Empty Arms

Tomorrow is Jason’s birthday. He would have been 39 years old.

I realized tonight as I got ready for bed tonight that I had felt such an emptiness all evening, like my arms were trying to reach out to hug Jason. He gave the best hugs in the world.

I wasn’t actually physically reaching out with my arms, but it was almost as if my whole being wanted to reach out, bring him close and hug him tight. But it felt like there was a huge, empty, gaping hole right in front of me where Jason should be, a void that could only be filled by Jason. My arms just felt so empty and there was such a huge ache in my heart.

We can talk about holding memories close. We can remember certain events and relive them in our minds. We can look at photographs and reminisce.

I remember what Jason’s hugs felt like. I remember his laugh and his smile. I remember his beautiful blue eyes. I remember so many things about him.

But a memory doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing. For me, there will be no more Jason hugs, more more memories to be made or events to be celebrated with Jason, no more Jason anything. I can’t wrap my arms around him and feel his wonderful bear hugs. And my arms feel so empty tonight.

Oh, how I miss you, my precious boy.

~Becky

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

Siblings

Today is our daughter’s birthday. Jenna was born two weeks to the day before Jason’s 2nd birthday. They were close in age, and very close in heart.

Our daughter was 17 years old when Jason died. While other kids her age were thinking about prom dresses and college, Jenna was helping pick out her brother’s burial site and planning his memorial service. My heart just hurts to think about what she has gone through as a result of Jason’s death.

A lot of what my husband and I experienced following Jason’s death was also experienced by our daughter in her own right and in ways specific to her. She not only lost her brother and the majority of her friends disappeared, she basically lost her parents in a lot of ways because of our deep grief at a time when she needed us most.

I am not at liberty and do not have permission to talk about some of the things she experienced following her brother’s death, but I will say that you would be shocked at some of the things she went through – at 17 years of age. Even now when I think about it, it just boggles my mind why people did (or didn’t do) the things they did (or didn’t do). It’s heartbreaking.

At the time Jason died, Jenna was a senior in high school and a freshman in college, participating in the Running Start program in Washington State. As happened that quarter, Jason, Eric and I were also taking classes at that college. The week following Jason’s death, both Jenna and I went back to school. Not only did Jenna go to school, she worked part-time. I marvel that she actually managed to continue on with her life and accomplish what she did. I don’t think I could not have continued on without her. I could barely function at the time. I know she was in so much pain, too.

I think Jenna felt she had to be brave for Joe and me. She didn’t want to be an additional burden on top one everything else. Plus, it’s not easy being a 17-year old whose brother died. No young person wants to “stand out” with the distinction of being the teenager whose brother died. They looked at us differently, and she was no exception. People would ask her how we were doing, never how she was doing.

After graduating from community college, Jenna transferred to a university about an hour from where we lived. She didn’t feel that she could live in a dorm with a lot of people, so we set her up in her own little apartment. She worked two jobs while going to school, all while maintaining excellent grades. By the end of her junior year, she was so burned out that she moved back home. She went to a year of technical college and became a massage therapist, graduating at the top of her class. Since then, she has gone back to the university and received her bachelor’s degree with honors (also while working two jobs) and then her Master’s degree with a 4.0 GPA (also while working). She is an amazing young woman.

Jason and Jenna were incredibly close from the moment Jenna was born. They were each other’s companions, best friends, confidants. They did so much together. They each had their own set of friends, but they could always count on each other for companionship at any time. They set up movie outings with their friends and could fill our house with people on the spur of the moment on a Sunday afternoon. They shared a birthday party one year and had a blast.

When Jenna was little, Jason was her protector. He fed her yogurt and made sure her automatic swing never ran low. As she got older, he always watched out for her with the most tender of hearts. She was the photographer of his high school senior pictures. He was the loudest to cheer at Jenna’s softball games. They were two peas in a pod and the best friends you could ever imagine.

The day before Jason died, Jason and Jenna hung out together for a good portion of the afternoon and went to Starbucks with Jason’s friend Alina (who also died in the accident). They all came back to our house and Jason and Alina watched a movie while Jenna went to see a friend. As Jason headed out just after midnight to take Alina home, he stopped by Jenna’s room to see if she wanted to go with him. She had had a difficult time with the friend she went to see and opted to go to bed. Within a few minutes, as he drove Alina home, Jason was broadsided by a drunk driver going more than twice the posted speed limit. And, just like that, her precious brother was gone.

Jenna doesn’t talk much about what she went through at that time, but I know it has affected her more deeply than anyone could imagine. At the time, I wished that I could take away the pain. I wish even more so now. I can only imagine what her life – and ours – would have been like had not Jason died. It hasn’t been easy. She has lived more than half her life without her brother. I know that she keeps him close in her heart and thoughts. She misses him like crazy.

Our daughter is a wonderful, thoughtful, kind, amazing, beautiful woman. We would give her the world if we could. We love her with our whole hearts.

~Becky

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

I dreamed about Jason last night

I rarely dream at all. If I do dream, I usually don’t remember them.

I haven’t dreamt much about Jason since he died. When I do, they are very vivid. I dream that it’s all a huge mistake that Jason died, that he is alive. I dream that I am looking for him, that he must be somewhere and I need to find him.

Last night I dreamed that the place we lived had a Mount Vesuvius-type volcanic eruption. Jason and the girl he loved had been somewhere together when the blast happened. I couldn’t get to them to protect them and, when the blast was over, I frantically searched and searched and searched for them. I ran through the ash-covered streets checking each person who had succumbed to the the volcanic eruption to see if it was Jason and his love. The ash was so deep that it made it difficult to tell what exactly the shapes were, whether they were human or an inanimate object. I looked in every possible hiding place I could find to see if they had taken shelter in one of them. I desperately wanted to find them alive and for them to be okay.

I couldn’t find them anywhere and kept getting more panicky by the minute.

And then I woke up. I laid in bed and thought about how much I miss Jason, how incredibly different our lives would have been in SO many ways had he lived.

No matter how long it’s been, I think our hearts always long for our children to be alive and with us. We desperately want them to come home and to be able to hug them tight. We want them to be safe. Sometimes the longing comes out in our dreams.

Missing you, my boy, today and always.

Love,

Mom

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

Daffodils

Jason always loved flowers. When he was a little boy, he would collect bouquets of dandelions and bring them to me.

Jason giving roses to fellow “Our Town” actor

As he got older, he gave flowers to those he cared about – a rose to every girl who was in the play “Our Town” with him, daisies to a friend for her birthday, roses to his sister when she was going through a rough time.

Picture table at the memorial service

At Jason’s memorial service, we scattered the photo memory table with red rose petals.

Because we had to drive by the accident site on the way to work, to school, for shopping and most everything else, I purchased daffodil and crocus bulbs prior to the first anniversary of Jason’s death as soon as I saw them become available at Costco and planted them by the side of the road – bright yellow daffodil bulbs for Jason and purple crocus bulbs for Alina. Yellow flowers remind me of Jason’s bright, sunshine-y personality and purple was Alina’s favorite color. I wanted to drive by a sign of spring and life on the anniversary of Jason’s death at a time when my world seemed so dark and sad.

I went to the hardware store, bought potting soil, mixed the bulbs in with the potting soil so they would be ready to plant. I took a shovel, parked by the side of the road where the accident happened, dug a hole and put my pre-mixed bulb mixture in the hole, making sure the bulbs were right-side-up so they would grow. I carefully covered them over with more potting soil. I had no idea if they would actually grow along the side of such a busy road where the road shoulder was so hard and rocky, where the big mowing equipment regularly came by to mow with their giant chains, and where the wild animals robbed gardens of things that tried to grow.

But they came up.

I watched as they gradulally came up out of the soil, green shoots reaching for sunlight. On March 2nd, the day before the first anniversary of Jason’s death, I noticed tightly closed bulbs on both the daffodil and crocus plants. As I headed to school on that first March 3rd anniversary, bright yellow daffodils and purple crocuses greeted me as I approached 180th Street from Interurban Road, the site of the accident. I sat in my car and cried, both with longing for my precious boy and for the miracle that the flowers had actually bloomed on that very day. They never came up again any successive year, but I am so glad they bloomed that year.

Flowers still strongly remind me of Jason – roses, daffodils, and daisies, especially. They remind me of his brightness, his kindness, his specialness, his thoughtfulness. I look for the first flowers to come up in the spring, especially daffodils, and take pictures of them because they remind me of my precious boy.

On Friday, we drove out to the Biltmore Estate – one of my favorite places to photograph flowers. About the only flowers growing right now outside of the conservatory are daffodils, crocuses and pansies. But their beauty reminds me of Jason and his beauty, both inside and out.

I miss you, my boy.

~Becky

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

ALL PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN BY AND COPYRIGHTED BY REBECCA R. CARNEY

Symbolism in Dreams

I had a dream last night. I don’t dream a lot – either that, or I don’t remember my dreams much – but this was a vivid one.

I dreamed that I met a friend for breakfast, a friend whose family we used to think of as extended family members. Our kids were young – middle-school age or younger. They were so excited to be together and were having so much fun. We were seated in a far corner of the packed restaurant. We initially spoke to the waitperson, but then the person waiting on us disappeared and never came back. The kids kept getting more and more restless. After about 45 minutes of waiting, I decided to go and find someone to help us.

As I headed toward the front of the restaurant, I ran into the mother of a child who was a good friend of our daughter. I could tell she was so mad at me and she walked away from me without saying anything to me. I didn’t know why she was so mad at me. I found out where she was sitting, tried to apologize for doing whatever I had done that had offended her and reached as if to give her a hug. She avoided me entirely and refused to even look at me. I gave up and went to find the manager.

The manager said that they were not going to be able to take care of our party at all because they were having a sale to support a charity. All of their employees were downstairs helping with the sale and no staff was left to serve us. I went down to the lower level where they were having the sale and saw that all of my personal fabric (I used to sew a lot) was mixed in with all of the other fabric and things for sale. Most of the fabric belonging to me was some that I was going to use to make a memory quilt. Someone had taken my fabric without my permission and had given it all away. I was so frustrated that someone thought so little of my things – things that belonged to me and things that were important to me – that they just took them away from me without my permission. I tried to find a box to start collecting my things, but whenever I stepped away, someone took my fabric and placed it somewhere else to be sold. It was all gone before I could do anything at all to get it back. I had nothing left.

I found my sister (who was in charge of the charity sale) to tell her what had happened, but she acted like it was no big deal. It was for charity, was a good thing for someone to take my fabric away from me and add it to the rest of things to be sold. It was for charity, after all. She said that I didn’t need it any more and it was time for it to move along to someone else. I was so mad that I started hitting things and knocking them over (which is totally unlike me) as I walked out the door.

And then I woke up with a start.

I realized I was really upset and still so mad, even though I was awake and knew it was a dream. I started to think about what I’d dreamed and believe it actually symbolizes many things we have gone through.

First, the anniversary of Jason’s death is just a couple of days away. It is a difficult time of year for me. The friend and her kids that we met for breakfast symbolized the people we once knew, people we considered to be close friends, people we loved and cared for. The disappearing, non-existent waitperson symbolized the help we expected from those we knew after Jason died, help that never materialized.

The mother of our daughter’s friend who was so mad at me symbolized the people who didn’t understand why it hurt me that they deserted us after Jason died. They thought we should get over it. When we could not be who they thought we should be, they rejected or avoided us. The woman in my dream was the one who proudly told me in real life, just a few months after Jason died, that her kids were nearly 90% back to normal. She actually told me to my face that her kids were nearly over my son’s death. It was unbelievable.

The fabric symbolized all of the things I felt have been taken away from me without my permission since Jason died. I’ve lost so much. My sister represented the callousness of people who seem to have not cared how much we have lost and those who feel it’s time to forget and move one. My sister is not callous at all, by the way, so I don’t know why she was in my dream depicting such a person. It’s genuinely easy to feel at times that hardly anyone even cares any more how much we still hurt or all that we’ve been through. People got tired of our troubles. Out of sight, out of mind. After all, it’s been 19 years, right? Except that the pain of losing a child never goes away.

The anger in my dream represents just that. There are still times when I’m angry. Not all the time, but I sometimes struggle with anger. I’m angry that Jason died. I miss my boy. I miss his hugs, his beautiful smile. I miss everything about him. I’m angry both at the people who deserted us and those who seem to have moved on with their lives. I feel like Jason is being forgotten. I’m angry at the way people treated us, the way our daughter’s friends treated her. My precious daughter. She didn’t deserve the way she was treated.

At times, I’m still angry, no matter how hard I have worked at forgiveness. I’m angry that Jason did not have the chance to live his life, to graduate from college, to marry and have a family. His friends are doing all of those things. I’m angry that we don’t have the opportunity to dote on and love his children, our grandchildren. I’m angry that we have struggled so long and so hard to get our feet under us after Jason’s death and to find a place where we belong, only to still feel like we don’t belong anywhere, in limbo, our possessions in storage once again. We are like the man/woman without a country. We have no home of our own, no furnishings, what little we own in storage. I feel so alone sometimes. 19 years later and we are still lost. It boggles my mind.

Our minds are amazing things. No matter how hard we try or how much time passes, we never forget the things that are in our hearts, the experiences we have been through and that have deeply affected us, and the pain of losing a child. Sometimes our minds pull those fragments together and they come out in our dreams.

Missing my boy, always.

Hugs,

Becky

© 2021 Rebecca R. Carney

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