Reflections on Grief and Gardening

8/08/18
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,
but
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,
so
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,
thankfully!
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
and 
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

Memorial Day ~ A Time of Remembrance

Memorial Day,
a
day of remembrance,
was first set aside in 1866 as a day to remember those soldiers whose lives were lost in the Civil War.
It was celebrated on May 30 each year.

I remember as a child that we sometimes called this day Decoration Day.
Over the years, I think the meaning of the day has evolved.
Some see the day as a day to honor those killed in the service of their country.
Others see the day as a day to remember those whom they have lost to death.
They remember them by visiting their graves and leaving flowers.
Others see it as the beginning of summer and celebrate it by having a barbecue.

Memorial Day
Evergreen Cemetery


In 1971, Memorial Day became a federal holiday designated to be celebrated each year
 on the fourth Monday of May.
I found a short video about the history of Memorial Day that you might find interesting.

For me, and for many of my family members, Memorial Day Weekend is fraught with sad memories.
Five years ago, my daughter's life ended in the early morning hours of Saturday, May 29, 2010.
This day fell on the beginning of Memorial Day Weekend.
It seems we always have two anniversary reminders of her death.
The actual date, and the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend.

This year, I found myself alone on Memorial Day.
Jim had to work.
Family did not gather as we sometimes do because of busy schedules and bad weather.
I chose to spend the day remembering those no longer with us by visiting the cemetery alone.

My mother asked me to leave some flowers on her mother's grave.
I was so touched when she told me how she wished
 she could take some flowers to her mother's grave.


I never knew my grandmother, Lulu Castle Townsley.  
She died from breast cancer at the age of sixty-seven in 1941,
 four years before I was born.
An independent woman, she homesteaded by herself in Northern Colorado before she married my grandfather at the age of 35.
Throughout her life she worked very hard to support herself and her family.
As a child, she made bread for the family while her own mother worked when her father died when she was nine years old.  Mother told me her mother had to stand on a chair to reach a counter where she would knead the bread.
Lulu Castle Townsley had to fend for herself as a homesteader.
She drove a horse and buggy across the plains to town, Pine Bluffs, Wyoming,  with a hoe beside her in the wagon which she used to kill the rattle snakes that would get entangled in her wagon wheels.

She was forty-two years old when my mother, her only child, was born.
She worked throughout my mother's childhood as
a milliner,
a cook,
a caretaker and cook for sanatoriums for TB patients,
and
as a seamstress.

Even though I never met my grandmother, she has always been a strong role model for me.
My grandmother was born 141 years ago and has been gone for 74 years.
It makes me so sad to think that my mother only had her mother for 25 years.
I have been blessed at age 70 to still have my mother with me.

As I stood at my grandmother's gravesite, I told her that her daughter, 
my mother, is still here with us in the land of the living.
She will turn 99 years old at the end of the week.
I told my grandmother not to expect her to join her anytime soon.

My mother comes from pioneer stock,
yet she is a very modern woman with old fashioned values
 who always stays up to date in all that is going on in the world.
She is an amazing woman.
I think her mother would be very proud of her.
I know I am.

Albert, Lulu, and Alberta Townsley
Woodland Park, Colorado
1924

My mother
Alberta Townsley French
December 2014
age 98
*****************

Today, I left flowers on the graves of my maternal grandmother, my maternal great-grandmother and her son, my great-uncle.
All are buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs, Colorado


My father and my daughter are buried not far from the other family grave sites.


***************

I didn't get over to the other part of the cemetery where my paternal grandparents, aunts and uncles are buried.
I explored the older area of the cemetery because of its historical significance.

General William Jackson Palmer,
who served in the Civil War,
and then founded the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is buried in this cemetery.

I love all of the old structures on the grounds of the cemetery.
This is the old chapel that located just to the north of where General Palmer is buried.


As I got out to take a photo of the chapel, I saw a blue bird sitting on top of the  commemorative plaque in front of the building.
He flew away before I could get a better photo of him.
Can you see him?
At first I thought he was a small robin.
Then I saw his blue feathers and wings as he flew off.


********************

Nearby, is this interesting sculpture.
The inscription reads,
Tis not enough to help the feeble up,
But to support them after.
~ William Shakespeare
from "Timon of Athens" (act 1, scene 1)


Today, as I spent the day remembering those no longer with us,
I also was reminded of those whom have supported me throughout the past five years.

One of Julie's dear friends ran the Boulder Boulder.
When she finished the race, she posted how Julie was with her during the race.
Her post was a reminder of how many dear friends Julie had in her lifetime.
Those friends will never know how much their love and support has meant to me and to her family.

I also think and remember so many of my dear friends and family members whom have been there for me during these past five years.
Many of you are blogging friends whom I have never met in person.
You have walked with me through many dark days.
You have spoken words of encouragement and love.
You have helped me find healing.
You have listened to me far more than I have listened to you.
You have supported me.
You have not left me to flounder through dark days alone.
Thank you.
I love you all.
It is good to have a day of remembrance.

A Remembrance ~ Reflections on the Passing of a Great Woman of Faith - Kara Tippetts

Last night, incredibly sad and unsettled after hearing of the death of Kara Tippets I picked up my journal to write through my jumbled thoughts and jarred emotions.  As I wrote, some clarity came to me about what I was feeling.  I'm sharing them here with you.

A Response to Feelings of Grief

At first, I felt I was just incredibly sad when I heard of Kara’s passing.  After all, I didn’t really know her; I’d only met her once.  I only knew her through her writing.  Despite this fact, I doubt if I’ve ever been as deeply moved by one’s writing as I have been by the words that flowed from Kara’s heart and soul onto the medium she first used which was her blog Mundane Faithfulness.  I bought her book, The Hardest Peace, and knew immediately I was reading the work of a dear saint, one born the same year as my daughter, one whom could speak to her generation and to mine with an authentic voice like one we seldom hear today.  Her voice, though representative a young woman from her generation, was also timeless.  When she “went home to be with Jesus after a long battle with breast cancer,” I was not shocked by her passing.  I knew it could come at any time.  Reading on Facebook that she had left us, I wanted to sit and feel the feelings and think the thoughts that I knew I would feel at her death, but I pressed on with my evening.  I read posts about her on Facebook.  I looked at her beautiful face on a picture that was posted.  I tried to read, then I finally picked up my journal and wrote.  

I know grief must be experienced for one to heal, but quite frankly, I didn’t want to grieve.  I didn’t want to go there.  I wrote in my journal, I have not completely allowed myself to feel the sorrow welling up inside because grief just doesn’t seem to be something I want to experience right now.  Grieving is hard work and it drains.  I’m already drained, so I’ll compose myself while my heart skips beats and bottle up my sorrow.  I’ll cry tomorrow - when I’m not so tired, so drained, when I can work grieving into that schedule that I don’t even have.  

Sometimes, grief is too hard, and sometimes we fear going to that place of feeling grief.  It can be very overwhelming.  Let’s face it.  I just didn’t want to go there.  Yet, I knew I need to feel a sense of acceptance about the passing of one I loved dearly and allow grief to do its work of healing in my heart and soul.
Why Was Kara So Loved by So Many?

She Was A Prodigal Saved by Grace

I, like thousands of others, loved Kara Tippetts.  She lived just blocks from my home, was a part of my church denomination, and I almost attended the church she and her husband were planting.  She was a very close friend of one of my dearest nieces.  When I wrote a blog post (Click to read the post) about Kara in January, I had over 11, 800 hits to my blog post in one day.  I was astounded by the numbers.  She literally had thousands of followers on her blog.

Kara & Cristy
Kara & Cristy at Kara's home, recent photo of Kara & Cristy, Cristy ministering to Kara by rubbing her feet with essential oils during chemotherapy to help prevent nausea.

I think that her readers loved Kara because her authenticity.  There was nothing opaque about Kara.  She was transparent in her brokenness, her struggle to find grace in the midst of her “hard.”  Her most cynical reader was wooed by her genuine acknowledgement that she endeavored to love the life she had with a grace that came from some source beyond Kara herself.  She drew the unbeliever in Christ or the one disappointed by life to her own dear heart which was owned by Jesus because she never preached or judged.  Instead, she pointed to the One that gave her the Grace to tell her story to whomever would read it.

I think Kara drew us because she was, like the rest of us, a prodigal.  She had once been very far from God.  She had been the flippant young teenager whom liked to party.  She drank, she used pot, she was rebellious.  She stood out in a crowd because of her stunning looks and personality.  I think there was always an authenticity to her even as a young rebellious teenager, and as a young believer in Christ.    When she heard about Jesus, she saw herself as she was: a sinner.  She turned and walked a new walk; one with Jesus pointing the way. She didn’t try to fit herself into some mold.  

She was humble.  She never tried to use good works to get to God.  No, not her.  She saw her sin and accepted God’s grace for it.  From then on, she sought grace with an expectant heart.  She was by her own words messy, broken, and in need of love and acceptance.  She found that in Jesus.  She never forgot her daily need for grace.

She Loved Life and Didn’t Want to Leave Her Loves

I can only imagine how Kara must have grieved over leaving Jason and her children and the work she and Jason had been called to do.  I think that is one reason I am so sad.  She wrote of how she loved just touching her feet against her husband’s feet while she was in bed.  She was young.  She should have had many more years of marital pleasure and companionship.  She was her husband’s perfect helpmate.  Why should he lose his vibrant, beautiful wife?

Then there is the matter of her littles - her loves, her four young children.  As I wrote this, I could not stop the tears.  My heart breaks for them.  As I thought about their loss, I want to shout the question, “Really, God?" 

We Are Not People of Despair
We Are People of Hope

As a Christian, I have questioned God before.  He can handle my questions, my doubts, my unbelief.  When my head has questions, I am grateful to know that deep in my soul, in my heart, in that place where God’s spirit speaks to mine, I have never doubted God and His Word.  I know beyond any shadow of doubt that my God is Sovereign. That belief has always given me comfort.  It has sustained me through everything I have experienced in my life.  My faith rests in a Sovereign God and His will for my life and for the lives of those I love.  

We, as Christians, are not a despairing people even as we look at the realities of life in this broken world in which we live, even when we lose a daughter to suicide, even when we lose a young mother to cancer.  We do not despair.  We are a people of hope.  We hope in the promises of God which were fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus our Savior.  He is our Hope.  He is our Salvation.  When we come to Him knowing we are totally undone and lost without Him, He forgives our human failings and gives us love and acceptance.

Yesterday, in church, our pastor preached on the “grace of prayer.”  He said that most of us live our lives as practical atheists.  Sadly, he is right.  He made his point by saying, As Christians, many of us go through life as if we believed “Apart from God we can do most things,” rather than living a life that gives witness to our expressed belief that “Apart from God we can do nothing.”  

Kara, a prodigal saved by grace, lived her life fully demonstrating her belief in a Sovereign God upon Whom she was utterly dependent.  We loved her because she was faithful to trust in Jesus for the mundane.  Because of her faith, He in turn trusted her to do a mighty work in the lives of others. 
He broke her body and fed the multitudes with her words of praise for Jesus, the one that gave her grace in her brokenness.  Many were hungry for this message of hope, of grace, of peace, of trusting Jesus even in the hardest places of life.  Many tasted of the goodness of God while reading of the hard God was taking her through.  She wrote words that conveyed her life’s message:  Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8 ESV)

Yesterday, on March 22, 2015, this dear one, Kara Tippetts, stepped out of this world and entered heaven.  I can just see her taking heaven by storm.  Her tears have already been wiped away by Jesus.  Her purpose on this life is complete, but she leaves such a great legacy of faith.  She has been claimed, her life redeemed, and she has been healed.  May it be so for all who loved her and took her words to heart.  May they also come to know the Jesus she loved.
Below, is a documentary trailer about her journey of faith. 

Unspeakable and Unimaginable

Unspeakable.
The unspeakable has happened again.
Our hearts are broken anew.
Another brilliant, gifted, valiant soul has lost his battle with depression.

Unimaginable.
The unimaginable has happened again.
Unimaginable.  That is the word my daughter used to describe suicide.

When I first heard of the death by suicide of Robin Williams, after the initial sudden wave of shock and sadness that hit me had passed, concern for those who suffer from depression, bi-polar disease, addiction, suicide ideation, or other forms of mental illness filled my mind with an all too familiar fear for their safety and well-being.  My mind began asking questions.  How will those who suffer deeply and struggle daily with these battles, these demons, respond to the news?  Will the insidious face of suicide ideation stalk the minds of those who struggle with an illness that can become so debilitating?  Will they know where to get help?  Will they get help?  Will suicide somehow become glorified?  Will the news media handle this news and all that might accompany it responsibly?

Within five minutes of hearing the news of the death of Robin Williams, my phone rang.  Having just driven into the driveway after a day spent on the road returning from a few days spent with my mother, and having just greeted my husband with a hug and a kiss, I took my phone from my purse and saw that the call was from my former husband, the father of my children. With my head still full of those questions I had just asked myself, and with a heart full of concern for others, the name on my phone screen triggered a deep reaction.  I think fear entered my mind when I saw his name because somehow I knew the call was linked to the news that we all were just hearing.  My mouth was suddenly dry when I said hello.  I struggled to remain calm as I awaited to hear the purpose for the call.  Fear was raging through my emotions.  Was something wrong?

Today, I have struggled over whether or not I should write this post.  I've questioned adding my voice to all the other voices that have been heard since yesterday's news of William's death became public.  I decided to write this post about suicide because I believe that part of my own healing involves me adding my voice to the throngs of others whom have lost a loved one to suicide.  I write this to bring suicide out of the darkness and into the light.  When we don't speak of what has been the unspeakable, those who struggle with depression and mental illness feel more alone.  The stigma of suicide becomes stronger than the message that there is hope and there is help for those who struggle.

On the evening before the day that marked what would have been the forty-eighth wedding anniversary for my former husband and myself, we spoke in voices to each other that expressed support and concern over our children.  News such as the news that has been all over the media traumatizes survivors of suicide.  My former husband, my children, other family members, and friends are all survivors of suicide.  Those who suffer the death of loved one by suicide are called survivors.  We also are quite familiar with the effects of PTSD that can be triggered very easily.  As my one daughter said to me today, "We have to give Mom and Dad a pass on this.  They have suffered deeply.  They will never get over Julie's death.  They will always fear for the rest of us.  We have to give them a pass."

I've read many things today about a subject that is just way too close to home for me.  Friends have reached out to me today expressing thoughts of concern and support.  I spoke with a trusted helper today who helped me understand why I seek to deal with those things which cannot be understood.

I will never fully understand why my daughter took her life.  I will never fully understand the pain and suffering that she endured in her life.  I will grieve her death until the day I die.  I will also celebrate the life and memory of the beautiful, talented, intelligent, funny, articulate, hardworking daughter that graced my life.  I will continue to give thanks for remaining four children whose lives enrich my life and bring me much joy and pride.

I was woefully unknowledgeable about mental illness when Julie was alive.  I am cognizant that awareness about mental health issues is where I must now focus my attention.  We all need to recognize warning signs of suicide.  We need to arm ourselves with effective interventions and treatments.  I carry a card with the warning signs of suicide in my wallet.  I have a list of them next to my computer.  I refer to the list of indicators of serious depression when I think I recognize it in others.  I ask hard questions when I think they need to be asked.  I try to keep my head out of the sand and my eyes open.  I try to keep my heart in tune so I recognize those who need a helping hand.  I will not let the stigma that once surrounded suicide silence me.

The topic of suicide has been unspeakable for too long.

The unimaginable pain that a suicide brings to those left behind is just that:  unimaginable.

Please join me in doing what you can to prevent suicide by arming yourself with information.  Visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to print out this information.

If you are in crisis, or know someone who is, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)





Name It. Sit With It. Grieve It.

Name it.
Sit with it.
Grieve it.

Yesterday these wise words were spoken to me by one who has helped me on my journey through grief.  Knowing that today marked the fourth anniversary of my daughter's death, these words were spoken to me after this wise woman inquired how I was doing on what she knew was a very difficult holiday weekend for me.
"I've been so busy living, and celebrating life's happy milestones this past month that I've actually been doing quite well." I replied.
I then related how I had resolved that I would not let grief interfere with living this spring.
I resolved that I would fully and mindfully participate in the many life celebrations occurring in our family during the month of May.
And so,
I've been doing that.
I've been so busy living, loving, and spending time
with my children and grandchildren that I've not even taken time to blog,
write in my journal, or keep up with friends for lunch or coffee.
Yes, I've been celebrating
the living,
and life.

To my friend, I acknowledged that from the Friday night of Memorial Day Weekend
until
May 29th, 
I'm never fully sure of what day it is.
She said, "If those feelings of loss come, remember: 
to name them,
sit with them,
grieve them.


  Grieving is such hard work.
After all these years, sometimes I just want a break from processing feelings.
 I resolved that I would "grieve well" after the death of my daughter four years ago today.  
It seems strange and really quite unacceptable to resolve to grieve well,
 and yet, that is what I resolved to do.  
Why?  
Was the resolution one of self preservation?  
Was it made because I had read somewhere that this is what one must do after great loss 
in order to heal?  
Was it because I resolved not to go into denial about a loss that threatened to level me?  
Was it because I knew of no other way to honor the gift my daughter had been to me then to fully acknowledge her death and embrace the memories I have of her as I embrace the pain of losing her?  Embracing the pain allows for the letting go of what no longer is.


Thankfully, my daughter Keicha came to spend this week with me. We've had such fun.We've had very special mother/daughter times this week.Yesterday, she went to spend the day with her sister Amy and with Julie's boyfriend Jason.

Before I was out of bed today, I had a text from Keicha.  She was at Jason's house spending some time with Phoenix.  Phoenix is Julie's dog.  Phoenix lives with Jason.  Keicha said in her text that Phoenix is so old and so skinny that it makes her cry.  I asked for a photo.  The photo came via text.  That is when the tears started.  They flowed all morning.  I thought I wouldn't cry today.  I thought it would just be another special day with my daughter Keicha, but I was crying.  Why?


Name it:  Phoenix, the rambucous pup, the alpha dog that always overpowered our dog Buster, is now barely able to get up.  He is getting old.  He is one of the last tangible reminders of days with Julie that belong uniquely with Julie.  Julie loved Phoenix.  She got him as a pup, and he was always a handful for her.  He was also an expense because he had ACL problems and hip problems and at one time she almost lost him to an episode of twisted stomach.  Phoenix is the one who was by her side when she left us.  Phoenix was her loyal companion.  She never married.  She never had children.  She had Phoenix.  Seeing how much Phoenix has aged since Julie died reminds me how much time has gone by since she was with us.  Seeing a photo of Phoenix just brings up way too many memories of Julie to not make me cry.  Julie is now ageless.  She belongs to the ages. In our memories, she remains 34 years old. Phoenix was left behind to age and grow old just as the rest of us were.
Julie and Phoenix
April 2010

Julie and Phoenix
April 2010
*These two photos above, were among the last I ever took of Julie.  I took them the last time I saw her alive.

Sit with it:  I've learned from many sources that while many may think that people who are suffering great loss may think that they must just push through it and carry on, in reality, it is really necessary to  take time to sit with one's grief in order to heal.  Some call this "soul work."  One must be willing to mentally and spiritually visit some dark, lonely, and confusing places that threaten to overwhelm the emotions when sitting with grief and letting it wash over one's physical and spiritual being.  One must trust that healing will come.  Some fear that if they start crying, they might never be able to stop.  In reality, no one ever cried forever and ever.  I sometimes suddenly find myself sobbing over a remembrance, but once I've expressed the emotion I am feeling, I am ready to move on with my day.  I feel better.  I am grateful for the memory that brought the acknowledgement of the treasure I have lost.  I am then able to see other blessings that surround me.

Grieve it:  Julie was one of the great treasure of my life.  Losing her brought what C.S. Lewis and others have called "the dark night of the soul."  It is in the dark night that one learns that one truly has a soul.  In this dark night of the soul, I discovered more truth about life, and love, and faith than I learned in any other experience.  I am grateful for others who have also grieved deeply who have shown me the way to walk through this valley.  I learned I must deal with my grief or it would deal with me.

And so today, I've taken the time to let grief wash over me.  I've also celebrated the life that was given to me for 34 short years.  I hold Julie's memory in a special place in my heart.  I grieve her, my sweet Jules.  It was her strong, beautiful, intelligent, funny, spirit that once brought such great joy and richness to my life. Her depression and illness also brought me great worry and pain.  I grieve over the pain that she suffered in her life.  I wish she could have known healing and peace in this life.

 In my stillness today, I allow grief to wash over me.  I would never deny my soul the need to grieve the loss of the treasure that was my beautiful Julie.

Valentine's Day Reflections on Love and Loss

A Reflection on Love and Loss


So many words will be spoken about love today.
Some will be forgotten by tomorrow.
Flowers will be sent.
Candy will be received.
Cards will be picked out that the sender hopes will send just the right message.
Love is in the air,
or so it seems.

I would not describe myself as a romantic.
Generally, I don't read romance novels.
In fact, if the truth be told,  romance novels grate on my nerves.
I do love to read great love stories.
I like love stories that read like real life.
I like stories that tell how love survives no matter what life throws at it.
Or I like stories where the love may not survive,
but the person survives the loss of love and thrives after that loss.

I guess I'm too realistic to be a romantic.

I've learned real love outlasts dazzling romance.

When my husband and I married, 
I had a song sung at our wedding by Michael Card.  
The lyrics to the song are taken from the Song of Solomon.
"Arise, My Love"

I love the words of this song because they speak truth.
They speak of a love that honors the loved one.
The song speaks of seeking that the love one has for the other be sealed on the loved one's heart.

Set me like a seal on your heart,
For love is unyielding as the grave.
The flash of it is a jealous fire,
No flood can quench,
For love is as strong as death.

Even though we were "older when we married,

we had not idea what life would bring us when we married.
 No one does.
Jim and Sally 1992

Since those early days of marriage, we've aged.
We've been through good times, very good times.
We've been through rough times,  very rough times,
Today, more than twenty years after our marriage, I rejoice that I can say

My beloved is mine, and I am his.
Song of Solomon 2:16 NKJV


Jim and Sally 2013

Our's is a romantic story, but it is also a story of faithfulness in times of trial and loss.
It is about two people who deeply love and respect each other.
It is about two people who are as different from one another as any two can be.
It is a story about how differences between two people give strength to the relationship.
Where I am weak, he is strong.
And, the vice versa is also true.
Our's is a story of how the relationship between two people created a great team.
It is a story of deep companionship.
I have learned a lot about love from this man that I married.

Loss has also taught me much about love.

The biggest lesson of all is:

Love does not die.




As I look at this photo that Julie took of Phoenix on her last Valentine's Day on this earth,
I am overcome with grief in many ways.
(I also apologize to her siblings if this photo causes them too much pain when they see this.)
Certainly, I am so overwhelmed with a sense of loss today that tears have been silently falling from my eyes nearly all morning.
News that a friend of Julie's just learned of her death just sent all of us back into new waves of grief.

Grief is like that.

It assaults you, the griever, when you least need or want its presence in your life.
Today, my bereavement feels as fresh as newly fallen snow.
Bereavement ~ to be torn apart.

I mourn anew.

…mourning is the outward expression of grief.

So what am I to learn about love  on this day dedicated to love?


I've learned that I am shifting and moving to a new place.

I am moving from the relationship of the presence of my dearly loved daughter being in my daily life
to
the place where
I have a deeper relationship with the memory of her.

I see the photo above and I smile.

I remember an exchange with her about the photo and the heart that she claimed Phoenix drew for her in the snow.

I am learning that my love for her has only gotten stronger as time passes.


The loved one lives on in the heart of the one who loved him or her so deeply.

For me, my love for my daughter is always fresh and new.

Not all memories of her are happy.

Sometimes, the memories are filled with anger, pain, and deep sorrow.
Other memories make me laugh.
Some memories of her fill me with so much pride.
Memory honors the loved one best when it remembers them as they really were.

The memories of Julie are sharp at times, and blurred at other times.


I no longer focus on the death of my daughter as much I remember her life.

This is a healing place to be.


Silly picture of Julie making faces with Phoenix


I feel blessed because Julie was so deeply loved by so many.

She had so many friends.
They continue to love her.
The memory of her has not died.

Oh, how I wish she were still here making memories with us,

but, she is not.

She remains safely sealed with  love in my heart.

Love is stronger than death.

Love remains.







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
1999

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
2002

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
courage
 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
joy,
hope,
healing,
and of the faithfulness of God,
who now holds my sweet Julie in His arms
and comforts me with His presence.
He sends me
people,
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.



The Vicissitudes of Life Encapsulated in One Day

At times during the day, I've been at loose ends.
I flitted from one attention grabber to another.
I couldn't settle on one activity because another would call my name.
I was distracted.

At one moment, I have been sad, crying, and in mourning.
During the next, I would find myself rejoicing over the beauty of the day.

I couldn't settle on reading a book.
Couldn't seem to pick up my journal and begin to write even as thoughts tumbled through my mind.

I don't want to eat dinner,
yet I am searching for a snack.
I don't want to talk to anyone,
even as I long for a good conversation.
I want to be alone.
No, I really think I want companionship.

I have many tasks that need to be completed.
My desk if piled high with papers and books to be sorted through.
I don't think I even made my bed today.
Did I?
I don't know.  
Does it matter?
It is nearly time to go to bed again.

I've been tired,
but heaven knows I could never settle down to go to sleep.

Do you ever have days like that?

Today, 8.08 began at 8:08 A.M.
when I finally awakened enough to look at the clock.
Damn digital clocks.
Even they send reminders of Julie.
Julie,
as the story goes,
once said her ideal man was BOB.  
Digital watches were the new "in" thing when she was in high school.
8:08, meaning BOB, became a symbol of Julie's life.

Memories of her began to flood my mind.

I wasn't alone.
Many of us were reminded of her today.

In my memory
I vividly saw her twirling her hair around her slender fingers.
I saw her showing the grandchildren how to hula hoop.
I've been missing her so much lately.
I've needed her humor, her silliness, her kindness, her take on life that could be wise.

Julie, Amy, and Mom
I grieved because I can't be her to her sister Amy.
I know Amy needs her in her life so much at this time.
I called Amy to tell her that I wish I could be her sister to her,
but of course, I can't be.
Only Julie could be Julie to Amy.
Only, Julie could be Julie to any of us.

She was our family lynchpin.
She is gone.
What will hold us all together?


Grief no longer incapacitates me.
Or does it?
I went on with my day.
I had lunch with my sister.
I made tea for my husband and served him tea and cake on the porch.


This evening,
the two of us,
my dear husband and I,
took a walk in the neighborhood.
The air was crisp and cool, reminding us of an early fall day in the mountains.
We followed a beautiful buck in velvet who was just ten feet ahead of us on the path.
Peace and beauty filled my soul.
It was a good reminder that:
Life is full of vicissitudes.
And yes, there are days when those vicissitudes are encapsulated all in one day.

Thankfully, at the end of this day, I could agree with a quote from Jerry Sittser's book on grief.
I had experienced the ups and downs that come when one continues to grieve.
I could also honestly say, 

I was struck by how wonderful ordinary life is.
Simply being alive became holy to me.
~ Jerry Sittser
A Grace Disguised:   How the Soul Grows Through Loss

Unpredictable Seasons

In life
much is unknown.
I once thought I would navigate only smooth waters through life.
Now, why would a mountain girl think that she would sail through life?
I know nothing about the water.
I didn't grow up around it.

I know the mountains.
I know the seasons in Colorado.
I know that mountains can be tough to scale.
 I know that at any time a storm can blow in over the mountain bringing rain, sleet, and snow,
all in one day,
no matter what date is on the calendar.

Pikes Peak from Garden of the Gods
April 21, 2013

Early in my life, before I went to school, I would step outside to look at my beloved mountain,
this very mountain, Pikes Peak, that lived at the end of my street,
to see if I needed to wear a coat to school.
Silly me.
In the morning, I might have seen blue skies behind this peak,
and so I skipped off to school without a coat.
By afternoon, I walked home shivering in the snow I had not seen coming.

Living in the mountains makes you tough.
The air is rarified.
There is not as much of it up here in my neighborhood.
Living in the mountains has taught me that one is not in control of the seasons.

This season of my life has not been an easy one.
Certainly, I never could have expected that when I turned 65,
Celebrating my 65th Birthday
a day I had long looked forward to, (that was because I would no longer have to COBRA my insurance.), that my life would turn upside down just three months later when I lost my dear daughter.

Since that time,
I've needed all the lessons I ever learned in life to take me through this season of grief.
I've learned that grief, like the weather, is very unpredictable.
I've learned that it can make you question everything you ever believed about
life,
faith,
hope,
love,
and
God.

I've learned that you find out who your friends are.
And, I've found out that I have many.
From my friends, the true ones, the ones who have prayed for me,
walked with me, cried with me, and laughed with me,
I've learned what true
compassion,
kindness,
sympathy,
and mercy look like.

I've experienced the grace of God in ways I could never have known if I had not suffered such great loss.

Loss has taught me that
life is precious
and I hope to live it victoriously.

Loss has taught me that faith is the only thing that gets me through the day,
and the only way I will live victoriously is by faith.

I've learned that while there is life, there is hope, but mostly, I learned that
as Rick Warren recently Tweeted,
Optimism is psychological.
Hope is theological.

I've learned that love means a whole lot more than I ever thought it did.
I've learned that I love my children, all of them, more than life itself.

Keicha, Jon, Julie, Mom, Amy, Ryan
Jim's Retirement 2007
I've learned that I never would have made it through these last three years without the love of one person.  That person is the man I married.
He has carried me through it all.


The love of my life

This journey has take a toll on my dear husband,
but he is faithful,
and kind,
and loving.
Thankfully, he has his best friend, the other one besides me,
to one who never asks for anything,
the one who never gets bogged down by grief, loss, sadness, or illness,
to comfort him and bring a smile to his face.

Jim & Boston
His buddy and best friend
And so, in this season of life,
the one we thought would be filled with retirement dreams,
my dear husband and I are experiencing day by day struggles with illness, pain, all those other physical side effects of aging.

The seasons of life are unpredictable.
That is certain.
Since one can never really predict the weather, or the aches and pains of aging,
on good days,
we take off to enjoy the beauty of nature around us.

Jim & Boston walking in the Garden of the Gods

The skies are sometimes threatening, and cloudy, but that does not keep us home.
We are blessed to have such great beauty just several miles from our home.
We've learned that you can't wait for the perfect season, or the perfect day, one must enjoy each day as it comes and give thanks for it.

As a native born mountain girl,
I am taking the lessons I've learned about the seasons to heart.
Spring does not always come when the calendar says it should.
On the 30th of April, we had blue skies, and warm sunny weather for our walk in the neighborhood.


On May 1, I ventured out on the deck to take a photo of our bird bath covered in snow.

One just never knows what to expect from one day to the next with the weather in Colorado!

I am optimistic about the weather.  That is a psychological term that I am applying to the coming days.
I know we will soon have blue skies, and sunny, warm days.

I have hope for the future.
I know I can't predict the future any more than I can predict the weather.
But I have hope.
I have hope because I know who holds my future.
He is the very same One who has held me through all the seasons of my life.