Back to school time always make me nostalgic, probably because it reminds me how quickly time goes by. Last year, and again this year, seeing kids head back to school also reminded me of the great void Julie’s death left in our family. Today was the first day of 4th grade for my niece Hannah. Next week my daughter starts junior high. For her nieces and nephews, the first day back to school after summer break always meant a call from Aunt Julie. She wanted to hear every detail about their day and took genuine pleasure in hearing about their experiences. It was just one of the many ways she stayed connected to them, always remembering and acknowledging milestones in their lives.
|Julie with her nieces and nephews.|
Julie was much more than just an aunt to Parker, Regan, Bridger, Gillian, Mason, Hannah and Atticus. She had a special, unique relationship with each one of them. She was able to tap into the unique characteristics of each of their personalities. She forged a bond with them as individuals, not just as her brother’s and sister’s children. She welcomed each of them into her life completely. I have vivid memories of her cuddling each of them as newborns, and playing on the floor with them when they were babies. One of my most cherished memories is standing by her side, holding hands and shedding tears of joy as we watched our sister give birth to Hannah.
My own daughter shares many similarities with Julie. So many, in fact, that Julie referred to Gillian as her Mini Me. Just like her aunt when she was young, Gillian sports curly hair and glasses. Their temperaments are also similar. A happy, giddy mood can change to dark moodiness in an instant. While I once found this charming, now I fearfully watch Gillian for signs of the manic depression that overtook Julie when she was still in high school. After Julie’s death, a therapist recommended that I take special care to point out to Gillian that she isn’t destined to be like her aunt. Where once her identification with Julie was positive, now I must make a point of making sure she understands she’s very much her own person, not just a mini version of her aunt.
Losing my sister was, and continues to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever dealt with. One of the things I struggle with the most is my anger at her. Someday I hope to forgive her for all that she took away from everyone that loved her, but I’m not there yet. The pain she caused my daughter and all of her nieces and nephews is the one thing that holds me back from complete forgiveness, acceptance and understanding. Because of her, all of the children in our family were robbed of a certain level of innocence. Telling them that their beloved Aunt Julie was dead meant also having to explain suicide—what it means and why people do it. How does a parent explain to a young child what clinical depression means, and that the feelings of utter hopelessness it brings can compel a person to take their own life? I can only imagine how confusing it is to them as they only ever saw the happy, carefree, joyful side of Julie.
I chose not to see the brief note my sister wrote in her darkest hour, saying her final goodbyes to those she loved. I do know that in it she mentioned each of her nieces and nephews by name, calling them the loves of her life. This is what still brings me to tears, breaks my heart, and also fills me with anger. Only a very ill, depressed mind could say goodbye to little children, not knowing the level of pain and grief she’d be inflicting on them. This, more than anything else, illustrates to me exactly how desperate, alone and confused she must have felt. Otherwise, she never would have chosen to bequeath a legacy of suicide to the loves of her life.
Now, in addition to many other life lessons my siblings and I will teach our children as they grow, we will also teach them about depression, mental illness, and how the bi-polar disease Julie fought can sometimes lead to suicide. We won’t need to teach them how devastating suicide is to those left behind. They already know.
|Gillian & Regan at Julie's memorial|
Life goes on, but it has been forever altered. Our children are already becoming teenagers and soon they’ll be young adults. There will be many milestones and causes for celebration throughout all of their lives. Julie will be remembered and missed at every one of them.