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: