Even after all these years…
© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney
The morning of July 29, 2001, I woke up really early, and I knew the instant I woke up that I wanted to write Jason a special note for his 19th birthday. I just had to let him know how special he was to me and how much I appreciated him for who he was.
We tend to think of milestone birthdays as those more momentous than others and seem to carry more “weight” or reason to celebrate than others. It’s not that the other years aren’t celebrated, it seems that bit more emphasis tends to be placed on those birthdays than others. What those birthdays represent have a stronger meaning. Turning sixteen tends to represent being able to get a driver’s license. Eighteen represents becoming an adult and going off to college or some other type of independent step. For some, twenty-one represents being able to purchase alcohol. Latin cultures have a huge quinceañera celebrations when a girl turns fifteen. Jewish communities celebrate the milestone of a boy turning thirteen with a bar mitzvah. In my mind, as I wrote in the note, I thought it wasn’t one of the ones we typically think of as momentous.
Little did I know, at the time, how momentous that birthday would be. It was the last one we would ever celebrate here on this earth with him.
That year, we celebrated on Jason’s actual birthday with our family and some of his closest friends, and then we had a large joint birthday party at a local park for Jason and his good friend, Justin. Just looking at those pictures, I can tell he was happy and that he knew he was loved. He loved being with family and friends. He loved to have fun.
On July 29th this year, we would have celebrated Jason’s 34th birthday. I can only imagine what his life would have been like and what he would have accomplished by now. What would he be doing? Who would he have married? Would he have children? We’ll never know the answers to those questions.
I am so glad Jason was born into our family. He was 9 pounds, 10 1/2 ounces of pure joy. Kind, loving, thoughtful, empathetic, intelligent, funny. There aren’t enough words in my vocabulary to describe what a special guy he was and how much I love him. And no matter how many years go by, I will always love and miss my precious boy. Happy birthday, Jason.
© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney
My husband and I went to see a movie last night. During the introductory commercials, they played the trailer for the new Jason Bourne movie, and it made me think of my best friend in Washington.
When the very first Jason Bourne movie came out, Joe and I went to see it with Mary and her husband. At one point in the movie, the villain jumped through a window and attacked Jason Bourne. It was a particularly tense scene and when the guy crashed through the window, I screamed loudly and startled Mary even further. At the exact same time, Mary grabbed my arm and startled me even further. We scared each other so badly. It was so funny. Remembering that moment makes me chuckle to this day.
Mary and her husband were the only people who intentionally stepped toward us after Jason died when everyone else stepped away. I think I’ve mentioned her before. I didn’t know Mary very well before Jason died, even though their daughter and Jason dated for a while. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Jason was so crazy about their daughter; he truly loved her. I secretly hoped they would marry some day. What a sweetheart! I would have loved to have her as my daughter-in-law.
A few months after Jason died, Mary asked me if I wanted to start walking with her. She kept asking me off and on for several months until I finally heard her through the fog of grief and we started walking together about six months after Jason died. As we walked, we got to know each other and eventually became dear friends. Becoming good friends usually takes time and consistency. Walking together provided exactly that – the time and consistency to become friends. I firmly believe people have to have room or make room for people in their lives. That’s what Mary and her husband did. They made room for us in their hearts and in their lives. We went to movies together, celebrated holidays together, walked together.
When the ad for the new Jason Bourne movie came on last night, I just had to text Mary to let her know I was thinking of her and how much I missed my movie buddy. Truth is I just flat out miss her. I miss my friend. I miss the person I was when she was my friend, and I miss that time.
Have you ever had something happen – you hear a piece of a song, see a scene in a movie, are driving somewhere – when all of a sudden, just for a moment, you are transported back to a familiar time that is so warm and comforting that it just fills you with longing for that time? As crazy as it sounds, that’s what happened when that Jason Bourne ad came on. Parents who have lost children talk about waking up feeling warm and cozy, and then reality crashes back in when they really wake up and they realize what they have lost. That’s sort of what happened, I guess. I had such a strong memory that it took me back to a warm and friendly place, and then I came back to the reality of my life as it now is. I had a stark realization, once again, one of the things I have lost.
There are two times in my life when I feel like things changed so drastically that I feel like I lost myself. The first time was when Jason died. That one was huge beyond any other. The second time was when we moved from Washington.
After Jason died, I felt like I was thrown into the deepest, blackest, darkest, scariest, loneliest ocean where the waves of grief were so huge and black that I thought I would never survive them. They would tower and crash over me one right after the other, and I felt like I wasn’t able to come up for air. I was madly swimming, trying to stay afloat, trying to swim back to some type of solid ground.
In one journal entry from that time, I remember writing about how I wish someone would just come along side of me as I swam – just for a while – so I could just grab ahold of the edge of their boat to rest for a while so I wouldn’t drown. I needed a friend. I was trying to find some land, some firm footing to stand on. I was exhausted. And then Mary and I started walking together. It funny, because we didn’t talk a lot about Jason or how I was feeling or whatever. She just walked beside me and was my friend.
Grief is such hard work. Trying to learn to live without your child is such hard work, and I worked very hard at trying trying to figure out how I was supposed to go on without Jason. I kept going to school. I applied for jobs. Mary and I consistently walked together and got to know each other as friends. I kept trying to figure things out. I was working very hard at trying to find purpose and meaning to my life. I was beginning to feel just the very vaguest possibility of getting close to some shoreline of a life ahead of me where I could feel the sand beneath my feet again, of some reason to go on, when Joe started pushing me really hard to leave Washington.
It’s hard when spouses are on different grief trajectories and have such different needs. How do you choose whose needs are most important to meet? Joe was desperate to get away from Washington; there were just too many memories there for him. I was desperate to stay and didn’t want to leave the place that was my home. But I felt like, if I didn’t go with Joe, he was so desperate for change that he would move without me. I just couldn’t take any more loss, and so we sold our home and moved. It was probably the worst thing we could have done for me. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from that move. I was nowhere near “recovered” from Jason’s death, and it then became more complicated when we moved. I’ve never recovered from either one. They are intricately combined.
I had to go through Jason’s room and get rid of things before I was ready to in order to get our house ready to sell. I had to decide what was important enough to me to keep and what to “get rid of.” I am rather a collector of things and Joe is a minimalist, so he kept insisting that I “get rid of” things. (Side note – never “get rid of things” under duress!! You will regret it. Pack it up in boxes for storage until you are in the right place to deal with it.) I had to move away from our daughter, from our grandson, from my one and only best friend. I had never in my life had a best friend who valued our friendship as much I did. But I was too exhausted to stand up for what was best for me. Besides, I’ve always been one to put the needs of those I love above my own. I bowed to Joe’s need to leave. Four years after Jason died, we left Washington and I felt like my anchor had just been cut loose and I was being pulled back into the ocean of loss.
Four years may seem like a long time to work on figuring out how to live after the death of a child. It’s really not. It had taken me 46 years to reach the point I was when Jason died, 46 years of living to develop the person I had become. Jason had been a part of our lives for nearly 20 years. It had been 20 years of living my life with him in it. And then Jason’s death truly shattered me. I don’t doubt that it will take me 20 years to figure out how to live my life without him.
My world was my family, my kids. When a child dies, there are so many multi-faceted aspects of a parent’s life that shatters. I remember writing at that time how I felt like I had been ripped away from what I knew and who I was, and had been thrown into a place where there were nothing was familiar. There were no landmarks to help me find my way back to my life and to the person I once was; there were no friends to help me find my way. I think part of the reason I felt that way was because my life was in a big transition already from homeschooling to preparing to re-enter the workforce. Then, after Jason died and we were left so alone, I felt abandoned in a foreboding and foreign land. Even with Mary and her husband as friends, we did most things alone and had to figure out things by ourselves. There were still a lot of holes in our lives left by people who had disappeared. There were huge holes left in our lives by Jason’s absence. I eventually learned that the Becky I used to be was gone and that I needed to work on finding and figuring out the “new” me. I had to do it for myself. As the saying goes, you can’t go forward if you’re always looking back, so I tried to focus on looking forward and moving forward. And then we moved from Washington, and it felt like so much of my forward-facing work was gone.
When we moved to Oklahoma, I pulled way back inside of myself and went into survival mode. It was as though a lot of the “new” me I had been working on was destroyed and I felt lost again. I never did connect to anything or anyone. No offense to anyone who lives there, but I hated Oklahoma. Since then, we have lived in Florida and North Carolina, and I still don’t feel “at home” anywhere or connected to anything or anyone. At times, I feel adrift and alone. Because my heart was so raw after Jason died, the pain of abandonment by people we considered good friends went deep and has left me unwilling, in some ways, to trust people and open my heart to them. I haven’t really tried to make friends any place we’ve been since we left Washington. I almost feel like I have resigned myself to a lifetime without the connection and true comfort of friends.
I guess that’s what struck me last night in that moment of remembering. I miss the ability to be at home in my own skin, the freedom to laugh with a good friend, the huge welcoming hugs, the comfort of calling someone on short notice to hang out, the comfort of familiar things, the ability to connect to another human being, the ability to feel like I’m “home.”
I’ve been scanning photographs from negatives and prints to digital format. As I look at the person in those pictures, knowing it’s the me I used to be before Jason died, I think that’s made me particularly reflective. It’s funny how you can look back over your life and really see times where things drastically changed and realize how much those events changed you. I miss the me that I was before Jason died. I also miss the me that I was before we left Washington, the new me I was working so hard on. I lost something huge and valuable at both of those times in my life. I’ve never “recovered” (if there is such a thing) from Jason’s death.
Part of the reason is because I was thrown back into no-man’s land by moving away from a place that was home to me, away from a place and people I loved. It just felt – and still does – like it was too many losses. The primary loss of Jason. The secondary losses of friends. More losses when we moved. Too many losses. All I have left from our lives in Washington are 25 or so boxes of photographs and memorabilia. Everything else is gone. We rent, so we don’t have our own home. The place we rent was already furnished, so we don’t even have our own furniture. My feet were knocked out from under me by that initial move from Washington, and I was pulled back into that black ocean of loss. I don’t feel like we’ve ever found a place to really rest and be at home. No matter how hard I try (and I do try!!), I just can’t seem to recapture the energy to try as hard as I was before we left Washington. I just feel tired, tired of trying. I don’t feel as resilient as I was and I get weary of putting so much energy into moving forward. And I still feel so lost at times.
I just can’t seem to find enough remnants of the Becky that I once was to keep on rebuilding. They’ve got to be around here somewhere. I think I left some in Washington. I might have left some in Oklahoma or Florida. This one seems to have some pieces missing.
© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney
This week my daughter was teasing me about how I used to make the kids do jobs around the house when they were young, and how sometimes I checked their workmanship to make sure they had done a good job of their task.
I’m sure I felt at the time that it was important to teach the kids responsibility and that they learn to do a good job at whatever was tasked to them. And I’m sure they profited from being taught to do a good job, in the long run. Jason was a very focused and great worker. Eric and Jenna are outstanding workers.
But, looking back, I wish I had taken more moments to play with the kids instead of seeing so much through the eyes of responsibility and instruct-able moments. I would give anything to go back and just hug my kids more, read more stories, play more games. I want my kids to remember how much I loved them, and not how I was so concerned that the dust bunnies didn’t multiply.
It’s a balance, this being a parent. Those years with young kids are so full of such busy times. We are trying to instill values and life lessons for the adult they will one day be. We want them to learn early in life how to manage time and to do a job in which they can take pride. We want to teach them to be kind and caring. So many things to teach. And the next thing we know, they are gone. In my case, gone forever. Jason is gone forever.
In recently looking at photographs, I know we did a lot of fun things together. I hope Eric and Jenna – and Jason, before he died – remember more those fun things than the responsibility things. But there are no more days of playing Yahtzee or chess with Jason, no more days of going to the beach with him, no more playing volleyball in the back yard with him. I will never have a chance to do those things that Jason loved with him again…or with his kids, either, since he will never have any kids.
The day before the accident, I remember I was trying to orchestrate everyone helping get the house clean and groceries bought for the week so that we could relax and enjoy our Sunday together. It seemed so important at the time. But then Jason died in the early hours of Sunday morning. Instead of fun family time together, our nightmare had just begun. If I had known what I know now, the cleaning could have waited, not only that day, but many other days. I had a clean house for people who came by for consolation visits, and Jason had helped clean the house.
Take time to enjoy the time you have with the ones you love. Let them remember your love, kindness, empathy. Yes, teach your kids the important things, but make sure they remember the fun times and not only the chores.
© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney
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
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.”
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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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.”
“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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