The promise of spring

 

img_8491

After Jason died, my husband, daughter and I had to drive by the crash site nearly every day on our way to wherever we were going – work, school, mall, etc. It was an incredibly difficult thing to do, an in-your-face reminder of the horrific event that happened at that very site.

In an effort to bring beauty into the darkness that spot represented, I bought daffodil and crocus bulbs and planted them on the side of the road – varieties of bright, yellow daffodils for Jason and purple crocuses for Alina. Alina loved the color purple, and bright, yellow flowers have always seemed to me to represent Jason’s bright, sunshine-y spirit and kind heart. That first year, I planted bulbs among the remnants of shattered glass from the cars that collided there.

Crocuses and daffodils bloom early in the spring, very near to the anniversary date of Jason’s and Alina’s deaths. As March 3rd approached, I watched for the promise of spring, for those bulbs to push through the ground with hope and beauty.

I wish I could say that beautiful daffodils and crocuses thrived and came up each spring as a symbol of new life from the harshness of death, as symbol of the hope of spring after a dark winter, but they didn’t. No matter how many times I planted the various bulbs or how much I tried to prepare that hard soil on the side of the road, they did not grow well or flourish. One year, though, a few plants pushed their way through the ground and the blooms actually opened on March 3rd. I gave it my best effort in trying to make beauty out of the ugliness.

My husband and I were out at the Biltmore Estate this past weekend, and I saw these flowers (in the picture above) – one little purple crocus looking up at a group of bright yellow daffodils. It reminded me of my efforts to bring the beauty of new life from the ugliness of death.

sc005b3ea6

Jason loved to giving flowers to the people he cared about. When he was in the play “Our Town,” he brought a rose to every girl who was in the show on the night of the final performance. He gave flowers to me, to Jenna, to his sweetheart. He gave daisies to a friend for her birthday. As a little boy, he would pick dandelions and bring them to me.

img_3605

Jason loved the movie “You’ve Got Mail.” When Joe Fox (Tom Hank’s character) brings Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan’s character) flowers when she was sick, he brought daisies and she said, “They’re so friendly. Don’t you think daisies are the friendliest flower?”  Yes, they are friendly flowers, indeed. They remind me of my boy and the kindness of his heart.

img_2131

Beautiful, friendly flowers remind me of you, my precious boy. I miss you. I love you.

~Mom

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

All photographs are specifically owned by Rebecca R. Carney and may not be copied or saved without permission.

Photographs and Memories

 

“Why are the photographs of him as a little boy so incredibly hard to look at? Something is over. Now instead of those shiny moments being things we can share together in delighted memories, I, the survivor, have to bear them alone. So it is with all the memories of him. They all lead into blackness. All I can do is remember him; I cannot experience him. Nothing new can happen between us.”

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

 

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

See You Again

 

I realize this song can mean many different things to many people, but, to me, it speaks to my heart of how much I miss Jason. I know I will see him again, just not on this earth. I know that my emotions are close to the surface right now; this song really made me cry tonight.

Jason, you are forever in my heart. The thought of you makes me smile; it also makes me cry. Memories call me back to a time when you were here. I try so hard to stay strong, to honor your memory. I miss you. I love you.

Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
Said goodbye, turned around
And you were gone, gone, gone
Faded into the setting sun,
Slipped away
But I won’t cry
‘Cause I know I’ll never be lonely
For you are the stars to me,
You are the light I follow

I will see you again, oh
This is not where it ends
I will carry you with me, oh
‘Till I see you again

Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can hear those echoes in the wind at night
Calling me back in time
Back to you
In a place far away
Where the water meets the sky
The thought of it makes me smile
You are my tomorrow

I will see you again, oh
This is not where it ends
I will carry you with me, oh
‘Till I see you again

Sometimes I feel my heart is breaking
But I stay strong and I hold on ’cause I know
I will see you again, oh
This is not where it ends
I will carry you with me, yeah yeah

I will see you again, oh
This is not where it ends
I will carry you with me, oh
‘Till I see you again
Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
‘Till I see you again (Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh)
‘Till I see you again yeah yeah yeah whoa
‘Till I see you again
Said goodbye turned around
And you were gone, gone, gone.

Songwriters
DAVID HODGES, HILLARY LINDSEY, CARRIE UNDERWOOD

Published by
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

Groundhog Day

We watched the movie “Groundhog Day” tonight on this February 2nd, the day celebrated in the United States as Groundhog Day. It’s a very funny and well-acted movie about a man who lives the same day over and over again, trying to figure out how to get out of that one day so he can move on to the future. He wakes up every morning when his alarm goes off at 6 a.m. to the realization that, no matter what he has done in the previous day, nothing has changed and he’s living the same day over again. He’s stuck. As the realization sinks in that he’s stuck living the same day over and over, his emotions and actions run the gamut from disbelief to frustration to doing stupid things to depression to suicide to trying to make himself a better person. After a while, he tries to learn new skills and to become a better version of himself, getting to know and care about the people around him.

Not to put a downer on a funny movie, but I had just a brief thought flash through my head as we were watching it. That’s kind of what it was like after Jason died. When my alarm went off, I woke up every morning from a sound sleep (a deep sleep from taking sleeping pills every night) to the realization that I was stuck in the same nightmare day after day. No matter what I did during the previous day, I woke up to the same nightmare every morning – the nightmare that Jason had died. As I went from that blissful, unaware state of sound sleep to a state of awareness and wakefulness, the horrible realization that our son had died hit me again anew each morning. There was nothing I could do to change the fact that Jason had died and I had to figure out how to make the best out of the day ahead of me without Jason. It took a very long time for me to feel like that nightmarish cycle ended and to see hope and future in a new day. I think there’s still a part of me that wakes to that nightmare every day, stuck in a world without Jason.

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

I Hurt

Crushed, trust broken, maligned

Feeling worthless, unvalued

Skewered through the heart

 

Cared deeply, tried so hard, invested so much

And to what end?

People leave without a second thought

 

3 a.m. awake and tears flow, brokenhearted

8 a.m. guard up and mask in place

Professional once again

 

God knows, God hears, God sees

God knows it hurts

I hurt

 

~Becky

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

Yes, you can die of a broken heart

When Carrie Fisher died this week, followed shortly by her mother, Debbie Reynolds, many people wrote about Debbie Reynolds dying of a broken heart. One headline I read proclaimed, “Debbie Reynolds Last Words…’I Want to be with Carrie’.” She was at her son’s house, planning her daughter’s funeral when she supposedly spoke these words and then died fifteen minutes later. Another article quoted Debbie Reynolds’ book, Unsinkable: “It’s not natural to outlive your child…This has always been my greatest fear. Too many mothers have lost their children, for thousands of different reasons. I don’t know if I could survive that.”

I could almost see a collective nodding in agreement from every person who has had a child die – understanding what it’s like to want to join your child following his or her death, and knowing that it’s not natural to outlive your child. In her column in the Washington Post, On Parenting, about Debbie Reynolds dying of a broken heart, Lexi Berndt writes, “Within the community of bereaved parents, there was a profound sense of understanding.” I understood.

One of the things that’s not talked much about following the death of a child is how difficult it is to go on living. Some experience physical difficulties. Some experience psychological difficulties. Some have a crisis of faith. Some parents have suicidal thoughts and want to die, even though they have never had a suicidal thought in their lives before. I don’t think many follow through, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cross their minds.

For me, early on, a thought would cross my mind once in a while, especially when I drove by the crash site (which all of us had to do nearly every day), how much I wished I could just drive in front of a big semi truck and die so I wouldn’t have to feel the overwhelming, crushing pain and grief of Jason’s death. It shocked me that I would even think such a thing! I had never had anything close to such a thought before in my life. Also, my doctor had prescribed sleeping pills for me and I very intentionally made sure i took one at night and put the bottle away so I wouldn’t take too many. I can’t lie – it was tempting at times to take the whole bottle so I wouldn’t feel such crushing pain any more. But, I intentionally chose to live.

Another article headline declared, “Broken heart syndrome is a real condition.” The article states: ” ‘It is a real disease,’ said Dr. David Winter, with Baylor Scott & White Health. ‘And we see this in tragic cases such as the Debbie Reynolds’ case…With a huge emotional outburst, stress hormones can go out in massive quantities to the blood…And in some people, more common in women, that can affect the heart…A sudden major stress to the body can cause a heart to stop, slow down, not pump effectively or even stop completely with a fatal irregular rhythm.’ ”

I believe it. I truly believe someone can die of a broken heart. My neighbor had a stroke following the death of her son. She didn’t die, but she’s never fully recovered from the stroke.

I know for sure that health can be impacted by deep grief following the death of a child. Research supports this fact. In his article, “Healing Your Body: Physical Practices for Mourners,” Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. writes:

When you are in mourning, you usually feel under-rested and overwhelmed. Your body is probably letting you know it feels distress. You may feel you have no strength left for your own basic needs, let alone the needs of others. Actually, one literal definition of the word “grievous” is “causing physical suffering.” Yes, right now your body is telling you it has, just like your heart, been “torn apart” and has some special needs!

Your body is so very wise. It will try to slow you down and invite you to authentically mourn the losses that touch your life. The emotions of grief are often experienced as bodily-felt energies. We mourn life losses from the inside out. In our experience as a physician and grief counselor, it is only when we care for ourselves physically that we can integrate our losses emotionally and spiritually. Allow us to introduce you to how your body attempts to slow you down and prepare you to mourn your life losses.

Among the most common physical responses to loss are trouble sleeping and low energy. It is so common we even have a fancy term for it-the “lethargy of grief.” You are probably finding that your normal sleep patterns have been thrown off. Perhaps you are having difficulty getting to sleep, but even more commonly, you may wake up early in the morning and have trouble getting back to sleep. During your grief journey your body needs more rest than usual. You may also find yourself getting tired more quickly-sometimes even at the start of the day.

Sleeping normally after a loss would be unusual. If you think about it, sleep is the primary way in which we release control. When you experience a life loss, you feel a great loss of control. At a subconscious level, you may notwant to lose any more control by sleeping. So sleep problems are very natural in the face of life losses.

Muscle aches and pains, shortness of breath, feelings of emptiness in your stomach, tightness in your throat or chest, digestive problems, sensitivity to noise, heart palpitations, queasiness, nausea, headaches, increased allergy symptoms, changes in appetite, weight loss or gain, agitation, and generalized tension-these are all ways your body may react to losses that you encounter in life.

The stress of grief can suppress your immune system and make you more vulnerable to physical problems. If you have a chronic existing health challenge, it may become worse. Right now you may not feel in control of how your body is responding. Your body is communicating with you about the special needsit has right now. Befriending and mindfully giving attention to your physical symptoms will allow you to discover your body’s native intelligence.

After Jason died, I felt like I had either a huge weight on my chest or a tight band around my chest, and this made it difficult for me to breathe. I started taking small, shallow breaths. It wasn’t until many months later that I realized that I was breathing shallowly and that my grief was affecting how I breathed, and I took steps to breathe more deeply so I could get adequate oxygen.

One thing I will say about the article that quotes Dr. Winter. At the end of the article, it quotes him as saying, “”To sit there and grieve and get very emotionally upset can be deleterious to you and can even cause sudden death.” When I read this, I pictured a person just sitting there and allowing (encouraging) herself to get overwrought and overworked with grief, beyond what she should have. I’m sure this happens, but it also, in my opinion, makes it sound like we have full control over grief and that we should not grieve or we should control our grief or not become “very emotionally upset.” This quote hit me as very condescending. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t feel like I had a lot of control over my grief for a long time, and I find this intimation that grief is controllable offensive. We need to make sure we allow people to grieve in a healthy manner and not encourage them to stuff it down.

Grief not only affects us emotionally. It affects us physically. To say that the death of a child breaks our hearts is more than just a trite saying. Jason’s death nearly killed me. Sometimes, as in the case of Debbie Reynolds, we can actually die of a broken heart.

~Becky

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Articles quoted and additional reading:

http://www.tmz.com/2016/12/28/debbie-reynolds-tmz-000/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/29/debbie-reynolds-said-outliving-daughter-carrie-fisher-greatest/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/12/30/debbie-reynolds-and-parent-grief-a-narrative-of-love/?utm_term=.cb25d66214e6

http://www.king5.com/news/health/yes-you-can-die-of-a-broken-heart/380451938

http://psychcentral.com/lib/your-health-and-grief/

http://griefwords.com/index.cgi?action=page&page=articles%2Fhealing_body.html&site_id=2