On Being A Mom

I'd always dreamed of being a mom. Always.  Being a mother has brought me more joy than any other experience in my life. I love being a mother.  I guess we all were quite naïve when we entered motherhood.  Perhaps it is best that way.  Looking at what motherhood might cost a mother might have scared me from walking down that path more than half a century ago, but I doubt it.  I think no matter what, I would have chosen to be a mom.
Amy, Keicha, Ryan, Julie, Jonathan


Now, as I look back on my life knowing the pain, the sorrow, the grief, the heartache that being a mother has brought me I still would not change a thing.  Truly, all grief I’ve ever experienced over the death of a child has been tempered by joy and gratitude for being a mother. The journey through motherhood is one I would never want to miss. I would do it all again. 

In fact, sometimes I wish I could go back and live all those days with my children over again. Just one more time, I'd love them ALL under my roof again.  ALL of them.


Julie, Keicha, Mom, Jonathan, Amy, Ryan
2007


 I’d listen to their banter, and laughter, and I'd laugh with them.  Oh how we laugh when we are together. I'd watch them chase each other around the house teasing and taunting and acting like a bunch of pups frolicking in the joy of having spirited, like minded playmates and likely call out, "watch out or one of you is going end up crying." 

The household in which I raised my children was anything but quiet. When the children were small they roller skated and rode their tricycles in the house.  They practiced their high jumping skills by moving the family room couch to the middle of the room so they could run towards it and jump over it.  The result was that Julie in particular could not only jump high and wide enough to clear the couch.  She also learned to stop running quickly before she ran into the fireplace.  Her track coach once told me he loved how wide she jumped when she ran the hurdles event.  “She learned that at home,” I said with a laugh.

Garbage bags or sleeping bags provided were repurposed to slide down the basement stairs.  An old bedframe with only springs and no mattress perched under the apricot trees in the back yard provided a unique trampoline, a place to build forts with blankets, and a place for summer night sleepovers.  My kids were inventive, resourceful, and imaginative when it came to turning found things into just another way to have fun.


If I were together with all my adult children, I'd listen to their informed and insightful conversations that would include very divergent points of view.  I would, and do, rest assured that no matter how different they all may be from each other, they love and respect each other so much that they will remain a pretty tight group.  They may have their squabbles, but I truly doubt anything could ever destroy the bond they have with each other.

These bonds and this devotion to each other was hard won.  Even though the early years of my children’s lives together were spent establishing and creating childhood bonds with me and with each other, our family was split many years ago by a judge in Utah. 

It happened when my children’s father and I went through a divorce.  My five children ranged in age from fifteen to five.  In those days, custody of the children was not an issue in most divorces.  In the case of my divorce, custody was not even discussed.  As a stay at home mom, I was the major caretaker.  In fact, at the time of the divorce, I didn’t even have a job.  The home in Utah was awarded to me, and so was the custody of the children.



A year after the divorce, I decided, after much urging from my parents, to find a job in Colorado. I had no restrictions on the custody I had been awarded, and the children only occasionally saw their father, so I proceeded with my plans to rent out my home in Utah and move my children with me to Colorado.  Once their father learned what was happening, on a day when visitation rights were to be established for him, he instead surprised the court by filing for custody of all five children.
After a hearing, the judge could see no reason why I should not maintain custody.  He then did a very interesting thing. He asked my thirteen-year-old daughter and my fifteen-year-old son what they wanted to do.  Both said they wanted to stay with their father so they could stay with their friends.  Probably most teens would have said the same thing.

And so, the trajectory of our family was irrevocably changed.  After that fateful day in court, my two oldest children remained in Utah with their father while I flew home in a state of shock and devastation with my three youngest children.

Through absolutely no fault of my own, I lost children legally before I was finished raising them, loving them, and being with them as a mother should be with her children.

Being a mom has brought me some of the greatest emotional pain in my life.  I am not the only one who suffered because of this legal decision.  My children, every single one of them, also suffered immeasurably from this judge’s decree.

In the years when our family was divided down the middle with two children living with their father and three children living with their mom, so much was lost.  I think of all the time I lost where I could have been involved in those teenage years with my two oldest children and my heart nearly breaks.  I wasn’t there to watch over their schooling, their choice of friends, the way the spent their time, or the choices they made.  I didn’t get to make or help pick out prom dresses, or even a wedding dress, for my daughter.  I wasn’t there to advise, console, comfort, or admonish when two teens needed a mom in daily attendance.  So much was lost.  One never gets back time once it is gone.

My younger children also lost all those times they could have spent with their older siblings.  One never gets back the occasion once it has occurred.

To that judge in Utah that ruled to split my family down the middle, I would like to say, "You, with all of your legal power, hurt my family more than you will ever know.”

I wonder if he ever again wondered about the welfare of our family as a whole, or of each child as an individual.  I wonder if he ever even thought of us again.  Did he really consider the financial, the emotional, and the spiritual costs that his decision would place upon all of us?  Did his decision ever wake him up at night?  Did he spend sleepless nights wondering how to restore all that was lost by his decision?

When faced with making, as my daughter has said, a decision worthy of the wisdom of Solomon, this judge abandoned his responsibility and asked two minor children to decide their own custody arrangements.  These children were not old enough to vote.  They couldn't be licensed to drive.  Under law, they still had to go to school, but this judge left a decision, that they could never have had the skills to make in their hands.  I would say to this judge all these years later, “You did great harm to them and to all of us.  The legal system failed my family dreadfully, and each of us paid the price."

All those years ago, when my family was shattered and broken into two distinct pieces, I wondered how all the problems that were created for all of us as a whole and for each individual would be resolved.  It was ordered that all the children spend as much time together as they could.  The order seemed to place precedence over the children visiting each other over the children visiting with the parents.  Or so it seems to me now.  Perhaps, what really evolved from the situation was that the children spent more time all together with their father in Utah then they spent individually or collectively with me.

As a single mom, I had to work to provide for my children.  My earning capabilities were severely limited due to a lack of education and a lack of experience.  I worked as a very poorly paid secretary school secretary.   The irony was that while I had spring breaks and summer breaks off, I did not end up having those times with my children because their father, a teacher, was also off of work and the two teenage children were by that time beginning to work.  They seldom were able to come to visit me or spend time with me.  The three younger children spent every summer with their father and siblings.  Spring and winter breaks were also nearly always spent with their father.

Practicality was not the only deciding factor that led to the visitation arrangement that developed.  In my heart I had determined that I wanted my children to spend as much time together as siblings as they could.  The relationships they forged with each other was of great importance to me.  I wanted them all to experience and create a sense of family that would surpass the limitations that time, money, and a legal decision had placed on the family unit.

Early bonds are not easily broken when they are carefully established.  My children and I have endured as a family.  We love being together.  Each family gathering is a cause to celebrate each other and the family we are.

The law has great power, but it can never have the power that love has.  Love wins.  It always wins.

My children have lost a sibling and I have lost a child to death.  That loss was another loss that was painfully woven into the fabric of our family.  As a family, we experienced much of the sorrow, the shock, the pain, the grief that came from the death of our dear Julie together, or by sharing our grief with each other.  This experience gave us another thread that has sewn our family together into a beautiful covering to provide mutual love and healing for us as a family and as individuals.   
 
Ryan, Keicha, Amy, Jonathan
2016
Death is often seen as the ultimate show of power, but death cannot destroy love either.  Again, love wins.  Love always wins.

When I think back to those years when I dreamed of being a mother, I wonder what I thought being a mother would look like.  When I brought my first born home from the hospital, did I have any idea of all that being a mother would bring to me?  If I had, would I have had children?

The answer to the first question is: No.  I had no idea what being a mother would mean when it came to how I lived out my life. None of us ever do.  The answer to the second question is:  Yes!  I would not have wanted to miss out on being a mother.  I love being a mom.

Somehow, my children navigated those teenage years and became successful adults.  They are pretty amazing as far as I’m concerned.  There are no other adults I enjoy hanging out with as much as I enjoy my children. 


I have been blessed beyond measure by each of the lives of my beautiful, bright, articulate, funny, complex, and thoroughly delightful five children.  Knowing the pain, the sorrow, the grief, the heartache that being a mother has brought me would not change a thing.  I’d do it all again.  I’d do it and savor every single minute of it.  Thank you Ryan, Keicha, Amy, Julie and Jonathan for being my children.  Thanks for letting me be your mom.  XO










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

The Long Weekend

It began Thursday evening.
Already, everyone I encountered out in the marketplace was saying,
"Have a good weekend."
"And so it begins," I thought.
"Memorial Day Weekend is upon us again."

By Friday, I had a sort of mixed anxiety running through my mind.
I was excited to have 
the long weekend
 that has always signaled the beginning of summer.
I dreaded
 the long weekend
that would forever mark the loss of my beloved daughter.

"You really hit us with a double whammy, Julie," I thought.
"We don't just have one anniversary date of your death.
We have the actual date of your death 
to deal with,
and we have a holiday weekend, when your death occurred
to deal with."

When the greetings came,
"Have a good weekend,"
I simply composed myself and said, "Thank you."
I needed all the good wishes I could get.

Jim asked what I wanted to do for the weekend.
"I think the best plan is to keep busy," I replied.
On Friday,
we went flower shopping and got my small little garden planted.
This year my garden will be pots of flowers.

I supervised the removal of much rock, the roots of Russian sage that invaded the property, and planned in my mind how I would plant the new planting spaces being created around our new home.

Our new gate for the deck.
On Saturday
we went to a matinee at wonderful old theater downtown to see "The Great Gatsby."
We loved it.

On Sunday,
We went to church.
The hymns for the day were just what I need to hear, sing, and ponder.
"ONLY GOD"
Only God can move a mountain; 
Only God can calm a sea.
Only God can heal a wounded spirit...

"O LOVE THAT WILL NOT LET ME GO"
O joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain,
that morn shall tearless be.
A photo of Julie, Amy, and Me
The painted rainbow rock that Julie painted for me when she was a child

During communion, I was renewed in my spirit and thankful that my faith has sustained me through all of the days before and after Julie's death.
I am grateful for the great measure of grace that God has given me throughout all of my days.

After church, Jim and I took daughter Trinette and her husband to the airport.
It was wonderful to see this beautiful couple off to Florida for a small "honeymoon" after all these years of marriage.  Trinette looked so young and beautiful and so excited.

We then went to the cemetery to leave flowers on Julie's grave, and on the grave of my father.

On Monday,
we went to the small little town of Monument just a few miles from our house.
Jim wanted to check out a coffee shop/cafe that was there.
Serrano's was great!
My sister met us there.
We had a wonderful lunch and visit. 

We spent much of the weekend walking in our neighborhood,
sitting on the back deck,
socializing with neighbors,
and enjoying the beauty of the world that surrounds us.

Today,
May 29, 2013
marks the third anniversary of Julie's death.
I'm going to lunch with my dear friend, Linda Button.
Dr. Linda Button
Sally Wessely
presenting at CCIRA Conference 2013
Linda has been there for me as a friend, sounding board, encourager, and sustainer throughout these three long years.  I treasure her friendship.  It is unbelievable that we now live in the same town and attend the same church. I don't know what I'd done without friends like Linda these past three years.

I try to keep my memories of Julie alive and well.
I find that in my mind, Julie belongs to another realm now.
Without my wanting to, I've assigned her to another domain.
She seems to be a part of a life that no longer exists.
A part of me died when Julie did.

Does the death of a child ineluctably cause a part of a mother's heart to die?

There are days when the clouds fill the sky and threaten storms.


In those moments,
I am reminded 
that the sunshine follows the storm,
that rainbows bring hope and symbolize promises,
that with each spring there is new growth.

I've not walled off that broken heart.
I'm allowing it to heal.
I am moving forward.

This weekend,
I focused on
living.

For those of you who wish to remember Julie
I'm adding two videos.
Watch them later in they are too real of reminders of that beautiful woman that we lost.

In Memory of Our Beloved Jules
April 8, 1976 - May 29, 2013


Julie & Mason
Mother's Day 2008


Julie & Hannah
Mother's Day 2008







Moving from Mourning to Joy

Committing to the Journey
Pressing On

Commit to the journey, long or short, that leads back to living life.

This sentence found on page 57 of the book, Through a Season of Grief, published by GriefShare may or may not have spoken to me when I first read it.  Placed at the beginning of the book, under the title Healthy Grieving:  Step Five, I am sure that as I read this statement, I assented to it intellectually.  I doubt that I was unable to process it fully emotionally.  I think I must have appreciated reading it because at the time, early in my reading of this wonderful book full of devotions for those in grief, I needed to believe that I would someday be able to go back to living life.  I needed to know that while the grief journey may be long, it would take me to a place of healing, hope, and health.

Along the way on this journey, I have learned some simple truths.  I learned that I must accept that I was on a journey.  As with all journeys in life, I had to accept that I would not know what lay ahead of me as I made my way down the path of recovery after a terrible loss.  I did not know the hills I would face, nor would I know how difficult the valleys could be.  Thankfully, long ago in my life, I had come to believe that life is best lived one day at a time.  I did not know that on this grief journey that I suddenly found myself on, I would at times only be able to live moment to moment.

How does one press on with such a journey the newly bereaved may ask?  I only can answer this question by thinking about my own journey and noting those things that have most helped me press on.

The Need to Memorialize a Life

In my first journal entry after my daughter's death, I wrote about a beautiful wreath that had been sent by her employers.  I wrote how the color choices gave me such comfort because they were beautiful and bright, just like Julie.  Orange roses were in the arrangement.  I wrote, What could be a better choice for Julie?  The orange roses were surrounded by red gerbera daises with yellow lilies to balance the reds and oranges.  I also wrote, I've tried to make sense of why the hints of Amy's wedding bouquet in this arrangement seem oddly sensible, appropriate, and right in the irony of being selected as a floral tribute to Julie at her death.  The wild profusion of asparagus fern and the several shades of purple delphiniums intertwined with a touch of ivy seem so right in the ability to comfort me because Julie and Amy are so intertwined, so bonded, so close, why wouldn't I link these flowers with both of them for the rest of my life?
Julie on Amy's lap
Being silly at Mom's house

I then went on to write how Jon, my youngest son, would be coming to my home in a few days to begin work on the Julie Christiansen Memorial Garden he wanted to build.  I began plans for the flowers I wanted in the garden.  I also spoke of wanting some sort of structure.  I wrote, I will bring beauty out of this loss.

More than needing to plant a garden, I now know that I needed to memorialize my daughter's life.  I want her remembered as a beautiful, bright, vibrant, loving, funny, gifted individual because that summarizes the essence of Julie to me.  She would want me to remember her alive.  She would not want me to stop living because of her death.

In small ways, I try to memorialize her life.  I did begin the garden.  Jon did most of the work on getting it started by building a small patio.  We planted a tree, a Newport plum because it blooms near the date of both her birth and her death.  The purple leaves remind me of her.  I hoped that the garden would have a sense of permanence to it.  I hoped it would be healing to my children and grandchildren as they visited my home.

At the time of Julie's death, I could not foresee that in just a few short years we would decide to sell this home and move.  I could not foresee that my health would suffer, and I would be limited on my ability to plant the garden I wished to plant.  I could not foresee that draught would hit our area this year and that we would have over a week straight of days over 100 degrees.  Twice, during that week, temperatures would reach 113 in our backyard.  These conditions are not conducive to growing the garden I envisioned.

In May, I purchased a kinetic wind sculpture for Julie's garden.  It arrived on July 5, just in time for Jonathan to erect it while he was home for a short visit from his home in Boston.  On July 6, he and his wife Samantha, who has helped Jon with so many projects that he has completed in beautifying my yard, and their son Atticus visited and erected the wind sculpture that I bought as a memorial to Julie.  We may be leaving the garden behind, but the sculpture can go with us.  

Jon and Sam read the directions

This part is engraved with
"Into the freedom of the wind and the sun we let you go."
In memory of
Julie Ann Christiansen




Atticus with new sculpture

Jon and Atticus

Jon and Sally
We took a few minutes to reflect and visit on the patio that Jon built.

Jon on the patio he built
As this photo indicates, we have had a long, hot, dry summer in our area.  Not only did I choose not to plant the garden because we are trying to sell the house, but those flowers that were planted are struggling to survive no matter how much water I give them.  The beds in front of the garden were filled with annuals that I placed out early.  They promptly died due to heat and bugs.  I have never had a hard time growing a lush annual bed in this area.    The clematis is usually full of blossoms this time of year, and the delphiniums that now struggle to live are usually blooming in late June and early July.  It has been a rough year for flowers in Southern Colorado.

This also could be a metaphor for the grief journey.  At times, the journey is dry and does not produce much beauty.  During these times, one must hang on to hope.  I have no doubt that those flowers that bloomed in beauty last year, will do so again with the right conditions.
Mom & Son time 

 Living Life

There are few things in this life that bring me greater joy than my children and grandchildren.  My life is dedicated to the four children I have who remain and to the seven grandchildren that I have.  They are what motivate me to keep on living life as fully as I can.  I do not want to be stuck in grief.  I do not want to miss out on watching them grow and enjoy life.  I want to see all of us heal and live lives full of meaning and joy.  That is one of the great motivators along the grief journey.

Three days after Julie died, we lost our beloved Buster.  I could not even believe it when we suddenly had to put down our dear golden retriever just days after losing a child.  Last fall, we got Boston, our new golden retriever pup.  Atticus had never met Boston before.  The day we erected the wind structure was the first day that the two of them were able to play and bond.  Atticus immediately went to work trying to train Boston.  This is no easy feat.  Boston responded with great obedience.  I think he really wanted to make sure he could count on Atticus to be his great buddy.  I was actually quite amazed at how well Boston, our problem child who has challenged us so greatly in his training, took to Atticus and immediately began to follow his commands.
Atticus rewards Boston for bringing him the ball

Playing soccer together

I think these two will be great friends over the years.

Add caption
I've read in some of the grief books that one should get a pet after the loss of a loved one.  I think this is good advice.  I know that as I look at this beautiful photo of my youngest grandchild and our new pup, I feel great joy.  Moments such as these are what I call spots of grace.  I am flooded with peace at such times.  The soul learns to rejoice and give thanks for such a grace that has allowed me to heal and again live with a heart full of joy.

  

Anniversaries

Julie ~ Happy Birthday
2009
The word anniversary takes on new meaning after the death of a loved one.  This coming Sunday, Easter Sunday, which falls on April 8th this year, will mark what would have been my Julie's 36th birthday.  


I have always associated her with spring, and with Easter.  Her first birthday cake was a bunny cake.  Her birthday has often fallen on, or near, Easter Day.  I realized quite some time ago that this year, her actual birthdate would fall on Easter.  


I do believe I started seeing Easter bunnies, furry Easter toys, and assorted chocolate eggs and bunnies on the shelves of the discount stores in early February.  Was Valentine's Day even over with?  An innocent walk down an aisle in WalMart caused me to let out a little cry to my husband while I said, "I have to get out of this aisle.  They already have Easter items on display."  I wondered how I would ever face Easter this year.


Two years ago, April of 2010, on that same aisle in WalMart,  my husband and I had giddily loaded up our shopping cart with enough candy to treat an entire kindergarten class or two.  We were getting ready to have Easter at our house, and we had to make sure we had enough candy.  That Easter Celebration held at our home to celebrate both Easter and Julie's birthday would be the last time I saw her alive. 




Keicha, Julie, & Amy
Easter 2010 


Needless to say, this week has been a very rough one for me and for my family.  I wasn't sure I would even decorate for Easter this year. Finally, just before we left on our Spring Break, I realized that I would feel better if I got out all those small little things that always were on display for Easter.  I needed to see those cute little bunnies after all.  


I needed to put out my collection of daffodils, my favorite flower, that has traditionally been a part of my home decor every Easter.  I needed to remember that to me the daffodil represents the resurrection.   I had daffodils carved into Julie's headstone.  I needed to celebrate the true meaning of Easter and keep hope alive in my heart.


Grief cannot be denied.  At times, it just must be expressed.  I have cried a great deal this week.  Crying is good.  It releases the sorrow that begins to weigh down the heart.  It is cleansing to cry. 


I am learning the great wisdom of these words:  Lean into the grief. You can't go around it, over it, or under it. You have to go through it to survive. It is important to face the full force of the pain. Be careful   not to get stuck at some phase. Keep working on your grief.  


These words come from a list of "Suggestions for helping yourself survive" found on the website entitled, The Fierce Goodbye, Living in the Shadow of Suicide. (click to read the entire list and find other resources.)


I have chosen to lean into my grief because I do not wish to become stuck in one phase of grief.  I am working on my grief by trying to express it in healthy ways.  I know the toll Julie's death has taken on me and on my family, but I also know that I am a survivor.  Julie would want me to remember her by living my life in the most healthy way I can.  


My plan is to celebrate Easter by going to church and remember the hope that I have because of my faith.  


I will remember my sweet baby girl's smile, the one she gave me the first time our eyes ever locked just after she was born 36 years ago.  I will remember the love she gave me and joy she brought me.  


After church, my husband and I plan on having Amy join us for brunch at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs.  


For me,  I hope anniversaries associated with Julie don't just remind me that we lost our sweet Jules, but instead, I hope to focus on remembering the beautiful life we as a family had with us for a treasured time.   Anniversaries mean that I hope we will remember to keep on living, and loving, and laughing,  and celebrating the lives of those who remain as we create new memories to treasure.  

Sharing An Article by My Daugther


Keicha & Julie
2010


Don't suffer as a suicide survivor alone



Fri, 11/04/2011 - 11:33am
In May, 2010, I lost my 34-year-old sister to suicide, instantaneously and involuntarily becoming part of a group that until then, I hadn't known existed. Inclusion in the group is undesired, yet the number of people who join each year is in the hundreds of thousands. On that awful day a year and half ago, I became a suicide survivor. No clear definition exists for who might be considered a suicide survivor. In a 2011 study by Alan L. Berman, Ph.D., survivors of suicide were defined as "those believed to be intimately and directly affected by a suicide."
Each day in the United States, approximately 94 people take their own lives, leaving behind family, friends and loved ones to struggle with loss, grief, confusion and many questions. Conservative estimates state that six to 10 people are intimately affected by each suicide. The devastation felt by those left behind after a suicide is huge and, for most, life-altering. According to the American Psychiatric Association, "the level of stress resulting from the suicide of a loved one is ranked as catastrophic-equivalent to that of a concentration camp experience."
For months after my sister died, I felt alone and confused. Many people seemed to be uncomfortable with my grieving. Perhaps they were confused over how to respond to my grief, or didn't know what to say about the nature of my sister's death. Instead of sympathy, some responded with silence. From my perspective, I struggled with how to describe the trauma I felt. In her book "Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide," psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison says, "Suicide carries in its aftermath a level of confusion and devastation that is, for the most part, beyond description."
Survivors already struggling with complex reactions including, guilt, anger, or abandonment face the added challenge of dealing with the unfortunate stigma that still surrounds suicide. For many, this leaves them feeling that their loved one's death is somehow shameful.
According to the most recent statistics available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Utah ranks 17th in the nation for the number of suicides annually. Research shows that more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have an underlying, although not always diagnosed, psychiatric illness at the time of their death, most often depression.
As a suicide survivor, I've chosen not to suffer alone, in silence, feeling ashamed about something I had no control over. Instead, I will speak out, advocating for comprehensive, statewide suicide prevention education and initiatives. Additionally, I will reach out to let other survivors know they're not alone. Although every one of our stories is unique, we all share a common bond. Each one of us has lost someone we cared about deeply, and our lives have been forever altered because of it.
The holiday season can be particularly difficult for survivors. To help, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's International Survivors of Suicide Day will be held on Nov. 19 in more than 250 cities around the world, including Salt Lake City. The program is also available online. If you're a survivor, I hope you'll join me in taking part in this day of healing and sharing. For more information, visit www.afsp.org.
Christiansen is a volunteer field advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.


* Used by permission of my daughter, Keicha Christiansen.


The photos below are just a few of the family photos that are mostly of my daughters.  They were all very close, and they tried to get together as often as they could even though Keicha lived in Utah, and Julie and Amy lived in Colorado.
Running Strong
Keicha & Julie

Amy & Julie
Summer 2009
Good times & laughter at Mom's
Julie, Amy, Keicha

Out on the town
Amy, Julie, Keicha

Thanksgiving 2008
Sisters function as safety nets in a chaotic world simply by being there for each other. 
~ Carol Saline**



When the bond formed and shared by sisters is broken through death, there is a hole in the hearts that are left behind that is never filled.  When the loss of a sister comes from suicide, it is truly one of life's greatest tragedies.  

My family and I continue to try and heal since the death of our beloved Julie.  As part of our healing, we hope to put an end to the  silence that surrounds loss by suicide.  

We hope to see others who have lost a loved one to suicide get the support that they need.

We hope to see more suicide prevention education programs.

We hope to see more funding for those with mental illness, and more support for their families as they struggle with knowing how to support their loved one who has a mental illness.


Not long after the photo below was taken, I noticed that Julie is the one in the photo who is strong and steady.  We are all leaning into her for support.  Even then, it seemed ironic that she provided all the stability for the pose we decided to strike.  In life, she also displayed great strength and fortitude.  She struggled valiantly for many years with depression and the demons that so often accompany this devastating illness.  

Kicking Up Our Heels
Mom (Sally), Amy, Keicha, Julie


As Julie's mother, I join her sister Keicha in sharing our story of survival. Much must yet be done to change the perceptions of shame and silence that surround suicide.  We add our voices to those of others who also joined, through no choice of their own, this group that has such great stigma attached to it.  

I do this to honor my beautiful daughter, Julie Ann Christiansen, who was more, so much more, than her final act.  I hope her legacy will be one of love, hope, and healing.  

*Article written by Keicha Christiansen and published in the Standard Examiner
**Quote taken from the blog:  bossybetty.com

Small Mementos

The time spent in my classroom teaching international students is truly priceless.  No price tag can be attached to the healing that I experience as I teach.  Even when I am teaching grammar, I am happy.  I get excited teaching such topics as the one we covered today:  past progressive.  I'm in my element when I do this.  I explain.  I draw charts to show the concept.  I give examples.  I ask for the students to give examples.  I wear myself out.  It feels good to teach again.

When I am teaching, I laugh a lot.  I listen to my students making their first few sentences in a classroom that is taught in a language that is not their first language.  I learn about their cultures.  I learn about each student as an individual.  I see growth.  I experience healing.

My mind is not on my loss.  My heart does not feel quite as broken.  I see the future that is in my students' eyes.  I am a part of something that is bigger than I and my sorrows.  It does feel good to teach again.

On a day like today, I leave my classroom feeling upbeat and happy.   I walk across campus to my car grateful for times of peace, joy, and accomplishment .  Our class had just had a small Valentine's Day Party.  As I walk to car,  I see a young mother approaching me.  She has her darling sleeping daughter in her arms.  The young toddler is dressed so cute in a little hat, coat and boots.  I wonder if she can even walk in those cute boots.  She seems so small.  Suddenly, I find I am weeping.  Babies still do that to me.

I think of my darling Julie.  I see her in her dressed in her cute little pink coat and her Raggedy Ann hat.  I see her impish little smile.  I think of how many nights I walked the floor with her because of her persistent earaches as a toddler.  I remember her finally falling asleep in my arms only to wake when I put her down because of the pain in her ears.  I remember what a sweet baby and child she was.  How could I have ever imagined that one day she would take her life.   She was a such a sweet, fun-filled, vibrant, loving child. I want to go back to those days when I could hold her in my arms and make whatever was bothering her all better.  I want to hold her.  I want to carry her.  I want to have her curly head tucked on my shoulder.


After the wave of sorrow washed over me today, I came home and made a hot cup of tea.  I drank the warm comforting brew from a tea cup that Julie gave me a number of years back.  I have not been able to use that cup since her death.  I have been afraid that I would somehow break it.

I've always loved that cup.  Julie knew that I like to drink my tea from china mugs.  She found the perfect one for me.  I always think of her when I use it.  After losing her, I just couldn't risk losing the cup that I loved using.  It is the special tea cup that she had picked out just for me.  Today, I knew I had to use this small memento.  It seemed that the only comforting thing I could do was drink some hot tea from the cup that had been a gift from Julie.

I brought the tea up to my study, settled into my favorite chair, and sipped the tea.  I looked at the rainbow rock that has always been on my reading table.  Julie painted the rock when she was about four or five years old.  She would paint rocks and try to sell them to the neighbors.  She gave her rainbow rock to me.  It has been one of my favorite treasures ever since.  It has always kept its place of honor beside my favorite chair that I have used for reading.  My Julie rock painted with rainbow colors always makes me smile.

My favorite family photos, books and keepsakes are found in my study.  That is where I also have my favorite chair.  This place is the place where I go for relaxation, reading, and reflection.

Julie smiles at me from the photo made on Amy's wedding day.  She smiles at me again from the photo of her, Amy and me that was taken just before a Christmas season parade in Lafayette, Colorado a number of years back.



I then looked at one of Julie's small wallet sized senior pictures.  The photo shows my dear eighteen year old Julie.  She looks so happy.  The truth is, by then she was already suffering from depression.  Usually she was the life of the party.  She had loads of friends who adored her.  She was successful in school.  She ran track and cross country.  She also was just beginning the long, difficult struggle with a disease that would haunt her until her death.

Not long after Julie's death, I decided to reframe this particular photo, one of several that were her senior pictures.  The old frame had become tarnished.  I found a frame that I thought the photo would fit.  It had hearts on it.  The photo was just a bit bigger than the frame, so I trimmed a small amount from each side.  That is when I noticed writing.  Quickly, I turned the photo over and realized she had written on the back.   She had written:

Mom,
This is one to show my happiness & I would like you
to show it to me when I'm down
to show me that a smile
lights the world.
Even though you make me feel better just being around.
Love,
Julie

Thankfully, I have these small mementos.  I can pick them up and remember the beautiful child that gave them to me.  I won't ever have new photos of Julie.  I won't ever receive another card with her sweet message written inside.  I won't ever be able to make it all better for her like I tried to do for so long.   I won't ever see that smile again, but I promise you, that beautiful smile did light up my world. 

All I have now, are those mementos, many photos, lots of cards, and my precious memories.

Beautiful sunset

This evening I sit in my favorite chair gazing out of the window of the family room onto my snow covered yard.  I am filled with peace as I admire the soft orange, purple and bluish gray hues of the sunset.  It is early, not even 5:00 p.m., but the sun is setting for the last time on 2010.  I am truly blessed by the beauty outside my window.  The rose bushes are wearing their fluffy white winter coats.  The undisturbed snow blanketed yard is a reminder that Buster is gone.  I  miss my dear golden retriever friend.

We've had many losses this year.  Christmas was much more difficult than I ever thought it would be. Many times,  I found myself sensing that something was really wrong with the day because it seemed incomplete.  I was surrounded by my children and grandchildren.  For that I am so grateful.  We had such a great time, but this mother of five kept counting heads and kept coming up short.  I don't know if I will ever get over the counting and being shocked anew that one is no longer with us.

The great hole in my heart and in my family will never be filled, yet in the waning light of this day, as the sun sets on 2010, I am grateful for much.  I have known more love than I ever thought possible.  I have experienced grace that has expanded my soul and deepened my faith.  Many loyal friends have been there for me.  My family has kept me sane as they laughed and cried along with me on this journey as we try to adjust to our great loss. I look forward to the dawn of a new day and of a new year.

Happy New Year!  May the new year bring each of you hope, joy, and many blessings.

I'm in your corner...

I'm learning that dealing with grief is like being in a boxing ring.  I must confess that I've never been in a boxing ring, but I'm sure that there are many comparisons that can be made between boxing and dealing with grief.  Let me give you a few examples of why I have been thinking how dealing with grief and boxing are similar.

A boxer enters the ring expecting to take some blows.  I'm sure that after the first few powerful punches, the boxer learns that he must have the courage, the fortitude and the self-confidence to get up again each time he or she is knocked to the ground. Grief, like boxing, delivers some pretty powerful punches.  Unlike the boxer in the ring, the person who is dealing with overwhelming grief and bereavement, does not always expect the next punch.

I sometimes forget I am in a fight, one that I hope will lead to healing and acceptance of that which I cannot change. I get busy with living life and dealing with the day to day demands of being a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend and teacher.  I think I am carrying on quite well.  The house is cleaned, the Christmas decorations are mostly up, and I am busy with my social and professional life.
Then, out of nowhere, I am knocked to the ground by thoughtless, seemingly uncaring, remarks or by unrealistic demands.  I get up and keep going forward.  I remember that not everyone knows that when a  person is dealing with grief, each day is struggle.  Not everyone understands that the first year in the journey of grief can be a very rough trip.  When I get knocked down by someone else, I try to forgive, get up, and press forward.  I am determined that no one will steal my joy during the holiday season.

Then, the next punch comes.  This type of punch is the hardest to bear.  It is the punch that memory delivers.  I just happened to come across a photo, one I didn't remember seeing before.  It was a photo taken of Julie last Christmas in Utah.  Last year, she wanted to be with the Utah branch of the family for Christmas, so I had given her an airline ticket as her Christmas gift.  In the photo, there she was, very much alive, stunningly beautiful, and, as always, smiling at the camera.  She is surrounded by two of her siblings, her sister-in-law, four of her nieces and nephews and her father.  She is happy.  She looks like she is at peace.  She looks as if she doesn't have a care in the world and is only enjoying being surrounded by family.

The fam at Snow Basin, Utah

Then, I study the photo of Julie with my oldest son, Ryan, my oldest daughter, Keicha, and her father, and my former husband, Barry.  It just looks like a typical family photo.  No one knew it would be the last time that the four would gather for an informal recording of a family gathering.

Keicha, Barry, Julie, & Ryan
Julie and Sheridan

Julie had many friends.  She kept in touch with most of them on a fairly regular basis.  While she was in Utah, she met up with Sheridan, her dear friend and roommate from her University of Utah days.  There's that dazzling smile and those sparkling blue eyes again.  That smile, those eyes, they never fail to deliver a punch theses days.


But, I digress, I was writing about how dealing with grief and boxing are alike.  One would never step into a boxing ring without training and conditioning for a fight.  Unfortunately, when death visits a family unexpectedly,  there has been no warning that one should have been training for the fight of one's life.  I've learned that's where faith comes in.  After many years of building a solid foundation of faith in God, I can say with assurance that I have believed totally and utterly in the absolute sovereignty of God.   Because of that foundational belief,  I have been able to keep the fight of faith going as I struggle with the pain of loss, regret, and sorrow.  After the loss of a child, especially to suicide, I believe it is safe to say that one's faith is either lost, found or strengthened.  My faith has been strengthened.  The fight of faith continues to go on.  Truly, "morning by morning, new mercies I see."

There is no doubt that, just as the boxer needs people to coach him, to help him in his training exercises, to encourage him when he is down, I have also needed people in my corner.  I have had many.  My husband is my mainstay.  When one enters the ring to fight, it becomes very clear where your friends are.  You know who is really pulling for you.  So many of my friends and family members have been there for me before I even asked for their help.  Julie's friends have also been there for all of us.  Team 8:08 has been the best!

I heard a story that Dan Rather told about being in the boxing ring.  He said that when he was knocked to the ground and did not think he could get up, he heard a voice in his corner and it kept calling his name.  He said that was how he was able to get up again.  I've heard your voices, those of you who are in my corner.  I hear you calling my name.  Thank you for being there.