Reflections on Grief and Gardening

Team 808

This post was written seven years ago when I struggling through my journey with grief after the death of my daughter Julie on May 29, 2010.  
Gardening was one place where I always found solace, comfort, and peace during that time.
The lessons I learned during that time continue to teach me as I continue this journey 
one day at a time.
I am reposting this in Julie’s memory on this day that always reminds us of her.


If gardening truly is a form of autobiography, then I would have to say that my gardening this year could serve as a metaphor for my life for the past month or so.  Mostly, I have felt that I have been living in a hit or miss style when it comes to gardening, blogging, house keeping, and journaling.  Perhaps, I have an excuse for this style of living.  Perhaps, I do not.

It has been a hectic past four weeks.  Family has been visiting.  I have many trips up and down I25 from Pueblo to Colorado Springs to visit my son while he was staying at his mother-in-law's house, or to keep doctors' appointments.  I have also made my share of trips up and down I25 between Pueblo and Erie, Colorado to babysit grandchildren and help out my daughter Amy in other ways.  And, I've even made a trip up North to work on a professional project with which I have been involved over the summer.

I have struggled with anxiety, stress, pain, and grief throughout the summer.  I am finally feeling better.  I am learning to deal with my stress better.  I'm no longer quite as surprised by the waves of grief that continue to wash over me.  I am learning to expect this as I move forward in the healing process.

Most mornings begin with me reading the newspaper, drinking my coffee, eating my breakfast, and chatting with my man while we sit on our back deck.  I'm grateful for such an unhurried, peaceful way to start the day.  I love the comfort the beauty of my flowers give me.

Today, I did get out of my hit or miss mode and got the roses deadheaded.  I also gave the lavender a hair cut since I had neglected to harvest the blooms when they were in their prime.  I am hoping for a second blooming.

I keep my old Olympus C740 in the shed to use to record work done on the yard and garden.  I also take photos to remind me how a certain bed was planted the year before, or to remind me of lessons I need to learn as I plant in coming years.

Yes, gardening is a form of autobiography.

Autobiographical Lessons from This Year's Garden

  • Spacing and planning ahead

I love my zinnia bed in the front yard,
I failed to space my planting appropriately.
I have that problem in life.
I had five kids in ten years.
This is another illustration of my spacing problem.
My kids, and my zinnias, are a beautiful sight to behold,
maybe a wild, blooming bunch of them all together is not a problem after all.

  • Think before you commit to something that might be a hard thing to remove in your life.
I once loved the look of Russian sage that grew in hedges I saw as I drove through town.
I planted three for four of them to use as a hedge in my front yard.
My neighbor put weed killer on all but one of them,
I was so upset with him at the time.

Later, I dealt with the reality of that big, land grabbing, spreading plant that I added to my landscape.
I no longer loved it.
It took two years of applications of weed killer,
an ax,
a shovel,
and a strong man
to get rid of the roots that this plant put down.
Finally, it is gone.
It no longer sends out new plants.
I research things a bit more now before I let them become rooted in my life.

Digging out Russian sage
Using an ax to get the job done

  • Gardening and grief

As in gardening, we must make choices in how we respond to grief.
Grief adds many textures, colors, and dimensions to our lives that were not there before.

We have a choice on how we respond to grief.

In the early days of the grief experience, we sometimes think our lives will  never bloom again.

During a time of mourning and grief, everyone turns to something.
Making choices that mask our pain is done because we believe this will make our pain go away.
In reality, such choices can delay our healing.

H. Norman Wright said that after the loss of a loved one
it takes at least eighteen months 
to experience longer stretches of time with less pain.

By trusting God's healing grace,
I find I am moving forward 
in life
in healing.

Grief changes everyone.
Grief is hard work.
Doing the hard work of grief brings the lessons that only grief can teach us.

When we invite grief to changes us,
it deepens us.

It grows our souls.

We find peace.

* Many of the lessons on grief quoted in this post were taken from Susan Duke's book, Grieving Forward, Embracing Life Beyond Grief.

** All of the flower photos were taken today in my garden.
  • The pink rose bud:  Queen Elizabeth
  • The white rose:  Pope John Paul II
  • The red rose: I did not record the name for this rose.  I named it Julie many years ago.  
  • The pink/yellow rose:  The Peace Rose

September ~ Suicide Prevention Awareness Month


Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

As September draws to a close, I think of how much I have learned this month because of the various articles that have been shared on Facebook by the National Association for Mental Health (NAMI).  I am so grateful for this organization for the great job they are doing to educate all of us about the many facets of mental health.  I appreciate the help they give to those whom are ill and to those whom have family members, friends, or loved ones with mental illness.

My own personal passion concerns suicide prevention awareness.  Now that the month of September is over, the month designated as Suicide Prevention Awareness month, I don't want any of us to forget that suicide prevention awareness needs to be in place all twelve months of the year, every day of the week, and every hour of the day.  I have taken the liberty to copy the following paragraph from NAMI website page that specifically addresses the risk of suicide:  

According to the CDC, each year more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide, leaving behind thousands of friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of their loss. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24; these rates are increasing. 

Prior to losing my daughter Julie to suicide, I would never have thought about arming myself with information regarding suicide prevention.
I should have.
Julie had threatened and attempted suicide more than once over the years before she completed suicide in 2010.

I thought I knew what I needed to know about talking to her when I recognized that she was in crisis.
I thought I recognized signs.
I thought I had a plan.
Now, I wonder how I could have been so sadly misinformed.

I find it stunning now that even after her previous attempts, I never sat down with her and went over the risk factors and discussed how some of the behavior I would see in her could indicate that she was highly at risk for attempting suicide again.

I never discussed a plan that could help her, me, or the rest of her family and friends during a time when she might be in crisis.
We didn't have a plan in place.
I don't think we would have had the tools to develop such a plan.

I assumed Julie would always call me, or she would call her sister Amy if she were in crisis.
I assumed we would get her help right away.

I  had never even heard the term "completed suicide" before Julie took her life.
That term alone would have terrified me because that would have meant that any attempt had the potential to be

That would have meant that my worst fear could have actually happened.

I thought I could deal with her attempts and threats.
I thought I would always have a way to reach her.
I never thought she wouldn't give me the opportunity to reach her.
I never believed that my worst fear would actually happen.

A lifetime ago,
a decade plus one year ago,
during September of 2005,
my daughters Amy and Julie ran a marathon.
Julie was the driving force when it came to running.
She plotted out the training schedule.
She had more experience in running a race.
She knew how to pace herself.
She and Amy called this experience, the plan for, the preparation for, and the running of the race,
"Oxygen Depravation and Other Fun Times with My Sister."
That was actually the title of the book they wanted write about the fun times they had as sisters.
As they ran, they wrote chapters in their minds and shared how the chapter would read.
Oh how I wish they would have written down those stories.
Amy and Julie were born just twenty-three months apart.
They were as close as any two sister could ever be from their earliest days.

The story between these two sisters is not mine to tell.
It now belongs to Amy.

I just wish that the story of the sisterhood would never have to include a chapter on suicide.


To say our hearts and lives were shattered when Julie took her life would never fully convey how suicide robbed our family not only of time with our Jules, our lynchpin, our dearly treasured family member, but saying these words could also never convey how suicide robbed us of
our innocence,
our dreams for a future that had Julie in it,
her laughter,
her wit,
her wisdom.
Suicide robbed us from
a legacy that did not include a family history of suicide.


On that day in 2010 when Julie took her life, a dark black line was drawn down the middle of the timeline of my life.


A lifetime ago,
just six short years ago,
 dear friends and family came together to walk in our very first Suicide Prevention Awareness Walk.

Team 808 for Jules was formed in 2010.
Julie's friend Leanna, a dear friend from high school, was the one who organized Team 808 and got us all involved in taking part in this important walk that raises money to go towards suicide prevention.

To this day, I am blessed to know that each year at least one member from this original team will participate in a Suicide Prevention Run/Walk.
This year, my daughter Keicha raised nearly $1000 for the walk held in Salt Lake City.
She does this walk each year in memory of her sister.


Julie had suffered from mental illness since her teens.  She had been diagnosed and treated for both Bi-Polar Disorder and Depression.  Julie hated her diagnosis.  I don't know if she ever fully accepted it.  I think that she thought the word stigma automatically should have been written after the official term for the diagnosis.

She didn't want to be different from others.  She didn't what this diagnosis attached to her.  I'm not sure she ever fully accepted her illness.  I don't know if she ever fully accepted that her illness was just that: an illness.

I would talk to her about diabetes.  I would say, "Do you think that a person has diabetes because of something they did or didn't do?  Do you think it is an illness that can be treated?  Do you think it is something to ignore?  Do you think it is something to be ashamed of?"  We would talk about this analogy of mental illness and an illness like diabetes often.  She always agreed that I was right about diabetes, but I'm still not sure she fully bought into her own illness as not being something she did wrong.  I'm not sure she ever really believed that her illness could be successfully treated and managed.  I think the STIGMA of suffering from her illness haunted her, caused her not to seek treatment when she could have, and caused her to ignore warning signs that she should take care of herself.  Even as I write these words, I hear her saying would a, could a, should a.  She often said that when things went wrong in life.  

She would not go into treatment for her illnesses associated with her mental illness because of the STIGMA she thought would prevent her from earning a living, getting married, having children.

She had never seen the hashtag #stigmafree because she died before we all started using hashtags.  She died before there was so much information freely available on the internet about preventing suicide, or about supporting those with mental illness.

That does not mean that Julie was not informed.  She was very informed about her illness.  She asked me to read Kay Redfield Jamison's book An Unquiet Mind when she was still in college.  She said it would help me understand what she was experiencing.  It did give me understanding to read this book.  I just wish I would have read it each year, or kept it by my bedside as a reference, or talked about it more with her.  We talked about it, but did I really get what she was going through?  Did I really comprehend all that she suffered?


What do you know about what you could do to prevent suicide?  
Have you informed yourself? 
I am including a link to a very important public service announcement here:
Read it.
 Print it out for ready reference.

As I read the list provided in this article, it caused me to think about how I might have been more helpful when Julie talked to me about her depression, her hopelessness, her anxiety, her suicidal thoughts.  We had many talks about these topics, and generally, she either called me or her sister Amy when she was most at risk.  On the night she took her life, she did not call me, nor did she call her sister.  It is not my wish to second guess how any of us could have been proactive in preventing her death when it occurred because quite honestly, we really did not see it coming, and none of us really know what anyone could have done had they been aware of what was going on with her on that fateful evening.

Nevertheless, I read the list, and I think of some proactive things that we might have been able to do.

I have taken the list I reference above and added a few of my thoughts about the list.  

  • Removing the means of taking one's life is the most reasonable approach to take when a loved one is aware of another's struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts or tendencies.  Remove the access to guns.  Please do that.  A person struggling with these thoughts should not have access to guns.  Period.  It is not possible to removed all those items that one could use to end a life, but at least be aware of what means that person might use.  Ask them if they have a plan.  Act accordingly.  
  • Asking if you can help call a therapist rather than asking if you can call a therapist is a good plan.  In my opinion, this helps the loved one think of a different plan or approach they can take rather than you taking the approach for them.  You might not be given this chance, but if you are, I like this approach.
  • Ask those hard questions.  I have had to do this.  It is not easy to do, but the questions must be asked.  "Are you thinking of hurting yourself or taking your life?"  "How will you take your life?  Do you have a plan?  What is it?"  Believe me.  You would rather hear the answers to these questions so you can act accordingly, than to not ask the questions and find that your loved one has taken his or her life.
  • One person speaking at a time with a loved one in distress is best.  It is calming.  There are not contradictory statements being made.  The loved one can focus better.
  • Ask what you can do to help.
  • Stay calm.  The world may be threatening to crumble, you may want to vomit or pass out, your blood pressure may soar, and your heart is probably racing, but try to stay calm or at least appear calm.  Don't argue.  Don't threaten.  Don't pace.  
  • Provide safety and support.
  • Reach out for others to help.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1-800-273-TALK (8255)
I carry a pocket size National Suicide Prevention Lifeline card in my purse.  It lists the suicide prevention lifeline phone number on it.  It also lists the warning signs of suicide.  I have used these guidelines to speak to those I find are depressed or suicidal.  I turn the listed warning signs into questions, or I have addressed how I have observed these warning signs in behavior.

A larger lifeline card with similar information is next to my desk for ready reference.

I also have an app on my phone called:  Safety Net.  It is a great app.  It has some of the following features:
  1. Step 1 - Warning Signs
  2. Step 2 - Internal Coping Strategies
  3. Step 3 - Social Supports and Social Settings 
  4. Step 4 - Family and Friends for Crisis Help 
  5. Step 5 - Professionals and Agencies
  6. Step 6 - Making the Environment Safe
There is a place on the app to list emergency numbers that one at risk or a loved one for one at risk can find in just an instant.  I also list emergency numbers for agencies where my loved ones live because one never knows when a life threatening situation may present itself.  Our family is at risk for suicide simply because we have had a suicide take place in our family.  I take this risk seriously.

You might wish to ask your loved one if you can have the names and number of those they are seeing for treatment of mental illness.  If they wish for you to have these numbers, you can list them on this app.

Be aware that due to privacy laws, you will not get answers about the treatment you loved one is getting in many instances.  That doesn't mean that you can't give information out that might be helpful to the caregiver.  


My purpose for writing this has to been to increase awareness about preventing suicide.  There is hope.  There is help.  Together, by informing ourselves, and by being observant and proactive, I believe we can can make a difference in lives of those suffering from mental illness or struggling with suicide ideation.

I will always believe Julie did not wish to lose her battle with an illness that had caused her so much pain in her life and had robbed her of so much. She fought valiantly for many years.  She was brave and courageous, but in the end, her illness won.  Now, those of us left must do what we can do to support others with mental illness.  We do this to honor Julie.  

Julie passes her sister Amy at the finish line.

Runners need a plan before they enter a marathon.  They train and rehearse for every unforeseen event that might interfere with their goal.  They create a team for support.  They need cheerleaders along the way.  They need encouragers when the race seems much longer than they had planned and so much more difficult than they expected.

Be that helper.  Be that encourager.  Be that one that cheers another on.  

You can join Team 808 for Jules by informing yourself about what you can do prevent suicide.  Do what you can do to stop the stigma attached to mental illness.  Do what you can do to raise awareness about the treatment of mental illness.  Do it in memory of my beautiful daughter, Julie Ann Christiansen.


September Song

My September song began the day I gave birth to my firstborn.
On a beautiful September day, the seventeenth day of the month of September in the year 1967,
 I became a mother.
Forty years later, my wonderful son celebrated his birth by completing a 206 mile bike ride from Logan, Utah to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The next morning we were photographed in front of a large clock in the condo in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, he had rented where we would stay to celebrate his successful ride and birthday.
The clock had this quote in French on its face:
The Time of Your Life.

Ryan & Sally
Mother & Son
September 2007
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
I loved being this boy's mother.
I still love being his mother.  
I grew up the day I gave birth to him.
My life became much fuller and had a greater purpose.
He has always brought joy to my life.
He is a happy man who never fails to make me laugh.
I am quite proud of him.
After him, came four more children.

Before I knew it,
this boy, my firstborn, became a man and on another September day he presented me with his third child and my fifth grandchild.  His namesake, Ryan Bridger, called Bridger,
became another joyful September song to me.
Julie, living in Salt Lake at the time of Bridger's birth came to meet her new nephew.
Julie & Bridger

A few years later, my youngest son presented me with a third September joyful song when he and his wife gave birth to Atticus Roberts.  Atticus became my seventh and last grandchild.
Julie & Atticus

September is one of my favorites months.
There was a time, when I was raising my five children when the trees were heavy with fruit waiting to be harvested and to be preserved.  
September days were filled with making breakfast, lunch,  and dinner,
Picking fruit and canning it,
Picking tomatoes and canning them, and
Caring for five children born in a span of ten years. 
September was a happy, busy time.
Ryan and Jonathan
September 1979
The firstborn with the last born
There was a time in September, when I would walk out onto the back deck of our home and I could smell the fall air rich with the smell of grapes ready to harvested.
The air had cooled, and the first light frost would have set the flavors in the grapes.
Now it was time to make grape juice and grape jelly.
Julie & Sally
harvesting grapes.
The grapes had to heated and crushed to make the wonderful, sweet tasting juice.

Now, September brings me reminders of crushing grief.

September is Suicide Awareness Month.
Today is the last day of that month.
A verse has been added to my September song that I didn't see coming.
I did not want this verse in my song.
This verse tells a story about a chapter in my life that I did not want included.
And, yet, because I have this verse in my song, I must raise my voice and sing, or speak, since I am not much of a singer.

The first night I returned home after my daughter's suicide, I wondered how I would make it.
I no longer understood anything about my life.
My past made no sense.
My future...well, I couldn't even foresee a future because I was trying to make sense of the present. 

"Catastrophic loss is like undergoing a loss of our identity." 
Jerry Sittser said this in his book A Grace Disguised.
I only knew this truth because I was living it in the days after Julie's death.  
It was several months later that I would read this truth and know that I had experienced a 
loss of my identity when I lost my daughter to suicide.
I didn't know who I was.
The script of my life had been altered.
A verse in my song had be thrust in that made every verse before it seem discordant and out of rhythm.

A dear friend, Sandy Decker, one the first ones I called to tell of Julie's death, came to Julie's funeral and gave me a book.
The title spoke to me.
It was a picture book.
I couldn't really read words yet; I was too crushed.
So this book was perfect for me at that time.

I read it the first night I was home from spending a week with my family near the place where Julie had lived.  When I climbed into my bed that night I was
too numb to  fathom how
 I would get up and live the next morning.

In the story that is told by the book, the narrator is walking along the beach of an ocean.
As most of us do at the beach, she begins to look for shells.
She comes across a broken scallop shell, but leaves it search of a perfect shell.
Then, she realizes that this broken shell is like she is with her broken heart.
She realizes that this shell had not been totally crushed by the pounding surf.
She realizes she can learn from brokenness.
She learns she will need
 to remain on the beach,
to live with the pain she is feeling,
to not embrace
a vision of a perfect shell,
but to instead,
to embrace brokenness.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit He saves.
Psalm 34:18

The message of the book spoke to me.
I knew with the Lord's help I could live with my broken heart.

Life was not perfect.
It was never intended to be.
Day by day, I would learn to live as a broken person in a broken world.
I learned I could only do this by grace that was given me by the
Lord who said He would be with me,
the brokenhearted.

He also gave me friends who become my life support.

During the first September after Julie's death,
Team 8:08 was formed to walk in the Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership Walk.
The walk has three purposes:
1) To raise money to raise awareness to prevent suicide,
2) to remember loved ones lost to suicide,
3) to support survivors.

Julie's friends from high school formed the team and asked if we would come and walk with them.
Below are Julie's main five women in her life.
Each one is an awesome woman.
Each one loved Julie and was loved by her:
Sharon, Leana, sister Amy, sister Keicha, and Sheridan.
The Core of Team 808
Sharon, Leana, Amy, Keicha, Sheridan

Thia, Melissa, Trinette, Sharon, Sheridan, Keicha, Joni, Leana

Look at this team.
Each one was brokenhearted because one person took her life.
Each one will never forget Julie,
nor will they ever forget how her final act broke their hearts.
Each one reminds me and helps me remember what an awesome girl and woman my daughter was.
They carry her memory.
They help me remember how many wonderful facets she had.
They help me remember that she filled her life with wonderful friends.
Each one would have been there for her in her greatest need, would have done anything to save her,
if only she would have reached out.
Several were there many times before when her demons would overtake her mind.
One, her sister Amy, probably saved her more times than even I know about.

Team 808
September 2010
This year, Team 808 walked again for Jules.
Again, Leana was the driving force to organize the team.
Thank you, Leana.  I love you.  You are such a dear and loyal friend to us all.
This year, the team included,
myself, my husband Jim, my daughter Amy, Julie's & Amy's father and my former husband, and my niece, Cristy.

Some of us walked while others ran.
Julie's father won a first place medal.
Julie would have been so proud.

Julie's closest cousin, Cristy sent a message written on her balloon.

There were many at the walk that day.
Many names were read in remembrance.
As I looked at the others gathered to remember a loved one, I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of lives who have been touched by suicide.

I reflected on the new verse of my September song,
the verse that talks of loss, remembrance, and broken hearts.
This verse in my song now is sung every September when I am reminded that it is once again
Suicide Prevention Month.

Thankfully, this particular verse does not end in hopelessness.
It ends in hope and healing.

Despite the verse in my song that I did not want included,
there is a refrain that is repeated throughout the song of my life.
The refrain speaks of
and of the faithfulness of God,
who now holds my sweet Julie in His arms
and comforts me with His presence.
He sends me
so many wonderful people,
who have loved and supported me and my family.

This is my September song.
It is a beautiful song because it speaks of love.
A mother's song always begins and ends with love.