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