September ~ Suicide Prevention Awareness Month


September

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



Julie passes her sister Amy at the finish line.

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

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

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




SaveSave

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)





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.



May - It Isn't Always Merry

May is Suicide Prevention Month. Funny how I never knew that several years ago.  I was blissfully unaware of such a month.  Perhaps, I had my head in the sand and liked it that way.  Ignorance is bliss.  Or is it? 


For seventeen years, I had lived with the fear that my daughter Julie would take her life.  Her first attempt occurred when she was just a teenager.  I armed myself with information, or so I thought.  I tried to remain vigilant.  I tried to keep the lines of communication open.  I tried to ask the hard questions when I thought she wasn't doing well emotionally.  "Julie, are you thinking of hurting yourself?"  "Are you thinking of suicide?"  "Is there anything you need to talk about?"  "How can I help you with these feelings?"  "Do you need to go to the hospital?"  "Do you promise me you will call me if you are thinking of hurting yourself?"  She would always answer with a "no" to those questions that needed a no answer.  She promised me many times she would call if she couldn't handle life.  Many times she did call.  Many times, I got her up and out the door again.  Most times, she called her sister Amy.  She was more honest with her sisters I think.


Julie, Amy, Sally
Sally's birthday celebration in Denver
2005
After the recent tragic death of Junior Seau, his mother's lament, “Junior, why you never telling me you were going?” just breaks my heart.  I know exactly how she feels because that is how I felt.  "Julie, why didn't you call?"  Or perhaps, even worse, I ask myself, "Why didn't I call?"  I had been up until nearly 2:00 in the morning that day because I was not feeling well.  She had been on mind.  Later though, I kept asking myself why I didn't know.  I questioned why I wasn't given a sense of her distress.  I questioned how my daughter could take her life without having some sort of premonition on my part.  Why do we as mothers think we have those kinds of powers?  Why do we think we have that kind of control?


Julie's beautiful curls
Photographed by her brother Jon

I was extremely naive for seventeen years.  Even today, if you ask me what I should have done to stop her suicide, I'm not sure I would have an answer.  And yet, on the other hand, I would say that we needed more information on how to get her the appropriate, affordable medical care that she needed for her illness.  Julie had a very good job.  She made good money.  She had health insurance.  Could she afford treatment for both her bi-polar disorder and/or her addictions to alcohol?  No, she could not.  She asked me to find a program for her.  I did.  It was an outpatient program.  She wondered how she could work and do the program.  She couldn't afford not to work.  I suggested once that she come home, seek treatment, then find a new job.  That just did not seem feasible.  I suggested she take medical leave.  She didn't seem to be able to make that leap.  Would that leave have been given by her employer?  Would she have been able to keep her job?  Would the program have been successful?  After her death, I read of a program that seemed to be just what she would have needed in Denver.  It was an inpatient program.  The cost would have been at least $25,000.  The irony of it all was that Julie had $25, 000 in life insurance, but her health insurance would not cover mental health care.


As a survivor of suicide, I now feel an urgency to make sure that there is more awareness of suicide prevention.  Did you know that I am a survivor?  Did you know that those who have lost a loved one to suicide are called survivors.  We are compared to those who have survived any other horrific life changing event.  I read the words "suicide survivor" and "death camp survivor" used in comparative ways in much of the literature.  I hope other families are spared the shock and grief that my family has suffered.  For that reason, I urge all of you to urge President Obama to make mental heath parity a reality. (Please click to read the full message.)


Basically, the  Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act would ensure that large group health insurance and Medicaid plans provide coverage for mental or substance-use disorders on par with coverage offered for physical ailments. Implementation of the final rule would make Mental Health Parity a reality.


My daughter Keicha wrote an editorial for her local newspaper urging others to contact the White House about the passage of this Act.  You can read her editorial here:  Keicha's editorial.


Mason, Grandma Sally,  Aunt Julie, Amy
Julie's College Graduation
BA in English
Thoughts about the month of May conjure up so many happy occasions:  Mother's Day, graduations, spring flowers, and beautiful trees leafing out.  May is also known to be the month with the highest rates of suicide.  This shocking statistic became a reality for my family on May 29th, 2010.  One of the first things I wrote in my journal after Julie's death was, "She was more that a statistic.  She was more than her final act."  I hope that you will think of her as a beautiful, bright, vivacious young woman.  I think of her as being valiant.  She fought for so many years against demons I will never know.  She also had a very serious life threatening disease which ultimately took her life.


In her memory, I hope you will also lend your voice to fight for parity in coverage for those who suffer from mental or substance-abuse, often forms of self-medicating that take on lives of their own.  Why isn't coverage for these illnesses comparable to coverage for other illnesses and/or physical ailments? 
Julie, my mother, Alberta, Keicha
Lunch with Grandma around her 92rd birthday time
If I could speak to Junior Seau's mother, I would tell her, "There are no answers."  We will never have answers for why our children chose this route to end their pain.  I am greatly comforted by the words of Barbara Johnson who lost two sons in death,  In a GriefShare devotion, she wrote in to response the unanswered questions surrounding death by suicide:   That is when you have to claim Deuteronomy 29:29, 'The secret things belong to the Lord.' And this is a secret thing. No one will ever know the reason why this thing happened, this side of heaven. As I counsel many parents who have lost children to suicide, that is the hardest one to deal with. They want to blame themselves. I try to tell them that their child went out to meet a just and a loving God. And God only knows the answers. You can't blame yourself for what your kids do or grab onto guilt.


The time to address mental illness and depression issues is when one is alive.  Arm yourself with information.  Know where help is available.  Seek it, or urge those in need to seek it.  Join others in helping to bring parity to the help that is available for all those in need.  Do it in memory of Julie.  Do it the memory of those loved ones that your friends have lost to suicide.  Bring suicide out of the shadows.  Do not silence its devastation any longer.  Work to bring about awareness, help, and hope.  Do it to save even one life.  That will make all the difference in the world to that person's family.  


Siblings being silly
Who has the biggest nose?
Amy, Jon, Julie, Keicha, Ryan
Sister - the last time together
Keicha, Julie, Amy
April 2010





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

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.