Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Sunset in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Watching a brillant sun set in a sky filled with smoke from fires burning in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this past weekend brought thoughts of other sunsets I have remembered.
I remember watching the sunset just hours before my father died.  
It was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen.
As the sun settled behind his beloved view of the Monument, I could only think of the beauty that surrounded us as we said our sad good-byes.

I did not note the sunset on the night my daughter died.
I did not know that as the sun set on May 28th, 2010, 
my life would be forever changed when the sun rose on May 29, 2010.
On that day, my beloved Julie would leave this world at her own hand and pass on the next.

Thus began what would be "the dark night of the soul" for me.

One evening, as I sat writing in my journal, and reading, I had pondered the setting of sun on another day of grief.  My husband had sat nearby for days on end as I wrote, cried, and read. 
He allowed the time, and he gave me to support, to grieve the best way I knew how.
Wondering when and if this darkness would ever lift, I read these lines in A Grace Disguised, How the Soul Grows through Loss by Jerry Sittser:
...the quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise.

This spoke to me.
I knew it was truth.

Sittser also writes of his own experience of healing when he says,
I knew that running from the darkness would only lead to greater darkness later on.  I also knew that my soul had the capacity to grow - to absorb evil and good, to die and live again, to suffer abandonment and find God.  In choosing to face the night, I took my first steps toward the sunrise.

This past weekend, my husband and I met with my sister Suzanne and her husband John in Santa Fe, New Mexico to spend some time together for rest, relaxation, and to build relationships.
Suzanne and John were such supports to us when Julie died.
John conducted and preached her beautiful, sensitive, and healing memorial service.
All of us will always be grateful to him for that.  
It seemed only fitting that we would meet together two years later in a place that is so loved by me  and my husband, and one they had never explored before.

While we were there, I ran across some beautiful kinetic sculptures.
I had seen a similar sculpture that 
Linda at Linda Letters had placed in her garden as a memorial to her mother and uncle.
With our impending relocation, I knew I wanted to do a similar thing.  (Thank you, Linda for the idea.)
We found the perfect sculpture at Mark White Fine Art in Santa Fe.

It is called "Trancer"
It is currently being crafted for us and will be shipped to us in about a month.

Julie had a mythical perfect man.
His name is Bob.
When we see 8:08 on a digital clock, we are reminded of Julie and her Bob.

After I had made my selection with the help of the kindest man,
I asked for his name again.
"Bob," he replied.
The tears flowed.
I knew my choice was right.

Julie, I know how much you suffered in this life.
I also know that you brought great joy and happiness to so many who loved you.
There are so many who love and miss you.
You broke our hearts.
We will forever miss you,
but we also hope you are free of pain and suffering.

We will always remember our beloved Jules,
who made us smile, 
who brought us such joy.
You were like our own little sprite:
A small or elusive supernatural being; an elf or pixie.

I hope this kinetic sculpture will always remind us of all the good and lighthearted things you brought to our lives.
My beloved daughter, you have always been a blessing.

In loving memory of

Julie Ann Christiansen

April 8, 1976 - May 29, 2010

Into the freedom of wind and sunshine
We let you go
Into the dance of the stars and the planets
We let you go
Into the wind's breath and the hands of the star maker
We let you go
We love you, we miss you, we want you to be happy
Go safely, go dancing, go running home.

Ruth Burges

*Please go to my daughter Keicha's blog if you wish to see a beautiful photo tribute to Julie. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Springtime Flurry of Activity

Living in limbo is no fun.  We have listed out house to sell so we can move to a town forty miles north of us.  It is my hometown, so in some ways, I will be going home.  We have even found the house we want to buy and have put money on it in a contingency offer.  After making the decision to move, I found it hard to approach my garden in the same way as I usually do this time of year.

Certainly, there was much spring clean-up to do in preparation to putting the house on the market, so out I went with my trimmers, my shovel, and my weed digging tools.  Once I got started digging in the dirt, I didn't really want to stop.  Suddenly, I felt so much better than I had all winter.  I tell you, pulling weeds is good for the soul.

One thing led to another.  I really did have to transplant a few things.  I just couldn't let the flower beds remain so overgrown with perennials that need to be transplanted.  Then, there were the delphiniums.  I really had planted them in the wrong spot.  They always looked lovely in the spot I had chosen for them surrounding the birdbath, but the wind catches them and whips them about so that their tall stalks end up on the ground.  They really did need to be moved to a more protected spot in the yard.
Garden 2011

Once, the transplanting was done, I decided the beds needed some annuals.  Having some flowers in pots, and adding annuals to borders as I always do would only add to the "curb appeal" of the house.  Once I stepped into a nursery, it was all over.  I had to load up the car with plants to bring home and plant.  There is nothing more satisfying than spending a day digging in the dirt and planting annuals.  I also planted some more herbs and even a few tomato plants.
Black-eyed Susans
Garden 2011

Garden 2011
After all that flurry of activity of bending, digging, stretching, and lifting, I had to make a visit to the chiropractor, but my mental state is great.  My physical state is also great except for those places where I feel my age.

We have had a flurry of activity in showing our house also.  So far, there have been no offers.  How could anyone not just love this place?  I guess the right family for this house just haven't seen it yet.  I am hopeful, but I am not getting my hopes up in this economy.  This causes us to really feel like we are living in a state of being betwixt and between.
Garden 2011

I could not spent this spring in limbo.  I may be selling this place.  It is up for sale, but it is still my home.  I still live here.  I love sitting and looking at my flowers.  I haven't stopped making plans for what I want to plant where.  This makes it hard to move on to a new place in many ways, but I don't know when that will happen, so while I am here, I will continue to bloom where I am planted.
Pope John Paul II
Garden 2011
Don't you just love the rose above?  It truly is a beautiful rose.  You can read more about it by clicking on the name of rose.  It was a Mother's Day Gift a few years ago from my oldest son and his family.


I will be taking a short break from blogging.  
I will be back to blog land sometime next week.
Enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Leadville Colorado "On Top of the World"

Journal Cover
Moods & Memories
Code 2794
Current, Inc.


I am a Colorado Girl.I was raised at the foot of the beautiful Pikes Peak.I like to think it was the first thing I saw as I left the hospital after I was born.

Mountains, I loved them all of my life.

Memories of A Colorado Mountain Girl

I recently came across a journal I had started in my thirties. I remember buying the journal when I lived in Utah.  I saw the Colorado State Flower on the cover and I had to have the journal.  I missed my home state so much at the time.  

No one knew back in the 80's that the beautiful flower, the Columbine, would someday be linked to one of the worst school tragedies in history.  For me, at that time, the Columbine symbolized a time of innocence and of beauty as I would recall the many times I saw it growing wild in the mountain during my childhood and youth.  On the inside of this particular journal, I wrote, "Memories of Leadville, and of my youth."  In my heart, I still associate Columbines with innocence, but it is now more about lost innocence.  Yet despite the grief, shock, and pain that Columbines symbolize because of that fateful day at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999, I continue to love this flower and think of it also as a symbol of not only a day of innocence, but also as a symbol of hope for all that is good in youth.

Leadville ~ The Setting for My Youth

That Means I am a true mountain girl.  Anyone who has lived two miles high deserves that distinction.  Some of the best years of my life were lived in the shadow of Mt. Massive.  Living in Leadville, Colorado is an "On Top of the World Experience."

When I was just beginning my senior year in high school, my father moved us from the flatlands of Colorado, Pueblo, Colorado, to the rarified air of Leadville, Colorado.  I was heartbroken when he did this.  Little did I know how much Leadville would figure with such prominence when I recall the happiest times of my life.  

One of the first entries in my new journal was a recollection of my time spent as a young girl in Leadville.  I wrote:

This picture brings back memories of Leadville and the many pines out on the road toward Turquoise Lake.  It must have been February and we were decorating for a school dance - "Winter Wonderland."  We went out collecting pine branches & tumble weeds - the tumble weeds to be sprayed white and decorated with tiny lights.  We must have gone after school - it was cold! The world was white and glittery, the sky was black, clear, and starry as only a Leadville night can be.  I still remember crunchy footsteps in the snow and dragging branches and tumble weeds along the snow.  It was perfectly quiet except for this sound and the laughter from the excitement of being young and gathering natural decorations for a dance.  

I remember: the cold, my feet felt like they were frozen to the ground, the peaceful beauty that surrounded us, and the freedom of youth.  Also, I remember the power and the faith that I felt at that age.  

Nothing is more beautiful than a Colorado blue spruce being covered with soft, thumb nail size snow flakes in a light snow storm in early evening.  

February, 1963, I turned 18.  I wanted to stay there forever.  The future seemed bright.  The past was happy.  I had nothing to regret or sorrow about.  The present was perfect.  I was living in a small mountain town.  In fact, I was new in town, and everyone had been so friendly.  I was popular and had many friends who were fun and intelligent.  

The entire town was ours to roam. It had a colorful past, and it fascinated me.  There were old houses that were from the silver boom days.  Some of the sidewalks were still wooden.  The hardware shop, the barbershop, the church, the school were all functioning museums.  Up on the hills were abandoned mines.  At night we would go up there and tell ghost stories about them.  They were pretty scary too.

The scenery was out of this world...

For those of you who want to see a short video about the place that I called home, the place I love so dearly, the place that hold such wonderful memories, I have included this wonderful video.  I hope you take the time to watch it.  Enjoy.

If you ever get the chance, visit this wonderful mountain town.  You will love it.  By the way, I did work for the Chamber of Commerce in Leadville one summer while I was in college.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Mother's Day to My Mother

Happy Mother's Day to my mother.

She began life as an only child born to parents who were both 40 when she was born.

She grew up in the small mountain town of Woodland Park.
Her mother, a seamstress and a milliner made her beautiful clothes such as this hat and coat all throughout her life.

Mother with her pet hen
She had many adventures with her friends.

Mother and her friends on a camping trip

 When my mother graduated form high school, her mother made this dress and hat for the occasion.
Mother said it was made of dotted swiss.

My Mother on Graduation Day

Mother's Graduation Portrait
After my parents were married,
and after my father came home from World War II,
they bought a home in Colorado Springs.
This was my childhood home.

Easter Sunday
Daddy, Mother, holding Carol
Rell & Sally
Mother taught us much about life.
She taught us how to cook, clean, and sew.
She read to us.
She taught us to see the beauty of the world around us through an artist's eye
She played dolls with us, and I even remember her playing hopscotch with us.
She went fishing with our dad.
She planted gardens.
She even could help our dad remodel houses.
She was the one who did the painting because she was very particular about how a room was painted.
(She made the dress she is wearing below, and of course she made our nightgowns also.)
Mother reading to me and my sister
 My mother is a beautiful woman.
She has never lost her sense of style.
I see in the photo below that she has earrings on that she made one year.
I can faintly see the Christmas tree that she hand painted on ceramic before firing them in her little oven.

She only got more beautiful with age.

She is an expert gardener.  These blooms are nearly bigger than she is.

Mother is an artist.
Here is only one of her wonderful paintings.
It is of the Colorado Monument which you can see from her back porch.
This was my father's favorite view.  She painted this for him.

Mother continues to cook her own meals even to this day.

Six years ago, we as a family all gathered to celebrate her 90th birthday.
Here she is surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Mother is still going strong.
In the photo below, she and I are standing in a peach orchard near her home.
This photo was taken last summer when mother was 95.
She still lives on her own and is very involved in life.
Her blood pressure, pulse rate, and cholesterol are better than mine!
She will be 96 later this month.

She is a woman of great faith.
Her trust is in the Lord.
She is an inspiration to all who know her.
In the photo below, she is reading a scripture passage to her family on the occasion of her 90th birthday.

Happy Mother's Day, Mother.  
I am so blessed to have you in my life.

Friday, May 4, 2012

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
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

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Decisions Have Been Made

Several years ago, in a blog post entitled  "Moments of Clarity," I wrote, "I am where I need to be in my life, and I am living in the exact right place for this time in my life."  I had experienced one of those moments where with great clarity of thought I was able to express my acceptance of my present circumstances in life while also defining my vision for my retirement years.  Resolving in my own mind a struggle over where I wanted to live, I fully embraced the idea of living in Pueblo throughout my retirement years.

I listed the affirming thoughts that came to my mind as I began to formulate my reasons for living right were I was planted for long into the future.  Each delineation added to my clarity.

  • I knew the educational community.  I understood where it had been and where many hoped it was going.  I saw myself as remaining a viable part of that community.
  • My husband's roots in this community run deep.  He has spent nearly his entire life here.  They even named the street in front of his high school after him when he retired.
  • I had begun a garden.
  • I knew and accepted the climate here - the wind, the heat, the lack of water.  I wouldn't have to rethink a garden.
  •  I wouldn't have to acclimate to a new social or environmental climate.  
  • I had remodeled my home and had it just as I wanted it.
  • I was certain I would spend my time writing, "telling my story."
All of that was true and right at the time.  I'm glad I have that blog entry to remind me of that.

Now, much has changed.  Much of that which rang so true just a few short years ago no longer seems to apply.  Perhaps, this past five months have been defining months for the future that my husband and I hope to have together.  Life has changed our priorities.  

Since my husband's near heart attack in December, and since the fall I suffered in January, the home we have loved and worked so hard on to be the place where we would spend our retirement years suddenly seemed to no longer really fit our needs.  It is too large.  It has too many stairs.  The yard is too big.  The garden is more than we can handle.  

More than that, the setting for the story of our remaining years no longer seemed right all.  The children live too far away.  The doctors we consult are located in a town forty miles north of us.  Mostly, we realized that we needed to make some decision while we still could on where we would live that would make it easier not only on us, but also on our children.

And so, we decided to sell our dearly loved home and move to Colorado Springs.  The past few weeks have been filled with all kinds of emotions.  We have been on daily emotional roller coaster rides.  We are selling in a down market.  We are buying in a market that is much more expensive than where we live.  We could not decide exactly where to live in Colorado Springs.  I had pretty strong ideas, and of course the neighborhoods where I wanted to be were some of the most expensive with the fewest houses available.  Then, there was the decision over whether we should buy a town home, a patio home, or a 'stand alone' home.  

We actually had decided to forget the entire thing and wait a year to make any big moves until a chance phone call on Saturday.  My hair stylist in Colorado Springs called late Saturday morning to tell me she had found the house we were looking for in the exact neighborhood where I wanted to live.  By 4:00 that afternoon, we had made an offer on the house that perfectly fits what we wanted.  Our house went on the market on Monday afternoon.

Now, we just have to sell!  We can't really move without a sale on our house.  We are cautiously optimistic.  This home is a lovely family home.  I hope the right family who is looking for just the right place comes along soon.  

We are happy with our decision to move.  We know we are doing what is best for not only us, but also for our children.  One grandchild started to cry when she heard we are moving.  She said, "I love that house."  I know just how she feels.  I love this house too.  So many memories have been made here.  Another grandchild said, "But we will make new memories in a new house."  He is right.  That we will do.  

Easter 2010

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day

Once in the merry month of May, I was in London.  

Nearly twenty years ago now, I visited England while I was taking a class to earn credit towards a degree in English.  I treasure the memories of that time and of that trip.  One event stands out in my mind, and I recall it every May Day.

My professor, and a few of my fellow students and I went to Westminster Abbey.  I was so excited just to be there.  As we walked along the path heading toward this magnificent place, a group of young girls dressed in Victorian looking costumes caught my eye.  

Then I saw a Maypole.  

My memory took me back to the days of my own childhood when we learned to dance around a Maypole in elementary school.

I could scarcely believe that I was actually in England,
walking into Westminster Abbey,
where I caught sight of that long practiced tradition 
of dancing 'round the Maypole in London on the first day of May.

Even by the time my children were in school,
I think the old traditions associated with May Day had long since ceased to be practiced in the U.S.

I remembered with great nostalgia those days when we celebrated May Day by making baskets in school for the May flowers that we would gather to place inside the baskets to leave on a neighbor's doorstep.

Somehow, it just seemed right to gather a few posies together,
even if they were only dandelions,
place them in baskets,
sneak up to the neighbor's porch,
ring the doorbell,
and then
leave the flowers before we ran to hide.

I still remember hiding behind the big lilac tree, 
where we probably got the flowers, 
while we waited to catch sight of Mr. White, 
our neighbor two doors up, 
come to the door to answer the ring.
Seeing no one there,
he stooped down
to gather up the bouquet
 to give to his ancient mother.

I hope your May Day is one that was filled with flowers, 
or perhaps you took the chance to kick up your heels a bit.

From my house to your's,
I'm sending you all a "May Basket" of flowers.
It comes with my very best wishes to you and yours.