Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lift Your Eyes

Just before my senior year in high school, my father was transferred from Pueblo, Colorado to Leadville, Colorado. Needless to say, I was not very happy that I was uprooted and moved away from the happy high school life that I had in Pueblo. I was convinced that life two miles high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in a small former mining community would be unbearable. One cold summer afternoon when the rain finally stopped, I looked out of the window of our house and said to my mother, "I hate this place. It is ugly. All I see in this town is mud." Her response has stayed with me all this years. She said,"Sally, you need to lift your eyes. Look above the mud on the ground and look at those mountains." The magnificent Mt. Massive, still covered with snow, seemed to fill all of the horizon above the street for as far as the eye could see.  I did learn a life lesson in that moment.  Focus is everything.  What do we see when we look beyond the window?  Where do we wish to focus our view of the world around us?

One of the first things that my son, Jonathan said to me after Julie's services was that he wanted to come to Pueblo to help me build a garden to honor Julie.  Since I have a great deal of yard that still needs to be landscaped, I was thrilled to think that we might begin to work on this project together.  Jon, wearing his traditional lungi from Bangladesh decided that the first order of business would be to install a fountain in the flower garden that is being developed on the side of the house.  This turned into an all day project, but, we finally had it installed and working.  Of course there was some water fun that kept interrupting the work!

While Jon and his wife Samantha worked on the fountain installation, Atticus joined me in planting some flowers.  What a joy it was for me to sit around a small flower garden with my grandson and dig in the dirt.  The curious sort, he had all kinds of questions and observations.  We decided that he should be a botanist someday so that he could study about dirt, bugs, plants and other interesting things.  I must admit that I used my influence to try to lead him in the direction that I think would be such a fascinating field.  He hoped we'd find a worm.  We did.  I went and got my brand-new jewelers 20X illuminated magnifying glass(my graduation present from Colorado Master Gardeners), and we looked for the worm's head.

Jon and I finally selected a spot for Julie's Garden.  We decided it should be the trampoline since that is a gathering place for kids of all ages in our family.  Also, that part of the yard is totally ugly and hot and could use some help.

I came up with the picture of the dream corner I wanted to create from a gardening magazine.  (Our spot is still a very long ways from looking like the picture!)  We thought a small patio next to the shed would be nice to build.  This would give us a place to have a small bistro type table.

Now that we had a vision, some bricks and two men to get busy on the work, I could leave the work up to Jon and Jim.

Jon had a lot of work to do just getting rid of weed guard, the bark and leveling the ground.  Then, he and Jim brought in some sand to make the foundation for the bricks.  (These bricks used to be the bricks in our old patio on the side of the house. I guess they've been moved a few times now!)

Since Jon is young and has his original knees, he became our official bricklayer.  He has been watching a lot of the men in Bangladesh put down the bricks for roads by hand since he got there, so he knew exactly what to do.

PLEASE NOTE:  The corner behind the shed that we selected, is less than perfect due to the fact that our neighbor just that day came up with his solution to the fence I had Jim tear down that was falling into our yard.  Don't you love the orange, plastic fence?  Since our neighbor has not been interesting in sharing the cost of fixing this old fence, I guess I am going to have to pay him a visit soon so we can discuss how his choice is not working for me.

After a long, hot day doing the brick work, Jon, Jim and I drove to Canon City to get some trees.  We wanted a tree for this area that would:  a)not get too big, b) shade the small patio and trampoline, c) be the most beautiful around either Julie's birthdate in April, or the date of her death in May.  We selected a Newport Plum.  I love it because the leaves will always have a rich burgundy red/orange color.  In the spring, it will be covered with vanilla colored flowers with burgundy centers.

We also decided to replace the tree that we removed last summer.  We need the shade for our main patio and for our bedroom.  An Autumn Purple Ash was selected.

The trees were not delivered until Jon had left for home.  It was a wonderful day, when they were delivered and planted.  Planting a tree and building a garden are very healing ways to grieve the loss of a loved one.  In this case, I can't even tell you how much comfort it gives me each day to look out and see Julie's plum tree.  It reminds me of her somehow.  I think that sometimes when she used to dye her hair red, it would almost be this color.  Maybe it is just that it is a tall, beautiful thing of beauty that stands out in nature.  I think of her that way.

                                                       The beginning stages of Julie's Garden
                                                                      The Newport Plum

Each day, I gaze our my window and lift my eyes.  I see the two trees we planted.  It gives me comfort to see these trees and think about how they will grow and shade my home, Julie's Garden, and the trampoline for years to come.  They represent hope.  They represent inspiration.  This will be a place for healing, a place for laughter, a place to remember times past, and place to create new memories.  The trees allow me to lift my eyes and see beyond this earth.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Memorial Talk

A Mother's Tribute to Her Daughter
Given at the Memorial Service for Julie Ann Christiansen

Julie, my sweet Julie. Julie, who can say your name without adding sweet to it? Who can think of you without thinking of your kindness, your goodness, your beauty, both inside and out? Who can think of you without seeing those bright, intelligent, sparkling blue eyes? Who can think of you without wanting to reach out and get a handful of that thick, beautiful mass of sweet smelling, soft curls? Who will ever forget how wonderful your hair smelled, how soft your touch felt or how stunning you looked in just about anything you wore.

Julie, my free-spirit with a soul that was as rich, full-bodied and interesting as her hair, was born on a spring morning on April 8, 1976. My springtime pixie, born while the daffodils were in full bloom entered this life like a fire cracker during the bicentennial year of our nation’s birth. She seemed to be all sunshine and laughter as a young child. I will carry with me always the image I have of her at about four years old. She was in the backyard of our home trying to launch a small paper kite that she had made. I still see the look of freedom, laughter and joy as you ran back and forth across the lawn in a futile attempt to get the kite in the air.

Julie was a busy child. She would think of all kinds of things to do to keep herself busy such as taking on projects of collecting rocks from the backyard, painting them with her watercolor set and then attempting to sell the fruits of her labor to the neighbors as she and Jon made their way around the block. Her beautiful, hand painted rainbow rock is one of my most prized possessions. It is always next to me on my desk or reading table.

Julie’s unique genetic makeup gave her the features that we could all see and admire: beautiful eyes, amazing hair, a beautiful, lean athletic body, a strong Christiansen nose, a brilliant mind, a need to read and express herself through writing, and kind, sweet spirit. Because of her genetic makeup, she also suffered from a disease that first began to manifest itself in her late teen years. Depression began to rob her of her joy and became the demon that she would battle in many different ways for the rest of her life.

Julie, the reader, the seeker of answers and understanding, shared a book with me a number of years ago. She asked me to read Kay Redfield Jamison An Unquiet Mind because she said it helped her to understand her illness. Recently, she also recommended that I read Nothing Was The Same, Jamison’s latest book about her own experience with grief after the death of her husband. In this book, Jamison said that during grief she experienced restlessness in everything she did. I know that we as a family have felt this restlessness these past few days, but, Jamison states that “in grief the restlessness was not the unbearable agitation of mania, but instead, an anxious fluttering that attached itself to my grief...I walked and walked in an attempt to alloy that disquiet.”

In order to better understand Julie’s pain, I have found comfort in reading what Jamison states is the difference between grief and depression. She states in Nothing Was The Same, “Grief conspires to ensure that it will in time wear itself out. Unlike depression, it acts to preserve the self. Depression is malignant, indiscriminately destructive.” “Time alone during grief proved restorative. Time alone during depression is dangerous.” “Depression, less comprehensible than grief, does not always elicit the same ritual kindness. Grief does not alienate the way depression does.”

Unfortunately, Julie at times forgot some of Jamison’s advice: “We are each an island...Treat your island with regard. Do not let it go to weed; do not give it over to anyone else. Understand the possibilities. Know the dangers. Keep away the ungenerous and unkind.”

As a young child, Julie once wore her new cross necklace to school one day. The teacher asked her why she was wearing it. She said, “because I love Jesus.” Over the years, life events and depression robbed Julie of her simple faith, but the Good Shepherd never forgets His sheep.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 29, 2010, My sweet Jesus, who saw Julie’s pain and saw that her attempts to relieve that pain were only making her disease worse, gathered my sweet Julie in His arms and took her home to be with Him.

Julie was a gift and a treasure to me and to all of her family. We loved her more than words can ever express. She was the centerpiece of many gatherings, even though those gatherings could sometimes overwhelm her. She was as crazy, wild and funny as any one of her other siblings. She had wonderful friends who loved and enjoyed her. Thankfully, she also had Jason in her life. Thank you Jason for all you have done for us and for Julie. She knew that you loved her and were her best friend. We will be forever grateful that you are a part of our family.

As we all gathered together this week, finally meeting as a family at Amy’s, I found myself doing what I always have, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, making sure I had all my chicks accounted for. I will never be able to get over the sorrow that I will feel when Julie is not with us. I will miss her arm around my shoulder when she would say, “Hi Momacita.” I will miss her calls when she would say, “Mom” and I would answer with “Julie.” I will miss her wisdom and her ability to help me see things in a different and better way. I will be eternally grateful that I was given the gift of her life. She was a gift, a treasure and my Jewel. I am at peace knowing that she is at peace and will no longer suffer any pain.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Life Altering Events

In Memory of My Beautiful Daughter
Julie Ann Christiansen

Once upon a time, I was going through a terrible time in my life. I decided to keep a journal about what I was going through. The problem was, I didn't want to write down what I was going through because it made it all too real. Words held too much power for me. They seemed too final. It seemed better to just talk around things. It seemed to me that if I just didn't write down what I was going through, I could reverse the events, results, and feelings much more easily than I could if I recorded what was really happening.

Sadly, even if I never write about the great loss I recently suffered, it will not go away.

On Saturday, May 29, 2010, I lost my beautiful daughter, Julie Ann Christiansen. She lost her long battle with depression. I had 34 years with her, and for that I am grateful.

My husband and I have been staying in a Residence Inn in the Boulder, Colorado area since last Saturday dealing with the reality of our loss, spending time with our other children and grandchildren, and doing all those things that must be done after a death. Today, we returned home. I realized that for the past week, I have been wrapped in a very protected cocoon. I was ensconced in a neutral, motel suite where my bed was made each morning, where my room was cleaned and tidied, and where my husband went to the lobby each day to get my breakfast and bring it back to me in my room.

For a time, my sister and her husband were right across the hall. My other children and grandchildren were just a short drive away. My siblings came to my side. My nieces and nephews came from all over the state and from Texas, California and Boston. Friends came from Virginia, and Florida. Many traveled from various parts of the state to be by our side.
I have been surrounded by people who love me, my daughter, my family. I will be forever grateful for the love, support and messages of hope, and peace, and love that came our way. I have been changed by the kindness of others. I hope I can use this lesson of love to help others.

I came home today to a yard full of weeds. I am thankful for them. I need a lot of weeds to pull.

Answers will not come easily anytime soon.

I post this entry only because I wish to honor the memory of a beautiful gift that I held for a little while. I wanted more time with my sweet Julie. I didn't know I didn't have it. I will never again take for granted the days that I have remaining with my other children and my grandchildren. I am sustained by their strength, their support and their love. Each of my beautiful children is a blessing. Their intelligence, sensitivity, wit, sense of fun and good humor has helped me through this time. I am grateful that they have each other, and that they have used this bittersweet time to strengthen their bond of love and support for each other.

For now, I will treasure the memories, take comfort in knowing how many people loved my daughter. I will go forward leaning on the grace that has sustained me throughout this entire life altering event.

Today, I told my husband that I will not be defined by this loss, nor will I allow the wonderful, beautiful, spirited, brave and good spirit of my daughter to be defined by a disease that robbed her of so much.

Life has been forever altered. I will be learning many new lessons on life, loss and love. Mostly, I hope to honor the one that has left us by fully enjoying and supporting the ones that are left.