Hope

Our pastor preached on hope this past Sunday. I like our pastor. He’s funny. He gets his message across without condemning. He’s real. He’s also a bereaved parent, and that carries some weight with me.

But, it got me to thinking about hope. It’s what all of us, especially as bereaved parents, want. We want the “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” that old hymn talks about.

There are many things I believe and know. I believe in God. I believe in heaven. I believe that Jesus was born, died, and was raised again so that I could have eternal life. I know that Jason was a Christian and that I will see him again. I know that all of my questions will be answered when I see God. I know that, although I see through a dark glass now, someday I will understand. Someday all my tears will be wiped away.

Here on earth, though, sometimes I struggle. I have had a long struggle with my faith since Jason died. Research has shown that many bereaved parents question and examine their spiritual beliefs following the death of a child. I didn’t understand why God didn’t protect Jason after I had prayed and prayed for our kids, their lives, and their protection. I don’t know why we’ve had to walk this long, lonely, difficult path. I have had a long struggle believing the validity of fellow Christians actually being the hands and feet of God on this earth and getting into the trenches to help those who deeply grieve. I have questioned the concept of the church as a hospital for the wounded. I didn’t go to church for a while. It was just too hard. It’s taken me a long time to allow myself to “hope” again.

I can’t deny what we have experienced or what we have seen with our own eyes. It’s been a rough journey; that’s a fact. I would have to acknowledge that, for the most part, fellow Christians and the church failed us miserably after Jason died. On my part, I was extremely hurt and reacted by pulling even farther away. I built up a protective wall around my heart and hunkered down behind it.

Was that the right thing to do? I don’t know. In retrospect, probably not. There are many things I would do differently if I had to do them again. I did what I knew how to do  and what I had the energy to do at the time. That’s all any of us can do.

But, I don’t want to convey a hopelessness to others who may be early on in their grief. My experiences are not be the same as yours. There is so much more information available for helping those who deeply grieve. You are not alone. You will make it through. You are stronger than you know. Reach out to others. You may be surprised who reaches back. Others have walked a similar path before you. Those who have suffered a great loss generally have a deeper, more empathetic outlook on life. They survived; you will, too.

More than anything, though, I want to encourage those surrounding grievers to be proactive. Do something! You can make a difference! I want to encourage those in the church to look outside of their own group of friends or acquaintances to see if there is someone new or someone who is hurting. Someone may need more than your shaking their hand “good morning.” You can give hope by small acts of kindness…but you have to be involved with them beyond a perfunctory smile to do that.

It’s easy to stay within our comfort zones. We are creatures of habit. We like to sit in the same place at church or hang out with the same friends. We like to be around people we know. We go to lunch with the same people, go to the same Bible studies, attend the same social events. But maybe there is someone new who needs a friend or just a kind word. Maybe there is someone right in front of you who needs some hope. Are you unintentionally excluding someone who may need a glimmer of hope?

My dad used to joke about people who would pray, “God bless me, my wife, my son John and his wife. Us four, no more. Amen.” He wanted to encourage others (and especially “us kids”) to realize that there are more people that God wants to bless besides those within our own little circles…and he may want to use you to do it.

I have long contemplated how I can best help those who grieve. I have a “helper” personality and am strongly empathetic. How can I best help? I’m still trying to figure that out. Maybe this blog is one of my attempts to do just that.

I realize friendships and relationships take a while to grow. It takes time to connect. But there has to be a reciprocal desire by both parties. I may have a need to reach out to you and I may make the effort to do that; but if you don’t see me reaching out and reach back, there’s no chance for a connection. There’s no chance for a relationship. There’s no chance to encourage or give hope to someone who may need it.

Does that make sense?

There may be people around us reaching out for friendship, for hope, for encouragement. Do we see them? Do we take the time to notice? Do we take time to share some hope?

I subscribe to GriefShare and receive “A Season of Grief” daily emails from them. The last few have encouraged those who grieve to find support in a local church. Are we, as a church, prepared to do that? There are people, in their deep grief, looking to us for hope. Are we ready to show them hope – “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”? Are we, by our actions, ready to show them the God of all hope?

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:14-18)

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

“Inserting” People Back in Our Lives

From my journal dated December 16, 2002:

I don’t know if it’s Christmastime that makes it “safe” for people to call – people we haven’t heard from in months and months – but we have had more calls than usual lately. Maybe they feel like they’re on “safer” ground to call now that some time has passed. Maybe they think of us and feel they should call since it’s Christmas. Maybe it’s that they feel enough time has gone by that we should be “okay” or “better” by now. Some days it feels like I’ll never be “okay” ever again. I’ll probably reach a point of being functional, but I’ll never be the same.

I feel like it would be hard to just “insert” people back into our lives now, especially the ones we depended on, the ones we felt so abandoned us when we needed them most. Honestly, do people think they can just pop back into our lives after disappearing and being no support for so long, and everything will be the same?

I know in my head it’s true what I’ve been reading, especially in the Ann Finkbeiner book, After the Death of a Child. People don’t want to look at mortality when it comes to the death of a child. They don’t want to “catch” it for their own kids. It’s a hard thing to look at and to think about. It’s easier to look away, pretend like it never happened, wait until things are “better.” My head knows all that; I can reason it and maybe even understand it. But my heart doesn’t. My heart hurts. It hurt my heart when they all disappeared. It hurt my heart to see my family struggle alone.

The thing about people trying to reconnect with us now is that they want to reconnect the person they are – and have continued on the same path to be – with me (or Joe or Jenna), the person they think they know, the person they used to know, the person we used to be before the accident. They have been waiting for me to “come back” to them (as someone recently said to me) as the same person I was. They’ve been waiting for me to get over or get better so we can pick up the relationship we had as it once was.

The problem is that, while they may be the same person they were, I’m not the same person I was. For the most part, she’s gone; she’s changed. We’ve been devastated by the death of our precious son. Our world turned upside down. Nothing is the same. We, as a family, have had to walk alone through so many, many things. I’ve been crushed. I’m hurt. I’m still struggling. My heart has been broken. I’m less trusting of relationships. I’m so much more guarded.

When we go to Tulsa to visit my sister, we usually hang out with her friends. Her friends feel like they know me, because my sister has talked a lot about me. They know LOTS about me; my sister is quite the talker and shares nearly everything! The problem is that it’s one-sided. I don’t know them at all. I know hardly anything about them other than a name. I’ll start to tell some story – and they’ll say, “Oh, yeah! Doris told us about that! That was so funny!” They feel a connection with me and my life (through my sister) that I don’t feel for them. It’s not equal; it’s not reciprocal. They feel like they know me, but they are total strangers to me. I have to take the time to get to know them; they have to take the time to get to know the real me, instead their interpretation of my sister’s version of me. It’s an artificial relationship in that it’s not equal. It’s not real.

The flip side is true for me now. I know these people; I know quite a bit about them. I’ve known some of them for a long time. But they don’t know the person I am now. Do they want to take the time to get to know the “new” me? Can they accept the “new” me for who I am? Or do they just want to pick up where we left off before Jason died and just ignore or skip over the past 9+ months? They expect me to be the same. I may look like the same Becky, sound like the same Becky, act like the same Becky, but I’m not the same Becky I was on March 2nd.

It’s like we have to start all over again with our relationships. True relationships and friendships take time and energy. They take concerted commitment over time by both parties. I don’t think I have the energy right now. Sometimes I think it would be easier to start over with people I don’t know. We’d start on an even playing field. That way I wouldn’t have my own abandonment issues to deal with; we could start with a clean slate. Sometimes I wish people would just say they were sorry they left us alone. That way I would know they realize and acknowledge what they had done and how much it hurt us, so I could forgive them and move on. Maybe that would help. I don’t know.

The issues are mine. I bring them along with me whenever I see the people I know. I’m trying really hard to deal with them, to get rid of the hard feelings, and keep my heart right. But it makes it hard to just “insert” people back in my life. I can’t do it. It takes all the energy I have to do what I need to do. It takes a lot of energy to grieve, to keep on keeping on, to go to school, to take care of my family.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Dancing on the streets of gold

From my journal dated October 6, 2002:

They announced today at church that a lady from the church community died yesterday. “Dancing on the streets of gold in her red tennis shoes,” they said.

I’m sure she is!

She and her husband have two little boys, though, and the gal making the announcement today said that she had promised the husband the church would help raise them.

I wanted to say, “Please don’t make any promises you don’t intend to keep.” Not that I  think the person making the announcement today doesn’t intend to keep her promises, but so many people don’t realize that this is just the beginning…the tip of the iceberg. The major stuff is still to come – learning to live without your loved one – and it goes on and on.

The initial meals and whatever are great. But then people tend to disappear. Everybody moves on and leaves you alone to do stuff by yourself and deal with stuff on your own. Maybe that’s just my perception. Maybe it makes a difference if you’re better connected, especially in a large church. I don’t know. I can only speak from my experience.

I hope they have all the support they need for a very long time…as long as they need it.

“That’s my mom!!”

From my journal dated June 11, 2002:

Had a call from a lady at church yesterday. She lost her son when he was 13; would have been 41 now.

Someone must have assigned her the job of calling us. I don’t even know her, and yet she acted like she expected me to open up. I’m too private for that. She said I have to go on for my other kids, that God is in control and has a purpose for “allowing” this. I struggle with the “allowing” part!!! If God is such a good Father God to us, why would He allow this to happen? Would we “allow” such a thing to happen to OUR children?

Then she asked if I was bitter and told me to ask God to forgive me for being bitter. She also said that God may have allowed Jason to die to prevent something worse down the road.

WHAT???!!

I agree that we don’t see the whole picture now, but some of what Christians say to us is ludicrous! No doubt about it…I’m struggling big time with the picture of God as a good God and merciful Father…and struggling to reconcile what I’ve learned and taken for granted with Jason’s death.

I believe Jason would have gotten married, succeeded wherever he went, would have been a great daddy to his kids. That’s what I believe!

“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” How does that fit? I served God, I prayed and prayed for our kids and their friends. How do I believe now that my prayers “have power with God and with man” when they didn’t protect Jason? When they haven’t helped Jenna since Jason died? When God’s people have left us so alone?

I feel like I’m examining my beliefs to the very core of them. Every concept, every cliche, every sermon, every song, every whatever…I question whether I believe it’s true or not…and I look around and wonder if other Christians really know what they’re saying and singing. Does it actually mean something to them…to me?

So many songs at church don’t hold much meaning to me right now…only the ones that talk about God being holy and worthy. I know Jason is standing before the throne of God singing those same things. I feel torn between being mad at God for not protecting Jason…and wanting to add my voice from here with Jason’s up in heaven.

I want to live my life worthy and upright. I want Jason to be proud of me, to look down from that great cloud of witnesses and say to those around him, “Look at her!! That’s my mom!!” My dad is there, the baby we lost, my grand-nephew Gavyn, Jason, Alina…all gone ahead of us. All cheering us on. It’s hard to be the ones left behind.