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