Softer Days

Please take a few minutes to read this beautiful poem by one of my favorite fellow bloggers. It talks about the incredible value of someone else remembering and talking about a loved one who has died. Incredibly beautiful and insightful poem. One of the stanzas that particularly touched my heart says:

But when you speak to me

about my loved one – now gone

I feel a spark, a warming from within

Not found among the dust or

stored possessions.

Softer Days.

It’s such a great comfort when someone remembers our child. It’s like a warm blanket that wraps around us. Possessions – things that we kept that belonged to our child – in and of themselves don’t have any life. It’s the memories and the remembering that contains the life.

A Bereaved Parent’s Christmas

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 on the floor, surrounded by decorations and grief, and who couldn’t get out the door quickly enough after she collected what she had come for. When absolutely everything about Christmas emphasized Jason’s missing presence and pierced me to the bottom of my very soul. Picturing Jason helping pick out and put up the tree. He was the one who put our angel up on top of the tree every year. I was supposed to teach him how to make my “famous” Christmas morning cinnamon rolls and I added my heartbroken tears to the dough that year. Everything about that Christmas hurt to the core of my being.

The Christmases when I tried to shop, but couldn’t figure out how to pull up any enthusiasm, and left the stores empty-handed and trying to keep my emotions and tears in check until I could get into a private place. The ones when I fought down panic as I tried to shop for presents. The one when we couldn’t travel to extended family and they couldn’t travel to us…and no one had time amidst their own holiday hustle and bustle to do anything with us. One gal told me they would have time the week after Christmas. That was a bad Christmas.

The ones when I drove by brightly-lit houses as families or friends arrived for some type of Christmas celebration, watching people hug each other with the joy of the season…while I felt like an outside observer to the warmth, welcome and celebration of the whole season in general. The warmth and glow of the season seemed like it was for others and not me. Ours used to be the home brightly lit and welcoming, so full of family, love and laughter. I used to look forward to Christmas so so much excitement. It seemed as though I “used to do” many things that no longer applied to me. I struggled for many years as I approached so many Christmases with dread…wishing I could just skip over the whole thing, knowing how acutely and painfully I would miss Jason’s presence. Some days it was more than I could bear.

Christmases are hard for bereaved parents. The memories of what “used to be” are ever present and everywhere. I miss the pure excitement of a Christmas without the shadow of loss.

Christmas doesn’t hurt as much as it once did. I wish I could say it didn’t hurt any more, but that wouldn’t be honest. It’s been a process over the years to make new traditions while not totally scrapping the old. I haven’t gotten up at 4:30 a.m. to make cinnamon rolls from scratch for years – perhaps I will sometime in the future. We have started some new traditions and have started a new collection of Christmas tree ornaments. We try to make Christmas a special and meaningful day and season as best we can for those we love. We try to notice the small things and don’t take anything for granted.

We will always miss Jason every day, and especially during the Christmas season feel his loss acutely, wishing he were celebrating Christmas with us. I’m sure every bereaved parent would say the same thing about his or her own child…

Merry Christmas to each bereaved parent who may read this. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Happy Father’s Day

Written by my sister on Father’s Day:

SNAPSHOTS OF MY FATHER

My daddy, Arthur J. Knudson

He wore either a suit and tie or those tan work clothes from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. He wore a hat, either a ball cap at home or a felt cowboy hat when he went out. Black work boots that had a distinct resonating sound as he walked across the hardwood floors of our house. We knew his mood by the determination of his step. Smelled like Old Spice, coffee and cough drops. Wire rimmed glasses. Big smile and never knew a stranger. Standing in the pulpit, preaching the gospel. Teacher. Illustrator. Artist. Painter. Kind and generous. Musical, playing several instruments and sang. Intelligent. Spoke at least five languages and studied Bibles in each. Studied for and got his FCC licence just because he could. “We love you”, followed with a peck. He was stern, old school. Wanted to make sure that our actions didn’t give a “worldly” impression. Made sure we held our “Authors” game cards below the window level in the car so no one would think we were gambling in the back seat. That lasted about two seconds. Encouraged many who came in touch with him. Still hear from people in the vicinity of our little Wyoming town who knew him or appreciated his influence in their life. Pastor Art. Taught us how to pray and kept a Prayer and Praise diary his entire life. Loved to pull out his Bible maps and timeline charts to talk about the Second Coming. Loved God and loved being in His service. Ministry was his first love, being a school teacher paid for it. Great sense of humor. Thought dinner conversation should be useful, so he put a world map on the dining room wall. That’s where we learned about Russia and China and Norway. Devoted to my mother and was often found smooching her in the kitchen. Carried a horrible wound in his heart, but endeavored to walk in healing. Loved his Lazy Boy chair, which found its way to the dump after the memorial service. It was worn out. Declared he wanted to be in the pulpit when it was his time to pass on, and nearly did. Gave me a tearful welcome at the train station one time when I didn’t get off the train right away. He thought I had missed it. I was talking to a stranger. Wonder how I learned to do that! He is my Daddy. HAPPY FATHER’S DAY! (written by Doris Knudson 6/17/12, https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=759433245)

 

Dad in the pulpit – where he loved to be

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

The Gifts of Listening and Remembering

The Gift of Listening

One of the most precious gifts I received while I was in Washington was given to me by a long-time friend when we had dinner together. She gave me the gift of her time and her attention. She asked me if I was “ready to talk about it.” (It’s not that I have avoided talking about “it,” Jason, or that time…I just didn’t feel like anyone was ready or wanted to listen. It has seemed no one really has wanted to talk about Jason or that time – unless it’s briefly on his birthday or anniversary of his death – and so I just sort of gave up trying. Why make people uncomfortable and avoid you even more?)

I asked what she wanted to know; I would answer any questions. I talked. And she truly listened. She truly listened. She listened to my ideas on how I wanted to help bereaved parents. She cared. She asked questions. “What could I have done differently?” She apologized for not knowing what to do and for disappearing. Not once did she make me feel like I needed – at any time during the last ten years – to be fixed or that I should not have felt as I did.

As I began to talk, starting at the night of the accident, I started shivering. I thought I was cold – after all, going from 80 degrees in Florida to 28 degrees in Seattle was quite a change. I ordered coffee to warm me up, but it didn’t help.

Have you ever had a muscle that was knotted up tight for so long that it begins to shake? That’s what it was like, except through my whole body. It was like I had tried to hold together all alone and be strong for so long that my physical body reacted to “letting the story out,” to loosening my grip on some inner tension I didn’t even realize I had. Someone apologized. Someone cared. Someone actually listened to my story and looked me square in the eyes as I was telling it.

I realized the next day that something inside of me had changed. I felt freer than I had felt in a very long time. I have read about bereaved parents reaching a corner, a specific turning point, when something changes. I just didn’t understand it because it had not happened to me.

It’s been a rough ten years. Jason’s death; everything we dealt with concerning Jason’s death and the far-reaching after-effects (believe me, the ripple effects following the death of a child go deep, far, and wide); deep, prolonged grief that went far into my very soul; depression; too many relationship losses to count; watching my precious family struggle with losses and other difficult situations; job losses; my Mom died; loss of family relationships; moving, moving, moving; changes, changes, changes; pressure, pressure, pressure. I have felt like I’ve been hunkered down in a survival mode for a long time, that I’ve dealt with many, many things alone. It’s tiring. It’s draining. It ties you in knots, whether you know it or not.

I am so thankful for this precious friend taking time to ask questions and for listening. I know it wasn’t easy for her. I have worked very hard on my own at forgiving, even though there no apologies extended by people who knew they had hurt me/us badly and who knew they had deserted us. It was amazing to have someone say that our relationship was too important to lose. It was so freeing to hear someone say, “I’m sorry,” and to be able to respond, “I forgive you.” It was amazing to have someone truly listen with her heart and her full attention! What an incredible gift!

The Gift of Remembering

One of Jason’s good friends hosted a small breakfast get-together on the morning of March 3rd as a way to honor Jason and Alina. One precious young lady who attended took time to tell me how she would never forget Jason, how he was still the standard by which she measured guys, how Jason had once explained to her why he enjoyed classical music along with other types of music, and how she still listened to and appreciated classical music to this day because of what Jason had told her. It meant so much to me for her to take the time to tell me those things.

It meant so much, too, to me to listen to others who also spoke of Jason, who told me a story or memory and let me know he would never be forgotten. Every single person who shared with me memories of Jason gave me an incredible gift!

One of a mother’s nightmares following the death of a child is that her child will be forgotten. It’s almost like an unspoken job for a bereaved mother to make sure that never happens.

Following Jason’s death, a gal in our homeschool group offered to put together a scrapbook in Jason’s honor. I chose a scrapbook that would include photos (by those other than ourselves) and personal stories of Jason by those who knew him. At least I could remember him alive and hold his memory close through photos of things he had done and places he had been, by being talked about and remembered. Another gal was to contact people and spread the word so those who wanted could contribute to the scrapbook.

There were not a lot of contributions; the gal putting the scrapbook together was embarrassed and anxious I would be hurt. At first I was confused and hurt. I craved hearing about Jason’s life, about his experiences, about how he was remembered. I didn’t want my son to be dead. I felt like he was being forgotten. I didn’t want him forgotten. I needed to know that he was remembered – and would continue to be remembered – by those who knew him.

But then I realized that a couple of big issues were getting in the way. 1) The court hearings were just ahead and many people were composing impact statements to submit to the judge concerning how Jason’s and Alina’s deaths affected them (statements to help the court decide sentencing). That in itself had to be so emotionally draining. 2) In addition, a lot of these “kids” (and others) were still dealing with both Jason’s and Alina’s deaths (Jason and Alina had many friends in common); they were not able to vocalize their feelings just yet. It was too much to ask of them at that time. My need was greater than the ability of most people we knew.

With so few people talking or writing about Jason over the years, it was easy to wonder if he was being forgotten. I guess that’s one of the reasons it meant so much to me while I was in Seattle this time to have people specifically tell me their memories of Jason and that he would never be forgotten. They let me know that his memory had not disappeared with time, that Jason’s life mattered, not only to his family, but to others. He has continued to be valued, loved, remembered.

It was a good trip. Breakfast, coffee and conversation every morning with my precious friend Mary, who I have missed so much since we moved. Typical early spring Seattle weather – rain, snow, frost, sun. (Seattle weather has never bothered me.) And best of all, some people who listened, showed me they cared, and told me Jason was dearly remembered and would never be forgotten. They gave me the precious gifts of listening and remembering. It’s never too late to listen or remember.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

There’s No Place Like Home

For some reason, it just felt important to me to go back home to Seattle for March 3, 2012, the tenth anniversary of Jason’s death. Seattle still feels like “home” to me; I just wanted to be home this year. I wanted to be close to Jason, to be close to people who meant so much to him, to be in a place he loved.

Some people are scratching their head at that one, I’m sure. “Hasn’t she moved on yet?” “Can’t she just let it go?” “It’s been ten years already.” “Doesn’t she know Jason isn’t actually there?” I know, I know.

I try to listen carefully, though, to that quiet, little voice inside me that prompts me to do certain things. I’m learning that there’s usually a reason, especially when that prompting doesn’t go away and it feels like it might be something important. If I don’t listen and obey, I may miss out on something special. As I said, it felt important to me to be there on March 3rd. The ten year mark felt like it was monumental in some way and couldn’t be skipped over by not being in Washington, so I booked a flight and off I went.

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I had some people I wanted to see while I was there. Through varying circumstances and busy schedules, only a few were available to meet for coffee or whatever. I ended up with free time on my hands.

Deciding that being alone wasn’t bad and didn’t make me feel lonely, I retraced some paths I’d walked and places I’d been while Jason was alive.

I drove around Lynnwood, Monroe, Bothell – all of our old stomping grounds.

I drove through Woodinville and Snohomish, remembering the incredible privilege of being asked by Jason to escort him and a special girl on their first date (since Jason didn’t yet have his driver’s license). I remembered Jason taking this special girl’s dad out to breakfast to ask if it would be okay to date his daughter. I remembered Jenna taking Jason’s high school graduation photos in downtown Snohomish and along the Snohomish River.

I remembered Jason driving for the first time – almost overshooting a curve – and informing me it was nothing like a video game.

I pulled into the driveway of our old house, noticing how the three little evergreen starts (one for each of our children, picked up at a home show) we had planted so very many years ago when we first purchased our home were still there and were now tall trees. I noticed the katsura tree, with its heart-shaped leaves and given to us after Jason died, growing tall and healthy. I noticed the children of the people who purchased house joyfully playing in the yard as our kids used to do. I remembered Jason sitting on the kitchen counter, with one black-moccasined foot propped up on the edge of the counter, telling me about his day. “The funniest thing happened today, Mom…” I remembered making jam, and Jason somehow managing to arrive in the kitchen just in time to “clean” the bottom of the pan with a piece of bread. I remembered Jason’s great, big hugs. I remembered watching Jason and his friends from the kitchen window as they jumped on the trampoline. I remembered all the parties, all the kids hanging out, all the love and hugs we shared. So many wonderful memories tied to that house. So many sad memories tied to that house.

I drove by the Alfy’s Pizza, where the Youth and Government kids met before heading out to carol at Christmas, and by the Skate Deck where they would gather for a fun evening. I remembered Jason serving as a representative in the Washington State Youth Legislature and being so privileged to be a part of that organization and that time of his life.

I drove by the cemetery, taking Jason flowers and telling him how much I love him, that I wished with all my heart he were still here, that I miss him.

On and on the memories flooded my head as I drove familiar places. It felt so good to be home and in a place I love. It felt good to sit in certain places, allowing myself the time to remember. It felt good to feel so close to Jason.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

A Familiar Day

Today is a beautiful day in Florida – sunny, 75 degrees. As I was driving to Costco this morning, I realized that I felt a very familiar feeling about this day. It felt comfortable, but like I should be doing something else, some place else. As I thought about it, I realized why that familiar feeling came from so deep within me – this day in Miami (because of the temperature, humidity, sunshine, and other weather factors) feels like a Seattle summer day to me. It made me feel exactly how I used to feel on a sunny, summer Seattle day. That’s why it felt so familiar to me. It’s the type of day I knew so well from my life that used to be.

Seattle Sunny Day

It feels like I should be puttering around our Washington home, kids coming and going. Just an ordinary day, doing ordinary things, hanging out with my family. Comfortable, happy, secure.

I can almost see the kids jumping on the trampoline in the back yard while I stand at the kitchen window or on the back deck. Maybe we’d be getting ready to head down to the park for a picnic or off to the beach to fly a kite. Maybe we’d be heading off to pick strawberries or blueberries at a local farm. Maybe we’d be picking wild blackberries so I could make freezer jam. Maybe Jason and Alina would be making chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen. Maybe…maybe…

Sometimes it surprises me how strongly my entire being still reacts with longing for the way things used to be – for the time when Jason was alive and all was well with the world. It makes me yearn for my home, for my life, for my boy – just an ordinary, sunny Seattle day, doing ordinary things with my family. It takes just the right combination of things to bring that familiar longing right back to the surface.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney