Becky, where art thou?

My husband and I went to see a movie last night. During the introductory commercials, they played the trailer for the new Jason Bourne movie, and it made me think of my best friend in Washington.

When the very first Jason Bourne movie came out, Joe and I went to see it with Mary and her husband. At one point in the movie, the villain jumped through a window and attacked Jason Bourne. It was a particularly tense scene and when the guy crashed through the window, I screamed loudly and startled Mary even further. At the exact same time, Mary grabbed my arm and startled me even further. We scared each other so badly. It was so funny. Remembering that moment makes me chuckle to this day.

Mary and her husband were the only people who intentionally stepped toward us after Jason died when everyone else stepped away. I think I’ve mentioned her before. I didn’t know Mary very well before Jason died, even though their daughter and Jason dated for a while. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Jason was so crazy about their daughter; he truly loved her. I secretly hoped they would marry some day. What a sweetheart! I would have loved to have her as my daughter-in-law.

A few months after Jason died, Mary asked me if I wanted to start walking with her. She kept asking me off and on for several months until I finally heard her through the fog of grief and we started walking together about six months after Jason died. As we walked, we got to know each other and eventually became dear friends. Becoming good friends usually takes time and consistency. Walking together provided exactly that – the time and consistency to become friends. I firmly believe people have to have room or make room for people in their lives. That’s what Mary and her husband did. They made room for us in their hearts and in their lives. We went to movies together, celebrated holidays together, walked together.

When the ad for the new Jason Bourne movie came on last night, I just had to text Mary to let her know I was thinking of her and how much I missed my movie buddy. Truth is I just flat out miss her. I miss my friend. I miss the person I was when she was my friend, and I miss that time.

Have you ever had something happen – you hear a piece of a song, see a scene in a movie, are driving somewhere – when all of a sudden, just for a moment, you are transported back to a familiar time that is so warm and comforting that it just fills you with longing for that time? As crazy as it sounds, that’s what happened when that Jason Bourne ad came on. Parents who have lost children talk about waking up feeling warm and cozy, and then reality crashes back in when they really wake up and they realize what they have lost. That’s sort of what happened, I guess. I had such a strong memory that it took me back to a warm and friendly place, and then I came back to the reality of my life as it now is. I had a stark realization, once again, one of the things I have lost.

There are two times in my life when I feel like things changed so drastically that I feel like I lost myself. The first time was when Jason died. That one was huge beyond any other. The second time was when we moved from Washington.

After Jason died, I felt like I was thrown into the deepest, blackest, darkest, scariest, loneliest ocean where the waves of grief were so huge and black that I thought I would never survive them. They would tower and crash over me one right after the other, and I felt like I wasn’t able to come up for air. I was madly swimming, trying to stay afloat, trying to swim back to some type of solid ground.

In one journal entry from that time, I remember writing about how I wish someone would just come along side of me as I swam – just for a while – so I could just grab ahold of the edge of their boat to rest for a while so I wouldn’t drown. I needed a friend. I was trying to find some land, some firm footing to stand on. I was exhausted. And then Mary and I started walking together. It funny, because we didn’t talk a lot about Jason or how I was feeling or whatever. She just walked beside me and was my friend.

Grief is such hard work. Trying to learn to live without your child is such hard work, and I worked very hard at trying trying to figure out how I was supposed to go on without Jason. I kept going to school. I applied for jobs. Mary and I consistently walked together and got to know each other as friends. I kept trying to figure things out. I was working very hard at trying to find purpose and meaning to my life. I was beginning to feel just the very vaguest possibility of getting close to some shoreline of a life ahead of me where I could feel the sand beneath my feet again, of some reason to go on, when Joe started pushing me really hard to leave Washington.

It’s hard when spouses are on different grief trajectories and have such different needs. How do you choose whose needs are most important to meet? Joe was desperate to get away from Washington; there were just too many memories there for him. I was desperate to stay and didn’t want to leave the place that was my home. But I felt like, if I didn’t go with Joe, he was so desperate for change that he would move without me. I just couldn’t take any more loss, and so we sold our home and moved. It was probably the worst thing we could have done for me. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from that move. I was nowhere near “recovered” from Jason’s death, and it then became more complicated when we moved. I’ve never recovered from either one. They are intricately combined.

I had to go through Jason’s room and get rid of things before I was ready to in order to get our house ready to sell. I had to decide what was important enough to me to keep and what to “get rid of.” I am rather a collector of things and Joe is a minimalist, so he kept insisting that I “get rid of” things. (Side note – never “get rid of things” under duress!! You will regret it. Pack it up in boxes for storage until you are in the right place to deal with it.) I had to move away from our daughter, from our grandson, from my one and only best friend. I had never in my life had a best friend who valued our friendship as much I did. But I was too exhausted to stand up for what was best for me. Besides, I’ve always been one to put the needs of those I love above my own. I bowed to Joe’s need to leave. Four years after Jason died, we left Washington and I felt like my anchor had just been cut loose and I was being pulled back into the ocean of loss.

Four years may seem like a long time to work on figuring out how to live after the death of a child. It’s really not. It had taken me 46 years to reach the point I was when Jason died, 46 years of living to develop the person I had become. Jason had been a part of our lives for nearly 20 years. It had been 20 years of living my life with him in it. And then Jason’s death truly shattered me. I don’t doubt that it will take me 20 years to figure out how to live my life without him.

My world was my family, my kids. When a child dies, there are so many multi-faceted aspects of a parent’s life that shatters. I remember writing at that time how I felt like I had been ripped away from what I knew and who I was, and had been thrown into a place where there were nothing was familiar. There were no landmarks to help me find my way back to my life and to the person I once was; there were no friends to help me find my way. I think part of the reason I felt that way was because my life was in a big transition already from homeschooling to preparing to re-enter the workforce. Then, after Jason died and we were left so alone, I felt abandoned in a foreboding and foreign land. Even with Mary and her husband as friends, we did most things alone and had to figure out things by ourselves. There were still a lot of holes in our lives left by people who had disappeared. There were huge holes left in our lives by Jason’s absence. I eventually learned that the Becky I used to be was gone and that I needed to work on finding and figuring out the “new” me. I had to do it for myself. As the saying goes, you can’t go forward if you’re always looking back, so I tried to focus on looking forward and moving forward. And then we moved from Washington, and it felt like so much of my forward-facing work was gone.

When we moved to Oklahoma, I pulled way back inside of myself and went into survival mode. It was as though a lot of the “new” me I had been working on was destroyed and I felt lost again. I never did connect to anything or anyone. No offense to anyone who lives there, but I hated Oklahoma. Since then, we have lived in Florida and North Carolina, and I still don’t feel “at home” anywhere or connected to anything or anyone. At times, I feel adrift and alone. Because my heart was so raw after Jason died, the pain of abandonment by  people we considered good friends went deep and has left me unwilling, in some ways, to trust people and open my heart to them. I haven’t really tried to make friends any place we’ve been since we left Washington. I almost feel like I have resigned myself to a lifetime without the connection and true comfort of friends.

I guess that’s what struck me last night in that moment of remembering. I miss the ability to be at home in my own skin, the freedom to laugh with a good friend, the huge welcoming hugs, the comfort of calling someone on short notice to hang out, the comfort of familiar things, the ability to connect to another human being, the ability to feel like I’m “home.”

I’ve been scanning photographs from negatives and prints to digital format. As I look at the person in those pictures, knowing it’s the me I used to be before Jason died, I think that’s made me particularly reflective. It’s funny how you can look back over your life and really see times where things drastically changed and realize how much those events changed you. I miss the me that I was before Jason died. I also miss the me that I was before we left Washington, the new me I was working so hard on. I lost something huge and valuable at both of those times in my life. I’ve never “recovered” (if there is such a thing) from Jason’s death.

Part of the reason is because I was thrown back into no-man’s land by moving away from a place that was home to me, away from a place and people I loved. It just felt – and still does – like it was too many losses. The primary loss of Jason. The secondary losses of friends. More losses when we moved. Too many losses. All I have left from our lives in Washington are 25 or so boxes of photographs and memorabilia. Everything else is gone. We rent, so we don’t have our own home. The place we rent was already furnished, so we don’t even have our own furniture. My feet were knocked out from under me by that initial move from Washington, and I was pulled back into that black ocean of loss. I don’t feel like we’ve ever found a place to really rest and be at home. No matter how hard I try (and I do try!!), I just can’t seem to recapture the energy to try as hard as I was before we left Washington. I just feel tired, tired of trying. I don’t feel as resilient as I was and I get weary of putting so much energy into moving forward. And I still feel so lost at times.

I just can’t seem to find enough remnants of the Becky that I once was to keep on rebuilding. They’ve got to be around here somewhere. I think I left some in Washington. I might have left some in Oklahoma or Florida. This one seems to have some pieces missing.

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

Washington Mudslide

My heart just aches for those who have lost loved ones in the Snohomish County (Washington State) mudslide. Having lived about 35 miles south of there for a number of years and still feeling like Washington is home, it feels very close and personal even though we are now all the way across the country and don’t really know anyone in that exact area. We’ve driven right down that road on the way to the Lumberjack Festival in Darrington. Such a huge tragedy…

Our hearts and prayers are with all of those involved…and for all of the responders who are working so diligently…

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Of Falling Trees and Such

As I lay in bed this morning listening to the wind whip through the trees on this blustery and wintery day, I realized I was wondering if one of them would fall on the house…and hoping and praying one would not. Once you have a tree fall on your house, you can’t help but wonder whether it will happen again.

On January 20, 1993, Western Washington State experienced what became known as “infamous Inaugural Day Windstorm.” As Bill Clinton was about to be sworn in as President of the United States, we in the Seattle area had other things on our minds.

It was a typical homeschooling day in the Carney household, although one where we were getting a slower start than normal that morning. Eric was having a hard time getting out of bed, preferring to snuggle down under the covers on that blustery morning. Joe had gone to work as usual, crossing the I-90 floating bridge across Lake Washington to his job in downtown Seattle. The rest of us were just puttering around the house.

Around 9:00 a.m., we heard part of a tree fall from our neighbor’s yard onto the fence that divided our properties in the back. Jason and Jenna climbed up on the kitchen counter to look out the window, as I stood behind them surveying the damage.

As we looked out the window at the damaged fence, something else very startling caught my attention. It looked to me like the big fir tree about 15-20 feet away from the kitchen window in our backyard was dancing. It sort of slowly lifted up and twirled to the right, settled back down, and then slowly lifted up and twirled to the left. It literally looked like it was dancing a slow ballet. It was an amazing sight to see.

Now, this was no ordinary fir tree. As it grew, it had split fairly low so that it had two trunks going at least 60 feet or so into the air. It was a big tree!! The trunks were situated so that one was toward the house and one away from the house.

All of a sudden, I realized the tree was no longer dancing, it was falling right toward the house…right toward the kitchen window we were looking out. I grabbed Jason and Jenna off the counter and turned to run. By the time I got to the kitchen doorway, it was all over.

Thankfully, the tree turned as it fell so that one trunk landed on the roof to the right of us and one landed on the roof to the left of us. The top of one on the left snapped off from the impact of hitting the house, and it whipped back in through the window over the front door to the house and a branch went through the front door.

There were several things that saved us that day. We weren’t at the dining room table where we normally would have been. Eric was still cozy in his bed and the rest of us were watching the storm out the kitchen window – just in time to run as the tree fell. If the tree had not turned as it fell, it would have landed with both trunks right on top of us, of that I have no doubt. If we had been closer to the front door or going down the stairs to the basement, we could have been hit by the treetop coming through the window above the door or by the shattering glass. Also, our landlord just recently (finally!!) had re-roofed the house, replacing any damaged wood. Being an older house, it had fairly thick and solid joists which gave it more strength to absorb some of the impact of the falling tree. Because the trunk of the tree split, the weight of the tree was divided between the two trunks. The larger, heavier trunk came through the roof above the dining room table right where the kids would have been doing their schoolwork on any other day, and the smaller trunk landed halfway across the length of the house above the front door (causing damage to the plumbing tree of the house, front window above the door, and the door) but didn’t come all the way through the roof.

I called Joe at work, asking him to come home right away because a tree had fallen on the house. He made it back across the I-90 floating bridge just before they closed it because of the wind. I called our landlord and had a hard time convincing him that a tree had actually fallen on the house (one I had tried to get him to cut down) and that the damage was more than something his aging father could climb up on the roof and fix. (Our landlord was something else, I must say!)

The city where we lived sustained the greatest number of damaged homes per capita in the area. Many, many other houses were damaged or destroyed throughout the area. Winds in some areas reached that of a category 1 hurricane. Buildings downtown Seattle swayed in the wind, making people nauseous. Power was out for days. Six people died and many others injured. But, none of us were hurt, just very shaken. I am so very thankful.

The house was so damaged that we had to pack everything up and move it into storage. We had people just show up to help us pack up our entire household in one day. Everything went into storage and stayed there (for months) as we looked for a house to buy. That’s another story.

Anyway, one of the first things I made sure was that all of the close-in trees at our next house were cleared. I couldn’t sleep when it was windy until I felt fairly certain we were out of reach of most potentially-falling trees.

The moral of this story is that you don’t ever forget traumatic events or tragedies. They are imprinted on your life. They become a part of who you are. Your heart doesn’t forget.

We now live in a house with trees close by, and I find that it makes me nervous when the wind howls through the trees as it is today. I don’t so much worry about myself being hurt; I worry about the ones I love. In my ignorance before the tree fell on our house, I knew that trees fell in high winds. I just never imagined one would fall on us. In my ignorance before Jason died, I knew that tragedy strikes families and children die. I just never imagined it would be us. Once you experience a great tragedy or a traumatic event, you never forget that you are not immune. Time passes, but certain things can take you back to that moment when you realized beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not immune from tragedies or traumatic events. None of us are immune.

I am so thankful none of us were hurt that day the tree fell on our home. I am so thankful for the people who rallied around us to help us pack up and move everything we owned in a single day. I am thankful for the people who invited us to stay with them while we looked for a house to buy.

But, I still don’t understand why God protected us that day the tree fell on our house (and I am certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that He did then and many other times), but He didn’t protect Jason from being hit by a drunk driver on March 3rd, 2002. I prayed and prayed for God’s protection for my kids. I feel like sometimes they were protected from danger or harm and sometimes they weren’t. We invested in the lives of others. Sometimes that investment returned to us and sometimes it didn’t. I don’t understand why people we counted on left us so very alone after Jason died. Protection and support one time; no protection and no support another. An exponentially greater tragedy; exponentially less support.

Sometimes there just aren’t any answers. Things happen, and I don’t understand why. I know that I now “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). There are so many things I don’t understand. Someday I hope I will.

© 2013 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