My Life in Boxes

Last fall, we went to Oklahoma to get the last of our things out of storage and to move them to North Carolina where we now live. They’ve been in storage for seven years since we moved from Oklahoma. We spent two days repacking things into smaller, uniform moving boxes and and once again whittling down our earthly possessions. Again. Deciding what’s important to keep and what’s replaceable. Again. Taking boxes and boxes and boxes of household goods, kitchen items and clothes to Goodwill. Again. I’ve done this process too many times and it’s hard on me every time. If I never again hear the words “we need to get rid of” or the phrase “Are you really keeping that???,” it will be too soon. It seems I always feel pushed into giving away something that really was important to me or that I later wished I had kept.

The last remaining things of our life in Seattle. The last remaining physical items I have that connect me to Jason. The history of our lives. Photographs. Scrapbooks. Christmas ornaments. Momentos of our lives when the kids were little. Jason’s chess set. A few books. A couple of my dad’s Bibles. Tax records. Important papers.

Less than 50 12″ x 12″ x 18″ boxes. Less than 50 boxes is all we moved. That’s all we have left. Seriously, that’s all we have left that we can call our own (since moving from Oklahoma seven years ago, we have lived in rented, fully-furnished one bedroom apartments in both Florida and North Carolina, so we don’t have any furniture, etc.). Less than 50 boxes. It seems like such a small amount of things that reflect the busy, fun, full life we had before Jason died and the big house and home that was so filled with love and activity. Sometimes it feels like my life has shrunk so small since then.

But, those items in those boxes also are a reminder that physical things are just that – things. They are just things. I lived without seeing or physically touching those things for seven years. Although those things may remind us of Jason and the time he was alive, there is no way those flat, one-dimensional items can truly reflect the real Jason – the awesome person he was, his intelligence and humor, his beautiful blue eyes, the many facets of his wonderful and Godly character, and his truly kind and loving nature. Those are things that can only be held closely and fully in our hearts and memories.

Holding you close in my heart and in my memories today, my precious boy. I miss you and I love you more than words can say. I look forward to the day I can see you and hug the real you once again.

~Becky

© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney

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Of Falling Trees and Such

As I lay in bed this morning listening to the wind whip through the trees on this blustery and wintery day, I realized I was wondering if one of them would fall on the house…and hoping and praying one would not. Once you have a tree fall on your house, you can’t help but wonder whether it will happen again.

On January 20, 1993, Western Washington State experienced what became known as “infamous Inaugural Day Windstorm.” As Bill Clinton was about to be sworn in as President of the United States, we in the Seattle area had other things on our minds.

It was a typical homeschooling day in the Carney household, although one where we were getting a slower start than normal that morning. Eric was having a hard time getting out of bed, preferring to snuggle down under the covers on that blustery morning. Joe had gone to work as usual, crossing the I-90 floating bridge across Lake Washington to his job in downtown Seattle. The rest of us were just puttering around the house.

Around 9:00 a.m., we heard part of a tree fall from our neighbor’s yard onto the fence that divided our properties in the back. Jason and Jenna climbed up on the kitchen counter to look out the window, as I stood behind them surveying the damage.

As we looked out the window at the damaged fence, something else very startling caught my attention. It looked to me like the big fir tree about 15-20 feet away from the kitchen window in our backyard was dancing. It sort of slowly lifted up and twirled to the right, settled back down, and then slowly lifted up and twirled to the left. It literally looked like it was dancing a slow ballet. It was an amazing sight to see.

Now, this was no ordinary fir tree. As it grew, it had split fairly low so that it had two trunks going at least 60 feet or so into the air. It was a big tree!! The trunks were situated so that one was toward the house and one away from the house.

All of a sudden, I realized the tree was no longer dancing, it was falling right toward the house…right toward the kitchen window we were looking out. I grabbed Jason and Jenna off the counter and turned to run. By the time I got to the kitchen doorway, it was all over.

Thankfully, the tree turned as it fell so that one trunk landed on the roof to the right of us and one landed on the roof to the left of us. The top of one on the left snapped off from the impact of hitting the house, and it whipped back in through the window over the front door to the house and a branch went through the front door.

There were several things that saved us that day. We weren’t at the dining room table where we normally would have been. Eric was still cozy in his bed and the rest of us were watching the storm out the kitchen window – just in time to run as the tree fell. If the tree had not turned as it fell, it would have landed with both trunks right on top of us, of that I have no doubt. If we had been closer to the front door or going down the stairs to the basement, we could have been hit by the treetop coming through the window above the door or by the shattering glass. Also, our landlord just recently (finally!!) had re-roofed the house, replacing any damaged wood. Being an older house, it had fairly thick and solid joists which gave it more strength to absorb some of the impact of the falling tree. Because the trunk of the tree split, the weight of the tree was divided between the two trunks. The larger, heavier trunk came through the roof above the dining room table right where the kids would have been doing their schoolwork on any other day, and the smaller trunk landed halfway across the length of the house above the front door (causing damage to the plumbing tree of the house, front window above the door, and the door) but didn’t come all the way through the roof.

I called Joe at work, asking him to come home right away because a tree had fallen on the house. He made it back across the I-90 floating bridge just before they closed it because of the wind. I called our landlord and had a hard time convincing him that a tree had actually fallen on the house (one I had tried to get him to cut down) and that the damage was more than something his aging father could climb up on the roof and fix. (Our landlord was something else, I must say!)

The city where we lived sustained the greatest number of damaged homes per capita in the area. Many, many other houses were damaged or destroyed throughout the area. Winds in some areas reached that of a category 1 hurricane. Buildings downtown Seattle swayed in the wind, making people nauseous. Power was out for days. Six people died and many others injured. But, none of us were hurt, just very shaken. I am so very thankful.

The house was so damaged that we had to pack everything up and move it into storage. We had people just show up to help us pack up our entire household in one day. Everything went into storage and stayed there (for months) as we looked for a house to buy. That’s another story.

Anyway, one of the first things I made sure was that all of the close-in trees at our next house were cleared. I couldn’t sleep when it was windy until I felt fairly certain we were out of reach of most potentially-falling trees.

The moral of this story is that you don’t ever forget traumatic events or tragedies. They are imprinted on your life. They become a part of who you are. Your heart doesn’t forget.

We now live in a house with trees close by, and I find that it makes me nervous when the wind howls through the trees as it is today. I don’t so much worry about myself being hurt; I worry about the ones I love. In my ignorance before the tree fell on our house, I knew that trees fell in high winds. I just never imagined one would fall on us. In my ignorance before Jason died, I knew that tragedy strikes families and children die. I just never imagined it would be us. Once you experience a great tragedy or a traumatic event, you never forget that you are not immune. Time passes, but certain things can take you back to that moment when you realized beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not immune from tragedies or traumatic events. None of us are immune.

I am so thankful none of us were hurt that day the tree fell on our home. I am so thankful for the people who rallied around us to help us pack up and move everything we owned in a single day. I am thankful for the people who invited us to stay with them while we looked for a house to buy.

But, I still don’t understand why God protected us that day the tree fell on our house (and I am certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that He did then and many other times), but He didn’t protect Jason from being hit by a drunk driver on March 3rd, 2002. I prayed and prayed for God’s protection for my kids. I feel like sometimes they were protected from danger or harm and sometimes they weren’t. We invested in the lives of others. Sometimes that investment returned to us and sometimes it didn’t. I don’t understand why people we counted on left us so very alone after Jason died. Protection and support one time; no protection and no support another. An exponentially greater tragedy; exponentially less support.

Sometimes there just aren’t any answers. Things happen, and I don’t understand why. I know that I now “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). There are so many things I don’t understand. Someday I hope I will.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

The Gifts of Listening and Remembering

The Gift of Listening

One of the most precious gifts I received while I was in Washington was given to me by a long-time friend when we had dinner together. She gave me the gift of her time and her attention. She asked me if I was “ready to talk about it.” (It’s not that I have avoided talking about “it,” Jason, or that time…I just didn’t feel like anyone was ready or wanted to listen. It has seemed no one really has wanted to talk about Jason or that time – unless it’s briefly on his birthday or anniversary of his death – and so I just sort of gave up trying. Why make people uncomfortable and avoid you even more?)

I asked what she wanted to know; I would answer any questions. I talked. And she truly listened. She truly listened. She listened to my ideas on how I wanted to help bereaved parents. She cared. She asked questions. “What could I have done differently?” She apologized for not knowing what to do and for disappearing. Not once did she make me feel like I needed – at any time during the last ten years – to be fixed or that I should not have felt as I did.

As I began to talk, starting at the night of the accident, I started shivering. I thought I was cold – after all, going from 80 degrees in Florida to 28 degrees in Seattle was quite a change. I ordered coffee to warm me up, but it didn’t help.

Have you ever had a muscle that was knotted up tight for so long that it begins to shake? That’s what it was like, except through my whole body. It was like I had tried to hold together all alone and be strong for so long that my physical body reacted to “letting the story out,” to loosening my grip on some inner tension I didn’t even realize I had. Someone apologized. Someone cared. Someone actually listened to my story and looked me square in the eyes as I was telling it.

I realized the next day that something inside of me had changed. I felt freer than I had felt in a very long time. I have read about bereaved parents reaching a corner, a specific turning point, when something changes. I just didn’t understand it because it had not happened to me.

It’s been a rough ten years. Jason’s death; everything we dealt with concerning Jason’s death and the far-reaching after-effects (believe me, the ripple effects following the death of a child go deep, far, and wide); deep, prolonged grief that went far into my very soul; depression; too many relationship losses to count; watching my precious family struggle with losses and other difficult situations; job losses; my Mom died; loss of family relationships; moving, moving, moving; changes, changes, changes; pressure, pressure, pressure. I have felt like I’ve been hunkered down in a survival mode for a long time, that I’ve dealt with many, many things alone. It’s tiring. It’s draining. It ties you in knots, whether you know it or not.

I am so thankful for this precious friend taking time to ask questions and for listening. I know it wasn’t easy for her. I have worked very hard on my own at forgiving, even though there no apologies extended by people who knew they had hurt me/us badly and who knew they had deserted us. It was amazing to have someone say that our relationship was too important to lose. It was so freeing to hear someone say, “I’m sorry,” and to be able to respond, “I forgive you.” It was amazing to have someone truly listen with her heart and her full attention! What an incredible gift!

The Gift of Remembering

One of Jason’s good friends hosted a small breakfast get-together on the morning of March 3rd as a way to honor Jason and Alina. One precious young lady who attended took time to tell me how she would never forget Jason, how he was still the standard by which she measured guys, how Jason had once explained to her why he enjoyed classical music along with other types of music, and how she still listened to and appreciated classical music to this day because of what Jason had told her. It meant so much to me for her to take the time to tell me those things.

It meant so much, too, to me to listen to others who also spoke of Jason, who told me a story or memory and let me know he would never be forgotten. Every single person who shared with me memories of Jason gave me an incredible gift!

One of a mother’s nightmares following the death of a child is that her child will be forgotten. It’s almost like an unspoken job for a bereaved mother to make sure that never happens.

Following Jason’s death, a gal in our homeschool group offered to put together a scrapbook in Jason’s honor. I chose a scrapbook that would include photos (by those other than ourselves) and personal stories of Jason by those who knew him. At least I could remember him alive and hold his memory close through photos of things he had done and places he had been, by being talked about and remembered. Another gal was to contact people and spread the word so those who wanted could contribute to the scrapbook.

There were not a lot of contributions; the gal putting the scrapbook together was embarrassed and anxious I would be hurt. At first I was confused and hurt. I craved hearing about Jason’s life, about his experiences, about how he was remembered. I didn’t want my son to be dead. I felt like he was being forgotten. I didn’t want him forgotten. I needed to know that he was remembered – and would continue to be remembered – by those who knew him.

But then I realized that a couple of big issues were getting in the way. 1) The court hearings were just ahead and many people were composing impact statements to submit to the judge concerning how Jason’s and Alina’s deaths affected them (statements to help the court decide sentencing). That in itself had to be so emotionally draining. 2) In addition, a lot of these “kids” (and others) were still dealing with both Jason’s and Alina’s deaths (Jason and Alina had many friends in common); they were not able to vocalize their feelings just yet. It was too much to ask of them at that time. My need was greater than the ability of most people we knew.

With so few people talking or writing about Jason over the years, it was easy to wonder if he was being forgotten. I guess that’s one of the reasons it meant so much to me while I was in Seattle this time to have people specifically tell me their memories of Jason and that he would never be forgotten. They let me know that his memory had not disappeared with time, that Jason’s life mattered, not only to his family, but to others. He has continued to be valued, loved, remembered.

It was a good trip. Breakfast, coffee and conversation every morning with my precious friend Mary, who I have missed so much since we moved. Typical early spring Seattle weather – rain, snow, frost, sun. (Seattle weather has never bothered me.) And best of all, some people who listened, showed me they cared, and told me Jason was dearly remembered and would never be forgotten. They gave me the precious gifts of listening and remembering. It’s never too late to listen or remember.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney