Becky, where art thou?

My husband and I went to see a movie last night. During the introductory commercials, they played the trailer for the new Jason Bourne movie, and it made me think of my best friend in Washington.

When the very first Jason Bourne movie came out, Joe and I went to see it with Mary and her husband. At one point in the movie, the villain jumped through a window and attacked Jason Bourne. It was a particularly tense scene and when the guy crashed through the window, I screamed loudly and startled Mary even further. At the exact same time, Mary grabbed my arm and startled me even further. We scared each other so badly. It was so funny. Remembering that moment makes me chuckle to this day.

Mary and her husband were the only people who intentionally stepped toward us after Jason died when everyone else stepped away. I think I’ve mentioned her before. I didn’t know Mary very well before Jason died, even though their daughter and Jason dated for a while. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Jason was so crazy about their daughter; he truly loved her. I secretly hoped they would marry some day. What a sweetheart! I would have loved to have her as my daughter-in-law.

A few months after Jason died, Mary asked me if I wanted to start walking with her. She kept asking me off and on for several months until I finally heard her through the fog of grief and we started walking together about six months after Jason died. As we walked, we got to know each other and eventually became dear friends. Becoming good friends usually takes time and consistency. Walking together provided exactly that – the time and consistency to become friends. I firmly believe people have to have room or make room for people in their lives. That’s what Mary and her husband did. They made room for us in their hearts and in their lives. We went to movies together, celebrated holidays together, walked together.

When the ad for the new Jason Bourne movie came on last night, I just had to text Mary to let her know I was thinking of her and how much I missed my movie buddy. Truth is I just flat out miss her. I miss my friend. I miss the person I was when she was my friend, and I miss that time.

Have you ever had something happen – you hear a piece of a song, see a scene in a movie, are driving somewhere – when all of a sudden, just for a moment, you are transported back to a familiar time that is so warm and comforting that it just fills you with longing for that time? As crazy as it sounds, that’s what happened when that Jason Bourne ad came on. Parents who have lost children talk about waking up feeling warm and cozy, and then reality crashes back in when they really wake up and they realize what they have lost. That’s sort of what happened, I guess. I had such a strong memory that it took me back to a warm and friendly place, and then I came back to the reality of my life as it now is. I had a stark realization, once again, one of the things I have lost.

There are two times in my life when I feel like things changed so drastically that I feel like I lost myself. The first time was when Jason died. That one was huge beyond any other. The second time was when we moved from Washington.

After Jason died, I felt like I was thrown into the deepest, blackest, darkest, scariest, loneliest ocean where the waves of grief were so huge and black that I thought I would never survive them. They would tower and crash over me one right after the other, and I felt like I wasn’t able to come up for air. I was madly swimming, trying to stay afloat, trying to swim back to some type of solid ground.

In one journal entry from that time, I remember writing about how I wish someone would just come along side of me as I swam – just for a while – so I could just grab ahold of the edge of their boat to rest for a while so I wouldn’t drown. I needed a friend. I was trying to find some land, some firm footing to stand on. I was exhausted. And then Mary and I started walking together. It funny, because we didn’t talk a lot about Jason or how I was feeling or whatever. She just walked beside me and was my friend.

Grief is such hard work. Trying to learn to live without your child is such hard work, and I worked very hard at trying trying to figure out how I was supposed to go on without Jason. I kept going to school. I applied for jobs. Mary and I consistently walked together and got to know each other as friends. I kept trying to figure things out. I was working very hard at trying to find purpose and meaning to my life. I was beginning to feel just the very vaguest possibility of getting close to some shoreline of a life ahead of me where I could feel the sand beneath my feet again, of some reason to go on, when Joe started pushing me really hard to leave Washington.

It’s hard when spouses are on different grief trajectories and have such different needs. How do you choose whose needs are most important to meet? Joe was desperate to get away from Washington; there were just too many memories there for him. I was desperate to stay and didn’t want to leave the place that was my home. But I felt like, if I didn’t go with Joe, he was so desperate for change that he would move without me. I just couldn’t take any more loss, and so we sold our home and moved. It was probably the worst thing we could have done for me. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from that move. I was nowhere near “recovered” from Jason’s death, and it then became more complicated when we moved. I’ve never recovered from either one. They are intricately combined.

I had to go through Jason’s room and get rid of things before I was ready to in order to get our house ready to sell. I had to decide what was important enough to me to keep and what to “get rid of.” I am rather a collector of things and Joe is a minimalist, so he kept insisting that I “get rid of” things. (Side note – never “get rid of things” under duress!! You will regret it. Pack it up in boxes for storage until you are in the right place to deal with it.) I had to move away from our daughter, from our grandson, from my one and only best friend. I had never in my life had a best friend who valued our friendship as much I did. But I was too exhausted to stand up for what was best for me. Besides, I’ve always been one to put the needs of those I love above my own. I bowed to Joe’s need to leave. Four years after Jason died, we left Washington and I felt like my anchor had just been cut loose and I was being pulled back into the ocean of loss.

Four years may seem like a long time to work on figuring out how to live after the death of a child. It’s really not. It had taken me 46 years to reach the point I was when Jason died, 46 years of living to develop the person I had become. Jason had been a part of our lives for nearly 20 years. It had been 20 years of living my life with him in it. And then Jason’s death truly shattered me. I don’t doubt that it will take me 20 years to figure out how to live my life without him.

My world was my family, my kids. When a child dies, there are so many multi-faceted aspects of a parent’s life that shatters. I remember writing at that time how I felt like I had been ripped away from what I knew and who I was, and had been thrown into a place where there were nothing was familiar. There were no landmarks to help me find my way back to my life and to the person I once was; there were no friends to help me find my way. I think part of the reason I felt that way was because my life was in a big transition already from homeschooling to preparing to re-enter the workforce. Then, after Jason died and we were left so alone, I felt abandoned in a foreboding and foreign land. Even with Mary and her husband as friends, we did most things alone and had to figure out things by ourselves. There were still a lot of holes in our lives left by people who had disappeared. There were huge holes left in our lives by Jason’s absence. I eventually learned that the Becky I used to be was gone and that I needed to work on finding and figuring out the “new” me. I had to do it for myself. As the saying goes, you can’t go forward if you’re always looking back, so I tried to focus on looking forward and moving forward. And then we moved from Washington, and it felt like so much of my forward-facing work was gone.

When we moved to Oklahoma, I pulled way back inside of myself and went into survival mode. It was as though a lot of the “new” me I had been working on was destroyed and I felt lost again. I never did connect to anything or anyone. No offense to anyone who lives there, but I hated Oklahoma. Since then, we have lived in Florida and North Carolina, and I still don’t feel “at home” anywhere or connected to anything or anyone. At times, I feel adrift and alone. Because my heart was so raw after Jason died, the pain of abandonment by  people we considered good friends went deep and has left me unwilling, in some ways, to trust people and open my heart to them. I haven’t really tried to make friends any place we’ve been since we left Washington. I almost feel like I have resigned myself to a lifetime without the connection and true comfort of friends.

I guess that’s what struck me last night in that moment of remembering. I miss the ability to be at home in my own skin, the freedom to laugh with a good friend, the huge welcoming hugs, the comfort of calling someone on short notice to hang out, the comfort of familiar things, the ability to connect to another human being, the ability to feel like I’m “home.”

I’ve been scanning photographs from negatives and prints to digital format. As I look at the person in those pictures, knowing it’s the me I used to be before Jason died, I think that’s made me particularly reflective. It’s funny how you can look back over your life and really see times where things drastically changed and realize how much those events changed you. I miss the me that I was before Jason died. I also miss the me that I was before we left Washington, the new me I was working so hard on. I lost something huge and valuable at both of those times in my life. I’ve never “recovered” (if there is such a thing) from Jason’s death.

Part of the reason is because I was thrown back into no-man’s land by moving away from a place that was home to me, away from a place and people I loved. It just felt – and still does – like it was too many losses. The primary loss of Jason. The secondary losses of friends. More losses when we moved. Too many losses. All I have left from our lives in Washington are 25 or so boxes of photographs and memorabilia. Everything else is gone. We rent, so we don’t have our own home. The place we rent was already furnished, so we don’t even have our own furniture. My feet were knocked out from under me by that initial move from Washington, and I was pulled back into that black ocean of loss. I don’t feel like we’ve ever found a place to really rest and be at home. No matter how hard I try (and I do try!!), I just can’t seem to recapture the energy to try as hard as I was before we left Washington. I just feel tired, tired of trying. I don’t feel as resilient as I was and I get weary of putting so much energy into moving forward. And I still feel so lost at times.

I just can’t seem to find enough remnants of the Becky that I once was to keep on rebuilding. They’ve got to be around here somewhere. I think I left some in Washington. I might have left some in Oklahoma or Florida. This one seems to have some pieces missing.

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

Mother’s Day

This is a really good article about Mother’s Day following the death of a child. It addresses ways for parents whose child has died to cope and find meaning, as well as encouraging suggestions for those who would like to comfort someone whose child has died. I hope you will take time to read it.

When Mother’s Day Hurts

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

Regrets

This week my daughter was teasing me about how I used to make the kids do jobs around the house when they were young, and how sometimes I checked their workmanship to make sure they had done a good job of their task.

I’m sure I felt at the time that it was important to teach the kids responsibility and that they learn to do a good job at whatever was tasked to them. And I’m sure they profited from being taught to do a good job, in the long run. Jason was a very focused and great worker. Eric and Jenna are outstanding workers.

But, looking back, I wish I had taken more moments to play with the kids instead of seeing so much through the eyes of responsibility and instruct-able moments. I would give anything to go back and just hug my kids more, read more stories, play more games. I want my kids to remember how much I loved them, and not how I was so concerned that the dust bunnies didn’t multiply.

It’s a balance, this being a parent. Those years with young kids are so full of such busy times. We are trying to instill values and life lessons for the adult they will one day be. We want them to learn early in life how to manage time and to do a job in which they can take pride. We want to teach them to be kind and caring. So many things to teach. And the next thing we know, they are gone. In my case, gone forever. Jason is gone forever.

In recently looking at photographs, I know we did a lot of fun things together. I hope Eric and Jenna – and Jason, before he died – remember more those fun things than the responsibility things. But there are no more days of playing Yahtzee or chess with Jason, no more days of going to the beach with him, no more playing volleyball in the back yard with him. I will never have a chance to do those things that Jason loved with him again…or with his kids, either, since he will never have any kids.

The day before the accident, I remember I was trying to orchestrate everyone helping get the house clean and groceries bought for the week so that we could relax and enjoy our Sunday together. It seemed so important at the time. But then Jason died in the early hours of Sunday morning. Instead of fun family time together, our nightmare had just begun. If I had known what I know now, the cleaning could have waited, not only that day, but many other days. I had a clean house for people who came by for consolation visits, and Jason had helped clean the house.

Take time to enjoy the time you have with the ones you love. Let them remember your love, kindness, empathy. Yes, teach your kids the important things, but make sure they remember the fun times and not only the chores.

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Happy birthday, my precious Mr. Jay…

AND CAN IT BE, IN A WORLD SO FULL AND BUSY, THE LOSS OF ONE CREATURE MAKES A VOID SO WIDE AND DEEP THAT NOTHING BUT THE WIDTH AND DEPTH OF ETERNITY CAN FILL IT UP?         Charles Dickens

Oh, my precious boy…how I miss you…I love you…

Jason's birthday - July 29, 1982

Jason’s birthday – July 29, 1982

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My precious Mr. Jay

 

Jason David Carney - 7/29/82 - 3/3/02

Jason David Carney – 7/29/82 – 3/3/02

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney

 

Lost in thought on a Sunday morning

Listening to Pandora this morning – this Father’s Day 2015 – songs from my childhood have put me in a contemplative mood. “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.” “I Love to Tell the Story.” “Farther Along.” Songs that remind me of my dad and my growing up years in the church.

sc0018cf1c01Since my father was a preacher, Sundays growing up were busy with church and church-related activities. We kids were responsible for folding the bulletins on the way to church. Church was 25 miles north of where we lived, so we had a half hour to fold them and do whatever else we needed to do to get ready for the day. Dad had prepared the content of the bulletins on Saturday. Mom had typed them up and printed them out on the mimeograph machine in the dining room late Saturday evening.

sc00025c1301Sunday School  was followed by the morning church service where we, as a family, may or may not have been involved in singing “special music.” Since we were small children, all of us had been involved front and center of church services. Church was our second home. My very earliest memories are of falling asleep on a church pew, standing up in front of the congregation singing “Jesus Loves Me” or standing beside my sister as she quoted the 23rd Psalm. She couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5, and I still remember wondering how she could remember all those words and feeling bad because I was too nervous to chime in.

After church, we would go home, eat the pot roast that had been cooking on the stove while we were at church, and then get ready to record the music for the radio broadcast that would be played on two radio stations the following week.

sc0080c86eDad had prepared the “song list” for the day. We, in varying family-member combinations, sang trios, duets, solos or all together. Mom played the piano, organ and accordion; Dad played twelve different instruments, including the guitar, trumpet, trombone, banjo. Sometimes we would have a theme for the program. My favorite was the “old time cowboy service,” complete with sounds my dad made with his mouth that sounded like a horse clip-clopping up to the church door. Dad would add a 15-minute message to the music a day or so later, and the reel-to-reel tapes would be sent to a radio station in the neighboring town and off to another station over the state line in Utah.

sc003843be02In the evening, we would all get in the car and head back to church for the evening service, sometimes either preceded or followed by a “fellowship” time. Wednesday evenings were dedicated to a Bible study and prayer service. Since my junior and high school was 50 miles south, we would get off the bus after school on Wednesday evenings, eat a quick bite for dinner, and then head out for the 25 miles north to church. Up until I graduated from high school, I think I missed one service. One service. Period. And now I have a tough time just going to church.

Ever since Jason died, I have struggled with going to church and with my faith. At first, it was hard to watch people smiling and clapping just like “normal” when our lives were anything but normal any more. Carrying on “church” as we used to, like nothing had happened and as if Jason had not died, was impossible. The noise of the whole thing rattled my nerves and made me extremely antsy. And then there was the whole “disappearing act” by people we knew.

We felt so burned by the way we were treated by Christians after Jason died. I, especially, felt deserted by man and God. We had no blood-related family within 2000 miles, so all of us looked to and relied on our church and homeschool Christian “family” to be there for us. For some reason, they just couldn’t be the support we needed. And it has really affected me. It has affected all of us. Since then, finding a place where both Joe and I feel “at home” in a church has not been easy.

I’ve written extensively about how alone we were and how difficult that time was. I reached out to fellow Christians like a person drowning, desperately grabbing for a lifeline, and felt ignored or like I got my hand slapped. The church I knew as a source of comfort, support and friendship became a reminder of great loss and so many secondary losses. Loss of faith, loss of friendship, loss of support, loss of feeling safe and loved. The strong, genuine connection I felt to church, to fellow Christians and to God still feels somewhat broken. I no longer see church as a source of friendship, comfort or solace. I am very guarded toward church people…and toward being open with people in general. Instead of feeling comfortable and home-y, church still makes me tense and anxious, although not as much as it used to right after Jason died.

I’ve written about my crisis of faith before, too. As I said in my earlier post, I don’t believe that a crisis of faith is a sin. It just means that what I thought I believed didn’t line up with what I’ve experienced. It means I’m still working on adjusting my beliefs. There’s so much I don’t understand about this life and why things happen the way they do. I still struggle so much with Jason’s death and the way our lives have changed beyond measure. It’s just so hard to lose a child. Life is never the same. I keep on trying to find a purpose and keep trying to fan the flames of my faith. I miss feeling a part of something, though. I miss a strong and real connection to fellow believers. I miss my unquestioning faith and my strong connection to God.

Joe and I went to a bluegrass festival the end of February, just a week before March 3rd (the day Jason died) and attended the Sunday morning musical performances. A wonderful group of young musicians named Flatt Lonesome sang a song, He Still Hears, that brought both of us to tears. It’s comforting to know that, no matter what happens to me and no matter how much I struggle, no matter how , God still cares about me and hears me when I pray. He will never give up on me.

He Still Hears

 

When the days can seem so long and the nights are longer still

In times like these you can question God’s good will

Your heart is hurting so and you lost the strength to stand

Cry out the Lord He hears you still

 

He still hears when it seems you’re all alone

He still hears when your bread is turned to stone

God will work according to His perfect all-wise will

Cry out to the Lord He hears you still

 

When your heart is growing cold and the fire is all but out

And life’s hard work brings on an empty chill

Just stir the coals again rebuild the fire the storms have quenched

And cry out the Lord He hears you still

 

He still hears when it seems you’re all alone

He still hears when your bread is turned to stone

God will work according to His perfect all-wise will

Cry out to the Lord He hears you still

Today I will remind myself that I come from a history of faith and a heritage of believers. I will remind myself that the roots of my faith are long-standing and deep. I will remind myself that God still hears me when I pray.

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney

Edited 6/22/15

Jason David Carney.

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Jason,

Today I will think about your kindness. I will think about your loving heart. I will think about how you loved to sit on the counter in the kitchen and talk to me as I cooked dinner. I will think about your fantastic hugs. I will think about what joy you brought into our lives. I will think about your love of chess and your patience in teaching anyone who wanted to learn the game you truly enjoyed. I will think about playing Yahtzee with you. I will think about your smile and your beautiful blue eyes. I will think about how you loved to laugh and your great sense of humor. I will think about how hard you studied and what a great student you were. I will think about your empathetic and encouraging spirit. I will think about your love of God and that I will see you again. I will think of your sense of humor. I will think of your love for your sister and what a good friend and big brother you were to her. I will think about how you cherished your friends and what a good friend you were to each of them. I will think about your life. I will think of all the wonderful qualities God gave you and how you shared them with the people around you. I will cherish all these memories in my heart.

I will think about you…and how much I miss you…oh, how I miss you!!

I love you,

Mom

Jason David Carney

7/29/82 – 3/3/02

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

 

Growing up as a preacher’s kid, Christmas was all about the birth of Christ and there was no focus on Santa whatsoever. We, as kids, knew that some kids truly believed Santa (Saint Nicholas) landed on the roof top in his sleigh and came down the chimney, delivered their presents and filled all the stockings. But, to us, Santa was a story of a man in a red suit who represented a nice concept of giving at Christmas. That was it. To our family, Christmas was all about Jesus being born in a manager.

imagesMy husband’s family, on the other hand, did the whole Santa thing. When we got married, Joe firmly told me that, when we had kids, we would NOT allow Santa to be the focus our Christmases. He said that he felt betrayed and lied to by his parents when he found out that his parents bought the gifts and that they were not delivered by Santa.  He couldn’t understand how they could lie to him like that. He felt like he was supposed to be able to trust that his parents, of all people, would be honest with him! It was a traumatic experience for him as a little kid.

It is kind of creepy, if you think about it. You’re told a man in a red suit is watching you all the time. He knows what you’re doing. Your parents lie to you and use it to control your behavior at Christmas. Just my opinion. I guess I never understood the fascination with Santa.

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
He’s gonna find out
Who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake…

Christmas Carols – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town Lyrics | MetroLyrics

When Eric was a baby, though, we were given a stocking for him that had been hand-made by a family member. It was cute and thoughtfully given, so we bought stockings for rest of us to up as decorations. We decided they would be a good place to hold fun little gifts for each other, and they became a part of our holiday tradition. A few years later, my sister gave beautifully hand-made stockings for each of us and we put them up every year. Finding little “stocking stuffers” to put in each other’s stockings became part of our Christmas tradition. It was the fun way we ended our Christmas Day celebration every year by “opening” our stockings, stuffed to the top with fun little gifts, all at the same time. A Christmas tradition.

As I said in my previous post, that first Christmas after Jason died was so hard. As I sat on the family room floor, crying while surrounded by Christmas decorations, I truly didn’t know how we were going to celebrate Christmas without Jason. I couldn’t even get the decorations on the tree because I was so raw with the pain of missing Jason. I could barely function that Christmas. We had tried to instill a sense of tradition at Christmas and create memorable moments for our family. How were we going to maintain our family traditions when our family was broken and missing Jason?

One thing I remember is sitting on the family room floor that Christmas, trying to figure out if I should put up the stockings. I stared at the five nails above the fireplace. If I put all five of them up and we filled them with little gifts for each other as we usually did, I didn’t think I could handle seeing Jason’s stocking hanging there empty. If we put something in Jason’s stocking, it would be sad because he wouldn’t really be there to “open” his stocking with the rest of us. I couldn’t put up the rest of our stockings and not Jason’s. It would be obvious he was missing and would feel like a betrayal by excluding him. If I didn’t put them up at all or put them up and didn’t put anything in them, we wouldn’t be maintaining one of our traditions. Was that fair to the rest of the family? I didn’t know what to do. None of the choices seemed right, because it didn’t seem right that Jason was gone.

We tried to maintain some of our traditions that year, just because we didn’t know what else to do. Our Christmas traditions had become woven into our family way of life. We didn’t want to cheat the rest of our family out of celebrating our traditional Christmas, but every tradition we tried to maintain that first year after Jason died just emphasized his absence.  No matter what we did or didn’t do that Christmas, it was obvious Jason wasn’t there. It was so hard.

That’s the thing about traditions – they are tightly woven into and become meaningful remembrances of a holiday. The hanging of the stockings was just one of many of our Christmas traditions that carried weight of meaning to us as a family tradition. Yes, it was just a fun little part of our Christmas morning, but every single tradition we had was part of the way WE celebrated OUR Christmas as a FAMILY. Now part of our family was gone. And there were so many more traditions we had as a family besides hanging the stockings, each one spotlighting Jason’s absence. Asian food for dinner Christmas Eve. Candlelight service as a family on Christmas Eve. Cinnamon rolls Christmas morning. On and on. So many traditions.

Traditions. What do you do with your family traditions after a child dies? I think it takes many years to figure out which traditions to keep and which ones are too painful to continue. Some traditions can be bittersweet reminders of past Christmases before our child died. Some are put away for a while and may be started again at some point. Some are put away for good because they just hurt too much. New traditions are added in. For us, I think it continues to be a work in progress, this finding of traditions to add special meaning to our family Christmas. I guess I’m still not used to the idea of celebrating Christmas without Jason. I don’t think I ever will be.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney