Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reflections On A Life Well Lived

Our next door neighbor died just a few days before Christmas.  Last night, when Jim and I returned home, I said, "I just can't believe Joe is gone."  Jim agreed.

We have lived in this house for about sixteen years now, but it has only been in the last few years since we retired that we really got to know Joe.  Before that, we were gone much of the time and never had time to get to know our neighbors.

Joe and I neighbored a bit back and forth from the first summer on.  He would be out puttering around the outside in the evenings as I dug in the dirt in the front yard.  When we first moved in, there were no flower gardens in the front of our house.  There was only rock and ground cover.  Slowly, shovel, by shovel, I began digging and planting.  As I dug and planted, Joe puttered next door.  I became accustomed to knowing that my house and yard was always safe under Joe's watchful eye.

Nothing in the neighborhood ever escaped his notice.  Once, he came over and told us the garage had been left open during the night.  Another time, he warned that thieves had broken into his garage and other garages and were stashing the goods in his back yard.  He found the loot and called the police.  We installed chains and locks for our back gates.

Another time, we had to have some foundation work done to the house.  I was out of town when the work began.  Before leaving, I had discussed with the workmen how they could dig up my flower beds. Joe had no idea that we were having the work done.  When workmen began digging up my flower beds and pulling out plants, Joe came over and asked what they were doing.  He said, "Sally is going to be mad as hell when she gets home and sees what you have done to her beautiful flowers."  I still smile over that.

Once we retired, we got to know Joe better.  My husband and Joe would visit quite a bit as Joe tinkered on his old car or worked about the yard and house.  They would even share a few books.  We had time to finally get to know our neighbor.  Whenever we went on trips, it was nice to know that at least one neighbor was looking out for our house.  Joe and his wife would graciously pick up our mail and newspapers whenever we were out of town.

Joe, born just two days after I was born, was a wiry, short man who at one time managed the local Furr's Cafeteria.  He then prepared meals for the Meals on Wheels program.  A quiet man, unassuming, humble man, he married young and worked hard all his life.  He treasured his wife and family.  He adored his two grandchildren.  He honored his Catholic faith and his Hispanic heritage.  He was a hunter and fisherman.  He seemed to be able to fix anything.  He was truly one who could be described as "the salt of the earth" or one of great worth and reliability.

Over a year ago, we noticed we hadn't seen Joe recently.  We remarked that we worried that he was ill.  Then, we saw him one day and were shocked to see how much weight he had lost.  He had colon cancer.  He seemed to rally.  This summer, when we got up every morning and went out on the back deck to drink our coffee and read the paper, Joe was already out working.  He was fixing things around the house.  He was up on the roof.  He was painting.  He was always busy.  Even though he was fighting cancer, he went about his lifelong habit of being industrious.

One day this summer, as I was out working in the garden, Joe hoisted himself up on the fence between our yards.  He asked what kind of flower I had growing next to the fence.  I told him they were hollyhocks and related the story about collecting the seeds at a farm in Grand Junction.  I told him I was shocked to see how much they had grown since it took two years for them to come up and bloom.  He said they were just beautiful and said he'd never seen prettier.

I planted zucchini and tomatoes this summer.  I took some of the zucchini and tomatoes to Joe and his family.  His wife said that Joe enjoyed eating them.  She said he loved zucchini bread.  She even baked some for us.  I like to think that Joe really did get some pleasure out of eating those fresh vegetables from my garden during the last summer of his life.

Sadly, in the end, cancer claimed Joe.  He only weighed 84 pounds when he died after suffering so much during most of the fall.  His devoted wife took care of him everyday until the day he died.  He was surrounded by his grandchildren and his sons on a nearly daily basis.  One is blessed to have such love and care in one's life.

On the day of his funeral, I smiled when I saw his beautiful new red truck, driven by his son,  pull into place in the procession headed toward the cemetery.  Joe was so proud of that truck.  Then, I had to wipe  tears from my eyes as I thought how he would not be able to enjoy driving that truck up into the hills to go fishing or hunting.  He never got a chance to retire and do all the things he loved to do.  He didn't get to watch those beautiful grandchildren grow up.  He was too young to leave us so soon.

Joe's life was a sterling example of love and faith and hard work.  He lived his life well.   He left of legacy of how to be a good husband, father, and neighbor.  He exemplified la familia in the most positive of all traditions associated with his heritage.  We will miss him greatly.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Cheer

Pre-Christmas Blessings

No need to dream of a white Christmas this year.
We had SNOW, lots of it!
We live in Colorado, but in the southern part of the state, we don't get a lot of snow.
This year we were blessed with the beautiful fluffy, white stuff a few days before Christmas.
This was a very good thing because we need the moisture.

Boston loves the snow.
Now if we can just train him to shovel the walks!

This is Boston's first Christmas.
The value of a private education is truly priceless.
After spending a few weeks at boarding school, Boston posed perfectly in front of the Christmas tree.

Christmas Eve

We had a houseful for Christmas Eve.
My husband's children, their spouses, their children, and his former wife and her husband all joined us for dinner at our house.  

An hour before dinner was to be served, I had a cooking disaster.
I foolishly began cooking Spanish rice on top of the stove in a glass casserole dish.
What was I thinking????
Just as the rice came to a boil, the dish exploded.
There was rice and glass everywhere.
Suffice it to say that it was not a pretty sight to see rice, glass, tomatoes, and red peppers covering the stove top and the floor.
Thankfully, neither Jim nor I were cut or injured.
Thankfully, the girls arrived just in time and came to my rescue by cleaning up the mess and making the chicken enchilada recipe while I made more Spanish rice.

Dinner was only 20 minutes late.
Jim's girls ate cookies while they waited for dinner to cook.

Trinette, Thia, and Trista
Eat dessert first is a good motto!
The family gathered in the family room and got acquainted with Boston.

Finally, dinner was ready to be served.

It wouldn't be Christmas at our house with out the Christmas tamales.

My Christmas present from my husband was delivered earlier in the day.
It was this beautiful new table.

Jim's grandchildren always love being together.
Aren't they all beautiful?

The desserts included cookies, potica, another Pueblo tradition, pizzelles, and pumpkin pie.
I did no baking this year.  
In fact, after this year's cooking disaster, I may rethink choosing to cook for a large family gathering.
Catering always works well.  

After dinner, we gathered to open presents.

Jim's beautiful daughters pose for a photo.

We are blessed to be surrounded by family.

The girls love their SmartWool socks from their daddy.

Jim's former wife, and the mother of his girls, joined us with her husband.

My man all tied up in a pretty red bow.

No more excuses.  We now have a great new recipe book to help us with our new lifestyle of cooking healthy food.  (Christmas dinner was excluded from the healthy food choice list!)

Boston got an edible card from K & L's dogs.
He loved it!

Christmas Day

Christmas Day, Amy drove down from the Boulder area with her two children to celebrate.
The kids were super patient.  They had to wait until afternoon to open their presents.

My beautiful daughter, Amy...

Judging from the reaction, I think Hannah and Mason were thrilled with the new iPad they received.

Believe it our not, Amy bought me a new rice cooker before my cooking disaster.
I sure could have used it the night before!

After presents were opened and dinner was eaten, Hannah got on her warm winter coat and headed for the trampoline.  This girl loves to jump.

This was a whole new experience.  She loved it.

Christmas in A Modern Age

Christmas night Grandpa Jim taught the kids how to organize their icons on the iPad and set them up with for facetime.  It was pretty funny to watch the kids talk to Grandpa, who was sitting across the room from them, via facetime using the iPad.  Amy had to join in using her iPhone.  

Just as we did when I was a kid, the kids did play a new board game they received.
Then, Mason played on his iPad.
Hannah played on her Kindle Fire.
Grandpa Jim listened to his Audible books via his iPhone.
Amy texted on her iPhone.
Grandma Sally enjoyed looking at photos posted on facebook of the Christmas celebration held in Boston by son Jon and his family.
That evening, my 95 year old mother posted a Christmas greeting thanking everyone for the Christmas photos that had been posted on facebook.

All in all, Christmas of 2011 was wonderful.
We were surrounded by loved ones. 
With a little help from technology,
we also were able to feel connected to those loved ones who live far away.
Family, I'll take that as the best Christmas gift of all.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Moving On, Or Trying To Anyway

The holidays always bring a lot of stress and activity.  This year, it seems our household has really been hit with a lot of unscheduled events that have added to the holiday stress levels.

First, there was my husband's health scare.  Thankfully, my husband is progressing well from the procedure that saved his life.  He is still very tired.  He tries to walk each day, and he is doing well in changing his eating habits.  Nevertheless, we have been set back emotionally as we deal with this new health reality.

Then,  last week, my daughter closed on her house in Northern Colorado.   I was away from home for three days last week helping her move.  We got it done, but believe me, it was a huge task.  She had a girl friend and Jason help her one weekend, then it was up to just Amy, her two children, and me to get the rest done.  Since Amy had to work two of the three days, I did much of it alone with a little help from the guy we hired to haul off things we didn't have time to donate or take to the dump.

  I am so grateful that she is in a new town home not far from where she lived before.  Her new place is very homey.  She says it "just feels like home."  That it does.  She has a spectacular view of Long's Peak from her living room window.  The kids have a sledding hill right outside their back door.  They are within walking distance of the recreation center where they spend a lot of time.  Schools are also close by.   While it was sad to leave her home where she had lived for more than ten years, there were many unhappy memories there.  It is good to move on.  I think she will be very happy in her new place and the kids love their new home.  

The move was hard on me because I kept bumping into so many of Julie's things.  Julie and Amy shared clothes, and shoes so much that at times, I wasn't always sure who owned which article of clothing one or the other might be wearing.  That being said, Julie had many beautiful clothes, and her shoes were always just plain cool. 

During the move,  I did fine when I saw the dress Julie wore to her class reunion.  I didn't lose it when I saw the jacket that she had on one time when she came home from work and looked so stylish and hip.  I even handled running into the pair of heels that she wore to the night she, Amy, Hannah, Mason and I went to Denver to see the Nutcracker a few years ago.  I remembered watching her walk her confident, fast walk in those high, high heels that had straps that wrapped around her ankles.  The night was freezing cold.  But that didn't seem to faze Julie.  I remembered watching her feet as she drove us down and out of the parking the garage after the ballet was over.  I remember how I admired her style and confidence.  Yes, when I ran into those heels, I just put them in car and moved them over to Amy's.  I didn't breakdown.

Then, late one evening, I ran into a shirt she had worn to a get-together with her high school friends a few years ago.  She looked so cute in it.  It was neatly folded among some of Amy's shirts.  I pulled it out and held it to my nose hoping I could still smell Julie on it.  Hoping that smell that came from her hair product that everyone could always smell whenever they got close to her would still be clinging to the shirt.  I don't think Julie's distinct fragrance was clinging to that article of clothing, but I wanted to believe it was just faintly present.
Julie & Leana at high school girl friend gathering

Amy walked in about then and saw me crying.  "No tears tonight, Mama.  No tears.  We can't have any tears."  By then we were both crying.  We held each other for a while, and then we got back to work.  

In my heart, when the move was done, I told Julie that I had done what she asked me to do.  She asked me to make sure that Amy was safe and away from a situation that was harmful for her.  It has been a long, hard two years, but now Amy has a new beginning.  My heart is broken that Julie isn't there to share it with her.  

Tonight I cried for Julie again.  My husband just let me cry, and then he held me.  I thanked him for letting me cry and not thinking he had to fix it.  "No one can," he said.  He is right.  No one can. 

I am now moving more fully into the holiday spirit.  I recognize how difficult the holidays can be for those who grieve.  I give myself permission to hurt, to cry, to feel anger, to feel regret, to feel longing.  Grief is messy.  Grief brings up much anger at times.  It also brings up a hurt that seems will never heal.  

Julie didn't like Christmas.  She never did.  She hated the pressure.  She hated how lonely she felt during the holidays.  So, I guess it is somewhat ironic that I have put up a tree for her.  I purchased a small evergreen tree at the grocery store.  I wanted a live tree because it represents life everlasting.  The tree was called an 'elf' tree.  I thought that was somewhat appropriate since we used to call Julie our little pixie.  

None of us remember Julie ever putting up a tree, but she had a round Christmas hat box that I had given her for Christmas a few years back filled with a few ornaments she had collected over the years.  Some were from her childhood.  She really had very few ornaments, but she had carefully packed away the ones she had.  I hung what she had on the tree.  There is a mix of childhood angels and Santa ornaments combined with a few beautiful crystal ornaments that she had either purchased or received as gifts.  I lit the tree on December 11 at 7:00 p.m.  I also lit a candle for her at the same time.  Compassionate Friends, a grief support group for those who have lost children, always has a candle lighting ceremony worldwide on the second Sunday of December at 7:00 p.m. in memory of those children who have been lost to death.

Some may say that by now, I should be much more down the road of grief than I am.  Some may think that I need to just get on with life and stop all this business with grief.  Once a friend compassionately said she could not imagine what I was going through.   Rather coldly, I replied, "I hope you never have to find out."  The look of horror that she gave me said it all.  I should never have been so honest with my reply.  

I was recently greatly comforted with this quote from GriefShare: 

Society often concerns itself with keeping up appearances, maintaining the status quo, and covering up problems, as if pretense will somehow make things right! 

"We want everything to be glossed over," Rev. John Coulombe observes. "We want everything to be gilded with gold. We think it should be tidy and nice."

But life is not "tidy and nice" and pretending it is will hinder your healing process and make it even longer. 

Right now, everything is not real "tidy and nice" in my life, but I know that I am continuing to heal and to grow.  I am also grateful that we are able to move beyond the tragedies of life.  My journey in life, and in grief has not been rocky, and at times very rough.  I am able to move on because of my faith, my family, and my friends.

I recently reflected on Psalm 34:18, "The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart."

As we enter into these final days before Christmas, as my husband continues to heal from his heart procedure, as I continue to deal with my own heart issues of arrhythmia and tachycardia, and as a family, as we deal with the loss of our beloved Julie, a loss that broke our hearts, I am comforted to know that on Christmas we will celebrate the birth of the One who came to bind up our broken hearts, the One who came to bring us peace, and the One who brings both comfort and joy.   

May all of you have a very Merry Christmas.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nails Dodges The Big One

My husband has a nickname.  He is sometimes called "nails" as in "tough as nails" by one of his closest friends.  I also call him Nails at times because he is that: tough.  His toughness was something that was hard won on his daily walks home from junior high.  He lived in a tough neighborhood.  He learned to fight his way home.  And, the way he tells it, there were some pretty tough kids in that 'hood.  (There still are tough kids in the neighborhood!)

In high school, he was one tough football player.  He was known as a hard hitter.  Once, a few years back, as we walked into a local restaurant, I heard a voice coming from the bar, "Oh my God, there's Jim Wessely.  He's the toughest football player to ever come out of East High School.  If he hit you, you didn't get back up."

In his running days, his best friend and running partner started always calling him "Nails."  To this day, he calls and asks for "Nails down the line."

Yesterday, Nails dodged one of the biggest opponents he's ever come up against.  My dear husband, Nails to some, went into the hospital after not feeling well for several weeks.  Being a tough guy, or perhaps because he was practicing denial, or maybe, he didn't want to worry me, he had ignored, or failed to mention, that he was having pressure in his left chest and left arm.

For several weeks my husband had complained about not feeling well. He had no energy. He took naps during the day. He couldn't finish walks. He couldn't finish exercise routines. He was nauseated. I would ask the standard questions, "Do you have chest pain?" "Are you clammy?" I would check his blood pressure. It was good. His pulse was good. His blood sugar levels were good.

As I said before, there was only one thing he wasn't telling me. He had pressure, subtle, but pressure all the same, in his left chest and left arm. I didn't have that critical piece of information. He didn't think it was important information. He thought the symptoms would go away.

Monday morning, after some indecision due to not feeling on top of his game, he decided to go with me to the YMCA to workout.  I went off Pilates class. He went to the exercise room to do his usual one hour workout on the elliptical.  He's a maniac on that machine.  Really, others comment on how hard he 'runs' on the elliptical for at least an hour three times a week.

On Monday, when I finished my class, my husband was not working out on the weight machines as usual. He generally finishes his elliptical workout by working on the weight machines.  In fact, I couldn't find him.  Finally, I found him sitting in the lobby.

His coloring was gray. He looked worried. Finally, he told me about the persistent pressure he had been experiencing. He had run into trouble when he tried to exercise. He had no energy. He had shortness of breath. His pressure was worse. Thankfully, he stopped exercising and patiently waited for me to finish my workout class.  (Don't ask me why he didn't come and get me.)

His gig was up with me.  I allowed no protests coming from him to stop me from driving him to the hospital.  At the emergency room, he was put through the typical drill.  He assured me we would be going home in just a few hours.  As it turned out, he was wrong.  Blood work results indicated something was going on with his heart.  He was admitted to the hospital.

The next day, yesterday, December 6, he had a heart catheterization to see what was going on.  The cardiologist found that my husband's left anterior descending artery was 95% blocked.  The artery was opened up, and a stint was put in place.  That same artery was blocked at 40% back in 2006 when he had gone in for a heart catheterization following an episode with chest pain.

Some of you may have heard of the LAD artery before.  It is sometimes called "the widow maker."  If this artery is suddenly and completed occluded at 100%, it causes a massive heart attack.  It was this type of event that killed Tim Russert.

My husband's prognosis is good.  He is already home.  We will go out tonight with our monthly dinner with high school friends.  (Doctor approved.)  He is in good spirits.  He looks good.  He starts exercise again next week.

We will be drastically changing our diet.  We will make sure that his cholesterol stays down.  He is on some new drugs.

He walked out of the hospital alive.

I shudder to think about what could have happened, if he had attempted to go "hard as nails" on the elliptical on Monday.  I shudder to think what could have happened as he walked the dog, climbed the stairs, took a shower, or drove across town.

I think there is a lesson here:  Listen to your body.  If you have pressure, or any heart symptoms, get them checked out.  Tell your spouse, friend, significant other, or whomever you know well, the full story when you aren't quite on top of your game.  Don't think that your symptoms will just go away.  Get your symptoms checked out.

Thankfully, we had a good outcome.  Jim did not suffer a heart attack.  He got the medical intervention he needed before things would have been so much harder to reverse, or even non-reverable.

He is tough, tough as nails, but I'm grateful he didn't have to prove his toughness after a heart attack.

We have been blessed, greatly blessed.  God has shown us much mercy and grace.  

*source for heart image:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

New Beginnings are Full of Both Hope and Sadness

Thanksgiving Day was a lovely celebration made very special by my daughter Amy.  In years past, Amy has either spent Thanksgiving with her former husband's family, in Utah with her father and siblings who live there, or in Pueblo at our house.  She has never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner before by herself.

This year, Amy and I had actually planned on driving to Utah together to spend Thanksgiving with the family, but circumstances and timing caused us to change our plans just days before Thanksgiving.  As she and I discussed what we would do to celebrate the holiday, she insisted that she wanted to cook.  I wasn't going to argue with that.

Thanksgiving has not been a happy holiday for several years.  It has been a trying time for Amy in particular as she has gone through a difficult divorce while she was also coping with the loss of her very best friend and sister, Julie.  Amy and Julie were practically inseparable since their earliest days.  Julie was born just two years after Amy.  They lived within just a few miles of each other for the past ten years.  They even worked at the same place until just before Julie died.  There was not a day that went by where they did not text, talk, or see each other.  I don't know how Amy has carried on, but carry on she has.

I'm so grateful Amy and I had Thanksgiving at her  house.  That house is filled with so many memories.  I barely can write as I think of all the birthdays, Mother's Days, Easters, and Christmas celebrations that we have had at Amy's.  Julie is also front in center in every one of those memories.  She figured very large in every event that Amy every hosted.  So, even though it was hard, so hard, it was a blessing to have Thanksgiving at Amy's.  It also made it a bit easier because Thanksgiving had never been at Amy's before, so there were no memories of Julie being there on Thanksgiving.

The Details

Amy is always so thoughtful.  Whenever I have a dinner at my house, she always brings a bouquet for the table.  I nearly forgot to do the same for her.  
Then, I saw this turkey vase with a fall flower arrangement.
I thought how perfect it would be for her to have this little gift as a reminder of the first 
Thanksgiving feast that ever she cooked.

Hannah is making sure the table is set just right.

The turkey was cooked to perfection.
It was so moist.
Truly, Amy did an excellent job.

She even had to learn how to carve the turkey.

We laughed when Amy heard herself say, "You kids stop eating the vegetables" while they patiently waited for dinner to be done.

Mason was ready to eat, but he agreed to a few photos.

Mom and daughter
My beautiful daughter of whom I am so proud.

 Mason and Hannah, two of beautiful grandchildren, are two of the great blessings of my life.

Jason, Julie's boyfriend, and our dear family friend, joined us for his second 
Thanksgiving meal of the day. 

Mason gave a thumbs up to his mother's cooking.  He said she did an excellent job.
She did.

After dinner, we started a marathon game of poker.  Jason helped Hannah because it was her first time at playing the game.  After just a few hands, she was on her own and winning.  This girl was good!  Grandma was defeated early in the game.  
The game went on for what seemed a lifetime.
I finally went to bed.
I heard Mason won and the game was finally over at sometime after midnight.

Amy will close on her house in the next few weeks.  She will be leaving the only house Hannah has ever lived in.  It will be hard to leave this place.  It has been the family gathering place for all of us many times.  It was where Amy spent many hours with Julie.  Every room is filled with so many memories.  I know how hard it will be for Amy to say good-bye to this place.  Hold her in your heart as she moves forward.

We truly are grateful that Thanksgiving was celebrated well this year.  We had good food, good company, played some fun games, and made great memories.    It also marked an ending and a new beginning.  Life is full of both, and it seems that every ending brings it share of sadness, but this sadness is tempered with great hope for the new beginnings that follow.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Thoughts

We are scattered this year.  I try not to think that we are scattered across the countryside like the dry leaves that cover the ground, yet, in some ways, that is how this Thanksgiving celebration feels to me.  Parts of me are scattered all over the place this year at Thanksgiving.  
In my heart, I gather all of my dear ones into a big pile.   I think of how wonderful it would be to have all those people I love most together in one place at the same time.  I imagine how colorful, interesting, comforting, and fun that pile of people would be.  
I  see all of my children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, my siblings, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my parents, even my grandparents in the glorious pile of people I would love to have surrounding me this Thanksgiving.  
Time and space makes that vision in my mind impossible.  This does not stop me from remembering each one and for being grateful that I shared other Thanksgivings with them.  I treasure the memories.  
This year, I am in Erie with my daughter Amy and her two children, Mason and Hannah.  Jason, Julie’s boyfriend, will join us later.  Jim is in Colorado Springs with his daughters and grandchildren.  Boston is at boot camp with the dog trainer we hired.  Two of my children and four of my grandchildren are Utah.  One son and his family are in the Boston area.  My 95 year old mother is with friends in Grand Junction.  We are truly scattered across the country and the state this year.  
As a family, we suffered many losses in the past year and a half.  Our lives have been changed in many ways.  We have experienced the truth in a quote from a dear friend of mine who is also the facilitator for my grief support group. We have had a year full of both “tears and laughter,” and I think we have learned this truth:  both are  “such defining experiences for we are truly human in the combination of both...”
It is good to have a day when I can stop and remember my many blessings as I move forward in life.  It is also good to remember, to shed a few tears, to laugh, to dance with my daughter, grandson, and granddaughter.  I’m enjoying watching my daughter Amy prepare her very first Thanksgiving feast.  She wants no help from me.  That is a good thing.  I love her independence and ability to take on life and all that it throws her way and keep on smiling.  I love that in all of my children.  I learn so much from them.
 I am learning how to integrate the past with the present, pain with joy, loss with abundance.   I am learning that life is truly a combination of both laughter and tears.  I am learning to accept the human condition and experience.  For all of this, I am grateful that I have learned I can give thanks.
I hope all of my blogging friends know you are great blessings in my life.  I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How I Fill My Days

Gone are quiet mornings that began whenever my husband I felt like getting out of bed.  Gone are the days when we leisurely read the paper, slowly sipped coffee, and ate breakfast when we got around to it.  Gone are the mornings when we had no schedule.  Things have changed, big time, since Boston, our 13 week old puppy became a member of the household.

These days, we are up, out of bed,  and down the stairs at the sound of the first yelp that emits from our puppy's mouth at about 6:30 every morning.  He lets us know, in no uncertain terms, that he is awake, tired of being in his kennel, and ready to get outside to do his business.

We have a schedule these days, and it is a demanding one.  It has been set by an equally demanding little creature who is challenging us on who will really run the household.

Early in the morning, we are now out walking the dog.  If you see me, be forewarned, my appearance may appear unkept.  As I walk the neighborhood in weird outfits that I throw on when I get out of bed, I remind myself of a quote by Barbara Ueland, "If I did not wear torn pants, orthopedic shoes, frantic disheveled hair, that is to say, if I did not tone down my beauty, people would go mad.  Married men would run amuck."

The truth is, I look this way because I am a bit frazzled these days.  I walk the dog several times a day.  In between walks, I am trying to keep Boston's puppy mouth full of toys rather than then having him chew on my expensive furniture.  I am mopping up the floor.  I am feeling like the mother of a very active toddler.  I am busy.  I am tired.

A former colleague asked me today why I felt the need to take on a 15 year commitment at this point in my life.  I guess no one had put it that way before.  We have taken on a 15 year commitment by getting a new dog.  That is a long time.  My husband and I will be really old in 15 years.  I hope we both live 15 more years.  I hope the dog lives 15 more years.

For now, my husband and I are filling our days by caring for a new puppy.  We know we are the ones who are benefitting from taking these twice daily walks.  We comment about how we certainly would not be out walking if it were not for the dog.  We are filling up our days with new duties, new experiences, and at times we wonder if we were crazy to take on a task like training a new puppy when we were getting quite settled into a quiet retirement schedule.  Wish us well.  We need it!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Thank You, A Blog Link, and A Review

A Thank You from Keicha:

It seems so strange to feel such love and support from people I've never met. Thanks to each of you for all of your very kind and encouraging words. I don't feel strong, or brave, mostly what I feel is that I just want my sister back. I know that will never happen, so the next best thing I can do is hopefully prevent someone from ever having to go through such a horrific loss.

Thank you again for your constant support and feedback. It really does help.

A Blog Link:

I am attaching a link to my daughter's blog.  When Keicha was a child, whenever she would misbehave, which was quite rare, her punishment was that she had to put down her book and go outside and play.  Books have always been her passion.  

Having read prolifically since her earliest days, it is no wonder that she is such a wonderful writer.  I am quite proud of her ability to express herself so well with her writing.  I am sorry that she must write about the hard topics of grief and loss, but I am grateful she can use her gift of writing to examine these topics.  I know that her heart hopes that her writing helps others just as she has benefited from the writings of others.

The link to her blog is below:

A Review:

I hope to create a new topic for my blog which features books I have read about loss, grief, and the difficult subject of suicide.  Reading and writing have been an important part of my journey through grief.  Perhaps, the books I have read will also benefit others.

Blue NightsBlue Nights by Joan Didion
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is difficult to write a review about this book because I can't be objective.  I can't be objective because as I read this book, I felt as if I were reading my own thoughts, questions, sorrows, regret, memories, and psychological battles.  I lost my daughter a year and a half ago.  That is why I felt as if I were reading my own story.

I wanted Joan Didion to tie up the loose ends of grief for me.  I wanted her to give my some answers on how she coped with her loss.  I wanted to know that she was doing just fine.  I knew I wouldn't find these answers, but in my own denial about my own daughter's death, I hoped that just possibly she had been able to accomplish something I could not.

Joan forced me to confront some memories of Julie that I had buried in a place in my mind I could not visit.  While I did not want to lose what little I had left of my daughter, the memories of her alive and well, I wished not to really see her either.  Seeing her made her loss more unbearable.

I wept so many times in this book.  I wept for Joan, for Quintana, for Julie, for me.  I wept because so many memories were very much alive.  I saw them as if I were first seeing the smile that swept across my daughter's face the first time I held her after her birth.  I vividly remembered how her eyes locked in on mine and she held my gaze when she was just hours old.  I visited those memories, and my heart broke all over again.  I went over the details of the memory in my mind.  I saw her hair, smelled it, held it in my hands, but only in my memory.  I allowed myself to do this as I read this book.

I read some of this book while sitting in a cold doctor's office, just as Joan Didion described.  I had to close the book and put it away because I started weeping nearly uncontrollably.  I have been in that same place as she was in.  In fact, I was in that place.  I have experienced the psychological and physical toll that such a death takes on the mother who survives.

Joan Didion does not resolve anything in this book.  There is no resolution.  How can there be when a mother loses a child?

View all my reviews

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sense of Humor

One of the things that I love about my husband is his sense of humor.

A Short Story to Illustrate A Point:

A few weeks ago, my husband I purchased a new washer and dryer at Lowe's.  The purchase was sweetened by some good discounts.  Today, my husband noticed there was a sale on the brand of washers that we purchased, but the model on sale was actually an upgrade from what we had purchased.

I guess the knowledge of a better deal has been on his mind today. At dinner he mentioned he would really like to go see the upgraded washer that is currently on sale.

Immediately, the phrase "cognitive dissonance," popped into my mind.  "He is trying to reduce the dissonance he was feeling because he thought he had missed out on getting a better deal on a new washer by buying too soon," I thought.  I know I can expect this response nearly every time we make a large purchase.  Some may describe the feelings he experiences as buyer's remorse.  

Feeling a bit flirty and feisty, I asked him a question.

Me:   "Did you have to practice cognitive dissonance after you married me?"

Jim:  "No, there wasn't a sale."

Gotta love that sense of humor!

Our Wedding Day
Surrounded by our children and their spouses
The groom is holding his first grandchild.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sharing An Article by My Daugther

Keicha & Julie

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
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: