Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Moving from Mourning to Joy

Committing to the Journey
Pressing On

Commit to the journey, long or short, that leads back to living life.

This sentence found on page 57 of the book, Through a Season of Grief, published by GriefShare may or may not have spoken to me when I first read it.  Placed at the beginning of the book, under the title Healthy Grieving:  Step Five, I am sure that as I read this statement, I assented to it intellectually.  I doubt that I was unable to process it fully emotionally.  I think I must have appreciated reading it because at the time, early in my reading of this wonderful book full of devotions for those in grief, I needed to believe that I would someday be able to go back to living life.  I needed to know that while the grief journey may be long, it would take me to a place of healing, hope, and health.

Along the way on this journey, I have learned some simple truths.  I learned that I must accept that I was on a journey.  As with all journeys in life, I had to accept that I would not know what lay ahead of me as I made my way down the path of recovery after a terrible loss.  I did not know the hills I would face, nor would I know how difficult the valleys could be.  Thankfully, long ago in my life, I had come to believe that life is best lived one day at a time.  I did not know that on this grief journey that I suddenly found myself on, I would at times only be able to live moment to moment.

How does one press on with such a journey the newly bereaved may ask?  I only can answer this question by thinking about my own journey and noting those things that have most helped me press on.

The Need to Memorialize a Life

In my first journal entry after my daughter's death, I wrote about a beautiful wreath that had been sent by her employers.  I wrote how the color choices gave me such comfort because they were beautiful and bright, just like Julie.  Orange roses were in the arrangement.  I wrote, What could be a better choice for Julie?  The orange roses were surrounded by red gerbera daises with yellow lilies to balance the reds and oranges.  I also wrote, I've tried to make sense of why the hints of Amy's wedding bouquet in this arrangement seem oddly sensible, appropriate, and right in the irony of being selected as a floral tribute to Julie at her death.  The wild profusion of asparagus fern and the several shades of purple delphiniums intertwined with a touch of ivy seem so right in the ability to comfort me because Julie and Amy are so intertwined, so bonded, so close, why wouldn't I link these flowers with both of them for the rest of my life?
Julie on Amy's lap
Being silly at Mom's house

I then went on to write how Jon, my youngest son, would be coming to my home in a few days to begin work on the Julie Christiansen Memorial Garden he wanted to build.  I began plans for the flowers I wanted in the garden.  I also spoke of wanting some sort of structure.  I wrote, I will bring beauty out of this loss.

More than needing to plant a garden, I now know that I needed to memorialize my daughter's life.  I want her remembered as a beautiful, bright, vibrant, loving, funny, gifted individual because that summarizes the essence of Julie to me.  She would want me to remember her alive.  She would not want me to stop living because of her death.

In small ways, I try to memorialize her life.  I did begin the garden.  Jon did most of the work on getting it started by building a small patio.  We planted a tree, a Newport plum because it blooms near the date of both her birth and her death.  The purple leaves remind me of her.  I hoped that the garden would have a sense of permanence to it.  I hoped it would be healing to my children and grandchildren as they visited my home.

At the time of Julie's death, I could not foresee that in just a few short years we would decide to sell this home and move.  I could not foresee that my health would suffer, and I would be limited on my ability to plant the garden I wished to plant.  I could not foresee that draught would hit our area this year and that we would have over a week straight of days over 100 degrees.  Twice, during that week, temperatures would reach 113 in our backyard.  These conditions are not conducive to growing the garden I envisioned.

In May, I purchased a kinetic wind sculpture for Julie's garden.  It arrived on July 5, just in time for Jonathan to erect it while he was home for a short visit from his home in Boston.  On July 6, he and his wife Samantha, who has helped Jon with so many projects that he has completed in beautifying my yard, and their son Atticus visited and erected the wind sculpture that I bought as a memorial to Julie.  We may be leaving the garden behind, but the sculpture can go with us.  

Jon and Sam read the directions

This part is engraved with
"Into the freedom of the wind and the sun we let you go."
In memory of
Julie Ann Christiansen

Atticus with new sculpture

Jon and Atticus

Jon and Sally
We took a few minutes to reflect and visit on the patio that Jon built.

Jon on the patio he built
As this photo indicates, we have had a long, hot, dry summer in our area.  Not only did I choose not to plant the garden because we are trying to sell the house, but those flowers that were planted are struggling to survive no matter how much water I give them.  The beds in front of the garden were filled with annuals that I placed out early.  They promptly died due to heat and bugs.  I have never had a hard time growing a lush annual bed in this area.    The clematis is usually full of blossoms this time of year, and the delphiniums that now struggle to live are usually blooming in late June and early July.  It has been a rough year for flowers in Southern Colorado.

This also could be a metaphor for the grief journey.  At times, the journey is dry and does not produce much beauty.  During these times, one must hang on to hope.  I have no doubt that those flowers that bloomed in beauty last year, will do so again with the right conditions.
Mom & Son time 

 Living Life

There are few things in this life that bring me greater joy than my children and grandchildren.  My life is dedicated to the four children I have who remain and to the seven grandchildren that I have.  They are what motivate me to keep on living life as fully as I can.  I do not want to be stuck in grief.  I do not want to miss out on watching them grow and enjoy life.  I want to see all of us heal and live lives full of meaning and joy.  That is one of the great motivators along the grief journey.

Three days after Julie died, we lost our beloved Buster.  I could not even believe it when we suddenly had to put down our dear golden retriever just days after losing a child.  Last fall, we got Boston, our new golden retriever pup.  Atticus had never met Boston before.  The day we erected the wind structure was the first day that the two of them were able to play and bond.  Atticus immediately went to work trying to train Boston.  This is no easy feat.  Boston responded with great obedience.  I think he really wanted to make sure he could count on Atticus to be his great buddy.  I was actually quite amazed at how well Boston, our problem child who has challenged us so greatly in his training, took to Atticus and immediately began to follow his commands.
Atticus rewards Boston for bringing him the ball

Playing soccer together

I think these two will be great friends over the years.

Add caption
I've read in some of the grief books that one should get a pet after the loss of a loved one.  I think this is good advice.  I know that as I look at this beautiful photo of my youngest grandchild and our new pup, I feel great joy.  Moments such as these are what I call spots of grace.  I am flooded with peace at such times.  The soul learns to rejoice and give thanks for such a grace that has allowed me to heal and again live with a heart full of joy.



  1. Having a pet to care for sounds like a wonderful idea.

    Your dog is a puppy? He looks pretty big already. I love your mother and son photo. It makes me wonder where my son is tonight. Sigh... I hope he's safe.

    I love your wind sculpture. It is such a beautiful memorial for Julie. She would have loved it.

  2. I read your blog, I couldn't help but cry...even though I know that you are moving from mourning to joy. My tears are a mixture of a Mother and Grandmother myself I feel within me the grief and also feel the love you have to share with your children and grandchildren.
    I know that the memorializing of Julie is an important part of the healing process. Know that I am thinking of you and wish you nothing but the best as you continue your journey, my friend.
    Hugs and love,

  3. Another beautifully written piece my friend about how you are trying to cope following the death of your much loved Julie. That wind sculpture is beautiful, and it will be good that you can take it with you to your new home and, hopefully, the weather will be better for you to create another garden. Atticus - what a lovely and unusual name and, my goodness Sally, I can certainly see you in that smile of his! I loved your last sentence, and it is wonderful how the soul can, indeed, learn to rejoice again. I continue to pray for the healing of you and all the family, and I hope that you will find many many spots of grace in the times ahead. Sending blessings your way.

  4. The drought has been so tough on the entire lower half of the United States, and your yard shows the effects very well. I have seen that same wind sculpture in Linda's yard; it is very beautiful indeed and inspires thoughts of love and freedom to me.

    You are often in my thoughts, and I am so glad that you are continuing to heal through your loss of Julie. Sending you hugs and gratitude for your post.

  5. Thank you for sharing about your long hard journey. We are at the start of one in our family after losing our precious niece in May. I am thankful life unfolds one day at a time. That we don't see into the future that might rob us of the joy today. Thinking of you.

  6. I don't have the words to tell you how greatly this post touched me at so many levels. The best I can do is to sat "Thank you" for this and previous posts you have generously and eloquently shared during your journey after Julie's death. Your courage and the thoroughness with which you faced such grief, unimaginable to one who has not walked in your shoes, has brought me practical strategies for healing, comfort, inspiration and ,yes, "spots of grace." Thank you my friend and God bless.

  7. I love the picture of Julie on Amy's lap. Those silly moments are something I'll never stop yearning for.

    Aren't we lucky to have our fur children? Having my two dogs to love and nurture has helped me heal in ways I would never have imagined.

    I love you mom!

  8. I have tears on my cheeks after reading this. You have written such a beautiful blog remembering your daughter. Bless you!

  9. I was so moved by this post -- both by the progress you've gained in your journey with grief and by the beautiful insights you've gained through so much pain. How wonderful that you have found so much to live for and have found comfort in remembering Julie in such special ways, assisted by your loving family. The picture of Atticus and Boston is the best -- a sign of new beginnings and such hope for the future.

  10. This entry moves me deeply. Your writings of Julie are truly her memorial to pass down to family and friends. You are a dear.

  11. We too have suffered from blistering heat that has destroyed many plants. However, with the recent rains, the recovery has been amazing to say the least. Nature and we humans are very resilient. You have come quite a ways and I hope you eventually find peace.
    Loved the shot of Atticus and Boston. Pets do feel our pain and do their best to bring comfort or at the least, distraction.

  12. I never fail to appreciate how you "Commit to the journey, long or short, that leads back to living life" in every post you write, Sally. Your faith and belief in the goodness of living, despite the pain of living, is heartfelt and honoring. I think we all feel honored by your honest reflections and open willingness to share your experiences and what you learn from them.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely memorial to Julie and her life.

  13. Your grief and your joy intermingle in a way that living a full life tends to do. There will always be a tender spot left by Julie's death, I am sure, but you also have so much loving wealth in the whole family. I am glad you embrace the bitter and the gold.

  14. Grief is a process for sure.... I think one of the best ways to get through that 'journey' is by doing what you are doing---writing down your feelings and thoughts and emotions---whether they are good or bad... Just get it out!!!!!

    I have another blog friend who lost her husband a year ago--and she had blogged her way through all of this pain. Like you, she is doing fine ---even though there will always be good and bad--along with happy and sad days...

    I'm proud of you, Sally... Things will continue to get better once you get the house sold and can move on in your new home..

    God Bless You.

  15. Thank you so much for this amazing post. NOthing bad has yet happened to my immediate family, but with every baby born, every car journey, every illness, I worry that one of them will be taken away. I shall treasure your post always and keep a copy in a special place. You can't know how many people you have helped by sharing.

  16. Dear Sally, this inspirational posting is a testament to your fortitude and your great love of life. And I believe from what you have written that one of the reasons you have journeyed forth from Julie's death and embraced life again is that by doing so you honor and memorialize her. May those moments of grace fill you will a deep and abiding joy. Peace.

  17. I love your blog, your grief over the loss of your daugher Julie is something that all can learn from, we lost 2 pets on a 7day period one on the 9th of july sophie and our prince bailey on the 16th both here for almost 20 years, my grief is something else..reading your blog has helped me a great great deal..Love the memorial you had made and you did yourself also is wonderful..unfortunately we have 2 cats still who we know will not live forever, but your blog has helped in my overwhelming grief and the heat here is just horrible humidity like no tomorrow, not like colorfoul Colorado where we lived for nearly 10 years, I loved it so much and so did my hubby, our only child born there on one of the hottest november days they ever recorded as a result she is one of the happiest people most people ever meet..Keep up the great work on your journey, it is hard from your blog readings, I am taking lots of time off from work and not to work as much, going to a tiny beach and tiny beach house with childhood friends with hubby and regroup..peace to you sweet lady, you are a courageous beautiful human being and your daughter who we never met was a beautiful beautiful woman..pax!

  18. Hi Sally,

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. I was struck by how we can make plans, like you did for your new garden, but then how things turn them around, like health and weather. The memorial sculpture is a wonderful. I enjoyed meeting more of your family on here today.

    Kathy M.

  19. Whew I read the whole thing. I too have lost some dear people and did some Good Grief programs. Not my child which I think would be the hardest.

    But I recognize the road and where you are.

    I know that new life - grandchildren and pets are a great thing. And your other children are hurting too. So being there for them is great too.

    I am sorry for your pain.


  20. We could use a little less rain and a little more heat. Still, I'm sorry for the miserable weather elsewhere.

    I love your new memorial to your Julie!

  21. You are blessed and it's good that you are moving on towards living and celebrating those you love .

  22. It is a lifetime road and experience for sure. Big and little bumps along the way. This summers little bumps here were a dead computer and numbers visits to the Mayo Clinic for a recurrence of my A Fib and then a new wrinkle called spasmadic torticollis. After dealing with all that we chose to visit our favorite mountain hikeing and flyfishing venues in southwestern Montana. When my eldest son was still alive we often went there during summer vacation to flyfish. It had been fifteen years since I was able to go back to those special places We went back. Had a good time. One more small step.....

  23. Oh, Sally. This post made me feel such a quiet joy, and such gratitude for your presence in my life. You wrote this on my daughter's birthday - it would have been her 42nd, and so my own grieving path has developed some pretty big potholes this month. I agree with all you've said here, and am inspired by your journey.

    I also laughed at your description of Boston. He sounds so much like our Toby, who has been my constant and comforting companion through my grief.

    Blessings to you as you move forward in life, and into a new home. I know that sculpture will be a perfect addition where ever you go.

  24. I love this post. I love that you are finding these spots of grace and chose life.
    When my Brother-in-law was killed, his father shut down in grief. It has been six years and he has not been the same nor there for his other children and grandchildren.We are surrounded by the living who want to comfort us and help us go on. I am so glad you have that in your life.

  25. Sally, this is such a deeply thoughtful and rich post. I can see such wisdom in your words and they are so eloquently expressed. I am so grateful that you have found a way to move part of your garden, your beautiful sculpture, to your new home. And yes, you are right about the hope of another year and the dry, difficult times versus those of lush fullness. I am glad, so very glad you have found the point where you can accept the challenges because you know there are joys to come in another part of your world.

    I love the photo of Atticus and Boston. It just makes me smile.

  26. Very moving post.

    (Would you like some nice Scottish rain? I'll swap you for some heat... not too much...)

  27. You have written such a beautiful post – so moving. I also loved the words chosen to be engraved into the wind sculpture. Grief is so personal and I am happy that you shared what has helped you on your journey.

  28. Sally - You've shared your heart so beautifully in this post. I have no other comment other than to say, 'Thank you,' for allowing me to follow your journey and celebrate in spirit your newfound joys as you remember your sweet Julie.

  29. What a gorgeous sculpture. The inscription on it is so lovingly beautiful. It is so great that you are able to take it with you. Boston is just beautiful and the picture with your Grandchild is proof that they both indeed have become fast friends.
    Blessings, Joanne


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