We Are Lost

So much changed when Jason died. My sense of connected-ness to my life, to people that I knew and thought were my friends, to God, to my faith, to my family, to a church and to a place to call home. All of these things literally changed overnight, that horrendous night of March 3rd.

The thing about such a huge loss is that, when your whole life is turned upside down and so much is lost, you have to work at rebuilding nearly everything and it takes so much longer than you or anyone else would expect. We are all a work in progress, but when a child dies, it’s just so much more work to rebuild so many things from scratch. It’s like a ship that has been hit by a hurricane and is ripped away from its safe harbor. You end up in a dark and violent storm, far away from land. The dark, huge waves of grief tower over you, threatening to pull you under. All landmarks are gone. You lose your bearings and all moorings have been ripped away. You feel lost in a huge sea of grief, far from anything and everything that was familiar. You fight and fight and fight not to go under while trying to get back to some semblance of solid and familiar land.

The problem is that, once you reach some kind of shore again, there is no “familiar land” left. Not only has the landscape changed, but you have changed. Both you and your life have been ravaged by the hurricane called grief. The huge waves and deep loss has caused irreparable damage. What was comfortable and familiar is now a stark and alien land. Landmarks are gone. Friends are gone. People don’t recognize who you are. They may not like who you are now. Your energy level and focus is at zero. Deep grief and trying to find a “new normal” (whatever that is) takes its toll. It’s such hard work and it takes so long.

The “Becky” I was before Jason died was confident and independent. She was a wife of Joe and a mother of three who homeschooled her kids until they went to college. She felt like she had done a reasonably good job raising her kids and preparing them for success in life. She was a leader in the homeschool groups to which she belonged. She set up fun field trips and organized graduation trips. She loved to laugh and sing. She had hobbies and interests. She had friends. She served on the boards of homeschool groups. She was involved and connected. She knew she was transitioning to a different phase of life from homeschooling mom to productive workforce employee. She knew some relationships were situation and were going to change, but she was getting used to the idea. She had a plan. She was going to go back to school and then was going to get a job where she could be productive. She knew who she was. She was looking forward to good things ahead – to her kids getting married, to having grandkids to spoil and love, to having a meaningful job and using her abilities to contribute to a better life for her family. She had hope.

And then that person was gone. That life was gone.

The “Becky” I am now still feels lost in some respects. I don’t think I’ve ever reached that place of “arriving,” whatever that is, wherever that is. When Jason died, the life I knew was gone, through no choice of my own. The “Becky” I knew was gone. I was thrown violently into a deep and dark hurricane of grief and I was in that storm for a very long time. I landed in a barren and foreign land, only to be pulled back into a sea of secondary losses. I was lost, lost in grief. Lost in aloneness. Lost without my bearings. Lost without my boy.

In the years after Jason died, I tried to keep moving forward. I had started back to school two months before Jason died, and I kept going for two years. Jenna and I both went back to school the following week after Jason died. Joe went back to work. I may have just gone through the motions, but I did what I could to keep moving forward. We all did. I did well in school and made the dean’s list every quarter. I don’t know how I did it, quite honestly. In spite of everything, we kept on going. I tried to figure out how to “grow,” even though I was grieving so much loss. Too much loss. I tried to find a job. I tried to find meaning and a reason to keep on living. I have learned that it’s not an easy thing to do following the death of a child.

My husband really struggled after Jason died. Understandable. He was really close to Jason and had always been involved in the kids’ lives. It was hard for us to live in a house that had been so full of Jason’s presence and so full of life, but screamed with emptiness after Jason’s death. It was hard to have to drive by the accident site day after day after day just to get to school and work. It was hard to lose the friends we had and to be so alone. I was struggling so much myself that I couldn’t help anyone else deal with the loss. I couldn’t help Jenna. I couldn’t help Joe. Joe felt helpless to deal with my depression and grief. Neither one of us had the energy to maintain a 4 bedroom house and large property.

Joe worked so hard all of his life to earn a decent living for his family. He worked in an industry where he always had to work really hard to stay on top of current technology, which was sometimes not easy for a non-techy guy. He was very well respected in his job. But, after Jason’s death, I think it was hard to see a reason to keep on trying so hard just to stay on top of everything. Grief makes you incredibly weary. When he learned that the company was going to downsize, he volunteered to be laid off so that none of the younger guys with families still at home would lose their jobs. Being laid off affected our income and Joe’s retirement income. He thought he would find something less stressful and more enjoyable as a second career. Although he’s tried several paths, none of them have really worked out the way he thought.

I also think Joe thought selling our house and moving from Washington would help us “start over,” so he pushed really hard to leave. He thought getting away from so many painful memories, so many painful relationships and so many places that reminded us our losses would help snap me out of my depression and deep grief. I didn’t have the energy to fight. We left a place I loved, the one friend I had made, and Eric and Jenna. In retrospect, leaving Washington caused me more harm than good. I still haven’t recovered from the losses, both primary and secondary. Jenna has moved to be near us and I am so thankful for that, but I feel like Eric’s kids – our grandkids – are strangers to us. We haven’t really had a chance to be involved in their lives, other than a week or two visit once in a while every year or so. That just breaks my heart.

I have decided that too much change compounds the already-too-much loss and prolongs the rebuilding process. Since leaving Washington, we have lived in Oklahoma, Florida and North Carolina, each for three years, and I don’t feel any closer to feeling “at home” than I did when we left. We haven’t found a church to attend that fits. We have been renting a furnished one bedroom apartment, surrounded by someone else’s stuff. What little we have left from our life in Washington has been in storage in Oklahoma for six years. We haven’t made any close friends here (or Oklahoma or Florida), the kind that you can just call up to go to a movie with, the kind of friend that just likes to hang out with you. I’m approaching one of those “big number” birthdays and feel like hardly anyone besides family would celebrate me. Even if I had a birthday party, I don’t know who would attend since we’ve been so unsettled and lived so many places. (Yeah…I’m on a pity party. Don’t worry; it won’t last too long. I will feel celebrated by my wonderful family. They are awesome. Have never been really big on outside-the-family birthday parties for me, anyway, and have only had a couple actual birthday parties in my life.) It’s been a lonely existence at times, though.

We have started looking for a place to buy in North Carolina. It’s not an easy process, this trying to find something in our budget that we like, especially when we are not sure this is really “home” for us. I’m not sure where “home” is any more. I feel like a woman without a country, without a place to connect and grow, without friends, without a “home.” I feel like we have been wandering in this desert of grief for a very long time, and we are just plain weary. We keep on trying. I try to do a good job at my place of employment. Joe has a couple of part time jobs and tries to take good care of Jenna and me. We try to find “something fun to do” on the weekends. We try to lead meaningful and productive lives, but sometimes it’s hard to see the purpose. It’s hard to see where we fit. It’s hard to feel connected and “at home.”

One blogger, a fellow bereaved parent, recently used a phrase that resonated with me – “the complexity of deep heartache.” The complexities of grief are truly deep and vast many, many years after the death of a child.

We had a rough weekend. Looking for houses. Looking for something fun to do. Not succeeding at either one. We just felt so weary and tired of “trying.” At one point, I looked at Joe and said, “We’re lost.” And he agreed.

Too much change. Too much loss.

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney

My New Reality … Notice I Did Not Say New Normal

Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective:

This amazing woman inspires me with her clarity of writing and her ability to communicate the depth and width of grief following the death of a child.

From Dee’s blog:

“People’s tolerance for grief runs out quickly. No one knows but those who live it. During these past two years I have met many grievers who have found it necessary to retreat in order to survive. Personally, I have always been afraid to give into that inclination. People do need people as I continue to realize. Many have taken my absence and silence personally just as I have reacted to their sudden hiatus from my life. Even in the early weeks after Amy’s sudden death, people could not resist reminding me how I had changed. How awful to assess a shattered person who is already so self-conscious and feels like an alien. As I recall that now, I understand even more the need to retreat in order to survive.

Grieving the loss of someone you share the deepest loving bond with can be difficult to witness. People will twist and turn your reaction to your devastating loss into intentional wallowing. To quote Mr. “T”, “I pity the fool.” Yes, yes — ignorance is bliss. The reality is that while I will grieve Amy the rest of my life, I remain fully aware my sadness will indeed isolate me from many people from my past. It already has as they need to be in the mood to deal with me and only reach out to me on certain days. Out of obligation, I guess. The confusion lies here as I am not able to go in and out of the ring with them. You are either with me or you are not. And just to be clear, grievers require so little and are not contagious.”

http://deeincollingo.com/2015/08/06/my-new-reality-notice-i-did-not-say-new-normal/comment-page-1/#comment-1930

Originally posted on MourningAmyMarie:

The calendar I was desperately trying to ignore screamed the news to me at 12:23 a.m. on August 4, 2015. Everyone was sleeping when I jolted out of bed, sobbing quietly as I made my way to the sofa in the beach house we had escaped to for this week. Much to my surprise Bailey, our family healer, was stretched out comfortably on the floor in the hall which was so unusual because he never sleeps alone. Was he alone? Since we arrived, I noticed he was content to sit alone in the living room too instead of claiming one of our laps. Another un-Bailey like behavior — especially in a strange place. Our family dog is rather neurotic. It is no wonder he has issues as I wonder whether this 12 lb dog of pure love did indeed sign up for the mega job of comforting a grieving family.

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HEY, VICTIM……

Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective:

I think most parents who have lost a child can relate to the recent blog on Soul Searching Solace about being labeled a “victim” for not moving on “quickly enough.”

https://onewomansperspective02.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/people-are-getting-tired-of-our-troubles/

Originally posted on Soul Searching Solace:

“You can be a victim in one situation but that doesn’t mean you are a victim in all situations. I’m just saying.”

Not positive, but I believe these words were directed toward me (in a sly way) after I expressed my hurt and disappointment in people in my life who I feel have not been there for me since Ben’s death. If they were meant for me, those words came from a person who I loved but have not spoken with in more than a year and a half. They hurt me deeply.

If I am allowed to be a “victim” in only one situation, I obviously became one on the day that Ben died. I supposedly used up my one chance then so I guess that means that I am to separate everything that has happened to me since Ben’s death, and who I now am, from the actual…

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How many children do you have?

My husband and I went out to dinner the other night with my bosses, their spouses and an out-of-town businessman whom I had only met once previously. In the course of conversation,  the businessman asked me, “How many children do you have?” “Three,” I answered. “How old are they?” he asked.

Most parents proudly rattle off the names and ages of their kids or grandkids, where they live, what they do, where they go to school, their latest accomplishments, and the like. To a parent who has had a child die, it’s not that easy or carefree any more.

You would think, after all these years, it would get easier to answer these questions than it used to be in the years following Jason’s death. I thought I had it figured out what to say, but then I stumble on the words.

I think I’ve come to the conclusion that, no matter how long it’s been or what the situation is, they’re never easy questions to answer when you have lost a child. Some questions just prick that tender spot in your heart. Sometimes it hammers the place in your heart. Sometimes tears are so close to the surface that it takes everything you have to keep yourself together.

As a person who generally sees both sides of every coin, part of me wants to stay absolutely true to who I am and the experiences I have gone through. I want to honor the memory of our precious son – the most wonderful young man in the world – no matter how uncomfortable it makes others. But, I also know that saying our precious son was killed by a drunk driver when he was 19 years old is conversation stopper. Conversation comes to a screeching halt and things get really awkward all of a sudden. It makes everyone uncomfortable. Conversation gets stilted and everyone tiptoes around the topic of a child dying while working to find a comfortable flow in the conversation again. It’s hard to be the one who makes people so uncomfortable.

One thing that a bereaved parent learns very early on is that, if you want people to stay around you and to interact with you, the responsibility falls on YOU to make people comfortable. In spite of everything we have gone through, WE have to work to make people comfortable around US. And sometimes that means that, in certain circumstances, I don’t mention the fact that I have lost the most awesome son in the world. It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s the way it is.

And so, I talked briefly about Jenna and what she’s doing…and about Eric, where he lives, what he does, how many kids he has…silently asking Jason to forgive me for avoiding talking about him. It’s just not easy any more.

I read an awesome post recently concerning the topic of bereaved parents hiding their pain. She talks about our reality being different than what we show people around us. I highly recommend reading it: https://kathleenduncan.wordpress.com/what-bereaved-parents-want-you-to-know-but-may-not-say/

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney

Jason David Carney.

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Jason,

Today I will think about your kindness. I will think about your loving heart. I will think about how you loved to sit on the counter in the kitchen and talk to me as I cooked dinner. I will think about your fantastic hugs. I will think about what joy you brought into our lives. I will think about your love of chess and your patience in teaching anyone who wanted to learn the game you truly enjoyed. I will think about playing Yahtzee with you. I will think about your smile and your beautiful blue eyes. I will think about how you loved to laugh and your great sense of humor. I will think about how hard you studied and what a great student you were. I will think about your empathetic and encouraging spirit. I will think about your love of God and that I will see you again. I will think of your sense of humor. I will think of your love for your sister and what a good friend and big brother you were to her. I will think about how you cherished your friends and what a good friend you were to each of them. I will think about your life. I will think of all the wonderful qualities God gave you and how you shared them with the people around you. I will cherish all these memories in my heart.

I will think about you…and how much I miss you…oh, how I miss you!!

I love you,

Mom

Jason David Carney

7/29/82 – 3/3/02

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

Vignettes

Snowy day, slippery roads. My boss sends me a text to say I don’t have to come in to work today, so I set about catching up on some projects at home. Laundry. Organizing. I pull out the sewing machine to repair some broken seams.  I plug my headphones into my ipod, set the music to shuffle the songs, and hum along with the tunes as I sew.

And then a song from Phantom of the Opera comes on that is so closely linked in my mind to Jason, I feel like I have stepped back into that time long ago, almost like I’m watching a vignette. The scene plays out so clearly as if it were yesterday. The chandelier. The beautiful 5th Avenue Theatre. Climbing up the steps to find our seats. The swell of the music. The orchestra. The rich, beautiful voices.

Jason and his sweetheart had invited her parents and Joe and me to go to dinner with them downtown Seattle and then to see Phantom of the Opera at the 5th Avenue Theatre. A triple date. We were so thrilled to be invited. We hardly knew her parents at the time, and were looking forward to getting to know them better. It seemed as though this relationship might go somewhere, and we could not have been more thrilled to spend time together with Jason and the one he loved.

We all dressed up, although none of us parents looked nearly as dapper as the young couple. He in his three piece suit, overcoat and fedora. She in a full length gown and beautiful cape she had made. They made quite a pair. Classy.

A single song, and I am back into that time, walking through that vignette in my mind.

It took me a long time to be able to listen to the soundtrack of Phantom of the Opera. There is still one song that brings me to tears nearly every time. Although Cristine, the main female lead, sings this song about her father’s death, the words are way too true for me not to feel their impact.

I miss you, my Mr. Jay. Wishing you were somehow here again…

WISHING YOU WERE SOMEHOW HERE AGAIN

Wishing you were somehow here again
Wishing you were somehow near
Sometimes it seemed if I just dreamed
Somehow you would be here

Wishing I could hear your voice again
Knowing that I never would
Dreaming of you won’t help me to do
All that you dreamed I could
Passing bells and sculpted angels
Cold and monumental
Seem for you the wrong companions
You were warm and gentle

Phantom Of The Opera – Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again Lyrics | MetroLyrics

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney

Another one of those “What Not to Say to Bereaved Parents” posts

I know it’s really hard to know what to say to a bereaved parent. There are some really good books and blog articles out there on what to say or not say, though, and I would like to encourage people to read them should they know someone whose child died. It would be really helpful for you – and, as a result, to the parent whose child has died – to be proactive in finding out what might help and what might hurt. Take the initiative – right away – to do some reading about will really help or what not to say to a bereaved parent.

One author on the Still Standing website writes:

If you’re a bereaved parent, you can probably count on at least five hands the number of phrases you wish people would never, ever say to you.  If only there was a way for the world to learn how to speak compassionately to the brokenhearted.  What many people believe is a comforting statement, most often is not…There seems to be a large gap between intention and what’s actually being communicated to those of us who are hurting. (http://stillstandingmag.com/2014/01/6-things-never-say-bereaved-parent/)

“A large gap between intention and what’s actually being communicated…” I think this is very true.

I know that, when people say things to a bereaved parent, most people usually have really good intentions. It’s just that the same framework that may work in other circumstances doesn’t necessarily work for a parent who has lost a child. The filters are different. The receiving heart is different. The deep, broken rawness of a bereaved parent’s heart accentuates and drives deep both the hurtful comments/actions and the well-intentioned stumbles in trying to communicate. What is intended to give comfort does not and may actually cause much more damage than good.

My precious Mr. JayOn Jason’s birthday last year, my sister shared a picture of Jason and wrote a nice tribute to him:

Let me introduce you to Jason, my nephew. He was fun, so smart, loved people, and had many friends, both his peers and adults. He loved Jesus. He and his friend Alina were killed by a drunk driver. He was 19. We live with two realities: first, our understanding that he is now in our future where we will all be together again one day soon, and then our present ache at his absence. He was loved. He mattered to his family. I wish we could all understand how important we are to someone. So today and always, I will remember Jason with great joy and I will smile.

It was a wonderful tribute, I thought, from the heart of a loving aunt. She also had quite a few nice comments, too, in response to her post.

However, one mutual acquaintance recently saw the photo and wrote, “…the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. Job 1:21…” (capital letters her emphasis). I must say this didn’t particularly comfort me in any way. What it communicated to me was that I was supposed to thank God for letting Jason die.

I believe that the Bible is the Word of God and has been given to us for instruction, inspiration, and edification. I believe hope and comfort can be found in the Bible. For some reason, though, I think Christians feel that, just because what they quote to a fellow Christian parent who has lost a child is a Bible verse, that it should be the ultimate comfort. I would strongly caution this assumption when quote Bible verses to a bereaved parent, though. I don’t think it necessarily comes across as the comfort you think it will.

I also strongly caution the same assumption about giving a book to a bereaved parent. Usually it’s a book about a fellow Christian – one, of course, who has walked through a difficult situation or great loss and has “triumphed” over his or her situation or loss – that is given to “inspire” the bereaved parent to “move on” or triumph over the tragedy. When giving this type of book, though, the message behind the gift that comes across is, “This person suffered a terrible tragedy and got over it. You should be able to do the same.”

Just a side note to books concerning bereaved parents: Most bereaved parents do a lot of reading, anyway, after the death of a child, trying to find resources that will help them. They usually read until they find some that help them, individually, concerning their own loss. For me, I have quite a library of books on grief. I purchased the books I read and marked them up extensively. Most have comments in the margins. Some have a big “NO” written through pages or paragraphs. Obviously, the some books were of more help to me than others. I always look to see if the author is a bereaved parent; next, if it has been been authored by a bereaved parent, I then look at when the book was written relative to the loss. To me, both of these make a difference in the “weight” a book carries when I read it.

I realize it’s usually just a matter of not knowing how to respond to a parent whose child has died. People don’t know what to say and a Bible verse comes to mind, so they say it. They see a book they think will “help,” purchase it, and give it to the bereaved parent. People want to say or do something – anything! – that will bring comfort to a parent whose child has died.

It’s important to realize that saying or doing these types of things may stifle honest communication from a bereaved parent about the grief he or she is experiencing. Let me say that again: These types of things may stifle honest communication from a bereaved parent. Instead of open communication, it comes across as “This is the Word of God and YOU WILL ACCEPT IT.” It puts unnecessary pressure on a bereaved parent to “recover” quickly. It makes the bereaved parent feel like he or she can’t talk honestly about the deep grief felt over the death of a child. It makes us feel, as Christians, that we don’t have the right to fully grieve our loss. It makes us feel that, because we have God “on our side,” everything should be okay. As I said in an earlier post:

In their book The Grief Recovery Handbook, J. James and R. Friedman (in a chapter entitled “Academy Award Recovery”) state, “In a relatively short time, the griever discovers that he or she must indeed ‘act recovered’ in order to be treated in an acceptable manner.” In order to not be left alone and for people to want to be around you, the griever has to take steps to only show an acceptable amount of grief so people are not uncomfortable. In our society, people who appear “strong” or who don’t bring attention to their grief or quickly recover from adversity are admired. Bereaved parents have an expectation put on them that they should recover quickly. If they don’t, there is a tendency to want to “help” a bereaved parent move on down the road. It’s usually not necessarily for their benefit, but rather so that people around will be more comfortable.

https://onewomansperspective02.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/check-the-shoulds-and-misconceptions-at-the-door-it-takes-a-long-time-and-its-hard-work/

As Christian parents, we believe a child is a gift from God. We dedicate our children to God. We fervently pray for our children. We pray for their protection. We pray for their friends. We pray for their future spouses. We pray for their future children, our future grandchildren. We take our children to church and try to raise them in a Godly manner. We are thrilled when the day comes when they ask Jesus into their hearts.

I remember praying, as a fellow blogger wrote, for the person who would one day become Jason’s bride. I truly believed God was preparing a life partner for him. I truly believed I have the privilege of attending Jason’s wedding and being a grandparent to his children. I prayed and prayed and prayed for Jason – for all of my kids. I believed my prayers mattered and that God would answer my prayers. I “prayed” Bible verses for my kids.

The child of a Christian parent dies. Now what? How do we reconcile all those prayers for our children’s protection with a God who let our child die? For me, it hasn’t been an easy thing to do.

I believe Jason is in Heaven and that I will see him again one day, and that brings me comfort. I remember the day he prayed with my husband, asking Jesus into his heart. We were thrilled. I know that Jason loved God and wanted to serve him with his whole heart. In my mind, I still picture Jason standing in church the Sunday before he died, eyes closed and hands raised to God in worship.

What I’m trying to get across is that, more than anything, we as bereaved parents we don’t need Bible verses quoted to us or inspirational books given to us. You don’t have to say anything. Nothing you say will take away the deep grief of losing a child. We don’t need the additional pressure of feeling like we should respond a certain way or recover quickly, just because we are Christians. We need you to BE there. Please don’t disappear, just because you feel like you don’t know what to say or do. We need you to step into the messiness of our grief and hold us close as we cry. We need to honestly grieve the death of our child. We need to know you honestly grieve the death of our child. We need you to show God’s love by your actions. We need to know you care.

© 2015 Rebecca R. Carney