Self Care

On March 3rd, 2002, our 19 year old son died when he was broadsided by a drunk driver going more than twice the posted speed limit. In a couple of weeks, it will be 19 years that he’s been gone. Jason would be 38 years old this year had he lived. He’s been gone the same number of years that he lived. It’s just so hard for me to process.

I work with a young man who is 38 years old – college-educated, home-owning, married, two beautiful young kids, his whole life ahead of him. That’s what Jason should have.

Most March 3rd’s, I have attempted to do what I thought I had to do on those days – school, work, etc. I guess I thought if I focused on some type of “normalcy,” the horror and significance of that day would not be quite so much in focus. It never works.

I remember the first March 3rd after Jason died, the first anniversary of his death. I had gone back to school just months before Jason died, furthering my education so I could get a good job after homeschooling the kids for so many years. I don’t exactly remember why I thought I had to be in school that day – a test or something due. I should have just told the teacher what was going on and taken the day off. I remember sitting in a philosophy class, aware of one of Jason’s best friends who was in the same class sitting across the room, both of us lost in the misery of the day. I can’t really remember much about that day except that I trudged through the day in public and cried and cried in private.

I’ve always been very independent. I have had to grieve alone, not through my own choosing. I just don’t think I can soldier through another March 3rd, putting on a brave face as if I am okay. I’m not okay. I’m heartbroken that my boy is gone. 19 years. I can’t believe it’s been 19 years.

I got a massage yesterday. I don’t get massages for the luxury of getting a massage. I don’t go to one of those fancy spas where they serve champagne or mimosas. It’s more of a therapeutic massage to keep me moving physically. My massage therapist and I were talking about how alone and how isolated people have been during the pandemic.

My husband, who is retired, is alone a lot, especially when I’m at work. I worry about him being alone so much, especially since his heart attack. I mentioned how we have lunch together most every workday, and she thought that was so cute. She asked how long we’d been married. I told her that June will mark our 45th anniversary, and she remarked how unusual it was to hear someone being married that along nowadays. It doesn’t seem like we’ve been married that long. We’ve had our ups and downs, as most marriages have, but we have worked through them and still love each other very much.

As she continued my massage, I started thinking about the different significant numbers. 45 years of marriage. My age, Joe’s age, our kids ages, how old Jason would have been, how many years it’s been since Jason died. I was 46 years old when Jason died. It’s so strange how I feel like I am stuck at 46 years old. Life has gone on, but I feel like so much of my life ended then and I am still 46 years old. My body is aging, events happening, time is passing, but I feel stuck at 46.

I’ve been working a lot – one job for two financial advisors in the office and one job for a financial advisor at home on a remote basis. Each has their own business, their own needs and ways of doing things, their own systems and issues that come up. I wake up in the middle of the night at times thinking of work and what I need to do. I like to do things right the first time and sometimes my brain kicks in gear and won’t shut off. I sometimes get up at 3 a.m. or so to take care of whatever I can at home on my computer, just to get it off my mind so that I can go back to sleep. I really do appreciate having a job, especially when so many people don’t. I want and need to keep working until we can figure out what we want to do and where to move.

I had mentioned to my massage therapist that I had been working a lot. I’d even had to cancel my last massage so I could get caught up. As I got ready to leave, she said to me, “Becky, you have to take care of yourself.”

I tend to take care of everyone else first. I always have. I bought clothes or treats or whatever for the kids or Joe before I ever bought clothes or anything for myself. I have taken care of business outside of work hours, even when I’ve been exhausted. I am trying to do a better job of taking care of myself, though. I’m going to take a couple of days off around March 3rd this year and try to figure out how and what we can do to make it a day of celebrating Jason’s life and to make it a time of self-care. I need it.

Take care of yourself. Good advice.

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

Sorting through a deceased child’s belongings

A while ago, I wrote briefly about taking time to go through your child’s belongings in my blog, “A Few Things I’ve Learned in the 10 Years Since Jason Died.” I’ve also responded on Facebook to bereaved parents who’ve asked about what to do with their child’s things. It dawned on me yesterday that I’ve never actually written a specific post with my recommendations on the subject.

When you were ready, here are my suggestions for going through your child’s belongings.

Take your time

First of all, don’t let anyone rush you or push you to go through or “get rid of” your child’s belongings. This is something that’s a very difficult thing to do and you should be given the grace to do it on your own time frame. Let me say that again – your own time frame. Yours. Only yours. Not a time frame someone else has decided for you. Even within family members, the time to go through a child’s belongings should be based – not on the FIRST person who decides or feels like they are ready – but rather on the LAST person reaches the decision that they are ready. If you are the first person to reach this decision, extend copious amounts of grace to everyone else. When it comes to sorting through your child’s belongings, no one should feel rushed or mowed over.

If you absolutely have to consolidate belongings because you have to move or for some other valid reason, that’s one thing. Even then, you should not let anyone push you on their schedule. If someone intimates or outright tells you that you are making a shrine to your child and makes you feel like that it’s a bad thing to wait until you – and only you – are ready to tackle this task, just chalk it up to their not having been in your shoes. They have no idea what they’re talking about, and we need to hope that they never will.

Be gentle with yourself

Going through your child’s belongings is not a marathon or a mountain to be climbed. It is not a task to be conquered. If you begin and find it too overwhelming, it’s okay to take a break or close the door and wait until another day. There is no rule or set time when this task needs to be started or finished. If you need to stop and take time to grieve, extend yourself the grace and time to do so.

Realize that it’s a hard task

No matter how long you wait to begin sorting through your child’s belongings, acknowledge to yourself that it’s an emotional and difficult task to do. It will always feel like you are erasing part of your child’s life from your own. The older the child, the more things they will have collected, the more you will have to sort through.

If you need to, ask for help

If you have a trusted friend or family member who will follow your lead and be sensitive to what you’re going through, ask that person to help you. Don’t be offended if someone says no. Not everyone can handle such a difficult and emotional task and walk beside you as you do this. Let them know it will not be an easy task and make sure they know it’s okay to be honest with you if it becomes too much for them to handle. When we started to go through Jason’s room, our daughter said, “This is more difficult than I thought it was going to be.” She thought she was ready to help, but couldn’t do it and had to leave. And that was okay.

Make a plan and be prepared

Purchase some Rubbermaid totes or other types of long-term storage containers and some boxes. Make sure you have on hand some type of labeling material that does not easily come off of boxes/containers (permanent markers, stick-on labels) and sealing materials (package sealing or duct tape). You may need some file folders, hanging file folder holders, file folder labels and bankers boxes for organizing papers. Also get some various sizes of Ziplock bags for grouping small or similar items and some recycling and garbage bags.

Organize

To begin, choose a small, less-emotionally charged area to sort. Try not to take everything in all at once, as it may become overwhelming. Focus on one specific area. Success breeds success, and you will feel more able to continue when you have successfully completed one small area.

Divide things up into five sections: 1) absolutely have to keep; 2) not quite sure yet whether to keep or not or what to do with; 3) special things you want to give to certain people; 4) things to donate to a charitable organization; and, 5) things to throw away. As you go, box up the things you know you want to keep and label the contents of each container. The same goes for the “not quite sure” items. For the special mementoes, put items you want to give in individual Ziplock bags/boxes and label who you want to give them to. Box up donations, label where they should go and bag up garbage to go where it need to go.

While the others sections may be obvious, the one area that may be overlooked and yet is very crucial is the “not quite sure” items (# 2 above). It’s okay not to know if you want to keep something or not. You don’t have to decide at that very moment. Let me say that again – you absolutely DO NOT have to decide everything at that very moment. I strongly suggest boxing up the things you are not sure about in long-term storage containers and then setting them aside in storage for review at another time. With distance, things may be clearer. It’s an absolute tragedy to give or throw away something you later wish you hadn’t. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and there usually is no way to ever recover those items. Box up those items you are not sure about, store them in your basement or garage, and go through them again when you feel you are ready – whether it be months or even years down the road.

Before making final storage/disposal of items, be sure you check with family members to see if they have any input, changes, or wish to go through your decision choices. Disposal of your child’s things really feels permanent, like the closing of a door, and it’s worth the effort to consider the feelings of others before taking this step.

Final Comments

All of these suggestions are made from experience – either things I did well or wish I had done differently. My greatest errors were allowing myself to be pushed to go through Jason’s room before I was ready to do so, and to not set aside things I wasn’t sure about to review another day. At the end of the day I was totally traumatized at a time when I didn’t need any more trauma. I gave away or “got rid of” things I wish I never had. If I can encourage anyone to take time and give themselves or another bereaved parent grace with this heart-wrenching task or save someone the agony of giving away something they wish they hadn’t, then this post has accomplished its task.

If you have any additional suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

My heart is not immune to the pain

IMG_1352After 18 years, you would think the pain would be less. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s just not. Some days the pain of Jason’s absence is excruciating. Yesterday was the anniversary of Jason’s death. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and cried and cried. I went to work with puffy eyes, doing my best to pull myself together and do the best job I could.

For some reason, today has been worse than yesterday. I’ve been on the verge of tears all day. My Nixplay digital photo frame that sits right beside my computer monitor at work shuffles the pictures I have on it. There are pictures taken recently, but there are also pictures of my precious boy. I have recent memories and photos of things we’ve done, but I have no memories and no photos of Jason since March 3, 2002. Pictures are no substitute for the real thing. Pictures of Jason over the years make me miss him so much.  As I said yesterday:

Whatever memories and photographs we have of Jason are the only ones we will ever have. There are no graduation, wedding, birth of children, family or holiday celebrations or any other memories or photographs we will ever have of Jason past the date of March 3, 2002. The opportunity for additional memories and photographs died right along with Jason, along with his future. In our minds, Jason will forever be 19 years old.

Perhaps it’s the awareness that we are approaching the date when Jason’s absence from this earth will be equal to the time he was here on it. I long for the day when I will see him again.

It’s been a really rough year or so for us – my husband’s heart attack, difficult work issues, money issues, health issues, chronic pain issues that I’m dealing with, and more issues than I care to share. I feel an unsettledness in my soul that just won’t go away. I long for something to go right, a break from the constant struggle to keep my head above water and my heart right. I long to lay down in that pleasant pasture beside still waters to just rest for a while. I have no idea where that is or if it even exists. This rough and rocky road I’ve walked on for so long is getting very wearisome and shows no sign of ever ending until I step from this earth to join Jason.

I look at the pictures from when Jason was alive and realize I really had no idea how really great I had it at that time. I had a vague sense that God’s hand of blessing and protection was upon me and my family, but now I feel like I didn’t appreciate to the fullest how wonderful that was until God removed his blessing and protection from me and Jason died. I had no idea the hell we would be required to walk through when Jason died and in the years since then. We’ve had too many days when it’s just a plain struggle to get up in the morning and keep on going.

18 years. Can it really be 18 years?

I miss you, my precious boy, more than words can say.

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~Becky

© 2020 Rebecca R. Carney

 

A picture is worth a thousand words

 

I have written about feeling like an empty box. I have written about how I dreamed about how the weight of grief had made me ugly. I have written about the hole Jason’s absence has created in my life.

As much as I have tried to express in words how grief makes me feel, I have found these images to express so clearly how I have felt on the impossible journey of grief. A picture is truly worth a thousand words. I don’t know how to put into words how much I miss my boy.

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Jason David Carney

July 29, 1982 – March 3, 2002

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

(I have tried to find photo credit for these much-circulated photos, but have not been able to do so. If you know who took these photos, please let me know so I can give proper credit.)

 

Marriage following the death of a child

As I wrote in an earlier post, in 1977, Harriet Sarnoff Schiff wrote a book entitled The Bereaved Parent, and it was considered at the time to be groundbreakingIn the chapter “Bereavement and Marriage,” Ms. Schiff states, “some studies estimate that as high as 90 percent of all bereaved couples are in serious marital difficulty within months after the death of their child (p. 57).” This singular statement and sentiment took on a life of its own (with no research shown to back it), and it became accepted as a fact that many marriages end after the death of a child. It was quoted over and over until it became regarded as the gospel truth – if your child dies, you more than likely will have serious problems in your marriage that may end in divorce. It is still a generally-accepted fact to this day.

After I read this statement in the book, since books and research I had read over the years questioned or refuted this “accepted fact,” I performed an Internet search on “peer-reviewed articles bereaved parents and divorce.” I found some very good information and thought I would pass it along.

The death of a child creates stress on marriage

So many research articles and books are prefaced with a statement along the lines that the death of a child is catastrophic, devastating, traumatic, stressful, shattering, and is generally considered the most painful loss a person could ever experience. Any parent who has buried a child would agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments – and could probably add many more.

The death of a child adds so much stress to every part of life – emotions, finances, relationships, worldview, faith. The list goes on and on, and marriage is one of them. That being said, just the fact that a child has died doesn’t mean the marriage will end nor does it mean it becomes stronger. The possibility is there for one or the other, though.

It’s important to remember, generally speaking, that whatever shape your marriage was in and whatever “tools you had in your toolbox” and resources available to you in the “before” moment your child died are generally the same or similar tools and resources in the “after” moment, except they may be somewhat more exaggerated or diminished. If your marriage was on shaky ground before, the death of a child could emphasize those cracks even more or it could bring you closer together.

While it’s true that bereaved parents are no longer the same person after a child dies as they were before, if one partner was more rigid or less expressive or one partner is more sensitive or emotional, an entirely new person with different traits is not going to show up after a child dies. We have to learn how to navigate our way through the stresses in our marriage exacerbated by the death of our child as the person we are now (and who our spouse is now) and with the tools we have at our disposal, the same way we have to learn to navigate the world without our child.

Support from spouse

Just as a bereaved parent has expectations that friends and family will support them after a child dies, so we tend to expect our spouse to be able to support us in our deep grief. Neither of these expectations is very realistic. The fact of the matter, as Ms. Schiff states in her book, is that “it is impossible to give comfort when you feel an equal grief (p.6).”

When friends and family avoid us or don’t want to talk about our child, we tend to turn to our spouse for support and comfort. Because a spouse is also grieving the same loss and may not be able to provide the needed support – and because spouses don’t usually grieve in the same manner – it’s easy for one or both spouses to feel alone and unsupported in their grief, in turn creating additional marital tensions and/or stress. This situation is also complicated by many other factors – to name a few: lack of energy, overwhelming emotions, unrealistic expectations, and wanting to protect ourselves AND our spouse from further grief and pain.

In their article, “Grieving Together and Apart: Bereaved Parents’ Contradictions of Marital Interaction,” authors Toller and Braithwaite write about what they call “grieving together-grieving apart.”

Bereaved parents expressed a desire to grieve with their spouse in order to provide each other with comfort and support. At the same time, parents indicated they sometimes needed to grieve on their own as their experience of grief was unique from that of their partner…We labeled this grieving together-grieving apart (p. 263).

For parents,…being able to grieve and share the pain of their child’s death with their spouse was of utmost importance. At the same time, parents recognized that their own unique and individual response to their child’s death meant working through the grieving process on their own. Although [they] wanted to grieve together, both acknowledged that they each had to honor their individual grief as well.

Although parents wanted to grieve together and also honor their own individual needs, parents reported that grieving together was difficult due to the differing ways in which they and their partners approached and even expressed their grief…In addition to differing approaches to grief, parents reported that they and their partners also expressed grief in disparate ways, which influenced their ability to grieve together with their spouse and increased their perception that they were grieving more apart…This created conflict for many couples and left them believing they were alone in their experience of grief (p. 264).

There are some steps that can be taken to reduce some of these tensions. In their article, Toller and Braithwaite gave the following suggestions – accept individual differences in grieving, compromise, find alternative ways to communicate, and seeking outside help.

Accepting individual differences in grieving

One important issue for a grieving parent is to feel like their grief is important, that it is validated and not diminished or overlooked. When friends or family say things like, “Your child wouldn’t want you to be sad,” or “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” or the myriad of other unhelpful and hurtful comments we hear or read, a bereaved parent is made to feel that their grief is diminished or unimportant. We can write off these comments as uninformed or spoken by someone not really knowing what to say, but within our immediate families – our spouses, in particular – it’s particularly important to feel that our grief is validated and understood.

For some bereaved parents, managing the tensions of grieving together-grieving apart meant viewing each other’s way of grieving as inherent to the very nature of grief. Understanding and accepting one another’s grieving style allowed parents to honor their individual grieving needs. At the same time, accepting their individual needs resulted in parents feeling validated by one another, which in turn helped them to be more connected as a couple, consequently making it easier for parents to grieve together as well…Accepting one another’s grieving needs was not easy, but many parents believed it necessary in order to keep their marital relationship intact (p. 266).

Another important thing to realize is that, although you may both have been parents to the singular child who died, your relationships with that child were different and that will affect your grief. Your hopes and dreams and expectations for your child may have looked different than your spouse’s. Your experiences may have been different.

For my husband and I, I spent different hours of the day with Jason than Joe did. I homeschooled the kids, so the things we did during the day were different than the things Joe did with the kids when he got home from work. Yes, we shared some similar connections and activities together at times. But, there were a lot of things I did with the kids while Joe was at work, and so I have different connections and memories. I hear a song on the radio, one that Jason and I listened to as I took him to catch the bus to college, and I am flooded with memories of both of us singing at the top of our lungs as we drove along. The memory brings tears to my eyes whenever that song plays, but Joe doesn’t really have a connection to that song. Joe has memories of teaching Jason to swim and ride a bike. While I have memories of watching Joe play football in the backyard with the kids, Joe has memories of actually playing with them. Different experiences with the same child; different memories and relationships. Different grief.

Compromise

This is exactly what it sounds like. In relationships, we compromise all the time, finding ways to do something together that is important to the other person (that may not be our favorite thing to do) in order connect and show that person how much they mean to us.

The same is true with grief. Although effort may be hampered by lack of interest or energy, there are ways to find areas to do things together or to honor each other’s grief. They don’t have to be huge. It could be going to the cemetery together or going for a walk or looking at photos. Whatever is important to one person or the other for validating their grief.

One example from our lives was church. After Jason died, I experienced some bad PTSD symptoms. I could hardly sit in church (or any place that felt restrictive to me) without feeling trapped and panic-y – a flight or fight reaction. Because it was important to Joe to continue going to church consistently, I made the best effort possible to go when I felt like I could. Joe, on his part, had no problem with us sitting in the very back row closest to the door so we could leave whenever I needed to. He also was very understanding when I just couldn’t bring myself to go.

I would add one word of caution here, though, and that would be the word “mutual.” Sometimes, one partner has a stronger personality and may inadvertently be more dominant in the compromise arena, causing a partner with a less strong or more giving personality to be mowed over a bit. Joe is a much more opinionated, black-and-white person that I am, and I am a giving person who sees both sides of the coin. I would have to say that this combination did affect my grieving process in a not-so-good way for me, in particular, and there are some things I wish I had done differently instead of giving in to his wishes and putting his needs above my own. It’s really important to listen carefully to each other and actually hear and understand what the other person is saying regarding their grieving needs.

Finding alternative ways to connect and communicate

Communication doesn’t necessarily always happen verbally. In their article, Toller and Braithwaite cover some alternative ways to communicate and connect with a spouse when talking doesn’t seem to be an option.

…A number of parents found it difficult to be verbally open with each other about their child’s death. As a result, parents were closed with each other verbally, but shared thoughts and feelings non-verbally (270).

Some of the alternative ways of communicating are letter writing, holding hands and hugging, and other forms of touch.

For my husband and I, it seemed at the beginning we tended to rush to each other and hold each other as we cried. Those first days and weeks, I would hear Joe start to sob and I would just run to him to hold him as he cried. He did the same for me. We are still much more hand holders than we used to be and take time to hug and encourage each other with non-verbal communication.

Seeking outside help

“Outside help” is a pretty broad term. It could take the form of friend or family member with a listening ear who may walk beside us when our spouse is unable to do so. It could be a clergy or pastor. It could also be a licensed professional, either meeting individually or as a couple. It could also be a support group such as Compassionate Friends.

Regarding support from someone who has walked the walk, Gordon Riches and Pamela Dawson write in their article, “‘An intimate loneliness’: evaluating the impact of a child’s death on parental self-identity and marital relationships”:

Daily life is predicated on the minute detail of route tasks, family rituals and recognizable features of domestic living. The death of a child destroys this mental landscape as profoundly as an earthquake shakes one’s belief in the physical landscape. Research evidence suggests that support from others who have survived similar catastrophes can be of value for both parties. The supporter continues in the lifelong project of re-creating a lost certainty, and the newly bereaved has a model and potential guide through this unfamiliar landscape (p. 12).

For me, this was one area I wish I had pursued further. With our extended families living so far away and nearly everybody we knew disappearing, I really needed some outside support. I needed support, period!

I did try. I attended a Compassionate Friends group for mothers – with disastrous results. I reached out to Jason’s soccer coach and his wife who had lost two children in a fire, thinking they could give me some pointers on how to walk this horrible walk without my precious boy, but got no response at all to my voicemails. I reached out to church people we knew and told them how lonely we were in our grief, with very, very limited results. I tried to communicate to our homeschool group that we were dealing with this deep grief all alone, but felt like it fell on deaf ears. Our daughter and I went to a counselor once, but felt like this person really had a disconnect and lack of understanding for people who deeply grieve. The only person who I felt really heard my grief was my physician, and he gave me sleeping pills and antidepressants. I eventually gave up and figured I had to handle it on my own. Looking back, though, I wish I had found a counselor who could help me deal with some of the issues I encountered in my grief. I think it would have helped me.

Conclusion

Much more research has been done since Harriet Sarnoff Schiff wrote the book The Bereaved Parenting in 1977. If this is a subject that interests or is affecting you, please take time to read the articles linked below. If you know of any other good books or articles on the subject, please feel free to comment.

~ Becky

P.S. For simplification in writing, I have written in terms of a married couple, although this could apply to other relationship connections.

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

Links:

Toller, Paige & Braithwaite, Dawn. (2009). Grieving Together and Apart: Bereaved Parents’ Contradictions of Marital Interaction. Journal of Applied Communication Research – J APPL COMMUN RES. 37. 257-277. 10.1080/00909880903025887. https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=commfacpub

W. Toller. “Using Communication to Cope with Loss” Communication Currents Vol. 4 Iss. 4 (2009) https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=commfacpub

This is a study commissioned by the Compassionate Friends in 1996: Riches, G. and Dawson, P. (1996), ‘An intimate loneliness’: evaluating the impact of a child’s death on parental self‐identity and marital relationships. Journal of Family Therapy, 18: 1-22. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1467-6427.1996.tb00031.x

 

Abandoning those who grieve

In its entirety, below is a blog post written by Melanie at https://thelifeididntchoose.com. She is an insightful and thoughtful author whose son died in a motorcycle accident in 2014. Please see my additional comments below. I would also encourage you to look at her original post and the comments below it.

I know that I seem to hit this subject hard – the aloneness of grief and abandonment of those who deeply grieve – but I think it’s important to emphasize this topic. By doing so, those who deeply grieve might gain some insight into the reasons people disappear and understand that they are not the only ones this happens to, and those who know someone who is deeply grieving might gain some insight into how awful the aloneness of grief can be and then make an effort not to disappear. The walk following the death of a child is an inherently one that must be walked alone, at least in some ways, but if I can encourage one person to not abandon a parent whose child has died, I will feel like my writing has been worthwhile.

Why Friends Abandon Grievers

It happens in all kinds of ways.  One friend just slowly backs off from liking posts on Facebook, waves at a distance from across the sanctuary, stops texting to check up on me.

Another observes complete radio silence as soon as she walks away from the graveside. 

Still another hangs in for a few weeks-calls, texts, even invites me to lunch until I can see in her eyes that my lack of “progress” is making her uneasy.  Then she, too, falls off the grid.

Why do people do that? 

Why is it, when we need them most, many friends-and I mean really, truly FRIENDSjust can’t hang in and hold on?

I admit in the early days I didn’t care WHY they did it. 

It broke my heart and enraged me all at the same time.  I felt abandoned, judged, forgotten, pressured to conform to some unwritten standard of how I was “supposed” to do grief and utterly, completely forsaken.

It took me months to begin to even consider their perspective and years to come to a place where I could forgive them.

Here’s what I’ve figured out this side of devastating, overwhelming, heart-shattering pain about why some friends run away:

  • I represent their greatest fear.  I am a billboard for loss.  My life screams, “We are NOT in control!” And that is scary.  Most folks run away from scary if they can.
  • I remind them that faith is a living thing, tender and vulnerable to trials and testing.  We love to tout Sunday School answers that follow like the tag lines on Aesop’s fables when asked about anything to do with Jesus or how God works in the world.  But it’s just not that simple.  The Bible is full (FULL!) of untidy stories where even the giants of faith got it wrong for a season.  I think people are afraid that if they follow me down the rabbit hole of questions they might never come back out.  Better to stand outside and hope I emerge safe and sound without risking themselves.
  • My situation is messy and they don’t want to get involved.  I will need ongoing, intense investments of emotional energy and time. Who knows where it might lead?  Who knows how many hours might have to be given to come alongside and support someone whose journey looks more like slogging through a swamp than a walk in the park?  These folks are just not going to risk entanglement.
  • Some friends and family are genuinely afraid of doing harm.  They feel my pain so deeply that they are frozen, unable to do or say anything because they fear they will make things worse.  These are the hearts most easy to forgive and the ones most likely to jump back in when I assure them they cannot make it worse but their support can make it better.
  • Some people were going to disappear anyway.  We don’t like to admit it but many friendships are only for a season-we go to the same church, live in the same neighborhood, our kids go to the same school-and as soon as circumstances change these people fade away.  Well, circumstances certainly changed!  They leave because our differences outweigh our similarities and it requires too much effort to maintain the friendship.

Understanding why people run away has helped my heart. 

It doesn’t undo the pain inflicted by abandonment of those I felt sure would stay close by my side, but it puts it in perspective.

Truth is, I’m not sure how many people I would have stalwartly supported for the long haul either before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  

None of us possess infinite emotional, mental, physical and relational resources.  It’s only natural that we portion them out according to our own priorities-even when that means abandoning friends who really need us.

Rehearsing offense only ties me in knots. 

It changes nothing.

I have limits as well. 

Forgiving those that chose to walk away frees me to use my resources in more fruitful ways that help me heal.  

https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/03/08/why-friends-abandon-grievers/

My comments to Melanie’s blog were this:

I am a person who sees both sides of the coin. Even from the very, very beginning my HEAD understood that it was difficult to be around us, the parents of a child who had died. I understood why people ran away, but that didn’t make it any easier. Oh, how it hurt my HEART. Because we had absolutely no family close by (our closest family was nearly 2000 miles away), when almost all of our friends disappeared, we were so very alone. It was like we were falling down a deep, black hole with no one to catch our fall. [And to be left so alone felt like no one cared.] These are part of the secondary losses – secondary wounds that can happen following the death of a child. And the wounds leave scars. We can forgive, but I don’t think that means that we are not changed by the experience.

The thing in the Christian community, I would venture to say, is that we, as Christians, are encouraged to be the bigger person, to turn the other cheek, to forgive, to go the extra mile, etc. Not only did I feel like we were expected to tell people how to help us after Jason died, I felt like we were expected to understand and be okay with why people didn’t want to be around us [and to understand and accept it without question when they disappeared]. It just seems backwards.

I’m glad that you stated that it took you months and years to understand and begin to forgive. Sometimes it’s a process that takes some time and effort to work through. I’ve worked very hard on forgiving people we knew, even though there has been no acknowledgement or apology given.

Let me say that again: I felt like we were expected to understand and be okay with why people didn’t want to be around us [and to understand and accept without question when they disappeared].

Melanie responded:

I also believe that forgiving does not undo the wounds that have been inflicted. You’re right-as believers we are often asked to travel the whole distance in the forgiveness process. I’ll be honest, sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. Life is hard and child loss makes it harder. I just don’t always have the resources needed to reach out to the person that has hurt me. I know there are those that will say I always have the necessary resources in Christ-they are theologically correct. But I can’t always seem to tap those in my daily life. I’m trying ❤

I feel like, when we were hurting the most and were the most vulnerable a parent could be, we were supposed to be “Christian” about people disappearing – turn the other cheek, forgive without ever receiving an apology, understand the unthinkable of why people left us alone or why they didn’t respond to our requests of support. Rise above. Take the high road. Be the bigger person. Take the initiative to reach out. Understand. Don’t let it bother you. We were supposed to be okay with the horrible way we were treated by the people we trusted and considered to be good friends. We’re supposed to understand how hard it is for other people to reach out to us. I will say this about how hard it was for other people: As hard as it was for other people, whatever the reason may have been, it was so much harder for us.

I think there are a lot of assumptions that happen, too. People assume, because you are deeply grieving, that you won’t notice certain things – like people who pretend not to see you, people who don’t make contact for months at a time, people who talk about you from across the room. I also think they assume someone else may be doing the job of “being there” for a bereaved family, when that very well may not be the case. They assume that platitudes will comfort.

People hear what they want to hear, and sometimes we, as bereaved parents, tend to say what we think people want to hear, just to avoid an uncomfortable situation or to make it easier for people to be around us. It’s easier for the non-bereaved to hear something like, “God has used this situation to help me grow” than it is to hear, “This has absolutely crushed me and I have no idea how to continue living after my child died.” We tend to say what we think will make people the most comfortable so they don’t disappear. Them – “How are you?” Me – “I’m fine” (when what I’m really feeling is soul-crushingly heartbroken and on the brink of tears).

One response/comment on Melanie’s blog I’d like to point out is the gal who said this, “Sometimes the people who try to help are pushed away, quite rudely ! “How is she going to help ?” – angrily and ugly screamed at me . . .” She felt like she reached out to help someone who was grieving and was angrily rejected.

I can understand her frustration, but I can also understand it from the bereaved parent’s position. I went through a very angry stage. I was mad because of what I had lost, what was taken from me, especially my precious boy. I was mad that other people’s kids were hanging out with friends, graduating from college, would get married and live their lives when Jason would never have that chance.

I was so mad at everyone who abandoned us. I felt so rejected by those I thought would be there for us that I wanted to reject everyone I knew or who knew me. (Since I had been in leadership at two large homeschool groups and was very visual in my positions, I knew a lot of people and there were a lot of people who knew who I was.) I lost respect for nearly everyone I knew and held in high regard. In my anger, grief and alone-ness, I felt like they didn’t care and couldn’t be a friend when I really needed one. I was so angry with them for deserting us. I was mad at everybody. Grief and pain and abandonment disguises or displays itself as anger. When and if they eventually reached out to me, I had a hard time letting them back in my life, because I felt like they really didn’t know who I was any more. I didn’t trust them with my heart. If they didn’t care then, why would they care now?

Of course, with some perspective (and after dealing with my anger), I came to realize they simply may not have known what to do, as Melanie outlined above. That realization didn’t make anything easier for us when we so alone and hurting, and we walked away with many scars, but it did help in the forgiving process as time passed.

At her specific request, I have not written about most of what our daughter went through following her precious brother’s death. Oh, the stories I could tell. As Jenna said at the time, “People and the way they have treated us have made it 100 times worse.” (Sometimes “the way people treat you” can be that they simply disappear or that they “encourage” you to move on or that they ignore you when you walk into a room. Sometimes it can be much more than that, either by actions or inaction.)

Believe me, you would be shocked and grieved and mad, too, if similar things had happened to your child, your family. But, we were supposed to understand and be okay with all of it. It seemed backwards to me then and it seems backwards to me still. As a mother, it still hurts my heart just to think of all she went through – at 17 years of age. When other 17-year olds were hanging out with friends, choosing prom dresses and filling out college applications, our daughter was dealing with so much alone. She was looking at burial sites and helping choose music for her brother’s memorial service. She was finishing up her last year of high school with little to no support. It was a difficult time.

I really had to work at getting over my anger and forgiving people. I’m sure I missed some opportunities to connect with people because they didn’t understand my anger or guardedness. Once they tried and I didn’t respond the way they thought I would, they didn’t try again.

One thing that has become clear to me over the years is that most people simply don’t want to “go there,” even after all these years. They don’t want to hear about what we walked through after Jason died – not at all, not even now, not even one thing. If I bring up Jason or something we have walked through regarding his death, I can tell it makes people very uncomfortable. They either change the subject as soon as possible or are very relieved when I see how uncomfortable they are and change the subject. They must think enough time has passed to make it “safe” to be around us. As Melanie said in her blog, some people don’t want to risk entanglement. They don’t want to take the risk of entering into a bereaved parent’s pain and grief. It’s too uncomfortable. It’s too messy. It’s too painful. It’s too scary. It doesn’t matter how many years it’s been, most people simply don’t want to step into your pain.

I have been changed greatly by the people who hurt and abandoned us. I am scarred. I don’t trust people with my heart. I’m very guarded. If I do let my guard down and let someone in, they get one chance. If they blow it, my guard goes up and I have a very hard time letting it down again. I’ve worked hard at forgiving people, but I have truly been changed by this experience and have the scars to prove it. But, as Melanie said, I do keep on trying.

~Becky

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

Edited for clarity 9/5/2018

 

 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place – After the Death of a Child: Anniversaries, Birthdays and Holidays

Jason’s birthday is on Sunday. He would have been 36 years old.

I can’t picture him as a 36-year old. He will forever be 19 to me. I don’t know for sure what he would be doing had he lived, although I can imagine – work, wife, kids. I know that, whatever he did, it would have been a life lived with love and joy, a life I would have loved to see.

By now, as an anniversary, birthday or holiday approaches, I have learned to recognize the anxiousness that arises from deep inside of me, the tears just below the surface that seem to have a mind of their own and fall at will, the fight or flight reaction I seem to have in response to stressful situations. Recognizing the approaching emotionally-charged day doesn’t lessen my reaction to it; it just reminds me to be gentle with myself and cut myself some slack.

The thing about an approaching emotionally-charged day that a bereaved parent may be experiencing is that the world still rolls along, and we have to be able to function and cope in that world. Time doesn’t stop for our grief, and grief doesn’t exactly work around our (or anyone else’s) schedule. I can’t sit at my desk at work and cry. I have to carry on and do my job, whether or not Jason birthday or death day anniversary may be approaching. I’ve learned that the days approaching Jason’s birthday and the day he died are usually harder than the actual calendar day itself, but I still have to be able to function in my daily life and then grieve in an appropriate, safe place.

This has been a difficult and stressful week at work, full of fried motherboards and computer glitches galore. I’ve had to sit still for a few moments now and then to concentrate on breathing deeply in order to manage my emotions. What I really wanted to do was drive away to really beautiful place, think about my precious boy, and cry because I miss him so much. That’s not exactly a very practical thing to do in this hustle and bustle world, and is something few people would understand.

“The show must go on,” as they say. And so, I do my best to distract myself and to keep myself occupied with some perceived important task at hand until I can take the time to grieve as I should. I say “grieve as I should,” because it’s entirely appropriate and necessary for me to acknowledge this great loss and to grieve the death of our son, no matter how long it’s been. I will always miss Jason with all of my heart.

I love you, my precious boy, and I miss you.

~Mom

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney