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

Of Precious Memories and a Chocolate Orange

Have you ever purchased something almost as a way to give yourself permission to “live” in a memory for a while?

I kind of think that’s what I did last weekend.

Jason LOVED chocolate. Chocolate chip cookies (mixing, baking, and eating) and chocolate pudding pie with graham cracker crust were just a couple of his many favorites. One year for Jason’s birthday, we had chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, topped with triple chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce. Did I mention he loved chocolate?

He also loved chocolate oranges.

I used to buy chocolate oranges once in a while as a special treat – to put in Christmas stockings, in Easter baskets, or just an “I’m thinking of you” time. I haven’t been able to buy them since Jason died. I just hurt too much.

There were lots of things I found that I couldn’t do any more after Jason died. For example, I couldn’t go into a scrap booking store. I’d have a panic attack and have to leave. We all loved taking and looking at pictures of family and friends, and I had been working on the scrapbook from Jason’s high school graduation when he died. I didn’t take pictures for nearly a year. I just couldn’t do it. I could hardly even look at a chess set or certain board or card games. I couldn’t watch certain movies.

I couldn’t make chocolate chip cookies or chocolate pudding pie because they were his favorites. I couldn’t buy apples or Jason’s favorite snacks. I couldn’t make french toast for quite a while. I couldn’t buy Pillsbury Orange Sweet Rolls with icing, another of Jason’s favorites. I couldn’t listen to any music by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra or Collective Soul. You see, we used to crank up the CD player in the car to “A Mad Russian’s Christmas” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra or “Heavy” by Collective Soul. Jason would play the Trans-Siberian Orchestra well past Christmas, because…well, because there is no season to great music. We’d drive along and rock out to music together in the morning as I took Jason to catch the bus to college.

I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I couldn’t do so many things. There was so much overwhelming grief from Jason’s death and all of the secondary losses/issues that I didn’t have the resources to handle things so very closely associated with Jason. They hit me too painfully right in the heart. They took my breath away, made me feel panic-y, made me want to collapse on the floor and not get up again. I had to deal with things in stages over time. I could only handle what I could handle at the time, and I avoided some things for a while. Some things just hurt too much to do for a long time, and there may even be a few things I will never do again.

But, this past weekend I saw dark chocolate oranges on the shelf of a gift store, and so I bought one for the first time in over ten years. There was no conscious thought process to it; I just bought it. When I got home, I opened the box, rapped the orange foil-wrapped confection on the counter to break apart the segments, unwrapped the foil, and put one of the chocolatey-orange segments into my mouth.

That was when I realized I was just sitting, staring off into space, remembering a long ago time when the small things like sharing a chocolate orange and just being together were some of the most precious times – something I may have taken for granted at the time, something that I will never get to do with again with Jason. Maybe buying that chocolate orange gave me permission to sit, wrapped in that precious memory for a while.

I miss those times. I miss my boy with all my heart.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Happy Birthday, Precious Son

Dear Jason,

You would have turned 30 today. 30 years old. It’s hard to imagine you being 30 years old. You will forever be 19 in our memories.

If you had lived, what would you be doing now? Would you be married? Would you have kids? Would you still live in Washington or would you have moved to another state? What would you do for a living?

We’ll never know. You never had a chance to find out. You never had a chance to make those choices with your life. You never had the chance to find the love of your life, ask her to marry you, or to know the incredible joy of holding your newborn child. You never had a chance to graduate from college, move into your first apartment, buy your first home, or hold a full-time job.

There are so many, many things that you never got a chance to do.

I do know this, though. Whatever you would have done, it would have been with the integrity, empathy, kindness, and caring that were such a part of you. You would have loved with your whole heart and lived a life bringing sunshine and love into the lives of those who knew you.

I’m so sorry you didn’t get a chance to live your life to 30 and way beyond. I’m sure you would have lived it to the fullest. I’m sorry you didn’t get a chance to get married or have children. You would have been a wonderful husband and father. I’m so sorry that you were taken from us. The hole you left in our lives is huge.

But, I’m SO GLAD you were born into our family. I’m SO GLAD you were OUR boy, our precious son.

I miss you, my precious Mr. Jay. My Mr. Sunshine.

I love you…always. I miss you. You are always in my heart.

Happy birthday, Jason.

Mom

© 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

Guest Blogger – Joe Carney: There is a good side of grief

Guest blogger: written by my husband, Joe:

How would we see life if hardships did not come or loss of someone’s life did not come? Is life all roses or are there thorns also?

Grief works in many ways we don’t understand concerning the ones we have loved and lost. We never really know and recognize completely those that belong to our lives until they are gone. Fond memories of my parents have remained with me; their guidance and love prevailed when, at earlier times, I could only see discipline and correction.

Those we love are so close we fail to see them as they really are – blessings in disguise and love gifts from God our Father. He knows what you need and places these blessings and love gifts where you are. How great a God and Father He has been to me. Even though this is true, I don’t always see what is before me.

Grieving a loss is what makes us realize that our life is important and special to those around us. Not being able to care or grieve must make life so hard. Let the grieving process proceed; it will change you forever. I didn’t know losing a son could be so hard and yet so rewarding at the same time. Tragic, yes. Blessed, yes. It is the process of a loving Father in His wisdom for you to enable you to see all of life from a perspective that you did not know.

I look to the future when I will see my son Jason again for all eternity. I am blessed to know he gave his life for God when he was very young. Jason’s life showed that he was marked for greatness that only God could give. I look with anticipation for that day when all wrongs turn out right. In the meantime, I am here, knowing Jason was here for a great  purpose.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

One Year

From my journal dated March 2, 2003:

I dread tomorrow. I am dreading everything about it and all it stands for.

Jason David Carney - 7/29/82 - 3/3/02

One year. One long, horrendous year for without our boy. One year for Jenna without her best friend and brother. One year of not seeing Jason’s bright, beautiful, blue eyes. One year of not seeing Jason’s infectious smile. One year of not hearing Jason’s laugh that brightened my entire world.

How can he be gone? I just can’t seem to process it. I don’t know how to do this…whatever “this” is…and how to keep on doing it without Jason.

I had hoped the bulbs I planted in the fall by the crash site (various types yellow daffodils for Jason and purple and white crocuses for Alina) would be blooming by March 3rd. A lot of them are up and the buds are so close to opening. I just wanted something of vivid beauty to bloom at a site that signifies death.

I sent out Jason’s poem [the one I had printed on cards] on Friday and Saturday to his friends and to people who meant something to him. I really wanted the cards to arrive on March 3rd. I think a lot of people will be thinking of Jason and Alina, anyway. Maybe the poem will be an encouragement.

Oh, my boy, I miss you so. I can’t wait to see you again.

The Return

In the blink of an eye, there came a stillness in mid-storm.
The thunder ceased its roll, and the lightning its bolts
The rain dried its drops, and the clouds parted with anticipation.

From the sky there came a sound,
The sound of a solitary note.
Without hesitation, a chorus of voices joined
Filling the sky in joyous song.

Slowly, a man descended
With arms wide open – ready to embrace.
He had a sparkle in his eye
And his face beamed, giving unknown comfort.

Like a wave across the ocean,
The earth’s population fell to the ground.
Their eyes filled with tears of joy
For they knew they were going home.

Like a father’s touch across the face there came a breeze.
In that instant, a whirlwind of fire engulfed the earth,
And the long awaited reunion finally came to pass.

By Jason Carney, September 2000

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney