Another one of those “What Not to Say to Bereaved Parents” posts

I know it’s really hard to know what to say to a bereaved parent. There are some really good books and blog articles out there on what to say or not say, though, and I would like to encourage people to read them should they know someone whose child died. It would be really helpful for you – and, as a result, to the parent whose child has died – to be proactive in finding out what might help and what might hurt. Take the initiative – right away – to do some reading about will really help or what not to say to a bereaved parent.

One author on the Still Standing website writes:

If you’re a bereaved parent, you can probably count on at least five hands the number of phrases you wish people would never, ever say to you.  If only there was a way for the world to learn how to speak compassionately to the brokenhearted.  What many people believe is a comforting statement, most often is not…There seems to be a large gap between intention and what’s actually being communicated to those of us who are hurting. (

“A large gap between intention and what’s actually being communicated…” I think this is very true.

I know that, when people say things to a bereaved parent, most people usually have really good intentions. It’s just that the same framework that may work in other circumstances doesn’t necessarily work for a parent who has lost a child. The filters are different. The receiving heart is different. The deep, broken rawness of a bereaved parent’s heart accentuates and drives deep both the hurtful comments/actions and the well-intentioned stumbles in trying to communicate. What is intended to give comfort does not and may actually cause much more damage than good.

My precious Mr. JayOn Jason’s birthday last year, my sister shared a picture of Jason and wrote a nice tribute to him:

Let me introduce you to Jason, my nephew. He was fun, so smart, loved people, and had many friends, both his peers and adults. He loved Jesus. He and his friend Alina were killed by a drunk driver. He was 19. We live with two realities: first, our understanding that he is now in our future where we will all be together again one day soon, and then our present ache at his absence. He was loved. He mattered to his family. I wish we could all understand how important we are to someone. So today and always, I will remember Jason with great joy and I will smile.

It was a wonderful tribute, I thought, from the heart of a loving aunt. She also had quite a few nice comments, too, in response to her post.

However, one mutual acquaintance recently saw the photo and wrote, “…the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. Job 1:21…” (capital letters her emphasis). I must say this didn’t particularly comfort me in any way. What it communicated to me was that I was supposed to thank God for letting Jason die.

I believe that the Bible is the Word of God and has been given to us for instruction, inspiration, and edification. I believe hope and comfort can be found in the Bible. For some reason, though, I think Christians feel that, just because what they quote to a fellow Christian parent who has lost a child is a Bible verse, that it should be the ultimate comfort. I would strongly caution this assumption when quote Bible verses to a bereaved parent, though. I don’t think it necessarily comes across as the comfort you think it will.

I also strongly caution the same assumption about giving a book to a bereaved parent. Usually it’s a book about a fellow Christian – one, of course, who has walked through a difficult situation or great loss and has “triumphed” over his or her situation or loss – that is given to “inspire” the bereaved parent to “move on” or triumph over the tragedy. When giving this type of book, though, the message behind the gift that comes across is, “This person suffered a terrible tragedy and got over it. You should be able to do the same.”

Just a side note to books concerning bereaved parents: Most bereaved parents do a lot of reading, anyway, after the death of a child, trying to find resources that will help them. They usually read until they find some that help them, individually, concerning their own loss. For me, I have quite a library of books on grief. I purchased the books I read and marked them up extensively. Most have comments in the margins. Some have a big “NO” written through pages or paragraphs. Obviously, the some books were of more help to me than others. I always look to see if the author is a bereaved parent; next, if it has been been authored by a bereaved parent, I then look at when the book was written relative to the loss. To me, both of these make a difference in the “weight” a book carries when I read it.

I realize it’s usually just a matter of not knowing how to respond to a parent whose child has died. People don’t know what to say and a Bible verse comes to mind, so they say it. They see a book they think will “help,” purchase it, and give it to the bereaved parent. People want to say or do something – anything! – that will bring comfort to a parent whose child has died.

It’s important to realize that saying or doing these types of things may stifle honest communication from a bereaved parent about the grief he or she is experiencing. Let me say that again: These types of things may stifle honest communication from a bereaved parent. Instead of open communication, it comes across as “This is the Word of God and YOU WILL ACCEPT IT.” It puts unnecessary pressure on a bereaved parent to “recover” quickly. It makes the bereaved parent feel like he or she can’t talk honestly about the deep grief felt over the death of a child. It makes us feel, as Christians, that we don’t have the right to fully grieve our loss. It makes us feel that, because we have God “on our side,” everything should be okay. As I said in an earlier post:

In their book The Grief Recovery Handbook, J. James and R. Friedman (in a chapter entitled “Academy Award Recovery”) state, “In a relatively short time, the griever discovers that he or she must indeed ‘act recovered’ in order to be treated in an acceptable manner.” In order to not be left alone and for people to want to be around you, the griever has to take steps to only show an acceptable amount of grief so people are not uncomfortable. In our society, people who appear “strong” or who don’t bring attention to their grief or quickly recover from adversity are admired. Bereaved parents have an expectation put on them that they should recover quickly. If they don’t, there is a tendency to want to “help” a bereaved parent move on down the road. It’s usually not necessarily for their benefit, but rather so that people around will be more comfortable.

As Christian parents, we believe a child is a gift from God. We dedicate our children to God. We fervently pray for our children. We pray for their protection. We pray for their friends. We pray for their future spouses. We pray for their future children, our future grandchildren. We take our children to church and try to raise them in a Godly manner. We are thrilled when the day comes when they ask Jesus into their hearts.

I remember praying, as a fellow blogger wrote, for the person who would one day become Jason’s bride. I truly believed God was preparing a life partner for him. I truly believed I have the privilege of attending Jason’s wedding and being a grandparent to his children. I prayed and prayed and prayed for Jason – for all of my kids. I believed my prayers mattered and that God would answer my prayers. I “prayed” Bible verses for my kids.

The child of a Christian parent dies. Now what? How do we reconcile all those prayers for our children’s protection with a God who let our child die? For me, it hasn’t been an easy thing to do.

I believe Jason is in Heaven and that I will see him again one day, and that brings me comfort. I remember the day he prayed with my husband, asking Jesus into his heart. We were thrilled. I know that Jason loved God and wanted to serve him with his whole heart. In my mind, I still picture Jason standing in church the Sunday before he died, eyes closed and hands raised to God in worship.

What I’m trying to get across is that, more than anything, we as bereaved parents we don’t need Bible verses quoted to us or inspirational books given to us. You don’t have to say anything. Nothing you say will take away the deep grief of losing a child. We don’t need the additional pressure of feeling like we should respond a certain way or recover quickly, just because we are Christians. We need you to BE there. Please don’t disappear, just because you feel like you don’t know what to say or do. We need you to step into the messiness of our grief and hold us close as we cry. We need to honestly grieve the death of our child. We need to know you honestly grieve the death of our child. We need you to show God’s love by your actions. We need to know you care.

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney

A Crisis of Faith

As most people know, it’s not uncommon for a parent to have a crisis of faith following the death of his or her child.

What is a crisis of faith? One definition is “periods of intense doubt and internal conflict about one’s preconceived beliefs*”. The key words here are “intense doubt” and “preconceived beliefs.” Basically, it’s when we thought we knew something for certain (or perhaps took something for granted) in the realm of our faith in God (what we “see” with our spiritual eyes or experience and understand in our spiritual lives or believe to be true in the spiritual realm); but when it differs so drastically from what is the reality of our lives (what we “see” with our physical eyes or experience in our physical world), we question everything we believed. Our preconceived beliefs don’t jive with what we’ve just experienced. Trying to reconcile the two opposing concepts when they are at extreme odds with each other can lead to a crisis of faith.

One of the things I miss most since Jason died (besides Jason and my life as I knew it before my world was shattered) is my unquestioning faith in God. I remember times when my heart was so full with love for God that I thought it would burst. I don’t feel that way any more, at least for now. I remember standing by the cassette player (yes, cassette player) with my eyes closed, singing my pledge of devotion to God along with Andrea Crouch or Clay Crosse. I remember being so moved by a song as I sang in the choir that I could hardly get the words out. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15) was my anthem. I would have died for my faith, for God.

But what happens when it’s not you who are “slayed” and it’s your child who dies? What happens when you have to face life without your child, when you have to figure out how to go on living without your child? Then it’s not quite so easy to say, is it? I doubt that there isn’t one parent whose child died that gladly wouldn’t have taken his or her child’s place. I would much rather take the brunt of something awful FOR my children than it happen TO any of them. I would gladly have died in Jason’s place.

There are parents who seem to find a “greater good” or a “higher purpose” or find solace that God is in control of their child’s death. I just haven’t been able to do that. I woke up nearly every night, went downstairs to kneel in front of the couch and pray for my family, for my kids and their friends. I prayed with all my heart and all my being for my kids’ lives and their protection. And still Jason died. And still our family has had to walk through so many hard things, just a fraction of which I would tell most people. How do I reconcile those two?

I have had a crisis of faith. Does that mean I don’t believe in God? No. It just means it seems that what I thought I knew about God wasn’t accurate. It means that what I thought God would “do” for me, He wouldn’t or didn’t do. I thought that if I prayed for my kids that they would be protected. I thought that if I served God with all my heart and tried to do the right things God would make things right for me. I believed that God heard my fervent prayers, that my prayers “availed much” (James 5:16) in the kingdom of heaven and on earth, and that God answered my prayers. I believed God protected my family. I guess I sort of saw God like my own personal genie who could grant me whatever wish I wished for if I wished hard enough for it. That’s not faith; that’s wishful thinking.

Right after Jason died, I remember praying and praying that God would make something good come out of Jason’s death. I didn’t want Jason’s life and death to be for nothing. Both my husband and I felt, from the moment Jason was born, that God had great plans for his life. We felt that he was to do something great for God. And then God didn’t protect Jason and he died. After he died, I prayed that Jason’s life would be like a pebble dropped in a pond, that the ripples of his precious life would be like concentric rings and reach far and wide. Surely, there had to be more to Jason’s life and his living than he would die at the age of 19 before he barely was into adulthood. Surely, “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28),” don’t they? I guess I’m still looking for the “good” to come out of Jason’s death, as I can’t say that I’ve seen it yet.

I felt God’s presence incredibly close after Jason died. I felt the prayers of people who knew us, lifting us up before the Most High. Somewhere along the line, it seemed as though God wasn’t paying attention any more, that He really didn’t care about the anguish we were going through. Somewhere along the line, I felt like God had abandoned us. I felt like the heavens were brass and my prayers weren’t even reaching the ceiling. I felt that people were no longer praying for us. Somewhere along the line, it seemed as though God’s people didn’t care so much any more. God’s people abandoned us.

Honestly, I have to say that being left so alone by nearly everyone we knew added exponentially to my crisis of faith. Who were most of the people we knew? Christians. People in the church. People we had served and had served with in the church and homeschool community. Christian people I thought of as friends, as extended family since our own families were more than halfway across the country. I thought of Christian people as extensions as the hands and feet of God. I looked to them for support; I expected them to be there for us. Not only did God seem so very far away, out of reach and uncaring, so did nearly everyone else we knew. When you’re hurting so badly, it’s easy to confuse God, the church, and God’s people. It seemed that not only had God let us down and left us alone, so had His people.

I know I have beat this drum a lot in writing my blog – “we were alone, we were alone, nearly everyone left us.” “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms,” right? If that’s what you think, you’re missing the point. Many bereaved parents feel so very alone at the time they most need support. Many bereaved parents ARE left alone at the time they most need support, kindness, hugs, and an ongoing expression of God’s love. We ARE the hands and feet of God on this earth. We need to remember that.

I wrote in an earlier post about reading and relating to the Book of Job. Job suffered great losses. His “friends” came by to “comfort” him – more like confront him – in his grief. They accused him of sinning. He felt deserted by God, his friends and his family. He didn’t understand why God was doing this to him. God had been good to him, and now he felt like God was punishing him for something he didn’t do. He didn’t understand. He had a crisis of faith.

Is a crisis of faith a sin? No. It’s an opportunity to grow. It’s an opportunity to look carefully at what we believed and what we thought we knew, throwing out the wrong while trying to find the right. It’s an opportunity to learn that our ways aren’t God’s ways, as hard as that may be to accept or understand. It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that now we “see through a dark glass (I Cor. 13:12).” It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that we walk by faith, not by sight. We don’t know it all. All we know is what we can see with our finite eyes, and all we can understand is what our finite mind can comprehend. The rest has to be taken on faith.

I still struggle greatly with my faith. I still have more questions than answers. I feel like my faith is so small, and my ability to believe and trust in a God that seems to have let me down is small. I no longer see “the church” as a source of comfort or a source of friendship and support. I have very little desire to attend church. I need God to answer prayers for me right now. I need to see that he hears me and cares for the struggles my family and I are going through. I hope that He hears me more than I have an assurance that He hears me. I am worse for wear.

But, I know that this isn’t the end of it. I pray, though not with the fervency and unquestioning devotion as I once did. I try to water that root of faith I have had since I was a child. I know that root of faith goes deep, although most of the above-ground, visible manifestation of my faith may have been pruned. More often than not, in my prayers I remind God, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).” I remind myself of what I know for certain. I believe in God. I believe in heaven. I believe Jason is in heaven with his hands lifted in praise to the Most High, even as he was the Sunday before he died. I know that the grave was not Jason’s final destination. I know I will see him again. I know that someday I will join Jason before the throne of God, and then I understand. And that’s as good a place to start as any.

For further reading on Job, I recommend this post: The Trial of Job.


© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Caution: Cliche Ahead

I would venture to say that most bereaved parents tend to be a little sensitive when it comes to cliches and platitudes concerning grief. I know that I am. I try to remind myself, though, that I probably was once one who thought cliches and platitudes were just hunky-dory. I’m sure I thought I was being a help and an encouragement when I told someone to look on the sunny side of life.

I grew up that way. I grew up singing songs that told me, “With Christ in the vessel I can smile at the storm” and “When there’s a rainbow in the sky, the clouds of frown go smiling by.” I was reminded by bumper stickers to “Smile. God loves you.” I grew up feeling that, no matter what I was going through, I had to act and look like everything was okay. If I put a smile on and acted like everything was okay, eventually it would be okay.

Now, I’m all for a good attitude in life and toward life. I think that’s healthy. The “Eeyore’s” in our lives can pull us down after a while. A general Eeyore attitude all the time can put people off. But, I think there’s a difference between having a constant pessimistic attitude and honestly, truly grieving.

People (and I include myself in this) can be really good at the cliches, I think, especially when confronted with difficult situations (such as the death of a child) or when we don’t know what to say. Break out the platitude or “encouraging” Bible verse, slap it on the situation, and it will make everything okay. If the person to whom the cliche is given doesn’t “get” it, that’s their problem, their lack of understanding, their lack of faith.

I ran across a blog a while back that had a picture of an old box and contained the following text underneath the picture:

Carrying something like this around? A box weighted with grief, or resentment, regret, or pain. The best thing to do is LEAVE IT AT THE CROSS. Bring that box to Christ, He’s waiting patiently at baggage claim….

Now, I know there are things it’s better we just let go. That being said, I have to say, as a bereaved parent whose walk through grief has been long and hard, I struggled with the concept presented in this post. Do people honestly think that it is really that simple to deal with grief following the death of a child? Was that all I needed to do – lay down my grief at the cross – and all my pain would be “claimed” by Christ? No, of course, it’s not. That’s not even realistic. To me, such cliches are akin to putting a little Hello Kitty band-aid on a huge, gaping wound.

It also makes me wonder if the person who is espouses such cliches really thinks that’s the way it “should” happen. It implies that the person who has grief, resentment, regret or pain isn’t a good enough Christian or isn’t dealing correctly with these issues from a Christian point of view – according to the person who espouse such cliches. To an unseasoned griever, it additionally puts a boatload of guilt on him/her about what s/he “should” be doing. I don’t think that’s fair. We need to check those “should’s” at the door!

The Bible says that God near to those who are brokenhearted (Psalms 34:18). The Bible says that God collects my tears and records them in His book (Psalms 56:8). The Bible says that God is with us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23:4). There are many verses that talk about God meeting us where we are in the midst of our struggles. I don’t remember one about checking my baggage of grief at the door.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Happy Father’s Day

Written by my sister on Father’s Day:


My daddy, Arthur J. Knudson

He wore either a suit and tie or those tan work clothes from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. He wore a hat, either a ball cap at home or a felt cowboy hat when he went out. Black work boots that had a distinct resonating sound as he walked across the hardwood floors of our house. We knew his mood by the determination of his step. Smelled like Old Spice, coffee and cough drops. Wire rimmed glasses. Big smile and never knew a stranger. Standing in the pulpit, preaching the gospel. Teacher. Illustrator. Artist. Painter. Kind and generous. Musical, playing several instruments and sang. Intelligent. Spoke at least five languages and studied Bibles in each. Studied for and got his FCC licence just because he could. “We love you”, followed with a peck. He was stern, old school. Wanted to make sure that our actions didn’t give a “worldly” impression. Made sure we held our “Authors” game cards below the window level in the car so no one would think we were gambling in the back seat. That lasted about two seconds. Encouraged many who came in touch with him. Still hear from people in the vicinity of our little Wyoming town who knew him or appreciated his influence in their life. Pastor Art. Taught us how to pray and kept a Prayer and Praise diary his entire life. Loved to pull out his Bible maps and timeline charts to talk about the Second Coming. Loved God and loved being in His service. Ministry was his first love, being a school teacher paid for it. Great sense of humor. Thought dinner conversation should be useful, so he put a world map on the dining room wall. That’s where we learned about Russia and China and Norway. Devoted to my mother and was often found smooching her in the kitchen. Carried a horrible wound in his heart, but endeavored to walk in healing. Loved his Lazy Boy chair, which found its way to the dump after the memorial service. It was worn out. Declared he wanted to be in the pulpit when it was his time to pass on, and nearly did. Gave me a tearful welcome at the train station one time when I didn’t get off the train right away. He thought I had missed it. I was talking to a stranger. Wonder how I learned to do that! He is my Daddy. HAPPY FATHER’S DAY! (written by Doris Knudson 6/17/12,


Dad in the pulpit – where he loved to be









© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Sifting, Sifting, Sifting in the Process of Loss

Once again, I realized today how much I appreciate the blog community. I love reading something from a fellow blogger that provides a nugget of inspiration, challenge or thought.

This morning, as I caught up on one of my favorite blogs written by a woman who lost her home and all its contents to a Texas firestorm, I read a post written about the process of putting together an inventory and considering priorities following loss. My heart aches for her and the lifetime of history she has lost!! So many things – gone! – in one moment of time, beyond her control! It made me consider the sifting processes that have happened in my own life over the years and the things that really matter to me. Her post made me stop and think about what is really, truly important to me.

In the Inaugural Day storm that hit the Seattle area in 1993, a large double-trunked fir tree fell on the house we were renting at the time. Jason, Jenna and I – all who were watching from the kitchen window as the trees swayed dramatically in the wind – turned and ran frantically as the huge tree fell toward us. As it fell, the tree turned so that a trunk of the tree fell on either end of the house instead of both trunks landing right on top of us. One trunk fell right on the end of the kitchen table where Eric normally worked on his schoolwork; fortunately, he had stayed in bed to stay warm since the power was out. Although incredibly shaken by the whole experience, I was so thankful that my family was safe! Enough damage was done to the house that we had to move everything out in one day and put all of our stuff in storage until we found another place to live.

“Houseless” (notice I don’t say “homeless”), we stayed back-and-forth with a couple of families over the next few months as we tried to find a house to buy. Moving a family of 5 from place to place for months – while looking for houses and trying to maintain a school schedule – was not an easy thing to do. After making offers on a couple of houses and having the deals fall through, we decided to purchase a piece of land and contract to have a house built. Following Memorial Day, we left the friends we were staying with and headed out by car for a vacation down the West Coast to California. From there, I traveled with the kids to visit family in the Midwest for the summer while Joe returned to find an apartment to rent until our home was built.

When the kids and I returned in the fall to Seattle and the rental apartment, I discovered my husband (without consulting me, bless his heart!) had “gone through” everything we had in storage and “gotten rid of some things” he deemed unnecessary, condensing our houseful of goods (we’re talking 2400 square feet!) so that it fit into a two-bedroom apartment. Let’s just say that I am a collector, don’t change very easily, and have a hard time letting go of things; my husband is a minimalist, not a collector of stuff, and has little trouble letting go of most material things.

I LIKE my “stuff”!! My stuff reminds me of times, things, and people I want to remember!! There are memories tied to my stuff! There’s a reason I keep and hold onto my stuff! Although I will admit it took some major eye-blinking, tongue-biting and word-swallowing when I found out, I kept reminding myself how thankful I was that my family was safe and most important “stuff” was safe and in tact. At the time, however, I felt that a lot of what I valued and considered important was going through a sifting process of loss. I came to realize, without a shadow of a doubt, that I could live without all that stuff as long as my family was safe.

After being in an apartment rental for a year, we moved into our home. Ahhh…the room….the space…the four bedrooms! It was wonderful…and a space we managed to fill full with a lot of additional “stuff” over the next ten years.

After Jason died, I felt like I went through a major, long sifting process of a different kind. Relationships, expectations, future plans, dreams, hopes, faith – all of these and more went through the grinder of deep loss and then into the sifter. Many things fell out or got sifted out in the process – some by my choice, some through no choice of my own. Going through Jason’s room was a major sifting process, one that was incredibly painful and hard to do. It also became evident that our house – a house I loved in a state/location I loved – was too large for just my husband and me to manage on our own and that my husband was ready for a change – away from the “gray dome” of Washington, away from places steeped in painful memories and reminders of Jason’s death.

Since we were only taking bare essentials with us, I once again started the sifting process. Sifting, sifting, sifting. What did I really want to keep and what could I live without or replace? At times, I felt like if I heard the words “we need to get rid of” one more time I would scream! The only things we took with us to Oklahoma were some clothes, photos and a few momentos. As we continue to look for a place for our hearts to be at home, they are still the only things we now and are in storage in Oklahoma. I feel like I have been in a sifting process for so long!

In reality, we come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. I can only think of a few important number of things that make it out of the sifting process here on earth and into eternity – our tears, our deeds (good or bad), our eternal souls, faith, hope and love. Can you think of any more?

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Being present for those who deeply grieve

In the years since Jason died, I’ve read many “do’s and don’ts” lists in articles and books written concerning how to help the grieving. I’ve even written about how to help those who deeply grieve. Without a doubt, I think all of these lists and writings help and give understanding and insight.

As I read a blog this morning about being present for those who grieve, though, I started thinking that if I had to state how to help a person who is deeply grieving in only two sentences, this is what I would say: Be short on words, long on presence and compassion. Don’t offer an explanation; offer your heart.

That is the essence, the distillation, the easy-to-remember nugget, the “advice in a nutshell” for helping those who deeply grieve. If someone is in the situation of needing/wanting to help someone who is grieving, I hope s/he will take time to fully read the helpful “do and don’t” lists, but will use these two short sentences as a trigger or reminder of how to help.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Great Expectations

My husband and I started talking this morning over breakfast about expectations and hope. I had earlier read to him a portion of a blog written by a young mother who expressed grief that her birth experience had not been what she thought it should have been and how she resented being told that she should “get over it.” This precipitated a discussion concerning some of our own – well, specifically, some of my own – expectations and hopes that have not turned out quite like I thought they would.

My husband – bless his heart – is a very black and white person. I, on the other hand, am a person who sees both sides of the coin. Being a woman, I also approach things on a much more emotional level than he does, especially when it comes to things that hurt, are not fair to, or cause pain to my family. I have a tendency to expect things to go or to be a certain way. As I choked up while talking about some hopes and expectations close to my heart that have not turned out as I wished they had, my husband commented concerning a few, “That’s just not logical. There’s no reason to expect they should have turned out that way.” Ahhh – Spock and his logic (Star Trek) have nothing on this man!

I think, though, we are hardwired to hope. You know, “hope springs eternal” and all that. We then add our own expectations – sometimes unrealistic expectations – to our hopes. It’s hard not to add our own expectations (the “shoulds”) to the visions we hold close to our hearts. We picture things the way we want and think things should be – with hope and expectation. We have hopes and expectations for our relationships, for our families, for our kids, for our jobs, for our futures, for every aspect of our lives. We want, hope, expect for things to go a certain way. We want, hope, expect things to turn out for the best.

When Jason was in high school, I printed and framed Jeremiah 29:11 for him. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”* It sat on his bedside table. I expected Jason to prosper and to have a future. I believed God had a plan for Jason’s life – for all of our kids’ lives. I hoped for good things for Jason – for all of my kids. I expected God to protect my kids; I prayed for God to protect them and help them.

I hoped and expected my kids would all have good friends who would value them for the incredible people they are and stand by them through thick and thin. I hoped and expected that they find jobs that would be fulfilling and a life that would be equally fulfilling. I looked forward to my kids graduating from college, marrying, having children (probably). I hoped for the absolute best for my kids; I still hope for these things and pray for the best for my kids and grandkids.

I expected for our home to be a place to which our kids would return with their own families; one that would be filled with family, friends, and fun for holidays or for just any ordinary day; one where I could do crafts and bake cookies with our grandkids. I expected my life to continue on its path into a future I envisioned and had planned. I still have many hopes and expectations, although I feel they are more subdued than they used to be.

What I did not expect was for Jason to die. I did not expect to walk this long, difficult walk through grief. I didn’t expect people we counted on to disappear when we needed them the most. I didn’t expect to move from a place and home I loved. I didn’t expect my family to face some of the heartbreaks and difficult struggles they have. I didn’t expect to be 50-something (ah-hum) years old trying to better educate myself in order find a good-paying, fulfilling job so we can have enough money for retirement. I didn’t expect to have so much trouble finding once again a place to call home – a place where my heart feels at home – and a good job.

What do you do when your hopes and expectations aren’t met, when they disappear into thin air or are crushed to smithereens?

I think this has been one of the greatest struggles for me following Jason’s death and the ripple-effect of events/situations following his death. Sometimes it surprises me how long and far-reaching the ripples go and what they affect. I have a strong belief in the fairness of things and tend to expect that things “should” be a certain way. I still struggle sometimes with adjusting my expectations to the reality that now is. It’s hard for me to let go of those hopes and expectations when things seem unfair; I’m afraid I am not one to let go easily.

Proverbs 13:12 says: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”** Deferred means “withheld for or until a stated time”; fulfilled means “to measure up to…to convert into reality.”*** Sometimes I feel like I’m over the “hope deferred” parts of life and am ready for the “longing fulfilled” parts; I’m over the “heart sick” parts and ready for the “tree of life” parts. Sometimes I just want to say “Enough already!” and instantly see things change for the better. I’m ready for some of my deep longings to become realities. I think all of us would prefer the “longing fulfilled” rather than the “hope deferred.”

You just can’t pick and choose some things that happen to you, though. Sometimes our “great expectations” just don’t happen the way we think they should.

Joe and watched a movie a long time ago (I think it was Richard Dreyfuss in Lost In Yonkers) where the main character’s sister kept going on and on about how she wanted and pictured her life to be a certain way. It wasn’t turning out the way she wanted it to be, the way she pictured it should be, but she wasn’t actively doing anything to make anything change. She was just complaining about the way it was. Finally, in exasperation after listening to this for countless years, the main character turns to her and yells, “So, change the picture!!” Although some “pictures” are easier to change and some expectations are easier to release than others, that’s become a reminder to ourselves. “Change the picture!”

I don’ think it happens just like that – change the picture. And it certainly isn’t up to someone else to change the picture for you or, without solicitation, to tell you when or how you should change it. It’s your life; you have to own your own changes in order for them to mean something to you. Sometimes a person may ask an opinion or solicit help, but for change to really stick it has to mean something and come from deep within. No one can do it for you. Sometimes it’s a painfully long and agonizing process that requires painting over that ruined picture or a long time and hard, consistent work to plant a landscape so that it is no longer a vast wasteland but a beautiful, productive garden. The healing is in the process of change, one step at a time.

I don’t want to get stuck in my lost expectations or keep my focus on the hopes that have been deferred. I don’t want the landscape of my life to be of a wasteland of unfulfilled expectations or the way I wish things were; I want it to be a beautiful garden, that stained glass window through which God can shine. I want to keep learning and growing from the experiences I’ve had. I just keep reminding myself that there are so many things I don’t understand here on earth. Life isn’t fair. Why do things go well for certain people and not others? I don’t know. Maybe it just seems they do. I think most people have expectations that aren’t met and heartbreaks of their own. I won’t have the answers to why my some of my hopes were deferred and some of my expectations weren’t met on things that are important to me until I see God face to face. I will keep on hoping and doing the best I can.

I want Jason to be proud of me and the way I have lived my life. I want to get to Heaven and have God say to me, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” I want my life to mean something. I will remind myself to hope, to love, to forgive, to remember, to persevere, to appreciate those in my life who care, and to notice the beauty in each day. I will remind myself that some day I will understand, even though I don’t now. As 1 Corinthians 13 says:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.****





© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney