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IMG_1489They’re building a new house behind the office where I work. As I looked out the window this morning while waiting for my coffee to brew, I realized that it made me nostalgic for the time we had our house built in Washington. It was a fascinating and exciting experience watching our home come together from a piece of raw land to the finished product.  Not everything went perfectly, as things rarely do, but we were thrilled to watch it going together and even more thrilled when it was complete.

We built our house after a tree fell on the house we were renting. It was quite a journey and nearly two years between the falling tree and moving into our newly-built home. We had stayed with a couple of friends for a while, looked and looked and looked for a house, made an offer on one house that fell through, moved a family of 5 into a small apartment while still having most of our belongings in storage.

images-1At one point in the journey, I was very discouraged. It didn’t seem like we were ever going to find a place to call home. Right around that time, a local radio station just happened to sponsor a poem contest in conjunction with the home show that was going on at the Kingdome. The poem had to be something that reflected the true meaning of the word “home.” I thought, “If there’s something I know (after all we had been through), it’s what the true meaning of a home is.”

imagesI wish I had kept a copy of that poem. It was something about a home being more than the sum of its walls and doors. The poem won second prize, which was high-quality, custom mini blinds for the winner’s whole house. We didn’t have a house at that point, but it gave me hope. I knew that, whenever and wherever we found a home, I had won mini blinds for it!! I felt like God had heard my prayer for a home of our own and this was sort of a down payment on that home-to-be. I called the radio station to let them know we didn’t have a house quite yet, and they and the mini blind company were gracious enough to extend the deadline to claim the prize. One of the first things I did when we moved in was to order our mini blinds!

A few years ago, I found my “wish list” for a house that I had written not long after we had to move out of the tree-damaged rental and early in our house search. It was amazing to look at that list and realize that our Washington house had hit every single thing I had written on that list. No wonder it felt so much like home to me.

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I’ve driven by our home a couple of times when I’ve been in Washington. I still think of it as our home. It looks much the same, with only the trees and shrubs taller. The neighbor told us that the “new” owners have paved the driveway. I wonder if our names are still in the concrete where we wrote them in the wet cement of the just-poured foundation.

When we were back in Washington for Christmas recently, we had lunch at the pizza place owned by our former neighbors. It’s interesting to me that every single member of that neighboring family still refers to the house as “your house.” We sold the house over 12 years ago. We’ve been told quite a few comments such as, “They taking good care of your house for you,” and “They paved the driveway up to your house.” I guess we’re not the only ones who still think of it as our home.

That-House-was-a-Perfect-House-Tolkien-Quote-Free-Printable-Hand-Drawn-Artwork-from-The-Inspired-RoomI’ve written about what our journey has been since we sold that house, how difficult it was for me to leave Washington and how unsettled and “home-less” (not “homeless”; “home-less” – without a home) I have felt since then. The small one-bedroom apartment we now rent simply doesn’t feel like home. It’s dark; it doesn’t get much sunshine because of the trees surrounding it. None of the furnishings belong to us. A lot of our belongings are still housed in boxes. It’s temporary. Asheville, in general, feels less like home to us since our daughter and her husband moved away, too.

I miss the house that we built in Washington mainly for the reason that it felt like home to me, something I haven’t felt for a very long time, not since we moved from there. It felt like my haven. It was a place filled with sunshine and baking and projects and laughter and game-playing and studying and traditions and friends and family. It was the home filled with the beautiful, sunshine-y presence of our precious Jason. Those were the things that made that house our home.

I miss that true feeling of being “at home.” I don’t know where that is or how to find that feeling again, but I hope to find it some day.

“The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.” – Thomas Jefferson

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Missing my boy, today and always.

~Becky

© 2019 Rebecca R. Carney

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney

When our kids were born, we decided not to do the whole Santa thing with our kids. With my dad being a pastor, Santa was never part of our Christmases growing up, anyway; it was all about the birth of Jesus.

Growing up, my husband’s family encouraged asking Santa for gifts, taking photos with Santa, opening up presents on Christmas morning from Santa. When Joe found out, as a young boy, that the gifts were bought by his parents and not given to him by Santa, he felt like his parents had lied to him. He felt betrayed. Santa was a myth; his parents had lied. Therefore, he was absolutely adamant that our kids would know that Christmas was all about Jesus and not Santa, that the greatest gift of all was Jesus being born on earth. Gifts were bought, given and received by people who loved each other.

We did, however, put up stockings. Instead of gifts from Santa, we bought each other small gifts to put in the stockings. One year, my sister made all of us beautiful, handmade stockings. By Christmas morning, the stockings were overflowing with fun little gifts.

After Jason died, I really struggled with what to do about the stockings. It didn’t seem right to put them all up and continue the tradition of filling them with small gifts. If we did that, four stockings would be full and Jason’s would hang empty. I couldn’t put up just four stockings so we could continue our “before” tradition. I couldn’t just leave them in a box over Christmas. We had to figure out a new tradition.

I came up with the idea of Christmas bingo. We still hung up the stockings as decorations, but we came up with a new tradition. We bought fun little items, ones we typically would have put in each other’s stockings. Instead, all the gifts were put on a table and we played bingo. Whoever won the bingo game got to pick a prize. We chose an age-appropriate bingo game, depending on the year and who was with us at Christmas. Some years, we played “bingo” with card games; whoever won the card game got to pick a prize. It has ended up being a hit with all ages.

When a child dies, traditions that a family used to do only highlight the empty hole left by the child’s death. I can’t tell you how much I struggled that first Christmas. I tried so hard to maintain the Christmas traditions as we knew them – partly because I didn’t know what else to do, partly because I was trying to maintain some sense of normalcy, partly to try to maintain our traditions.

After the death of a child, holidays are incredibly difficult times. If you are experiencing such a loss, please know that you are not alone. I pray that God – along with your family and friends – will hold you especially close this season.

Missing my boy, this Christmas season and every day.

~Becky

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

My husband and I are going back to Seattle for Christmas this year. It’s been three years since we’ve been there. Although we no longer actually have a physical home there, Seattle will always feel like home to me. It’s never an easy thing to do, this going back to the “home” that used to be, the one that remained after Jason died.

I know that there will be times when we will be in places that are poignantly familiar. I know that, at times, there may be triggers. We will go to visit Jason’s grave. I know that we will miss Jason like crazy.

As I cleaned closets today, one of the songs that came on my iTunes was a song sung by Jimmy Durante – “I’ll be Seeing You.” It brought tears to my eyes.

I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through
In that small cafe
The park across the way
The children’s carousel
The chestnut trees, the wishing well
I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summers day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way
I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll seeing you.
Songwriters: Irving Kahal / Sammy Fain
I’ll Be Seeing You lyrics © BMG Rights Management
Here’s to you, my precious boy. I know that everywhere I look, I’ll be seeing you and missing you. Life is not the same without you.
~Mom
© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

Dreams

There are people that dream about their family members who have died, but typically I am not one of those people. I am not one who usually dreams or remembers any of my dreams at all, although I’ve had a few very vivid dreams about things over the years.

For example, one Friday night I had an extremely vivid dream about my mother-in-law. I dreamed that she had fallen, that someone had come to pick her up, and that she was dying. Her health had been declining, but there was no indication that she was near death, so this dream really rattled me.

The next morning, I debated with myself about whether or not to tell my husband, but I decided I’d better tell him and encourage him to call his mom to check in. When he called his folks, his sister answered the the and said, “Joey, I’m so sorry. We should have called you. Mom fell yesterday, and they came and took her to the hospital. They’re really not sure how long she’s going to live.” Needless to say, he booked his plane ticket right away to go see her. She died not long after. That whole experience still gives me goosebumps.

I’ve had several other similar vivid dreams that seemed to fit exactly into what was going on in real life. It is a bit unnerving at times, I have to admit.

I have only dreamed about Jason a couple of times, most memorably about six months after he died. I wish I dreamed about him more. I miss seeing him so much. I miss his hugs so much.

After Jason died, it caused me enormous anguish to think that my precious, beautiful son had borne the direct hit of a car going 70 miles per hour. As a parent, we just want our children to be safe and protected, and our minds rebel at the thought that they weren’t. Our whole beings cry out for the safety and protection of our children. My husband went through a horrible time of guilt that he wasn’t able to protect Jason; he felt like he should have been able to protect him somehow. When the accident happened, the drunk driver’s car hit Jason’s car right on the driver’s side door, right where he was sitting.

My anguish was made worse when I got the death certificates in the mail. Not understanding the medical terminology of the main cause of death listed on the death certificate, I made the mistake of looking it up on the internet. I have never, ever shared what I found with anyone, and I never, ever will. Ever. It caused me a whole lot of anguish for many years. It’s not like I have dwelt on the cause of death all the time, but it definitely factored into my grieving process.

Although we have a complete set of the police investigation, along with all of the photos they took that night, it is securely taped shut with a stern warning on the outside about never, ever opening it. I’ve never looked at it and I never want anyone to, either. When the police detectives reviewed the case with us, they were very selective in the few photos they showed us of the accident. I’m sure there is a very good reason why. I’m glad the whole court case didn’t go to trial; otherwise, a lot of that documentation would become public. I should probably have our work’s shredding service take it away. I don’t know why I’ve held onto it this long.

Anyway, some years after Jason’s death, I hit a really low point and was struggling mightily in my grief — not only about Jason’s death and everything surrounding that time, but how he died. And then, one night, I had a dream that really brought me comfort.

We lived in Florida at the time. In Florida, there are canals and waterways all over the place, and there are some bridges that go up on either side to a flat area on top. As you go  up and across the flat top, you can’t necessarily see if there are any cars stopped as you head down the other side. I always watched in fear that someone would come off the bridge too fast to stop. Florida has some crazy, fast drivers! (No offense to any Floridians!)

In my dream, I had gone across the flat top of the bridge and was on the downslope on the other side, stopped and waiting for the light to change. In my rearview mirror, I saw somebody in a very large, heavy vehicle come barreling up behind me. I instantly knew that there was no way he could stop in time, that he was going to hit me hard, and that there was no way I was going to survive. Right in the split moment before he hit me, I felt my soul, my spirit, whatever you want to call it being pulled out of my body so that I was several feet above the car.

In my dream, I could actually feel the sensation of being pulled out of my body. I don’t even know how to describe it — sort of a quick, but gentle and airy separation of body from spirit that sort of tickled, like someone grabbed me by the back of my collar and just lifted me right out of my body. I was still me, just not in my physical body any more. I could look down past my feet at my physical body in the car, and I felt a holy presence beside me, holding me. I had felt no pain at the moment of impact because I was no longer a part of my physical body; I had been pulled out in the split second before the car hit me.

And, as I woke from that dream, I realized that that’s what had happened to Jason. God had spared him the horrendous pain of being hit by that drunk driver, of his 180-pound frame absorbing the full impact of a speeding, 4000-pound car. He had quickly and gently pulled the true spirit of Jason out of the way of that speeding car to be with Him, leaving just the shell of his body behind to absorb the impact.

From that time on, even though I remember the medical terminology of Jason’s cause of death and know exactly what it means, I know in my heart that he felt no pain at the moment of the accident. He is safe; he is healthy; he is happy. And he’s waiting for me.

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

~Becky

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

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

 

 

Happy Birthday, Jason

Born on this day, 9 lbs, 10 1/2 oz, Jason David Carney – the most wonderful, kind, giving, empathetic, intelligent, friendly, loving, loyal, honest, level-headed, thoughtful son a parent could ever ask for. No matter the situation, he always handled himself with integrity. He always saw the good in whoever he met or knew. He always went above and beyond. He loved his family and friends unconditionally. How extremely glad and privileged we were that he was born into our family and how excited we were, looking forward to his future – graduation, marriage, kids, living and loving life as only Jason could. Oh, how I miss him. Happy birthday, my precious boy. I love you. Jason David Carney 7/29/82 – 3/3/02.

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney