoughtfully given, so we bought stockings for rest of us to up as decorations. We decided they would be a good place to hold fun little gifts for each other, and they became a part of our holiday tradition. A few years later, my sister gave beautifully hand-made stockings for each of us and we put them up every year. Finding little “stocking stuffers” to put in each other’s stockings became part of our Christmas tradition. It was the fun way we ended our Christmas Day celebration every year by “opening” our stockings, stuffed to the top with fun little gifts, all at the same time. A Christmas tradition.

As I said in my previous post, that first Christmas after Jason died was so hard. As I sat on the family room floor, crying while surrounded by Christmas decorations, I truly didn’t know how we were going to celebrate Christmas without Jason. I couldn’t even get the decorations on the tree because I was so raw with the pain of missing Jason. I could barely function that Christmas. We had tried to instill a sense of tradition at Christmas and create memorable moments for our family. How were we going to maintain our family traditions when our family was broken and missing Jason?

One thing I remember is sitting on the family room floor that Christmas, trying to figure out if I should put up the stockings. I stared at the five nails above the fireplace. If I put all five of them up and we filled them with little gifts for each other as we usually did, I didn’t think I could handle seeing Jason’s stocking hanging there empty. If we put something in Jason’s stocking, it would be sad because he wouldn’t really be there to “open” his stocking with the rest of us. I couldn’t put up the rest of our stockings and not Jason’s. It would be obvious he was missing and would feel like a betrayal by excluding him. If I didn’t put them up at all or put them up and didn’t put anything in them, we wouldn’t be maintaining one of our traditions. Was that fair to the rest of the family? I didn’t know what to do. None of the choices seemed right, because it didn’t seem right that Jason was gone.

We tried to maintain some of our traditions that year, just because we didn’t know what else to do. Our Christmas traditions had become woven into our family way of life. We didn’t want to cheat the rest of our family out of celebrating our traditional Christmas, but every tradition we tried to maintain that first year after Jason died just emphasized his absence.  No matter what we did or didn’t do that Christmas, it was obvious Jason wasn’t there. It was so hard.

That’s the thing about traditions – they are tightly woven into and become meaningful remembrances of a holiday. The hanging of the stockings was just one of many of our Christmas traditions that carried weight of meaning to us as a family tradition. Yes, it was just a fun little part of our Christmas morning, but every single tradition we had was part of the way WE celebrated OUR Christmas as a FAMILY. Now part of our family was gone. And there were so many more traditions we had as a family besides hanging the stockings, each one spotlighting Jason’s absence. Asian food for dinner Christmas Eve. Candlelight service as a family on Christmas Eve. Cinnamon rolls Christmas morning. On and on. So many traditions.

Traditions. What do you do with your family traditions after a child dies? I think it takes many years to figure out which traditions to keep and which ones are too painful to continue. Some traditions can be bittersweet reminders of past Christmases before our child died. Some are put away for a while and may be started again at some point. Some are put away for good because they just hurt too much. New traditions are added in. For us, I think it continues to be a work in progress, this finding of traditions to add special meaning to our family Christmas. I guess I’m still not used to the idea of celebrating Christmas without Jason. I don’t think I ever will be.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Christmas Hurts My Heart

I think most everyone would agree that losing a child is an unbearably hard thing to experience. Life just isn’t the same, and it definitely is not easy life to lead after the death of a child. I also think it would be fair to say that some days in the life of a bereaved parent are harder than others. The reason some days are so hard partially has to do with missing our child so much and the longing for days when he or she was with us. Certain days shine the spotlight on that loss more than others.

For me, some of the hardest days of the year are Jason’s birthday, the day Jason died, and Christmas. Not every day is as hard as it used to be, but some days are just plain tough. Those are the days when the longing to have things the way they were before Jason died is especially strong. A parent who has lost a child never stops missing them, never has that longing go away to have his or her child with them, never has the grief of the death go away.

I have found that the days leading up to the actual “day” – whichever day that may be – can be harder than the actual day itself. For example, as March 3rd approaches, I find myself getting more emotional, restless, and unsettled. It’s not something I plan on; it just sort of happens and it’s really nothing over which I have control. Over the years, I’ve been able to recognize what’s going on and the cause of it. I try to extend grace to myself to allow myself to feel what I need to feel and to do what I need to do to observe these days that have so many memories attached to them and carry great emotional weight for me. For some reason, usually the “day of” is not as difficult as the days leading up to that day. I guess the anticipation of those difficult days is harder than the actual day once it arrives.

The thing about Christmas is that it’s such a public holiday and observance. We end up being bombarded with the reminders that CHRISTMAS WILL SOON BE HERE even before Halloween is over. Jason’s birthday and the day he died are more private observations. It’s not blasted at me in every store, on every street corner, on the radio and TV for months on end. Even holidays like the 4th of July, which was one of Jason’s favorite holidays, doesn’t impact me like Christmas does. Once Christmas is on the radar, we constantly are reminded that “the most wonderful time of the year” is about to arrive. Frank Sinatra reminds us that we should “let our hearts be light,” that “our troubles will be miles away,” and that “faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more.” Those sentiments are not necessarily true for a parent who has lost a child.

Before Jason died, I couldn’t wait to jump on the “Christmas is most wonderful time of the year” train. I couldn’t wait to go shopping for Christmas presents and to “do” our holiday traditions.

One thing thing Joe and I tried to create for our kids from when they were very little was a sense of wonder and tradition at Christmas. We wanted to make it a very special time for them. We made a conscious choice not to do the Santa thing since Joe felt betrayed and lied to by his parents when he found out as a young boy that his gifts came from his parents and not Santa. We chose instead to concentrate on celebrating the birth of Christ and the love of family and friends. We tried to instill a sense of what Christmas was really about – the ultimate gift of God’s son being born reflected in the gifts we give to others.

Over the years, we developed so many wonderful Christmas traditions. Going to Christmas events as a family or with friends. Looking at Christmas lights and decorations. We came up with a 1 to 10 rating system as we drove by decorated houses. Going to cut down or pick out our Christmas tree as a family. Going home after we’d found the “perfect” tree, getting out the boxes of Christmas decorations, putting on Christmas music, drinking hot chocolate, and decorating the tree together as a family. Joe would put the lights on the tree. I would unwrap the decorations and hand each person his or her own decoration to put on the tree. As he got taller and older, Jason always put the angel on the top of the tree. We went out for Asian food on Christmas Eve. I baked cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Joe read the Christmas story as we ate cinnamon rolls. Jason had asked me that last Christmas if I would teach him how to make cinnamon rolls. I haven’t made cinnamon rolls in many years. We took turns opening presents, starting with the youngest person picking out a present for someone else and then next youngest person picking out a present for someone until we got to the oldest person picking out a present, and then we started over with the youngest person again.

I saved every decoration the kids made. Each year I would go out to buy a Christmas tree decoration that seemed to fit each person that particular year. I would then use a gold permanent marker to write the name and date on the bottom of each ornament. My plan was to give each child his or her set of ornaments collected over the years when he or she got married or had their own home. Now, they sit in boxes in a storage unit in Oklahoma. I haven’t seen them in years. We haven’t had a “live” Christmas tree in years. Our Christmas ornaments on our fake tree don’t have any memories tied to them.

The Christmas after Jason died, we tried to maintain some of those traditions. I can’t tell you how many stores I had to leave because I almost starting crying. I remember driving by houses lit up with Christmas trees and lights, thinking how lucky those families must be to not hurt as I was hurting and how lucky they were to have people who wanted to be around them. I felt like such a pariah that year, like being around us would impinge on someone else’s holiday joy. I remember sitting on the family room floor, all by myself, amidst Christmas tree decorations trying to figure out how to decorate the tree. Looking at the decorations and the empty tree with tears coursing down my face. There are some days since Jason died that, when I think of them, it’s like I can step back into the scene and feel the raw, agonizing pain of that time. That day is one of them. The cinnamon rolls that must have had a bit of extra salt added to them from tears I couldn’t stop crying as I made them. Boy, that was a tough year.

I have found that for me, as a bereaved parent, I have to tread lightly around potential land mines at Christmas. Christmas is hard for me. I miss my boy so much at Christmas. I miss the family we used to be and the wonderful traditions we had as we celebrated Christmas together. The longing to be together as a family is especially strong at Christmas. I miss the unadulterated, innocent, complete joy of Christmas, one not overshadowed by the awful knowledge of what it’s like to have a child die. Now I tend to put a cocoon around my heart for a while until I sort of get used to the idea of another Christmas without Jason.

At first, I feel like I’ve been hit right in the heart when I walk into that first store of the season that has been decked out with Christmas displays. My heart just hurts!! I can feel myself sort of withdrawing into myself for a while. It takes me a bit to get over the funk I sort of settle into and begin to enjoy the season. I let Christmas in a little bit at a time until I can handle it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas any more, it just takes me a while to get on board the Christmas train, so to speak.

We’ve tried to come up some new traditions. I truly appreciate the time we spend together with family and some of the traditions we still do. I love my family more than words can say and I want to take time at Christmas to let them know it. I want them to know how special they are to me. Once I get out of my funk, I have a lot of fun trying to find the “right” gift for each person. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the idea that Jason not here for Christmas, though; the thought of it just makes my heart hurt.

We were talking the other day about our favorite Christmas song. I said mine is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” It’s a wistful song. I think it speaks to the longing to have Jason with us and to be “at home” as a family once again, and knowing that that place exists only in my dreams. The birth of Christ is the only reason that I know for sure we will see Jason again. For that I am truly thankful.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

I’m dreamin’ tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it’s a long road back
I promise you

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents under the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
If only in my dreams

Songwriters
Walter Kent;Buck Ram;Kim Gannon

Published by
GANNON & KENT MUSIC COMPANY

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Holiday Grief Support Resource Link

With the holidays quickly approaching, I would just like to share this link that lists some helpful suggestions concerning grief and the holidays: http://ididnotknowwhattosay.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/holiday-grief-support-resources-2/ This site contains suggestions for those who have lost someone close, as well as suggestions for those who would like to support someone who has lost a loved one.

There is no “magic pill” that will make the holidays easier to navigate nor any article that will provide all the answers to handling grief during any and all occasions. Grief isn’t a “one size fits all” thing, and neither are suggestions for walking through grief during any particular period of time or occasion. There isn’t anything that will take away the deep grief of the loss of a loved one, but perhaps there are suggestions on this link that will help in some way during this holiday season.

Becky