Out of sight; out of mind

A Facebook friend recently posted a note about being stuck in traffic because of an accident. “Westbound I-90 is closed due to a fatality accident. I’m stuck in the backup. At least we’re moving a little bit… at a snail’s pace.” She went on to say how thankful she was for her Starbucks ice tea and scone she had with her, that she was thankful she had Sirius XM radio to listen to while she was stuck in traffic, happy that she might get a day off if she could get off the freeway and turn around, and most of all thankful she was safe.

As a person who sees both sides of the coin in nearly every situation, my reaction was two-fold. My first reaction, of course, was that I was glad she was safe. My second reaction was astonishment that there was absolutely no mention or apparent concern about the family of the person who died, other people involved, or those who witnessed the accident. I know I’m sensitive when it comes to reports of a child dying or someone who dies in a car accident, but it all seemed just a bit unfeeling to me. Other friends made comments about how they loved her thankful attitude (“So many reasons to be thankful every day”), how they appreciated the heads-up so they could choose a different route to drive to their destinations so as not to be late to appointments, wanted to know if she was going to stop by since she might have the day off. It was only after someone posted concern for those involved in the accident that the tone changed to “so sad” and “praying for those involved” and any mention that it was a  71 year old woman who had died.

Yeah, that was me; I was the one who mentioned the accident victim. How could they appear not care that someone had died and that the family of the accident was going to have to walk down the rocky path of grieving the death of their loved one? I guess I felt like I needed to validate her existence and and the loss of her life. I wrote a very kind note saying I was so glad my friend was okay, but then mentioned that my heart went out to the family of the person who died. That’s when the tone of the comments changed to sentiments regarding the victim and how sad it was that she had died. I noticed this morning that the original post and thread have been deleted entirely.

As I’ve mentioned before, I know that I react to traffic accidents differently than most people do, simply because Jason died in a traffic accident. The sound of sirens  and the sight of emergency vehicles surrounding an accident don’t go unnoticed; it touches a place in me that can take me back to that day and stir up worries about the safety of my family. I’m not just a curious rubbernecker, gawking as I drive by to see what might have happened. The realization that I am not immune to the death of a loved one is now a very real part of who I am. I know what it’s like to drive up to the scene of an accident and see the bright, flashing lights of patrol cars and emergency vehicles that surround the car where my son just died. I recognize the strategic placement of fire trucks and emergency vehicles as they try to hide the horror from anyone who might pass by and gawk. I know what it’s like to read in the newspaper about the accident that killed my child and his best friend.

I also recognize the “I’m so glad it wasn’t me” attitude (as one gal said, “So many reasons to be thankful every day.”) and the effort to turn the focus away from something so awful as the death of a person who I’m sure was dearly loved by her family to something more mundane and everyday. Out of sight, out of mind. The sad thing is that I’m sure I used to respond exactly the same way before Jason died.

On the tenth anniversary of Jason’s death, I wrote a a couple of posts about some of the things I’d learned in those past ten years. In six months, we will be confronted with the fifteenth anniversary of Jason’s death. Fifteen years next March 3rd. I can’t believe it. I’ve been contemplating writing an updated version of my “what I’ve learned” post to include my observations of the last five years. The “out of sight, out of mind” thing is one topic I would include.

There are some things in the “out of sight, out of mind” area that I’ve noticed over the years in talking about Jason – not only about his death, but also about his life.

Although death is as much a part of life as birth, death is an uncomfortable subject and most people would rather avoid talking about it altogether. When working for an estate planning attorney who prepared wills and trusts for people and handled probates, I experienced this first-hand. People avoid getting their affairs in order in the eventuality of their own death because it’s uncomfortable. When it comes to discussing the death of someone’s child, it’s even more uncomfortable and people would rather not talk about it at all. Out of sight, out of mind.

Even after all these years, when I mention that we have a son who died, people get extremely uncomfortable and sometimes the dynamics of our relationship change. This happened to me recently. It makes some people so awkward to think about the death of a child that they pull away, and the typical development of a friendship may even stall. I think people are so glad it didn’t happen to them. Then they feel guilty about feeling that way and don’t know what to do next. And so they back off a bit. I understand that it’s more about them than about me, but it’s sad. As with many things concerning the death of a child, my head understands, but my heart doesn’t.

I also choose who I tell that Jason died in a car accident, and when or if I talk about it. I don’t bring it up with people I meet just casually or in passing. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about Jason. It just hurts when people ignore Jason’s life and pretend that I haven’t even mentioned his name. I’ve had conversations that awkwardly and immediately turn to something more mundane like the weather or the person will turn and begin to talk to someone else when I tell them our son died. It’s no fun to have people uncomfortable and awkward around me.

Even with people I know fairly well and who know about Jason’s death, when I talk about my children and include Jason’s life in whatever I’m talking about, people have a tendency to ask about my other two children and what they’re doing, but just sort of skip over talking about Jason at all. It’s like I hadn’t even mentioned his name. People act like he never lived. Some people we were really close to “before” don’t respond at all on Facebook when I post pictures on Jason’s birthday or the anniversary of his death. Some people do, and I’m very thankful they take the time to remember Jason. But some would rather skip over the reminder of Jason’s life and his death altogether. It’s hard not to feel like they’d rather keep his life and subsequent death out of sight, out of mind so they don’t have to think about what it’s like to lose a child or about the fact that a terrific guy like Jason died.

Some people tend to think that, because it’s been almost fifteen years, I should be all done this grief stuff and that it shouldn’t affect me any more. It’s so far in the past. Shouldn’t I be over it by now? I read an article in the Huffington Post recently entitled “Stifled Grief: How the West Has It Wrong.” It’s a very good article about some of the unrealistic expectations that we have in our society concerning grief, and I would suggest you take time to read it.

One blogger I follow, Kathleen Moulton, also recently wrote about this recently in her blog entitled, “no earthly thing.” She writes, “There is no earthly thing that can take the pain away of your child’s death…only heavenly.” So true. I will miss Jason for the rest of my life. I deal every day, on varying levels, with the grief and pain of his death. He is never “out of sight, out of mind” for me. I know in my heart that he lived and that his life mattered, and that he was the most wonderful son I ever could have imagined. I hold him close in my heart every day and am so thankful he was born in our family. But, I miss him and I grieve that he is gone. The pain and the grief of his death will permanently end only when we see Jason again in that place where there is no death or sorrow or suffering. And then God, Himself, will wipe away my tears. We will see Jason again and it will be a glorious day. Of that I am sure.


© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

Trust, Once Broken, is Not Easily Mended

When the kids were little, I tried to teach them the incredible value of trust. Miriam-Webster dictionary gives one definition of trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed (my emphasis on words in italics).” Trust is the basis of our close, meaningful friendships and relationships. Trust is the basis of a successful relationship between employer and employee.Trust is imperative in the relationship between spouses and between family members.

imagesAs a way of communicating this intangible concept to the kids, I used a couple of visual examples to show the consequences of breaking someone’s trust. We set up a pattern with dominos on the dining room table, the kind where you touch the first one to knock it over and that starts a chain reaction of the rest falling over. I wanted to show them that one action could affect many things. One action can lead to broken trust and can create an series of unintended consequences, much like the falling dominos.

481000578I also showed them one of my glass flower vases and asked them what they thought would happen if I smashed it on the ground. We talked about whether or not it could ever be put back together again. Even if we were able to find all the pieces and put them back together (which would be highly unlikely), it would never look or function the same. Once broken, not easily mended.

In my last post, I wrote about secondary losses. Following the death of a child, one of these secondary losses can be the loss of friendship, either immediately following the death of the child or as times goes by. The saying ” grief changes your address book” is true.  Initially, people may not know what to do or say, so they stay away. As time goes by, people may get tired of how long it takes to “get over” the death of a child and decide to move on. Either way, it’s fairly common to lose friends following the death of a child. (The online magazine, Still Standing, has an excellent article on this topic.)

I’ve also written about the loss of friendship after Jason died. Losing friends following the death of a child is hard. I recently read an article about the psychology behind people leaving alone people in crisis. The article quotes Barbara M. Sourkes, associate professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine: “When you’re confronted by someone else’s horror, there’s a sense that it’s close to home.” Too close to home, I would add. The article also lists reasons people may disappear – people don’t like to feel helpless, awkwardness around crises, feeling too much empathy in picturing that it could happen to them or their children, or creating distance so that it doesn’t seem real (out of sight/out of mind), feeling guilty that they’re so glad its not them, or feeling like if they stay away from the crisis that it won’t happen to them. Whatever the reason is or whenever the reason people disappear doesn’t make the loss any easier.

In some ways, I think people were waiting until we were “better,” waiting until enough time passed until…what??…until we weren’t so sad? I don’t know. There really is no such thing as “getting better.” One gal told me she wanted to make sure we had enough family time. Christmas 2002, nearly 10 months after Jason died, we had a few more people that usual call. At the time, I felt like people felt like it was safe to try to reconnect, but we weren’t the same people they used to know. Those relationships just weren’t the same.

When people walked away from us, I lost a lot of respect for them. It was hard feeling abandoned by those we expected to support us. Trust was broken. Our confidence in their ability to be true, kind, compassionate friends was broken. Those relationships were broken because of the broken trust. It was hard to feel like they really wanted to be in our lives, that they really wanted to be true friends again. If they really wanted to be our friends, why would they have abandoned us? As I said in my “toolbox” post, I am very guarded. I keep my shield close at hand, ready to put it up to protect my heart. That makes it really hard to let people in and trust that they really do care. It’s a hard thing to start trusting again.

I’ve really tried recently to be more open and trusting. I’ve tried to remove bricks from the walls I’ve put up around myself over the years – walls of protection and self-preservation. I’ve tried to allow people into my life. I’ve tried to be friendly and open to new friendships. It’s a really hard thing to do, this allowing people to be close to me. I’m really guarded. I don’t know if they can handle the brokenness in my life. I don’t know if they will think enough time has passed since Jason died that it shouldn’t bother me any more. I don’t want to be judged or to become a project to be “made better.” I don’t know if they will accept me for who I am. I don’t know if I can trust them to be there for me. It’s just so dang hard for me to do.

I recently confided something in a gal I thought to be a friend. She immediately passed it on to someone else, who came to talk to me about it. It was a trust-shattering moment. I continue to try to forgive that breach of trust, but I no longer look at that friendship the same. I no longer feel that relationship is worthy of my trust.

Trust is a huge issue for me. I want to be trustworthy – worthy of people entrusting things to me, knowing I will handle that trust with care. I want to have people around me that are trustworthy – worthy of entrusting them with my brokenness and fragile heart, knowing they will handle my trust with care.

Things are no longer simple following the death of a child. Navigating this life is more like canoeing down rapids than paddling on a calm lake. We have to be diligent and careful moving down this life-path. It’s like our radar always is on, scanning for things that might rock our boat. For example, Jason’s birthday is coming up, and I have learned that things that don’t normally bother me might make me sad. I have to be aware of that. I have to be aware of emotional triggers.

I have to read what’s the content of movies or TV shows. After Jason died, I couldn’t watch movies or TV shows that had car crashes in them. I couldn’t watch loud movies. I couldn’t watch movies about children dying (still can’t). I can’t watch high stress movies or TV shows. When scenes are particularly tense, I still have to close my eyes and breathe deeply until the scene is over.

I have to determine if I can trust someone. I have to judge conversations with people I have just met as to whether or not I should mention Jason. When someone asks me about how many children I have, can they handle the fact that I have a child who died? Is this a passing conversation with someone who moves on or is this someone who might stick around a while? If I do talk about Jason’s death, will they disappear like people did just after Jason died? Can I trust this person enough with my heart to believe that they won’t inflict further hurt? Will they not shatter my trust? Who can I trust?

People make mistakes. I understand that. We are all human and need to extend grace to each other. I’ve worked really hard on forgiving those that have hurt us. But, I also understand that trust once broken is not easily mended. It’s hard to let people that have broken our trust back into our hearts and into our lives.  It’s just never quite the same. Once that glass vase drops, it’s hard to put the pieces back together.


© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney


Photo credits:

Domino photo – https://www.videoblocks.com/video/line-of-white-dominoes-falling-ykoznpb/

Shattered glass photo – www.gettyimages.com

Articles quoted:

miriam webster trust



You Can Help a Grieving Heart by Alice J. Wisler

This is such an excellent article that I wanted to pass it on verbatim. Although these suggestions may have been published in other, various forms, it never hurts to read them again.  As the article says, “You can be informed so that you will be able to reach out to a friend who has lost a child.” Please visit http://www.lifetoolsforwomen.com/f/grievingheart.htm for the original article.


You Can Help A Grieving Heart Practical ways for helping bereaved parents

By Alice J. Wisler

We talk about the best cold medications and if cherry cough syrup tastes better to kids than orange. We can recommend preschools and sneakers. But the hardest part of parenting is the often the least discussed. The toughest aspect of being a parent is losing a child.

Then we clam up. We don’t want to hear. We are threatened. If her child died, mine could, too. What can we do when parenting goes beyond the normal expectations? “What do I say?” friends ask me with a look of agony in their eyes. “I feel so helpless. I can’t empathize, I haven’t had a child die.”

You can help. You don’t have to stand there with a blank stare or excuse yourself from the conversation. You can be informed so that you will be able to reach out to a friend who has lost a child.

“Jump into the midst of things and do something,” says Ronald Knapp, author of the book, “Beyond Endurance: When A Child Dies.” Traditionally there are the sympathy cards and hot casseroles brought over to the bereaved person’s home. But it doesn’t end there. That is only the beginning of reaching out to your friend or relative who has recently experienced the death of a child at any age.

Here are 15 tips you can learn to make you an effective and compassionate friend to your friend in pain:

  • Listen. When you ask your friend, “How are you doing today?” wait to hear the answer.
  • Cry with her. She may cry also, but your tears don’t make her cry. She cries when no one else is around and within her heart are the daily tears no one sees.
  • Don’t use cliches. Avoid lines like, “It will get better.” “Be grateful you have other children.” “You’re young, you can have another baby.” “He was sick, and it’s good he is no longer suffering.” There will never be a phrase invented that makes it all right that a child died.
  • Help with the care of the surviving children. Offer to take them to the park, your house for a meal, to church. Say “May I please take Billy to the park today? Is 4:00 okay with you?” Don’t give the line, “If you need me, call me.” Your bereaved friend may not feel comfortable asking for help.
  • Say your friend’s child’s name. Even if she cries, these are tears that heal. Acknowledging that the child lived and has not been forgotten is a wonderful balm to a broken heart.

  • Give to the memorial fund. Find out what it is and give, today, next year and the next.
  • Buy something special. Some mothers start to collect items that bring comfort after a child dies; find out what your friend is collecting and buy one for her. My son liked watermelons and we have many stories of watermelons and him. Therefore my house now has assorted watermelon mementos – a teapot, kitchen towel and soap dispenser. Many mothers find solace in rainbows, butterflies and angels.
  • Send a card  “I’m thinking of you is fine,” but stay away from sappy sympathy ones.
  • Go to the grave. Take flowers, a balloon or a toy. How honored your friend will be to see what you have left there the next time she visits the cemetery.
  • Don’t use religion as a ‘brush away’ for pain. Stay clear of words that don’t help like, “It was God’s will.”
  • Don’t judge her. You don’t know what she is going through each day; you cannot know of the intense pain unless you have also had a child die.
  • Stay in touch. Call to hear how she is coping. Suggest getting together, but if she isn’t up for it, give her space.
  • Read a book on grief. Focus on the parts that give you ideas on how to be a source of comfort for your bereaved friend.
  • Don’t expect her to ‘get over’ this loss. Know she has a hole in her heart, a missing piece due to the death of her child. Holes like these never heal so accept this truth.
  • Let her know your love for her – as well as God’s love for her – is still the same. Remember that that with the death of her child, a part of her died – old beliefs, ideals, etc. Her life has been forever changed.

Even as you participate in the suggestions above, you will still feel uncomfortable. It has been three years since the death of my four-year-old, Daniel, and even now when I meet a newly-bereaved mother, I am uncomfortable.

Talking of the untimely death of a child is never easy for anyone. However, avoiding reality does not bring healing. You will provide many gifts of comfort along the way when you actively decide to help your grieving friend. When my friends and family acknowledge all four of my children, the three on this earth and the one in Heaven, I am honored. Each time it is as though a ray of warm sunlight has touched my soul.

Further Recommended Reading:

“When A Child Has Died: Ways You Can Help A Bereaved Parent”. Bonnie Hunt Conrad. Fithian Press, 1995.

“When Your Friend Is Grieving: Building A Bridge of Love”. Paula D’Arcy. Harold Shaw Publishers, 1990.

“Beyond Endurance: When A Child Dies”. Ronald J. Knapp. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.

“Slices of Sunlight, A Cookbook Of Memories”. Alice J. Wisler. Daniel’s House Publications, 2000.

Alice J. Wisler writes for various bereavement publications and is the founder of Daniel’s House Publications, a site of comfort for bereaved parents and siblings. She is the editor of LARGO and Tributes. Her recent book, “Slices of Sunlight, A Cookbook of Memories: Remembrances of the Children We Held” stresses the importance of recalling those children’s lives who have died through recipes and food-related stories. To learn more, visit: www.mindspring.com/~wisler/danielshouse.html Alice can be reached at wisler@mindspring.com


Sifting, Sifting, Sifting in the Process of Loss

Once again, I realized today how much I appreciate the blog community. I love reading something from a fellow blogger that provides a nugget of inspiration, challenge or thought.

This morning, as I caught up on one of my favorite blogs written by a woman who lost her home and all its contents to a Texas firestorm, I read a post written about the process of putting together an inventory and considering priorities following loss. My heart aches for her and the lifetime of history she has lost!! So many things – gone! – in one moment of time, beyond her control! It made me consider the sifting processes that have happened in my own life over the years and the things that really matter to me. Her post made me stop and think about what is really, truly important to me.

In the Inaugural Day storm that hit the Seattle area in 1993, a large double-trunked fir tree fell on the house we were renting at the time. Jason, Jenna and I – all who were watching from the kitchen window as the trees swayed dramatically in the wind – turned and ran frantically as the huge tree fell toward us. As it fell, the tree turned so that a trunk of the tree fell on either end of the house instead of both trunks landing right on top of us. One trunk fell right on the end of the kitchen table where Eric normally worked on his schoolwork; fortunately, he had stayed in bed to stay warm since the power was out. Although incredibly shaken by the whole experience, I was so thankful that my family was safe! Enough damage was done to the house that we had to move everything out in one day and put all of our stuff in storage until we found another place to live.

“Houseless” (notice I don’t say “homeless”), we stayed back-and-forth with a couple of families over the next few months as we tried to find a house to buy. Moving a family of 5 from place to place for months – while looking for houses and trying to maintain a school schedule – was not an easy thing to do. After making offers on a couple of houses and having the deals fall through, we decided to purchase a piece of land and contract to have a house built. Following Memorial Day, we left the friends we were staying with and headed out by car for a vacation down the West Coast to California. From there, I traveled with the kids to visit family in the Midwest for the summer while Joe returned to find an apartment to rent until our home was built.

When the kids and I returned in the fall to Seattle and the rental apartment, I discovered my husband (without consulting me, bless his heart!) had “gone through” everything we had in storage and “gotten rid of some things” he deemed unnecessary, condensing our houseful of goods (we’re talking 2400 square feet!) so that it fit into a two-bedroom apartment. Let’s just say that I am a collector, don’t change very easily, and have a hard time letting go of things; my husband is a minimalist, not a collector of stuff, and has little trouble letting go of most material things.

I LIKE my “stuff”!! My stuff reminds me of times, things, and people I want to remember!! There are memories tied to my stuff! There’s a reason I keep and hold onto my stuff! Although I will admit it took some major eye-blinking, tongue-biting and word-swallowing when I found out, I kept reminding myself how thankful I was that my family was safe and most important “stuff” was safe and in tact. At the time, however, I felt that a lot of what I valued and considered important was going through a sifting process of loss. I came to realize, without a shadow of a doubt, that I could live without all that stuff as long as my family was safe.

After being in an apartment rental for a year, we moved into our home. Ahhh…the room….the space…the four bedrooms! It was wonderful…and a space we managed to fill full with a lot of additional “stuff” over the next ten years.

After Jason died, I felt like I went through a major, long sifting process of a different kind. Relationships, expectations, future plans, dreams, hopes, faith – all of these and more went through the grinder of deep loss and then into the sifter. Many things fell out or got sifted out in the process – some by my choice, some through no choice of my own. Going through Jason’s room was a major sifting process, one that was incredibly painful and hard to do. It also became evident that our house – a house I loved in a state/location I loved – was too large for just my husband and me to manage on our own and that my husband was ready for a change – away from the “gray dome” of Washington, away from places steeped in painful memories and reminders of Jason’s death.

Since we were only taking bare essentials with us, I once again started the sifting process. Sifting, sifting, sifting. What did I really want to keep and what could I live without or replace? At times, I felt like if I heard the words “we need to get rid of” one more time I would scream! The only things we took with us to Oklahoma were some clothes, photos and a few momentos. As we continue to look for a place for our hearts to be at home, they are still the only things we now and are in storage in Oklahoma. I feel like I have been in a sifting process for so long!

In reality, we come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. I can only think of a few important number of things that make it out of the sifting process here on earth and into eternity – our tears, our deeds (good or bad), our eternal souls, faith, hope and love. Can you think of any more?

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Being present for those who deeply grieve

In the years since Jason died, I’ve read many “do’s and don’ts” lists in articles and books written concerning how to help the grieving. I’ve even written about how to help those who deeply grieve. Without a doubt, I think all of these lists and writings help and give understanding and insight.

As I read a blog this morning about being present for those who grieve, though, I started thinking that if I had to state how to help a person who is deeply grieving in only two sentences, this is what I would say: Be short on words, long on presence and compassion. Don’t offer an explanation; offer your heart.

That is the essence, the distillation, the easy-to-remember nugget, the “advice in a nutshell” for helping those who deeply grieve. If someone is in the situation of needing/wanting to help someone who is grieving, I hope s/he will take time to fully read the helpful “do and don’t” lists, but will use these two short sentences as a trigger or reminder of how to help.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Great Expectations

My husband and I started talking this morning over breakfast about expectations and hope. I had earlier read to him a portion of a blog written by a young mother who expressed grief that her birth experience had not been what she thought it should have been and how she resented being told that she should “get over it.” This precipitated a discussion concerning some of our own – well, specifically, some of my own – expectations and hopes that have not turned out quite like I thought they would.

My husband – bless his heart – is a very black and white person. I, on the other hand, am a person who sees both sides of the coin. Being a woman, I also approach things on a much more emotional level than he does, especially when it comes to things that hurt, are not fair to, or cause pain to my family. I have a tendency to expect things to go or to be a certain way. As I choked up while talking about some hopes and expectations close to my heart that have not turned out as I wished they had, my husband commented concerning a few, “That’s just not logical. There’s no reason to expect they should have turned out that way.” Ahhh – Spock and his logic (Star Trek) have nothing on this man!

I think, though, we are hardwired to hope. You know, “hope springs eternal” and all that. We then add our own expectations – sometimes unrealistic expectations – to our hopes. It’s hard not to add our own expectations (the “shoulds”) to the visions we hold close to our hearts. We picture things the way we want and think things should be – with hope and expectation. We have hopes and expectations for our relationships, for our families, for our kids, for our jobs, for our futures, for every aspect of our lives. We want, hope, expect for things to go a certain way. We want, hope, expect things to turn out for the best.

When Jason was in high school, I printed and framed Jeremiah 29:11 for him. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”* It sat on his bedside table. I expected Jason to prosper and to have a future. I believed God had a plan for Jason’s life – for all of our kids’ lives. I hoped for good things for Jason – for all of my kids. I expected God to protect my kids; I prayed for God to protect them and help them.

I hoped and expected my kids would all have good friends who would value them for the incredible people they are and stand by them through thick and thin. I hoped and expected that they find jobs that would be fulfilling and a life that would be equally fulfilling. I looked forward to my kids graduating from college, marrying, having children (probably). I hoped for the absolute best for my kids; I still hope for these things and pray for the best for my kids and grandkids.

I expected for our home to be a place to which our kids would return with their own families; one that would be filled with family, friends, and fun for holidays or for just any ordinary day; one where I could do crafts and bake cookies with our grandkids. I expected my life to continue on its path into a future I envisioned and had planned. I still have many hopes and expectations, although I feel they are more subdued than they used to be.

What I did not expect was for Jason to die. I did not expect to walk this long, difficult walk through grief. I didn’t expect people we counted on to disappear when we needed them the most. I didn’t expect to move from a place and home I loved. I didn’t expect my family to face some of the heartbreaks and difficult struggles they have. I didn’t expect to be 50-something (ah-hum) years old trying to better educate myself in order find a good-paying, fulfilling job so we can have enough money for retirement. I didn’t expect to have so much trouble finding once again a place to call home – a place where my heart feels at home – and a good job.

What do you do when your hopes and expectations aren’t met, when they disappear into thin air or are crushed to smithereens?

I think this has been one of the greatest struggles for me following Jason’s death and the ripple-effect of events/situations following his death. Sometimes it surprises me how long and far-reaching the ripples go and what they affect. I have a strong belief in the fairness of things and tend to expect that things “should” be a certain way. I still struggle sometimes with adjusting my expectations to the reality that now is. It’s hard for me to let go of those hopes and expectations when things seem unfair; I’m afraid I am not one to let go easily.

Proverbs 13:12 says: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”** Deferred means “withheld for or until a stated time”; fulfilled means “to measure up to…to convert into reality.”*** Sometimes I feel like I’m over the “hope deferred” parts of life and am ready for the “longing fulfilled” parts; I’m over the “heart sick” parts and ready for the “tree of life” parts. Sometimes I just want to say “Enough already!” and instantly see things change for the better. I’m ready for some of my deep longings to become realities. I think all of us would prefer the “longing fulfilled” rather than the “hope deferred.”

You just can’t pick and choose some things that happen to you, though. Sometimes our “great expectations” just don’t happen the way we think they should.

Joe and watched a movie a long time ago (I think it was Richard Dreyfuss in Lost In Yonkers) where the main character’s sister kept going on and on about how she wanted and pictured her life to be a certain way. It wasn’t turning out the way she wanted it to be, the way she pictured it should be, but she wasn’t actively doing anything to make anything change. She was just complaining about the way it was. Finally, in exasperation after listening to this for countless years, the main character turns to her and yells, “So, change the picture!!” Although some “pictures” are easier to change and some expectations are easier to release than others, that’s become a reminder to ourselves. “Change the picture!”

I don’ think it happens just like that – change the picture. And it certainly isn’t up to someone else to change the picture for you or, without solicitation, to tell you when or how you should change it. It’s your life; you have to own your own changes in order for them to mean something to you. Sometimes a person may ask an opinion or solicit help, but for change to really stick it has to mean something and come from deep within. No one can do it for you. Sometimes it’s a painfully long and agonizing process that requires painting over that ruined picture or a long time and hard, consistent work to plant a landscape so that it is no longer a vast wasteland but a beautiful, productive garden. The healing is in the process of change, one step at a time.

I don’t want to get stuck in my lost expectations or keep my focus on the hopes that have been deferred. I don’t want the landscape of my life to be of a wasteland of unfulfilled expectations or the way I wish things were; I want it to be a beautiful garden, that stained glass window through which God can shine. I want to keep learning and growing from the experiences I’ve had. I just keep reminding myself that there are so many things I don’t understand here on earth. Life isn’t fair. Why do things go well for certain people and not others? I don’t know. Maybe it just seems they do. I think most people have expectations that aren’t met and heartbreaks of their own. I won’t have the answers to why my some of my hopes were deferred and some of my expectations weren’t met on things that are important to me until I see God face to face. I will keep on hoping and doing the best I can.

I want Jason to be proud of me and the way I have lived my life. I want to get to Heaven and have God say to me, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” I want my life to mean something. I will remind myself to hope, to love, to forgive, to remember, to persevere, to appreciate those in my life who care, and to notice the beauty in each day. I will remind myself that some day I will understand, even though I don’t now. As 1 Corinthians 13 says:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.****





© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Why I’m thankful that the cyberworld is at my fingertips

A mere click of a button...
(image from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/)

This morning, as I was reading a blog concerning grief following the death of a loved one, I realized that I was feeling thankful for the cyberworld that is now available at my fingertips. The amount of information that can be reached by a mere click of a button is amazing. I’m probably dating myself quite a bit here, but sometimes I find the internet a truly interesting phenomenon.

After Jason died, I reached a point where I wanted answers – answers to my questions, answers to what “typical” or “normal” grieving looked like, answers to why I felt the way I did and how long my grief would last. I did what I knew how to do and in the way it was done at the time.

I scoured the shelves at the local libraries (to check out) and at our local Barnes & Noble (to purchase) for books on grief and on the death of a child, even though I was acutely aware that I was physically a mess, that my eyes were red and puffy from crying, and that I might break into tears at the drop of a hat while reading a book synopsis. I searched the library archives for magazine articles. I tried to find a grief support group that was a good fit (never did find one). I tried to reach out to others who had lost a child by talking about what I was feeling, by writing emails and making phone calls – all in an effort to find encouragement that I would make it through and that I would survive this horrible loss. I tried to create whatever type of support I could find. I wrote an article for our homeschool newsletter in an effort to encourage/promote understanding and support for bereaved parents.

All in all, it took a lot of physical, trial-and-error searching for helpful resources when I didn’t have a lot of energy (truly, I was a mess!) Although there were some books written on grief that I would consider excellent resources, it was generally not a topic about which much was written in comparison to the need.

A world at my fingertips
(Image from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images)

Now, there are many more resources so easily available without even leaving the comfort of our homes. A bereaved parent (or those who wish to support a bereaved parent) can go online to find information, book reviews, helpful resources, download “how to help” booklets, or order resources shipped right to the front door. A bereaved parent can find a virtual community of support and encouragement where there may be none presently available in his or her own backyard. (I’m certainly not suggesting the cyberworld replace the real world when it comes to truly supporting a bereaved parent, just that it can be a resource should none be available.)

The Compassionate Friends has a wonderful website full of helpful resources. Libraries have links to extensive electronic resources (with a library card) that can be accessed from home. Amazon and other sites have extensive book reviews and suggested further reading lists. If I had a Kindle or Nook, I could instantly download a book on grief from wherever I happened to be. I can Google “death of a child” (or whatever the topic may be) and find many, many articles to read until I find something that applies to my given situation.

There are many wonderfully written and insightful blogs by bereaved parents, giving those “outside” an “inside” view of the world of lost children. I am so thankful for the bereaved parents who take the time and make the effort to write about their experiences online. Being vulnerable is not an easy thing to do, especially about something so personal. These blogs contain a wealth of information and encouragement for those who will take the time to read. Sure, you may have to sift through stuff (books, blogs, articles etc.) sometimes to find the gems, but I am thankful for the increasing awareness on the topic of grief because of these resources. I am thankful that so many have the courage to speak up, to no longer allow grief to be swept under the carpet as a taboo topic.

Yep. I’m of a certain age where the cyberworld can still amaze me…and I am thankful for this electronic resource, education tool, and connector to others who grieve.

And I am especially thankful to each of you “out there” who enrich my life by your writing.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney