Surveys regularly show up on my Facebook. You know the kind – what will your tombstone read, what color is your aura, what color best matches your personality, can you pass an 8th grade science test? I rarely respond to them or to those “do something or other and pass this on and good luck will come back to you” kinds of things. Sometimes, though, I take a survey just out of curiosity.
This one (above) came up yesterday. I clicked on it and this is the response I got – “This year will be your year. 2017 has given you a hard time, but you stayed strong through it. All your hard work and kindness will bear fruit this year.” My response on Facebook is written at the top of the photo.
I don’t give these things much weight at all, and I don’t give much weight to this one, but I have to admit it got it right that 2017 has been a tough year. Not nearly as tough as the year Jason died. Absolutely nothing could compare to that year by a long shot.
But, there were a couple of things in 2017 that hit me hard, went deep, and profoundly affected me. Both times, I felt like the actions of others hit me in vulnerable places, weaker places in this facade I have carefully pieced together following Jason’s death.
I feel like I put forth a facade, one that protects people from seeing this broken person that hides behind it and protects me from being hurt again. I’ve gotten the impression over the years that people are uncomfortable with my grief and with brokenness, an impression that specifically goes back to the way people reacted to us after Jason died. I learned how to answer the question, “How many children do you have?” and many more things that only a parent who has had a child die has to deal with. I think a lot of parents who have lost a child would agree that they have to hide the depth of their grief in order to make it palatable to those around them. I recognized this early on and put up a facade to deal with it.
These events in 2017 felt like arrows that went straight through that facade, shot right into my soul, piercing the facade so that it all broke away, leaving only emptiness. I felt like a shell with nothing left inside and nothing on the outside to protect me, like one of those canoes that are stood on end to be used as bookshelves, except without the shelves or anything else in it. Empty. I can’t tell you how many times this year I stood in the shower or sat up during the night crying. I feel things deeply – I always have – and these events went deep. I don’t complain a lot about what I’m going through and I don’t let people see the pain in my heart. I don’t let people close to me. The thing about being vulnerable and allowing people to get close to you is that they can hurt you. They can shoot arrow that goes right into your heart. I guess that’s why I tend to be so guarded.
I wrote this in my journal following one of the painful 2017 events:
I trusted you with my broken heart,
this heart shattered by pain I still cannot bear.
Intentionally and carefully, you shot your arrow
of words straight at my broken heart.
You knew my pain and brokenness, yet you shot anyway.
Your words – that single arrow – cut through the
thin veneer that holds me together.
Deep into my broken heart it went,
tearing pieces I have worked so hard to mend and
damaging places before not broken.
You have had your say, you have let the arrow fly.
You move on, thinking I should get over it and do the same.
I am broken. I am weary. I am an empty shell.
I feel more deeply and heal more slowly than before.
There are so many things I wish I could do over,
things I wish I could change.
The person I was is so different than the person I now am.
I don’t know how to fix this one, this broken mess that I am.
Once strong, now forever broken.
Things once right, now forever wrong.
The people closest hold the most power to hurt.
I have had to guard my broken heart so carefully.
I trusted and let my guard down and you have hurt me.
Too much pain, too much loss, too much broken trust.
People have not been kind with my shattered heart.
It takes an infinite amount of kindness to make up for the sheer lack of it.
It gets harder each time to get up again and keep on trying.
The children’s rhyme says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never break me.”
But it’s not true.
I don’t think people realize how much energy it takes to rebuild a life following the death of a child. Some people have more tools to accomplish this task a little easier than others, but it is by no means an easy task for any parent. Piece by piece, carefully searched for. Pieces that are missing, never to be found. It all takes so much time and energy. I don’t think people realize that, once your life has been so badly and deeply shattered, that it’s not that unusual for difficult things to break or to shatter and scatter some of those pieces once again.
I had put so much energy into putting myself back together following Jason’s death. Then we left Seattle and moved to Oklahoma. To this day, no one could convince me that for me, personally, this was not a really bad move. It took me away from a place that Jason loved and from places where I felt connected to him, from familiar things, from our daughter, from our son and grandson, from the only true friend I had in the world. I felt like so much of the hard work I had invested into “moving forward” was gone, only to leave me many steps backwards. I went into survival mode. I pulled my protective shield around me and merely existed, an empty shell once again. For years, I merely existed. Driving home from work one day after living nearly three years in Oklahoma, I realized I felt absolutely no connection there. I really had no friends and hadn’t tried to make any. I really liked our house, but I never felt at home there. I hated Oklahoma. There’s a big difference between living in a house and living in a place that is home. I have never felt “at home” since we sold our house in Snohomish, “got rid of” so many things that made our house a home, and moved from the Seattle area.
When we moved to North Carolina, I worked again at putting myself back together. And now, once again, I’m working on putting pieces of my life back together. I keep trying – and have been trying since Jason died – to put the pieces back together, but so many of them are missing or broken beyond use. It’s not an easy task. These two events from 2017 really took a toll on me. As 2017 rolled into 2018, I sat and pondered the year ahead. I want to have a healthy life, a life of purpose, a life that means something – if only I could figure out how to do that, really do that. I really, truly want this to be a year of healing, of meaning, of purpose, of good things for Joe and me and for our family. I want this to be a year when I can finally feel at least somewhat at home somewhere. They say hope springs eternal. As I said in my Facebook post, one can only hope.
My most sincere hopes and prayers for each of you for a good year ahead.
© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney