Where were you on 9/11/01?

There are moments that are indelibly burned in my memories. They are the moments that forever changed my life or changed the way I look at the world. The clearest and most significant is the night Jason died. That night was incredibly traumatic and has affected me – and continues to affect me – in ways I never could have imagined. Second clearest is 9/11/01. It shattered my sense of security as an American. Third is the day JFK was shot, although I was only eight years old at the time. It shattered my sense of innocence. I still remember watching my elementary school teachers cry.

On the morning of 9/11, my sister called from Tulsa to tell me to turn on the TV. The first plane hit the North tower at 8:46 a.m. ET (5:46 a.m. Washington State time) and the second plane hit the South tower at 9:02 a.m. ET (6:02 a.m. Washington State time). I turned on the TV just a few minutes before the South tower fell. It was all too horrifying to believe.

Jason had gone to California with two friends on a road trip before starting school that year. They had planned to go to Disneyland that day sixteen years ago, but, of course, their plans changed. He called me mid-morning to check in. He just needed to hear my voice. As with most Americans, the attack shook all of us to the core. It was a time for needing to reach out to those you love and to hold them close, and I was so glad he had called. I hadn’t been able to reach him – pre-cell phone days, you know. I just wanted to be able to hug him tight and to make sure he was all right.

When Jason came back from Florida, he told me that he was seriously considering joining one of the branches of the armed forces. He wanted to fight the terrorists that had attacked America. Hearing that terrified me, although I didn’t voice my fears. He always had a strong sense of right and wrong and had a strong sense of loyalty to those he loved. He wanted to protect those he loved. I knew there would be a very real possibility that he wouldn’t return if he joined the armed forces and I couldn’t imagine the possibility of losing a child. School started the week after he returned. Jason got busy with school and he didn’t join.

Little did I know at the time that, just less than six months later, he would be gone. Oh, how I miss my boy.

Today – this day sixteen years later – it breaks my heart too much to watch the ceremonies commemorating those who died that day. I can’t watch them. My heart goes out to their families, because I truly understand the hole left in their lives by the death of their loved ones. I understand that those spaces can never be filled and that the pain never truly goes away. I understand the agony of celebrating birthdays, holidays, life events and anniversaries without those we love. Although Jason’s death did not affect our entire country as the deaths of those on 9/11 and the symbolic terror attack on America they represent, I would venture to say that his death was just as traumatic to me, to our family, and to those who knew and loved him. Loss is loss, and deep grief is deep grief.

May God have mercy on us all and give us comfort in our losses.

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

Advertisements

Arby’s

DSCF3426

As a junior and senior in high school, Jason participated in a program called Running Start. Running Start is a program in Washington State offered through the public school system where a student, as a junior or senior in high school, can attend a local community college or university and receive both high school and college credits at the same time. Jason had about topped out of what I could teach him and what the homeschool community had to offer as far as classes, and so we decided it would be the next logical step in his education.

The classes Jason took the first quarter were not offered at consecutive times – he had a couple of classes certain mornings of the week and one class a couple of evenings during the week. We lived 20-30 minutes away by car (nearly an hour on the bus) from the school with no good public transportation close by, so one of the things we had to work out was a way for Jason to get to school.

At the time, we had a Volkswagen Eurovan. Jason had had his permit to learn to drive since he was 15 and a half, but didn’t have his driver’s license yet at 16 years old. I had taken him out several times for lessons on the VW, but it had a manual transmission with tricky clutch. That first semester of college, he had a lot on his plate. He was beginning a new level of higher education going to college at 16 years old, working part-time in a local hardware store and tutoring math students through the homeschool co-op. For some reason, on top of everything else, dealing with the tricky clutch while learning to drive was just a bit too much for Jason at the time. He took everything he did with great responsibility, including the responsibility of operating a motor vehicle. After a couple of lessons of clutch frustration, he decided to put off getting his license for a little while until he felt he was ready to learn to drive.

The closest bus stop for public transportation was several miles away, so, on the mornings he had classes, I drove Jason to the bus stop and then picked him up again when he was done. He would hop in the car and immediately turn on the radio or pop one of his compilation CD’s in the van’s CD player, and off we would drive to the bus stop, both of us humming or singing or rocking away to some song or another. Jason liked a wide range of music from classical (his favorite piece was Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata) to a band named Collective Soul to contemporary music to Christian music to Christmas music. Whether or not it was anywhere near Christmas, we would blast Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas album “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” over the van’s speakers, bobbing our heads in time with the beat of “Sarajevo” or “Mad Russian’s Christmas.”

I decided to sign up for a continuing education evening class at the same college that first quarter of Jason’s Running Start. That way, I could drive Jason to his class so he wouldn’t have to ride the bus at night for nearly an hour each way, and I could learning something new at the same time. Quite often, he and I would leave early enough so that we could stop and eat at Arby’s on the way. We would order their 5/$5 special, and then sit and munch on curly fries and roast beef sandwiches, talking about whatever was on our minds. He loved Arby’s and I loved spending time with him.

I don’t go to Arby’s any more hardly at all, just because it’s too hard. But, I found myself craving an Arby’s sandwich yesterday, so I stopped by for lunch. I ordered a roast beef sandwich and curly fries. As I started to eat, my eyes filled with tears and I had a hard time actually eating what I’d ordered.

The food didn’t taste as good as I remembered, but the memories of my time with Jason eating at Arby’s are clear, strong, wonderful and so very bittersweet.

Oh, how I miss you, my boy.

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

Happy birthday, Jason

FullSizeRender 4

“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 (1812-1870)

July can be a tough month for me. I turn the calendar page and the marking of one more of Jason’s birthdays without him stares me in squarely in the face. For varying reasons, this July has had some additional very difficult, emotional challenges for me, which has made it a very difficult month. My emotions have been much closer to the surface than they normally would be. Jason would have been 35 years old today, and I can’t seem to quit crying this morning. That “deep, dark, hidden lake of grief inside of me” is not so hidden today.

I will always be so thankful Jason was born into our family. I celebrate his birthday today and rejoice that he is our son. I will always love him from the depths of my heart. I will always miss him beyond what words can every convey.

Happy birthday, my precious boy. I love you. I wish you were here. I miss you.

My precious Mr. Jay

Jason David Carney 7/29/82 – 3/3/02

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

Platitudes/Cliches

18198324_1900226186922074_416867357421498871_nI am not nor have I ever been a fan of platitudes or cliches – those short, little sayings that are supposed to convey something meaningful. You know the ones – like the one to the left here, or “Everything happens for a reason,” or “God never gives you more than you can handle.” They are meant to be inspirational, I’m sure, but I find them to be conversation-stopping, bumper sticker-style statements of little value and no sense. For example, what exactly does “You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it” mean? I don’t see myself as strong. And as for being “given this life” because I’m “strong enough to live it,” I live this life because it’s the only one I have. It makes no sense to me.

I think every parent who has lost a child has heard his or her fair share of these types of things. Platitudes and cliches are some of the least helpful – and possibly very hurtful – things a bereaved parent can hear. I understand that people don’t know what to say, so they resort to cliches. As Leeann Penny says in her post entitled 12 Grief Cliches and the reasons they suck, “Clichés are human attempts to make the hugeness of life and death easy to manage and understand.  This cannot be done, it hurts more than it helps. The phrases are something that people who “don’t get it” say in attempt to make it all better, to put a magical bandaid on it and reduce the raw awkwardness. They usually come to us with good intentions. As a society we aren’t all that comfortable with pain in progress, we like a bow, we like a quick happy ending.  We need to get over that.”

 

Today, a friend shared a Facebook post by Max Lucado:

For those of you who may be mourning and grieving true loss this week, I first want to say, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for this very real pain. I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know but I can remind you of something.

In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely. And though you and I might wish for a longer life, God knows better. And—this is important—though you and I may wish a longer life for our loved ones, they don’t. Ironically, the first to accept God’s decision of death is the one who dies. While we are shaking heads in disbelief, they are lifting hands in worship. While we are mourning at a grave, they are marveling at heaven. While we are questioning God, they are praising God.

“In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely.”

Here is the response I posted:

Tomorrow is our son’s birthday. He would have been 35 years old. He and his best friend died instantly when a drunk driver broadsided them on March 3, 2002. 19 years old – the best son, brother, friend anyone could ever ask for. Kind, funny, smart, beautiful blue eyes, great hugs and beautiful smiles. The best. Absolute best.

There’s so much I could say about what we walked through after Jason died, but I am not sure it would be fully comprehended except by those who have walked a similar path and would fall on deaf ears for others. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jason is with God, with my parents, with the baby we lost, with his best friend and all those who have gone before. I know that we will one day see him again in that land where there will be no more death, tears, mourning, crying or pain.

Jason’s death, though, affected me so much more and on such a deeper level than the deaths of my parents. When we had to put my dad in a nursing home, it was such an incredibly difficult thing to watch this strong, independent man in such circumstances. I literally prayed God would take him home. Dad was ready to go, wanted to go. My mom’s death was not unexpected, and we had a wonderful day with her the day she died. “Timely,” I guess one would say.

One never thinks the death of their child is “timely,” though, or that their child has lived long enough and was supposed to die in that moment in time. To say that I have struggled with my faith and in reconciling what I believed as a Christian with the death of our son at the age of 19 would be an understatement. I had believed that “the fervent prayer” availed much. I prayed and prayed and prayed for our kids, for their friends, for their lives, for their future spouses, for their protection, for my family. I woke up at 3 a.m. most days, got up out of bed, went downstairs and fervently prayed for my family. I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that God would protect our children. Until He didn’t, and Jason died.

It didn’t help (and, as a matter of fact, caused a lot of damage) that nearly everyone we knew disappeared. Our closest family lived more than 2000 miles away and, once they had to go home, I guess we had an expectation that our church and homeschool “family” and friends would be there for us. That didn’t happen. In retrospect, I’m not sure how realstic those expectations were; most of them were dealing with the deaths of their friends, too. Nevertheless, never have I felt more like a pariah in my life than I did after Jason died. I felt like I was falling down a black hole and there was no one to stop my fall. I remember begging God to send someone – anyone – to apply a salve of kindness to my broken heart and to the rest of my family’s hearts and lives. I truly, truly understand that most people didn’t know what to do or say or were dealing with their own losses, but it was a very difficult and lonely time for us.

I struggle, especially concerning the death of a child, with the whole “God must have a greater purpose” or “It was God’s will” attitude concerning death that Christians sometimes tend to adopt. While others may find comfort in being told, “In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely,” I must admit that I don’t find comfort at all in it. At times, I think these types of platitudes help the person saying them more than the person hearing them. In essence, I think the person hearing it can hear condemnation or judgment at not “accepting” the death of their loved one as “God’s will” rather than as an encouragement. It’s interpreted as “encouragement” to move on, and that can be very hurtful. I also would venture to say that most parents who have lost a child are very good at putting on a mask so that others don’t see how deep their grief truly is and so that they are not judged for how deeply or how long they grieve. Very early on, I felt like I had to hide the depth of my grief to make it palatable in order for others to even want to be around me. I felt like my choice was to mask my grief or else I would be alone or judged.

As far as teaching something in the Christian community, I would rather see encouragement for people to “weep with those who weep” rather than encouraging the bereaved to accept the death of their loved one as God’s will and to move on. I feel like the empathetic teaching of truly supporting – and continuing to support – those walking through deep grief is sadly lacking. The bereaved don’t need someone to try to fix them or encourage them to accept or move on; they just need someone willing to be present, to listen and to care.

Just my two cents…

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

 

The struggle is real

This deep, dark, hidden lake of grief inside of me

fills up with gathered tears until they no longer be contained

and they flow over the dam and and down my face

 

I turn up the music on the radio in my car, loud

in an effort to drown out the sadness and regret

that has taken up residence in my soul on this day

 

I struggle to hide behind a mask of self-preservation, grief hidden

unseen by people who have little understanding and even less tolerance

of she who continues to grieve or continues to hurt beyond unrealistic timetables

 

The struggle is real and does not end on this side of heaven

for those misunderstood and judged by those who think they know better

by those who want grief to stay hidden, to be more palatable by swallowing some cliche

 

My heart is heavy today for things that might have been

things that should be, things that will never be

things that I wish with all my heart I could change

 

I miss you with all my heart today and every day

my precious boy, my sunshine, my hugger, my encourager

Jason David Carney, July 30, 1982 – March 3, 2002

 

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

An Alternate Life

fullsizeoutput_c607My husband and I recently celebrated our 41st anniversary. It hardly seems possible we have been married that long. We look so young, in love, and full of hope in this picture. In our wildest dreams or our worst nightmares, we never could have imaged the journey we have have been required walk these past fifteen years.

As our daughter and I were recently discussing our upcoming anniversary,  I told her that I feel like I should be in my 40’s instead of celebrating our 41st anniversary. The fact of the matter is that, in some ways, I feel that the world stopped and has been somewhat frozen in time since Jason died. I feel like I should be around 46 years old, the age I as when Jason died. It seems like Jenna should be around 17 and Eric in his 20’s. It feels like Jason should be coming home. It feels like Michael should be just little guy,  sitting at my kitchen table playing with homemade play doh. It feels like I should be looking forward to our kids getting married, to the birth of our grandchildren, to being involved in our grandkids’ lives, showering them with love as only a grandma can, taking them on wonderful adventures and making awesome crafts with them. It feels like there are things that are supposed to happen that never will. It feels like the hope I had for the future has changed so much I can’t see it, I don’t feel it. It feels like I am living the wrong life.

Have you ever watched one of those movies or TV shows where the characters somehow get trapped in another dimension or parallel world? Things are similar, but nothing is the same. The trajectory of their lives has changed. The characters know that they are not supposed to be in this alternate world; they know they have to get back to their real, true lives. Throughout the whole movie or TV show, the characters are trying to figure out a way to go back to the lives they are supposed to be living. They just want to go home.

At times, that’s what it feels like to me. I want to go home, one where all is right with the world, where my kids are all happy and healthy. There is an alternate life I should be living, one where Jason is alive and doing all the things he was supposed to do – hanging out with us, graduating from college, getting married, having kids.

It feels like I should be living a life where Jason is alive. It feels like I should be living in a home I love, one that truly feels like home, a home where our children and grandchildren can walk in the door at any time for any reason to a home full of love and laughter. It is a life where a wonderful young lady marries into our family and is so happy to be a part of our family, a young lady who is a wife to our son and mother to our grandchildren, one who appreciates and cultivates a loving and caring relationship between the family of his childhood and the family of his adulthood.

It is a life where I am connected, one full of family and friends, instead of a life of aloneness. It is a life full of joy and happiness, instead of one always with a shadow of grief. It is a life where I feel truly alive, instead of where part of me is missing. It is a life of hope for better things ahead, instead of one with intimate knowledge that none of us are immune from pain and disaster.

I am living the life I now have to the best of my abilities, this life left to me after the death of our precious son. I live and love and work, but it still doesn’t seem like this is really, truly my life. It is a paler shade of world than the vibrant one that used to be before Jason died. I am a paler version of the person I used to be.

After Jason died, someone gave me a note that said the world was a little less bright now that he was gone. Jason was pure sunshine – loving, caring, kind; an awesome son, brother, friend, person. How could this world be anything else but a pale version of the one that used to be?

You read about or hear bereaved parents say that, after a child dies, they feel like they should wake up from this nightmare. The horror of that nightmare fades some as time goes by, but it never truly goes away. It softens into a recognition that this alternate reality is now the one we have to live. The world we previously knew is gone. We can never go back to the life that once was, the world that once was. I miss that world. I miss my life. I miss my boy.

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

Living with regrets

When they are born, children don’t come with manuals. As parents, we are left to do the best we can with the resources we have. Some of us have better resources than other; some of us have to do the best we can with what we have and the what we learned from our parents.

My family means the world to me, and I tried to do the best job I could to be the best parent I could be. I would do anything for each of them. My heart is so full of love for them that, at times, I feel like I can’t contain it. But, I know that, in some ways, I failed miserably as a parent. And no matter how much I love them, it doesn’t change the fact that I have regrets and wish I had done some things differently.

Some things that I thought were so important when my kids were small have proven over time not to be that important. I wish I could go back and do some things again, knowing what I know now. More patience, more fun. But, we never get that chance. Never. Ever. One shot. That’s it. I can never make the wrongs right. And, when a child dies, the opportunities to do better or to make new memories are gone. When I remember those days when I didn’t do such a good job, the regrets weigh heavy.

I hope my kids remember the good things more than the bad. How I got up every year at 3 a.m. to make cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning. The looking for weeks for the perfect things to put in their Easter baskets, and then getting up at 7 a.m. to put them together so they would be waiting when they got up first thing on Easter morning. The way I tried to keep our refrigerator and pantry stocked with things they and their friends liked so they would always have their favorites to eat. Keeping lots of things in the house for crafts so they and their friends would always have something to do. Glue, glitter, fabric paint, paper, pens, stickers. Baking, picking strawberries. 4th of July celebrations. Making Halloween costumes. Christmas morning traditions. Birthday parties. Ice skating lessons, roller blading. Sewing a birthday gift outfit from scratch for one of Jenna’s friends from a sketch she drew when she was 5. On and on. So much of what I did, I did with them in mind. I hope they know that.

I did try. I hope they remember that and forgive the rest. I am not perfect – far from it. I can’t change the past, no matter how much I wish I could. And, so, I have to live with regret. None of us are perfect. I know that. I guess that’s where extending grace and forgiveness to ourselves and to each other has to be.

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney