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

Christmas Hurts My Heart

I think most everyone would agree that losing a child is an unbearably hard thing to experience. Life just isn’t the same, and it definitely is not easy life to lead after the death of a child. I also think it would be fair to say that some days in the life of a bereaved parent are harder than others. The reason some days are so hard partially has to do with missing our child so much and the longing for days when he or she was with us. Certain days shine the spotlight on that loss more than others.

For me, some of the hardest days of the year are Jason’s birthday, the day Jason died, and Christmas. Not every day is as hard as it used to be, but some days are just plain tough. Those are the days when the longing to have things the way they were before Jason died is especially strong. A parent who has lost a child never stops missing them, never has that longing go away to have his or her child with them, never has the grief of the death go away.

I have found that the days leading up to the actual “day” – whichever day that may be – can be harder than the actual day itself. For example, as March 3rd approaches, I find myself getting more emotional, restless, and unsettled. It’s not something I plan on; it just sort of happens and it’s really nothing over which I have control. Over the years, I’ve been able to recognize what’s going on and the cause of it. I try to extend grace to myself to allow myself to feel what I need to feel and to do what I need to do to observe these days that have so many memories attached to them and carry great emotional weight for me. For some reason, usually the “day of” is not as difficult as the days leading up to that day. I guess the anticipation of those difficult days is harder than the actual day once it arrives.

The thing about Christmas is that it’s such a public holiday and observance. We end up being bombarded with the reminders that CHRISTMAS WILL SOON BE HERE even before Halloween is over. Jason’s birthday and the day he died are more private observations. It’s not blasted at me in every store, on every street corner, on the radio and TV for months on end. Even holidays like the 4th of July, which was one of Jason’s favorite holidays, doesn’t impact me like Christmas does. Once Christmas is on the radar, we constantly are reminded that “the most wonderful time of the year” is about to arrive. Frank Sinatra reminds us that we should “let our hearts be light,” that “our troubles will be miles away,” and that “faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more.” Those sentiments are not necessarily true for a parent who has lost a child.

Before Jason died, I couldn’t wait to jump on the “Christmas is most wonderful time of the year” train. I couldn’t wait to go shopping for Christmas presents and to “do” our holiday traditions.

One thing thing Joe and I tried to create for our kids from when they were very little was a sense of wonder and tradition at Christmas. We wanted to make it a very special time for them. We made a conscious choice not to do the Santa thing since Joe felt betrayed and lied to by his parents when he found out as a young boy that his gifts came from his parents and not Santa. We chose instead to concentrate on celebrating the birth of Christ and the love of family and friends. We tried to instill a sense of what Christmas was really about – the ultimate gift of God’s son being born reflected in the gifts we give to others.

Over the years, we developed so many wonderful Christmas traditions. Going to Christmas events as a family or with friends. Looking at Christmas lights and decorations. We came up with a 1 to 10 rating system as we drove by decorated houses. Going to cut down or pick out our Christmas tree as a family. Going home after we’d found the “perfect” tree, getting out the boxes of Christmas decorations, putting on Christmas music, drinking hot chocolate, and decorating the tree together as a family. Joe would put the lights on the tree. I would unwrap the decorations and hand each person his or her own decoration to put on the tree. As he got taller and older, Jason always put the angel on the top of the tree. We went out for Asian food on Christmas Eve. I baked cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Joe read the Christmas story as we ate cinnamon rolls. Jason had asked me that last Christmas if I would teach him how to make cinnamon rolls. I haven’t made cinnamon rolls in many years. We took turns opening presents, starting with the youngest person picking out a present for someone else and then next youngest person picking out a present for someone until we got to the oldest person picking out a present, and then we started over with the youngest person again.

I saved every decoration the kids made. Each year I would go out to buy a Christmas tree decoration that seemed to fit each person that particular year. I would then use a gold permanent marker to write the name and date on the bottom of each ornament. My plan was to give each child his or her set of ornaments collected over the years when he or she got married or had their own home. Now, they sit in boxes in a storage unit in Oklahoma. I haven’t seen them in years. We haven’t had a “live” Christmas tree in years. Our Christmas ornaments on our fake tree don’t have any memories tied to them.

The Christmas after Jason died, we tried to maintain some of those traditions. I can’t tell you how many stores I had to leave because I almost starting crying. I remember driving by houses lit up with Christmas trees and lights, thinking how lucky those families must be to not hurt as I was hurting and how lucky they were to have people who wanted to be around them. I felt like such a pariah that year, like being around us would impinge on someone else’s holiday joy. I remember sitting on the family room floor, all by myself, amidst Christmas tree decorations trying to figure out how to decorate the tree. Looking at the decorations and the empty tree with tears coursing down my face. There are some days since Jason died that, when I think of them, it’s like I can step back into the scene and feel the raw, agonizing pain of that time. That day is one of them. The cinnamon rolls that must have had a bit of extra salt added to them from tears I couldn’t stop crying as I made them. Boy, that was a tough year.

I have found that for me, as a bereaved parent, I have to tread lightly around potential land mines at Christmas. Christmas is hard for me. I miss my boy so much at Christmas. I miss the family we used to be and the wonderful traditions we had as we celebrated Christmas together. The longing to be together as a family is especially strong at Christmas. I miss the unadulterated, innocent, complete joy of Christmas, one not overshadowed by the awful knowledge of what it’s like to have a child die. Now I tend to put a cocoon around my heart for a while until I sort of get used to the idea of another Christmas without Jason.

At first, I feel like I’ve been hit right in the heart when I walk into that first store of the season that has been decked out with Christmas displays. My heart just hurts!! I can feel myself sort of withdrawing into myself for a while. It takes me a bit to get over the funk I sort of settle into and begin to enjoy the season. I let Christmas in a little bit at a time until I can handle it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas any more, it just takes me a while to get on board the Christmas train, so to speak.

We’ve tried to come up some new traditions. I truly appreciate the time we spend together with family and some of the traditions we still do. I love my family more than words can say and I want to take time at Christmas to let them know it. I want them to know how special they are to me. Once I get out of my funk, I have a lot of fun trying to find the “right” gift for each person. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the idea that Jason not here for Christmas, though; the thought of it just makes my heart hurt.

We were talking the other day about our favorite Christmas song. I said mine is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” It’s a wistful song. I think it speaks to the longing to have Jason with us and to be “at home” as a family once again, and knowing that that place exists only in my dreams. The birth of Christ is the only reason that I know for sure we will see Jason again. For that I am truly thankful.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

I’m dreamin’ tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know it’s a long road back
I promise you

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents under the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
If only in my dreams

Songwriters
Walter Kent;Buck Ram;Kim Gannon

Published by
GANNON & KENT MUSIC COMPANY

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Of Birthdays and Such

Today is my birthday. Birthdays – some birthdays more than others – seem to be much more of time of reflection, don’t they? Reflection on the past year, past decade, lifetime, hopes, dreams, accomplishments, whatever. I think it depends where you are in your number of years or your stage of life that sort of determines how deep and thoughtful that reflection is. Since I am (shall we say) closer to retirement than not, I have felt more reflective this year than previous years. My, how the years have flow by! It doesn’t seem possible.

My husband and I made a conscious decision to homeschool our kids when Eric was little. As Jason and Jenna joined our family and became school age, we just added them into the homeschool mix. Each year we re-evaluated to see if it was still a valid option for our family and if it was something we still enjoyed. And each year we decided it was, right up to the time when – one by one – the kids went off to college under the Running Start Program. When Jenna started college, it was time for me to look at the next phase of my own life.

Now, if I ever have the ear of young homeschool moms – or any young mom who has decided to stay at home with the kids – I would recommend not waiting until the “next phase” is upon her to begin making plans. I would recommend starting way earlier! Take a night class. Learn some marketable skills. Start a small at home business that can grow into something larger. Do something to make or keep yourself marketable when and if you go back into the workplace. That’s the advice I would give myself if I could go back and talk to myself when my kids were young.

Don’t get me wrong – I loved homeschooling the kids and wouldn’t change it for a thing! But, as it was, I waited until we were done homeschooling and the kids were in college or out of the house to really consider the next phase of my life. The first quarter our youngest, Jenna, started college, I rattled around a bit, lost. I had been homeschooling for a long time, and I was very aware that I was a transitioning into a new phase of life. Strange as it may seem, all those years went by very quickly and, the next thing I knew, I was done homeschooling. I felt in a state of “Now what?”

By January, I had figured out a game plan and I made purposeful decisions for the making the most of the next stage of my life. I figured I had about twenty years or so of prime earning years left to work before retirement. My plan was that I would go back to school, finish my degree in Business Administration, get a good job, move up the ladder, make lots of money to save or invest for retirement, see my kids get married and have kids of their own, hopelessly spoil my grandkids, have a nice nest egg on which to retire, and grow comfortably old with my hubby. I had plenty of time to accomplish what I needed to accomplish in those remaining, highly-productive years. Joe still had a good job and had quite a few years left to work. We would be set when we retired! I went back to school to put my plan into action just months after our youngest started Running Start at the local college.

Eight weeks into my first quarter of school, Jason was killed by a drunk driver.

Mortar and Pestle

Mortar and Pestle

To say that Jason’s death changed me and changed my life would be a huge understatement. It about killed me. Seriously, it just about killed me! Jason’s death crushed me so badly I don’t even know how to describe it. I felt like I had been put into a mortar and the person that I was – my life, my hopes, my dreams, my very being inward to the core of me and outward to the outermost extremities of my life – was in the long, slow, torturous process of being ground to a pulp. The “Becky” I knew was gone. I didn’t even know who I was any more. I didn’t know who I could count on to be there for us. I didn’t know where we fit in. I didn’t know what to do with my life or how to keep on living without my precious boy. Everything you can think of went into that grinding process. It just went on and on and on day after day, year after year.

Burying our precious boy. Disappearing friends. Being so lonely I could hardly stand it. The deafening silence of the empty house. Going through the whole court ordeal for driver of the car that killed Jason and Alina. Watching my family struggle. Selling our house and leaving Washington. Wandering, wandering, wandering, trying to find a place to call home.

I struggled with some PTSD-type symptoms for quite a while, although was never diagnosed – anxiety, fight-or-flight response, noise sensitivity, emotional numbness, reliving the night Jason died over and over, etc. I was depressed for a long time and had a hard time finding a reason to live. My doctor had prescribed sleeping pills for me the day Jason died, and I took them for a long time just to get some rest at night so I could function during the day. Some days, I specifically had to concentrate on taking just one of the sleeping pills and putting the rest aside. Some days I was in so much pain and I felt so broken and lost, I really wanted to take them all. I tried to keep my focus on living for my family until I could find a reason to live again for me.

I kept going to school after Jason died and was on the Dean’s list every quarter. I don’t know how I did it, quite honestly. I graduated from Edmonds Community College, but felt too burned out to transfer to the University of Washington to finish my BA. Besides, at the time, Joe was very ready to leave Washington, so I wasn’t sure it was worth it to start something I couldn’t finish. Wish I had finished my BA. It’s hard to go back to school once you leave it.

We moved to Oklahoma and I got a job in a law office in Oklahoma. Oklahoma was not a  good fit for us, although I really liked working for an attorney who specialized in estate planning, probate and guardianships. We moved to Florida to be closer to our daughter, and I got my paralegal certification from the University of Miami. I also took the national certification test, passing the first time through on the three-day test (even though the first-time passing rate was 45%). I studied so hard independently for that test (I bought college text books on five areas of law and studied them on my own at home). I was so proud when I passed that test. But then I couldn’t find a job as a paralegal. In South Florida, you have to speak at least two or three languages to get a job in the legal field. Since I was competing against foreign native speakers in an already highly competitive market, I looked and looked, but couldn’t find a job. The same was true once we moved to North Carolina, so I am now working in yet another profession. The guys I work for are great, so I can’t complain one bit.

But, as you can see, my 20-year plan to work, earn money and get set for retirement hasn’t happened. It’s been a hodge podge path since Jason died. My train got violently knocked off its tracks. Both mine and Joe’s did. I feel like both of us lost quite a few “productive” years.

Joe is what I call “involuntarily retired.” A couple of years after Jason died, the company he worked for went through some downsizing. Joe was so burned out and drained from everything we had gone through that, when he found out someone was going to be laid off, he volunteered to be the one laid off even though he had seniority and no one wanted him to go. He figured it would be better for him to be laid off than some younger guy with young kids at home. Besides, he had plenty of working years left for another career, didn’t he? Well, that hasn’t exactly happened, either.

I’m not saying all this to make people feel sorry for me. I’m just reflecting on my life so far. I’m just saying that I feel like I’ve lost a lot of productive years – years I can never get back – after Jason died. I lost me. I lost my focus. I lost the life I once knew. I lost my hopes, dreams and plans. I feel like I didn’t accomplish much of anything in those years after Jason died. I really tried hard, but I felt like I was swimming in molasses. I guess that’s just another “cost” for me following the death of a child. I feel like I finally have the focus and energy to get back “on track,” whatever that is. Now if I only had more years to get done what I need to get done before I have to retire. I don’t feel like I have enough time left. Nothing I can do but do the best I can with the time I have.

Time is not always on our side, is it? Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Has anyone else experienced the feeling of “lost” years/time following the death of a child? Would love to hear your input.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney

Happy birthday, Mr. Jay

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Jason and Becky 1999

Jason and Becky 1999

32 years ago, we welcomed Jason David Carney into our lives. We were so privileged to have Jason born into our family. We love you and miss you so much, Jason.