“Angry stage”? Perhaps.

This is probably the harshest, angriest journal entry I wrote after Jason died. I was very hurt at the time. The mama bear in me raised her head and roared. The “angry stage” of grief? Perhaps. I’m not a big fan of labeling stages of grief. They make grief look too neat, too tidy, too linear, too easy for someone else to apply their own assumptions to where the griever should be in the “stages” or what the bereaved should be doing. In an effort to promote understanding, I have promised not to shy away from the harsh things we faced following Jason’s death, so I am including it below. It’s where I was and how I felt at the time. I was angry.

From my journal dated January 4, 2003:

Well, we took the Christmas tree and decorations down today. All is put away and cleaned up for another year. Every Saturday and Sunday are the same – and this one is no different. We do what we need to do, and then we sit on the couch and look at each other. “Now what do we do?”

Janice stopped by last evening and brought us some flowers. If she’s in town, she tries to remember the 3rd in some way. I really appreciate that. Since we were about to sit down to dinner, I invited her to join us.

Janice started asking Jenna about what she’d done and about who she had seen over Christmas, specifically asking if Jenna had done anything with [the two gals who stopped by the other day for coffee where Jenna works]. I think Janice thought people who were home from college would get together with Jenna. She thought friends would call, invite her to do things with them. People like to picture happy, rosy scenarios – when it’s just not that way. After Jenna left, I just vented some of my frustration about “friends.” I’m just so mad. I honestly can take the desertion for myself, but it’s just so hard to see how everyone has been treating my family.

We’ve served in the church, in the homeschool community. We’ve opened our home and lives over and over again. I’ve spent hours and hours praying for our kids and their friends. We’ve cared about them, invested our lives in them. Now they avoid us, pretend they don’t see us, duck down the next aisle at the grocery store. It makes it hard to respect some of the Christians we know. Aren’t Christians supposed to have a heart after God? Aren’t Christians supposed to be the hands and feet of God on this earth? Doesn’t the Bible say that faith without works is dead?

Janice kept saying how, whenever she sees anyone we know, they ask her how we’re doing. They tell her they think of us daily, that they’re praying for us. They very well may be, but…honestly! How are supposed to know that? We see no evidence of it at all! To leave us so alone, we really can’t tell one way or the other.

Janice said the typical “people don’t know what to do, don’t know what to say, don’t want to intrude in our family time.” Intrude on our family time??!! Really? Our “family time” all by ourselves screams the lack of Jason’s presence. Our “family time” emphasizes the huge hole in our family. Our “family time” isn’t what it used to be; it’s not what everyone must picture. Jeesh!! I have such a hard time swallowing those excuses. That’s what they are – excuses! I told her I don’t understand how practically everybody we know doesn’t have the guts to step up to the the plate and be here for us. Seriously! Where are they? Even if some of these kids and parents are dealing with their own grief, can’t someone step up to the plate?? Anyone? We know lot of people!!

I told her that it’s almost too late now for any of these people to try to “be there” for us. It’s been so long…too long. How do we trust them? How do we believe that NOW they want to be around us?

I don’t want Janice to feel that she needs to go and “talk” to people, to guilt them into calling or trying to hang out with us or whatever. I made sure she knows that motives are extremely important to us. We are not a project. We don’t need anyone to sweep in and fix us or rescue us. We don’t want anyone to do anything out of guilt. Either they want to be around us or they don’t. Either they care about us or they don’t. Either it shows or it doesn’t.

Janice said several times that a lot of people care about us. Really?? Where are they????? It’s really hard to tell. Are we just supposed to “feel” the caring in the airwaves? Maybe it’s the “faith” kind of caring. We just have to have faith that people care…because we sure flat out don’t see it and we don’t feel it.

I told Janice I can’t wait to move far away. She said it would be starting over in a place where we didn’t know anybody, that at least we know people here and there’s a chance to restore relationships. But how do we trust those relationships now? How do we believe these friendships and relationships are true? If they are true, why have all of us been so alone since Jason died? Do I want to restore those relationships? How would I go about doing that? How do I trust them? It just looks like so much work on my part. Even thinking about it is exhausting.

Trust once broken is not easily mended. You don’t just snap your fingers and things are as they once were. I trusted those people! I trusted them to be here for us when we had absolutely no family close by. They knew we had no family here. I trusted them to be gentle with our hearts. I reached out to them and they did nothing! They did nothing!! Nothing! I told Janice trust has been broken in those relationships, and I don’t have anywhere near the energy that it would take to restore them.

In talking later with Jenna about what Janice and I discussed, Jenna said, “People and the way they have treated us have made it 100 times worse.”

“100 times worse” may be a little high, but it definitely has caused wounds on top of wounds. It has affected us. It has made this grieving so much harder. So much lonelier. People don’t see that when they do nothing they create a greater hurt or wound than if they at least tried to do something. Even doing something small with the right heart is better than doing nothing!

A small kindness goes a long way. If people just put on their thinking caps – along with a little sensitivity – a person of any age can do a small kindness that helps the healing…or at least momentarily lessens the hurting to some degree. It doesn’t take much, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or some aged wise man to figure out something small that would help. Kindness. We just needed kindness heaped our broken and wounded hearts.

Janice has a tendency to excuse the “kids” – Jason’s and Jenna’s friends. “They don’t know what to do.” “They don’t know how to deal with it.” Okay. I can understand that. Truly, I do. But when they ignore “it,” they ignore us. We pay the price again and again. How do I trust or respect these people again? I just don’t believe people any more. I don’t see how they could possibly even care when it looks to me like they haven’t even thought of us in months and months. At least, that’s the way it looks from this side. They haven’t even bothered to reach across the grief barrier to us for what seems like an eternity – and, whenever they decide it’s “safe” to call or whatever, we’re supposed to believe them, welcome their words and open up our hearts/emotions like a book?? How do we do that?

Trust has always been a big issue for me. Trust. Truth. Honesty. They’re important to me. It’s hard for me to trust once it’s been broken, especially now. It just feels like the stakes are so much higher. Our hearts are involved. Our hearts are broken and fragile. I feel so vulnerable and hurt. I feel like I’ve had to put up walls to protect myself from more pain, more broken trust, more broken relationships. I’ve crawled inside those walls. I feel so depleted emotionally. I’m worn down. It takes a lot of energy grieve. It takes a lot of energy to heal wounds – not only the huge one from Jason’s death, but all of the secondary wounds. I guess it takes less energy to keep the walls up than tear them down to let people in.

I’m sure I came across harshly to Janice, but I think she was trying to understand. I really appreciate that. I don’t want to be mad. I don’t want to be harsh or bitter. It helps no one and hurts no one but me. No one really knows what it’s been like to be so alone.

God, forgive us if we’re jaded. It feels like we’ve been walking across a long, harsh, empty, barren terrain of grief. We’re all so very, very weary.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

A good attitude

From my journal dated October 30, 2002:

I’m really trying to maintain a good attitude. It’s so easy to focus on the bad. I really do try not to notice things, but sometimes they jump up so blatantly in my face. It’s hard not to see them.

It’s up to me to keep my own attitude and my own heart right, though, no matter what happens. I keep on trying.

Party of 5

From my journal dated September 29, 2002:

Joe and I are so lost on Sundays. We went to church, and then we look at each other and ask, “Now what do we do?” Sundays were days we spent together as a family – church, out to lunch, doing something fun.

Our family is so used to operating in 5’s – 5 Disneyland glasses, 5 Christmas stockings, 5 everything. But it’s like Jason was more than 1/5. It’s hard to explain. He filled in so many areas for all of us – hugs, smiles, help, heart, love. Such an incredible young man.

I can honestly see how someone could go crazy with grief. It’s something you can never get away from. It sometimes seems like it will never get any better!

It’s like a pool or ocean that’s trying to drown you. You have to fight to stay afloat, especially when you are doing it mostly alone like we are. It’s just such hard work. There’s no break and no end in sight…it goes on and on. It’s exhausting.

I stopped by the cemetery today for a few minutes. I just wanted to tell Jason that our lives aren’t the same without him. So empty. I miss him so much. There is no substitute. I’m just drowning…I’m so sad.

A “trigger” that pierces my heart

From my journal dated September 18, 2002:

Today was the first day “Jason” things came back full-force…a “trigger” that would reach pierce my heart and hurt like crazy. It was like when we were in Hawaii everything was new and different – different places, different scenes, different things surrounding us. When we got back here, everything is in our faces again.

As I wrote a note for Eric on the whiteboard in the kitchen, I could visualize all the notes we left for Jason and that he had left for us over the years. Later, as I slid into the car to leave, the seat was in a similar position to when Jason drove. He liked to have the seat slightly inclined back. He helped pick out that car when we bought it. Maybe if he’d been driving that car instead of his things would have turned out differently.

So much love your heart can’t hold it

From my journal dated August 12, 2002:

I got a note from W.P.* today…it was the most honest thing I’ve had said to me in a while. She said something along the she doesn’t know what to say to me…and that she’s chicken. Her son, who was a friend of Jason’s, is going away to college, and she said she finds herself grieving for him even though he’s okay and coming back…and that it must be just a fraction of the grief I feel. She said something, too, about the special relationship between a mother and son. I believe that’s true. All I know is that Jason filled a huge place in my heart. He brought me so much joy from the minute he was born!

It has always amazed me that it’s possible to have the feeling of so much love in your heart – so much that it’s like your heart isn’t big enough to hold all of it. That’s the feeling I’ve had for my family – for Joe, for Eric, for Jason, for Jenna. My heart could hardly hold how much I love them…so much pride, so much happiness that they were in my life.

I remember watching Joe play football in the backyard with the kids when they were little. I felt so much love for my family I just had to call tell someone and express it. I called Joe’s mom, telling her how thankful I was to be married to her son. I thanked her for doing such a good job at raising such a wonderful man, that he was such a good dad, a good husband.

Our hearts are really amazing things. One one hand, our hearts can be so full of love we don’t think there is any way to hold it all. We feel like they’re about to explode with love, happiness, pride, beauty, all the good things. It’s almost like there’s no way to express such happy, strong emotions. We feel like we’re walking on air, “over the moon.”

On the other hand, our hearts can be so crushed we don’t know how we can survive or continue to live. They can feel so hurt, depleted, crushed. It doesn’t seem like there’s any way to recover or express the deep pain.

Such extremes. I think most of life is lived in the middle with periodic highs and lows. I don’t think anyone could permanently live at one end of the spectrum or the other. Maybe some people generally live a little above the “norm” and some a little below the “norm,” but maybe that’s what we all try to achieve…balancing the good with the bad. It feels like that “heart so full of good things” is far away right now. I’m on the other end of the spectrum, trying to figure out how to get back toward a new “norm.”

“You’ve Got a Friend”

From my journal dated July 12, 2002:

I heard James Taylor’s version of “You’ve Got a Friend” on the radio today. It used to be one of my favorite songs in the whole world for years and years. Whenever I heard it, I’d think of someone – a friend – who especially meant a lot to me. It was like I was mentally dedicating that song to that friend. I would be there for that friend…that friend would be there for me.

“When you’re down and troubled…and you need a helping hand…you just call out my name…”

But I had to turn it off because I don’t believe it right now. I don’t know that I have a friend like that. I don’t know that I could be a friend like that. I feel burned and and I struggle with being bitter. I don’t want to trust people with my feelings. I don’t want to be open and vulnerable. I don’t feel that heart-connection to a friend any more.

The invisible “someone else”

From my journal dated July 10, 2002:

While we were gone today, a gal I don’t know very well from the homeschool group delivered a plant that’s supposed to attract butterflies and planted it in the front yard. It was very thoughtful. When I called to thank her, she asked about Jenna’s friends surrounding her and supporting her. She seemed genuinely shocked when I told here there was none.

People have this idea about others who “rally around” us…when, in fact, it’s that non-existent, invisible, mythical “someone else.” Someone else’s responsibility….those elusive friends who are such a great support. “Someone” must be a figment of people’s hopeful and idealistic minds….because they are certainly not here. I think it must be comforting for others to picture that we are surrounded by support and encouragement. It just doesn’t happen to be that way in reality.

Oh, dear. I can tell it still frustrates me…and I have to fight to not let it make me upset or bitter. I will keep on trying…I will not let this make me bitter.