Baby Mine

jumbo_dumbo_storkI love most Disney movies, and one of my early favorites when the kids were little was Dumbo. The gist of the story is that, after a long-awaited arrival, the stork delivers baby Dumbo to his mother, Mrs. Jumbo. Everyone thinks he is so cute – until he unfurls his huge ears, and then everyone is shocked and horrified because he is so different. They turn their backs on him and exclude him. They make fun of him and one of the other elephants calls him a “freak.” Mrs. Jumbo, though, adores him just as he is.

clipdumbo212As the circus opens to the public, mama elephant proudly encourages her offspring to meet the people. But, as kids at the circus make fun of him for his ears, his mother moves him away from the tormentors to protect him. When they keep harassing and making fun of him, she goes berserk at the thought that anyone would hurt or torment her precious little one. She would do anything to protect her baby from the insults. As a result of her actions, she is deemed violent and forcibly separated from Dumbo, locked up in a solitary cage. At one point, lonely Dumbo goes to visit mama elephant in her prison, and Mrs. Jumbo sings the song “Baby Mine” to Dumbo, her precious little one. It’s a universal song with a universal message – one that every mother would wish to impress upon the hearts of her children – of how wonderful and precious they are, just as they are. In the end, Dumbo learns that what makes him different is what makes him special.

I recently watched an interview on PBS of Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer-winning journalist whose son is autistic. Of the Dumbo film, Mr. Suskind says:

“Dumbo, in a way, is a simple story, and its simplicity – the core of it – is of such powerful resonance that it sneaks up and just whacks you…It’s a moment of love and of arrival, of birth. And then the ears!! Oh, my! Just look at those ears! There isn’t anyone who doesn’t feel pain then. ‘It’s all the fault of that f-r-e-a-k.’

‘I don’t want to be the outcast. Don’t leave me behind. And the things that make me different, I want to hide them. I don’t want people to see that. I don’t want to be left out’…Dumbo’s about how we all yearn to be part of the main, how we all just want to be like everyone else.

I’m just different, but the thing that make me different is the not a thing I need to wrestle with and hide. It’s a thing, once I recognize, it allows me to soar. It’s not ‘in spite of’ what makes me different that I did it, it’s because of it.”

Not to over-analyze a children’s cartoon, but this story speaks to me on several levels.

First – for all of those children who are different or feel different, for those who aren’t accepted or are bullied for some real or perceived flaw – you have something inside of you that makes you very special. Some very successful people have gone through periods of time when others didn’t believe in them (Albert Einstein, John Lennon, etc.). People who were considered “geeks” in school have changed the world (Bill Gates, and many others). Believe in yourself. Give yourself time to soar.

Second – a mother’s love is stronger than any chain. My kids have all been – as the song says – “close to my heart never to part…you’re so precious to me, sweet as can be, baby of mine.” I hope they know how much I loved them from the minute they were born and how much they have meant to me every minute of every day from the minute I knew I was pregnant. The only thing I ever wanted to be in this life was a mom. There have been times when my heart was so full of love for my children – so full of awe and wonder that they were actually our precious children, born into our family and given to us by God –  that my heart could hardly hold it all.

Third – no one likes to feel like an outsider. The one thing about the deep grief following the death of a child is that it can be a very lonely walk. I remember recognizing the feeling that I would never be the same, that people would never look at me the same after Jason died. After his death, one of Jason’s friends posted on his social media account  that he would never be able to look at us or Alina’s parents the same, that he would always see us as “marked.”  At a Christmas concert that first year, I remember glancing across the room in time to see friends, heads huddled close together talking, as they were obviously discussing Joe and me.

As bereaved parents, you become the ultimate outsider. I remember feeling like I was on the other side of the glass wall, looking in, as people celebrated this or that. The everyday joys belonged to others and not to me. I still feel that way. Unless you have walked this walk, I can’t imagine one would understand what it’s like to have relationships with people you value disappear into thin air – not just for a while, but literally for years or forever. We became pariahs, through none of our own actions. I literally never heard from some people ever again, people I had known for years and considered great “Christian” people, good friends.

Others expected me to understand how difficult it was for them to be around me. One gal wrote, “You have often been in my prayers, my thoughts. I want to call, come to visit, but I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to relate to your pain and like a chicken I stay away and I don’t call and I don’t visit. I have many reminders of you…so I do pray…and my thoughts go to you and your pain and how hard it must be every day to live with the reminders and the emptiness.” She goes on to talk about how difficult it is going to be to have her son, Jason’s friend, go off to college and how much she will miss him and that the hardest part of parenting is letting go. She ended the note by saying she would have access to a car soon and that she would “make work of seeing” me. I never did hear from her.

I learned early on that I had to hide my grief and make it palatable so that people would want to be around me. At least, I thought I had to make it palatable. In retrospect, I’m not sure it made any difference. People disappeared, anyway, and I don’t think there was anything I could have done about it.

I, especially, think it was difficult for our daughter being “different” at 17 years old. It’s never easy being the teenage girl who is different than everyone else, and losing your brother in a car accident really sets us apart from everyone else. While other girls were buying prom dresses and planning for graduation, she was helping pick out her brother’s casket and choosing photos and songs for his memorial service. I wish I could say her friends stepped up and surrounded her with love and caring, but that was far from the case. She and Jason were so close their entire lives, and I would have done anything to spare her the pain she walked through. Losing a brother is horrendous; being made to feel an outcast because of it is also a horrible thing.

I’m not sure I agree entirely with the last paragraph of Mr. Suskind’s comments about difficulties or differences making us soar. It rather feels like one of those “what doesn’t kill us makes us strongerplatitudes. But, because of what we have walked through, I feel like I have a deeper empathy for those who suffer deep loss. I hope so. And I hope I can do my small part to raise awareness of what it’s like to be the bereaved parent and sibling to a fantastic, wonderful, incredible, phenomenal young man like Jason. If I can encourage some measure of kindness toward bereaved families, I will feel like I have done my part.

Miss you always, my precious boy.

Baby Mine

Baby mine, don’t you cry.
Baby mine, dry your eyes.
Rest your head close to my heart,
Never to part,
Baby of mine.

Little one, when you play;
Don’t you mind what they say.
Let those eyes sparkle and shine,
Never a tear,
Baby of mine.

If they knew sweet little you
They’d end up loving you too.
All those same people who scold you;
What they’d give just for the right to hold you.

From your head down to your toes,
You’re not much, goodness knows.
But you’re so precious to me,
Sweet as can be,
Baby of mine.

All of those people who scold you,
What they’d give just for the right to hold you.

From your head down to your toes
You’re not much, goodness knows.
But you’re so precious to me,
Sweet as can be,
Baby of mine.
Baby of mine

Dumbo photos courtesy of https://www.disneyclips.com
© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

Platitudes/Cliches

18198324_1900226186922074_416867357421498871_nI am not nor have I ever been a fan of platitudes or cliches – those short, little sayings that are supposed to convey something meaningful. You know the ones – like the one to the left here, or “Everything happens for a reason,” or “God never gives you more than you can handle.” They are meant to be inspirational, I’m sure, but I find them to be conversation-stopping, bumper sticker-style statements of little value and no sense. For example, what exactly does “You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it” mean? I don’t see myself as strong. And as for being “given this life” because I’m “strong enough to live it,” I live this life because it’s the only one I have. It makes no sense to me.

I think every parent who has lost a child has heard his or her fair share of these types of things. Platitudes and cliches are some of the least helpful – and possibly very hurtful – things a bereaved parent can hear. I understand that people don’t know what to say, so they resort to cliches. As Leeann Penny says in her post entitled 12 Grief Cliches and the reasons they suck, “Clichés are human attempts to make the hugeness of life and death easy to manage and understand.  This cannot be done, it hurts more than it helps. The phrases are something that people who “don’t get it” say in attempt to make it all better, to put a magical bandaid on it and reduce the raw awkwardness. They usually come to us with good intentions. As a society we aren’t all that comfortable with pain in progress, we like a bow, we like a quick happy ending.  We need to get over that.”

 

Today, a friend shared a Facebook post by Max Lucado:

For those of you who may be mourning and grieving true loss this week, I first want to say, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for this very real pain. I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know but I can remind you of something.

In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely. And though you and I might wish for a longer life, God knows better. And—this is important—though you and I may wish a longer life for our loved ones, they don’t. Ironically, the first to accept God’s decision of death is the one who dies. While we are shaking heads in disbelief, they are lifting hands in worship. While we are mourning at a grave, they are marveling at heaven. While we are questioning God, they are praising God.

“In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely.”

Here is the response I posted:

Tomorrow is our son’s birthday. He would have been 35 years old. He and his best friend died instantly when a drunk driver broadsided them on March 3, 2002. 19 years old – the best son, brother, friend anyone could ever ask for. Kind, funny, smart, beautiful blue eyes, great hugs and beautiful smiles. The best. Absolute best.

There’s so much I could say about what we walked through after Jason died, but I am not sure it would be fully comprehended except by those who have walked a similar path and would fall on deaf ears for others. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jason is with God, with my parents, with the baby we lost, with his best friend and all those who have gone before. I know that we will one day see him again in that land where there will be no more death, tears, mourning, crying or pain.

Jason’s death, though, affected me so much more and on such a deeper level than the deaths of my parents. When we had to put my dad in a nursing home, it was such an incredibly difficult thing to watch this strong, independent man in such circumstances. I literally prayed God would take him home. Dad was ready to go, wanted to go. My mom’s death was not unexpected, and we had a wonderful day with her the day she died. “Timely,” I guess one would say.

One never thinks the death of their child is “timely,” though, or that their child has lived long enough and was supposed to die in that moment in time. To say that I have struggled with my faith and in reconciling what I believed as a Christian with the death of our son at the age of 19 would be an understatement. I had believed that “the fervent prayer” availed much. I prayed and prayed and prayed for our kids, for their friends, for their lives, for their future spouses, for their protection, for my family. I woke up at 3 a.m. most days, got up out of bed, went downstairs and fervently prayed for my family. I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that God would protect our children. Until He didn’t, and Jason died.

It didn’t help (and, as a matter of fact, caused a lot of damage) that nearly everyone we knew disappeared. Our closest family lived more than 2000 miles away and, once they had to go home, I guess we had an expectation that our church and homeschool “family” and friends would be there for us. That didn’t happen. In retrospect, I’m not sure how realstic those expectations were; most of them were dealing with the deaths of their friends, too. Nevertheless, never have I felt more like a pariah in my life than I did after Jason died. I felt like I was falling down a black hole and there was no one to stop my fall. I remember begging God to send someone – anyone – to apply a salve of kindness to my broken heart and to the rest of my family’s hearts and lives. I truly, truly understand that most people didn’t know what to do or say or were dealing with their own losses, but it was a very difficult and lonely time for us.

I struggle, especially concerning the death of a child, with the whole “God must have a greater purpose” or “It was God’s will” attitude concerning death that Christians sometimes tend to adopt. While others may find comfort in being told, “In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely,” I must admit that I don’t find comfort at all in it. At times, I think these types of platitudes help the person saying them more than the person hearing them. In essence, I think the person hearing it can hear condemnation or judgment at not “accepting” the death of their loved one as “God’s will” rather than as an encouragement. It’s interpreted as “encouragement” to move on, and that can be very hurtful. I also would venture to say that most parents who have lost a child are very good at putting on a mask so that others don’t see how deep their grief truly is and so that they are not judged for how deeply or how long they grieve. Very early on, I felt like I had to hide the depth of my grief to make it palatable in order for others to even want to be around me. I felt like my choice was to mask my grief or else I would be alone or judged.

As far as teaching something in the Christian community, I would rather see encouragement for people to “weep with those who weep” rather than encouraging the bereaved to accept the death of their loved one as God’s will and to move on. I feel like the empathetic teaching of truly supporting – and continuing to support – those walking through deep grief is sadly lacking. The bereaved don’t need someone to try to fix them or encourage them to accept or move on; they just need someone willing to be present, to listen and to care.

Just my two cents…

© 2017 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

 

Beauty for Ashes

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to Washington, DC. On our way home, we drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s such an incredibly beautiful place, and I realized as we were driving along that I felt like I wanted to physically pull the beauty inside of me. I almost felt like I was a parched, desert wanderer wanting a deep, refreshing drink from the beauty around me. I wanted the beauty to soak deep into my very being, into my life, into my soul. It was like I wanted the beauty to refresh me and to bring a measure of peace and beauty into my life. I wanted to apply it to heart, to my hurt, to my life.

IMG_4410

Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia side)

Mabry Mill - Blue Ridge Parkway

Mabry Mill – Blue Ridge Parkway

I don’t feel that way all the time, but there are times when I am very much aware of that same deep craving for beauty – as we drive onto the Biltmore Estate, as we hike up to a waterfall, as we drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall, when I see a particularly beautiful picture or piece of artwork, when I see a sunrise or sunset.

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean

As we drove along home that day, I started analyzing why I feel so strongly at times that I need to pull beauty inside of me. I think I’m trying to apply some beauty to the places in my life to the places that still hurt so much, to the places that are still broken, to places that have been made ugly or feel empty by the things that have happened to me – by Jason’s death; by friends disappearing and leaving us so alone; by selling and moving from a home I loved and a state that was home to me; by having to “get rid of” so many things that were important to me until I feel like I have hardly anything left; by wandering and wandering and wandering and wandering, trying to find a place of peace and beauty that feels like home again…and never quite succeeding; by trying to come to grips with things in my life that are beyond my control and being confronted with things that I just wish I could make better.

I know it may seem strange to try to apply something so abstract as “beauty” to one’s life. I remember, not too long after Jason died, feeling that I just wish people would be kind to me so that I could apply the salve of “kindness” to my broken heart. I felt like kindness would help me heal. I suppose neither one of those is much different than trying to find “love.” They’re all rather abstract concepts. We all have needs in our lives such as these that we are trying to fill, broken or hurt places we are trying to mend. I guess trying to apply the beauty I see to the broken areas of my life is one of mine as bereaved parent. We all need beauty to balance out the harshness in our lives. We need rest to balance out the hard roads we travel. We need joy to balance out the sorrows.

I don’t feel as broken as I once did, but the analysis of why, at times, I feel I need an almost desperate need to absorb beauty into my life made me realize there are still many broken places in me. I think that’s just the way it is for a parent whose child has died. We are broken people, broken in ways most people wouldn’t understand. We are confronted with our losses in so many places and at so many times. Our brokenness just doesn’t show all the time or in ways one would expect. When it does, I guess we try to find the beauty in the ashes.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Small Kindnesses

From my journal dated November 24, 2002:

Had lunch at Red Robin with Katie [a friend of Jason’s] yesterday. She’s home from college for Thanksgiving.

She’s so sweet. She had learned how to knit and had knitted a scarf for me. She’d knitted one for her mom, too. It was so thoughtful. It meant so much to me.

People have no idea how much little kindnesses can mean to you when you hurt so much.