Always a good reminder…
Today is my birthday. Birthdays – some birthdays more than others – seem to be much more of time of reflection, don’t they? Reflection on the past year, past decade, lifetime, hopes, dreams, accomplishments, whatever. I think it depends where you are in your number of years or your stage of life that sort of determines how deep and thoughtful that reflection is. Since I am (shall we say) closer to retirement than not, I have felt more reflective this year than previous years. My, how the years have flow by! It doesn’t seem possible.
My husband and I made a conscious decision to homeschool our kids when Eric was little. As Jason and Jenna joined our family and became school age, we just added them into the homeschool mix. Each year we re-evaluated to see if it was still a valid option for our family and if it was something we still enjoyed. And each year we decided it was, right up to the time when – one by one – the kids went off to college under the Running Start Program. When Jenna started college, it was time for me to look at the next phase of my own life.
Now, if I ever have the ear of young homeschool moms – or any young mom who has decided to stay at home with the kids – I would recommend not waiting until the “next phase” is upon her to begin making plans. I would recommend starting way earlier! Take a night class. Learn some marketable skills. Start a small at home business that can grow into something larger. Do something to make or keep yourself marketable when and if you go back into the workplace. That’s the advice I would give myself if I could go back and talk to myself when my kids were young.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved homeschooling the kids and wouldn’t change it for a thing! But, as it was, I waited until we were done homeschooling and the kids were in college or out of the house to really consider the next phase of my life. The first quarter our youngest, Jenna, started college, I rattled around a bit, lost. I had been homeschooling for a long time, and I was very aware that I was a transitioning into a new phase of life. Strange as it may seem, all those years went by very quickly and, the next thing I knew, I was done homeschooling. I felt in a state of “Now what?”
By January, I had figured out a game plan and I made purposeful decisions for the making the most of the next stage of my life. I figured I had about twenty years or so of prime earning years left to work before retirement. My plan was that I would go back to school, finish my degree in Business Administration, get a good job, move up the ladder, make lots of money to save or invest for retirement, see my kids get married and have kids of their own, hopelessly spoil my grandkids, have a nice nest egg on which to retire, and grow comfortably old with my hubby. I had plenty of time to accomplish what I needed to accomplish in those remaining, highly-productive years. Joe still had a good job and had quite a few years left to work. We would be set when we retired! I went back to school to put my plan into action just months after our youngest started Running Start at the local college.
Eight weeks into my first quarter of school, Jason was killed by a drunk driver.
To say that Jason’s death changed me and changed my life would be a huge understatement. It about killed me. Seriously, it just about killed me! Jason’s death crushed me so badly I don’t even know how to describe it. I felt like I had been put into a mortar and the person that I was – my life, my hopes, my dreams, my very being inward to the core of me and outward to the outermost extremities of my life – was in the long, slow, torturous process of being ground to a pulp. The “Becky” I knew was gone. I didn’t even know who I was any more. I didn’t know who I could count on to be there for us. I didn’t know where we fit in. I didn’t know what to do with my life or how to keep on living without my precious boy. Everything you can think of went into that grinding process. It just went on and on and on day after day, year after year.
Burying our precious boy. Disappearing friends. Being so lonely I could hardly stand it. The deafening silence of the empty house. Going through the whole court ordeal for driver of the car that killed Jason and Alina. Watching my family struggle. Selling our house and leaving Washington. Wandering, wandering, wandering, trying to find a place to call home.
I struggled with some PTSD-type symptoms for quite a while, although was never diagnosed – anxiety, fight-or-flight response, noise sensitivity, emotional numbness, reliving the night Jason died over and over, etc. I was depressed for a long time and had a hard time finding a reason to live. My doctor had prescribed sleeping pills for me the day Jason died, and I took them for a long time just to get some rest at night so I could function during the day. Some days, I specifically had to concentrate on taking just one of the sleeping pills and putting the rest aside. Some days I was in so much pain and I felt so broken and lost, I really wanted to take them all. I tried to keep my focus on living for my family until I could find a reason to live again for me.
I kept going to school after Jason died and was on the Dean’s list every quarter. I don’t know how I did it, quite honestly. I graduated from Edmonds Community College, but felt too burned out to transfer to the University of Washington to finish my BA. Besides, at the time, Joe was very ready to leave Washington, so I wasn’t sure it was worth it to start something I couldn’t finish. Wish I had finished my BA. It’s hard to go back to school once you leave it.
We moved to Oklahoma and I got a job in a law office in Oklahoma. Oklahoma was not a good fit for us, although I really liked working for an attorney who specialized in estate planning, probate and guardianships. We moved to Florida to be closer to our daughter, and I got my paralegal certification from the University of Miami. I also took the national certification test, passing the first time through on the three-day test (even though the first-time passing rate was 45%). I studied so hard independently for that test (I bought college text books on five areas of law and studied them on my own at home). I was so proud when I passed that test. But then I couldn’t find a job as a paralegal. In South Florida, you have to speak at least two or three languages to get a job in the legal field. Since I was competing against foreign native speakers in an already highly competitive market, I looked and looked, but couldn’t find a job. The same was true once we moved to North Carolina, so I am now working in yet another profession. The guys I work for are great, so I can’t complain one bit.
But, as you can see, my 20-year plan to work, earn money and get set for retirement hasn’t happened. It’s been a hodge podge path since Jason died. My train got violently knocked off its tracks. Both mine and Joe’s did. I feel like both of us lost quite a few “productive” years.
Joe is what I call “involuntarily retired.” A couple of years after Jason died, the company he worked for went through some downsizing. Joe was so burned out and drained from everything we had gone through that, when he found out someone was going to be laid off, he volunteered to be the one laid off even though he had seniority and no one wanted him to go. He figured it would be better for him to be laid off than some younger guy with young kids at home. Besides, he had plenty of working years left for another career, didn’t he? Well, that hasn’t exactly happened, either.
I’m not saying all this to make people feel sorry for me. I’m just reflecting on my life so far. I’m just saying that I feel like I’ve lost a lot of productive years – years I can never get back – after Jason died. I lost me. I lost my focus. I lost the life I once knew. I lost my hopes, dreams and plans. I feel like I didn’t accomplish much of anything in those years after Jason died. I really tried hard, but I felt like I was swimming in molasses. I guess that’s just another “cost” for me following the death of a child. I feel like I finally have the focus and energy to get back “on track,” whatever that is. Now if I only had more years to get done what I need to get done before I have to retire. I don’t feel like I have enough time left. Nothing I can do but do the best I can with the time I have.
Time is not always on our side, is it? Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
Has anyone else experienced the feeling of “lost” years/time following the death of a child? Would love to hear your input.
© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney
32 years ago, we welcomed Jason David Carney into our lives. We were so privileged to have Jason born into our family. We love you and miss you so much, Jason.
I think of these days as “the ghosts of holidays past.” The Christmases, Thanksgivings, birthdays, vacations, events and things we used to do together as a family, various and numerous holidays. They’re the days that tug on my heart, reminding me of times gone by that will never come again. You see, no matter how long it’s been since Jason died, I will always miss those times when we were all together for a holiday or whatever. Those times can never come again, because there’s no way on earth we can all be together now that Jason is gone. Part of our family is always missing.
Jason loved the 4th of July. Barbeque. Fireworks. Friends. Just being together. We always had so much fun celebrating the birth of our country.
I’ve been sad today, and I’ve been struggling. I can’t ignore it. I can’t deny it. I might as well just acknowledge it. I’m not always sad, but today I am. I’m sad. I miss those times. I miss my boy. I wish he were here to celebrate this day with us. Jason loved to have fun. He always made everything so much fun, so much better.
I miss you, my Mr. Jay.
© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney
My husband and I recently returned from a trip to Washington, DC. On our way home, we drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s such an incredibly beautiful place, and I realized as we were driving along that I felt like I wanted to physically pull the beauty inside of me. I almost felt like I was a parched, desert wanderer wanting a deep, refreshing drink from the beauty around me. I wanted the beauty to soak deep into my very being, into my life, into my soul. It was like I wanted the beauty to refresh me and to bring a measure of peace and beauty into my life. I wanted to apply it to heart, to my hurt, to my life.
I don’t feel that way all the time, but there are times when I am very much aware of that same deep craving for beauty – as we drive onto the Biltmore Estate, as we hike up to a waterfall, as we drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall, when I see a particularly beautiful picture or piece of artwork, when I see a sunrise or sunset.
As we drove along home that day, I started analyzing why I feel so strongly at times that I need to pull beauty inside of me. I think I’m trying to apply some beauty to the places in my life to the places that still hurt so much, to the places that are still broken, to places that have been made ugly or feel empty by the things that have happened to me – by Jason’s death; by friends disappearing and leaving us so alone; by selling and moving from a home I loved and a state that was home to me; by having to “get rid of” so many things that were important to me until I feel like I have hardly anything left; by wandering and wandering and wandering and wandering, trying to find a place of peace and beauty that feels like home again…and never quite succeeding; by trying to come to grips with things in my life that are beyond my control and being confronted with things that I just wish I could make better.
I know it may seem strange to try to apply something so abstract as “beauty” to one’s life. I remember, not too long after Jason died, feeling that I just wish people would be kind to me so that I could apply the salve of “kindness” to my broken heart. I felt like kindness would help me heal. I suppose neither one of those is much different than trying to find “love.” They’re all rather abstract concepts. We all have needs in our lives such as these that we are trying to fill, broken or hurt places we are trying to mend. I guess trying to apply the beauty I see to the broken areas of my life is one of mine as bereaved parent. We all need beauty to balance out the harshness in our lives. We need rest to balance out the hard roads we travel. We need joy to balance out the sorrows.
I don’t feel as broken as I once did, but the analysis of why, at times, I feel I need an almost desperate need to absorb beauty into my life made me realize there are still many broken places in me. I think that’s just the way it is for a parent whose child has died. We are broken people, broken in ways most people wouldn’t understand. We are confronted with our losses in so many places and at so many times. Our brokenness just doesn’t show all the time or in ways one would expect. When it does, I guess we try to find the beauty in the ashes.
© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney
I received an incredibly touching comment on one of my blog pages this morning:
When I was young in the early 1970′s, my father would take me fishing and hunting with him in Wyoming. We spent lots of time around LaBarge Wyoming. On Sundays, as we drove along beautiful rivers and streams near the Salt River Range and the Wyoming Range, my dad always found ‘The Singing Knudsens’ on the radio. I believe it was KMER, the radio station out of Kemmerer. We thought you guys were great. I remember thinking how brave you must have been to sing on the radio. I think about those times a lot because I was very close to my father. Those were such incredible times. I was just thinking about LaBarge, my dad, and listening to the Singing Knudsons. I searched the internet and found you here. I have three sons of my own now. I was truly heartbroken when I read your story. I can not imagine losing one of my boys. I wonder if I could even survive it. You and your family will always be very special to me. I wish happiness and love to you and your family always. Thank you for bringing much to mine.
It was such an encouragement to me right now, and was something I really needed to hear. I have been struggling lately with not being stressed and discouraged with some things going on in our lives.
This was so timely and such a huge reminder that we can’t really see the big picture at any given point in our lives. Sometimes it seems as though our lives don’t make a difference no matter how hard we try. Something I was just a small part of so long ago made a difference in someone’s life. My family is a part of some wonderful memories of special times Peter spent with his dad. That’s just amazing and so very humbling to me. Thank you, Peter, for such a huge encouragement and the reminder to keep on trying when it seems like what you’re doing isn’t making any difference. You just never know when, how, or whose life you may be touching.
© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney
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