"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau



Thursday, August 18, 2011

Milestones


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.  

15 comments:

  1. Keicha,

    Thank you for writing this. My heart is breaking as I read this beautifully written, heartfelt, honest account of the pain and suffering that has been a part of the aftermath of Julie's death.

    Just today, I happened to be looking at photo's from the committal/memorial service we held for Julie in May. I say absolute grief written on the faces of my children and grandchildren that day. I noticed that every single one of us had the same look on our faces. That alone broke my heart all over again.

    You are wise when you say that we all must be vigilant for signs of depression and its possible devastating results on the lives of those who suffer from it. We must especially be vigilant within our own family. We did lose our innocence as a family. Hopefully, we will not be naive.

    I love you. XO

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  2. I'm a blogging friend of your mom's. I just want to say to you that, while I know your pain is deep, it makes me sigh with relief that you recognize, acknowledge, and own your feelings, even anger. So often people hide the anger, and at the same time, hide from it. I find your expressed feelings very understandable and normal. It will take you a long time, I'm sure, but don't avoid being honest about it. I admire your strength and your love for your sister and the children, too.

    I'll hold you in my heart.

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  3. Like Lynilu above, I am a blogging friend of your mom's, Keicha.

    As someone who has struggled until the past two years with the possibility of suicide, I want to affirm all you are saying about anger and grief. I also applaud you for your resolute decision to help Gillian realize that she is not her aunt.

    Your words touched me deeply especially your understanding of how desperate Julie must have become. With deep depression--whether it is part of bipolarity or clinical or cyclical--we frequently become like ice within.

    We lose touch with our feelings. They exist almost outside us. We can play the roles we always played, but we feel nothing. I remember all this well. And I know that when I wrote a note to my father I was thinking of nothing but getting away from myself through death. I could no longer stand myself. All that is different now, but the memory remains of how I would have hurt him if I'd followed through on my plan.

    As Lynilu said, "I'll hold you" and your mother and your families "in my heart."

    There is a poem by Emily Dickinson called "After Great Pain a Formal Feeling Comes." That poem is what you are living now.

    Thank you for your honesty and for sharing your grief and frustration and your dawning realization of what has happened.

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  4. I also am a blogging friend of your mom's, and I have been following her journey through the pain and anguish of her (and your) loss. Every picture I have seen of your sister shows a sweet and joyful person, but through your words, and your mom's, I realize that terrible depression Julie dealt with was something I will never understand. I am so sorry for your loss, and I am glad you are sharing your feelings with such grace and honesty. Blessings, Keicha.

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  5. I've also followed the story of your family in your mom's blog. I am so sorry for your loss and for the challenge you face in dealing with your grief. You are blessed to have such a caring, loving family. Thanks for sharing your story and helping us understand more about depression. My son had a serious episode with depression two years ago and we were fortunate that medication helped him find level gound again.

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  6. This is a heart-wrenching post. My cousin's husband took his life earlier this year, making my cousin a widow at the age of 30 who must now raise their daughter alone. And their daughter is wheelchair-bound with cerebral palsy. So I know somewhat where you are coming from. Best of luck coping with your grief.

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  7. I am so sorry for your loss and for the pain your children are going through. I can't imagine how difficult it is to explain to kids this horrible reality when it is difficult for grown ups to understand it.I follow you Mom's blog and I can tell you are all such a wonderful loving family. This was such heart felt honest post. I know you have helped others who have suffered a loss like your family has , or better yet this may have stopped someone from taking this path.
    Blessings, Joanne

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  8. I, too, am a blogging friend of your mom, and I have been very moved by what she has written about Julie's death. This beautifully written and powerful post deepens my understanding of the impact of a death like Julie's. I wish your family all the best as you continue to move forward and find the beauty and peace you seek.

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  9. Keicha, As with many others, I've become a blogging friend of your mom, and only recently discovered we had something sadly in common. My son took his life at the age of 30, almost six years ago. My daughters, his sisters, lost their only brother. Your post reminded me so much of the many times I've mentioned to my youngest how much she reminded me of her brother. Not so surprisingly, about two years after he died, she began telling me she wished she was dead. Thankfully, lots of prayer and a solid counselor saved her from herself.

    Your post meant so much to me. I've learned over the years of grief myself, that it is the connections with others that helps me heal, and helps me move on. But there is a hole in our lives, as I know you understand. My heartfelt wish is for you and your family to be grateful for time spent with Julie, and to forgive her.

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  10. I came over form your mum's blog and was going to just look and quietly steal away. However, after reading your post, I felt I couldn't do this without leaving a comment.

    I too, lost my closest friend to suicide many years ago. Anger was all part of the process of grieving. I did feel strong anger that she'd left us all, including her beautiful young girls.
    I also felt guilt because I hadn't managed to stop her doing this awful thing.

    Thank you for writing about all the emotions that well up from a grieving person who has lost someone to suicide. I think suicide is perhaps worse than an ordinary death (I might be wrong about this) but it does make you feel you've been deliberately abandoned.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

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  11. Sadly we usually miss the moment when their depresion is too much . Along with grief we need to learn to recognize when those near us are so down and get them to help to prevent the act of self desruction. Your grief is probably harder just because of not having been able to stop her and that must be the wort feeling. Many of us know of a person who gave up. We all need to learn more about ways to prevent this. While you voice your pain you also speak of the need to prevent it in others. What can be done and how? Have you found out? One of the commentators mentions she survived and is glad . Hope she shares how she did overcome. We could all benefit.

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  12. Keicha, I come from your Mom's blog, and I'm so glad I did. I deeply admire your honesty in being able to speak with such love and honesty about your feelings -- it's something I admire about Sally, too. To be able to do so is difficult, but so very healthy and in its way and in its time, healing. Thank you for allowing us to see this courage. You set a fine example, though I know that's not what you intend. Nonetheless, we can all learn from what you have experienced in such a raw and difficult way. Much caring to you.

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  13. Your mom's and your sharing here helps those who are going through grief right now. Thank you for bearing your soul, for showing that healing takes time.

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  14. Peace be with you and your family. Life can be very hard. I am among your mom's cyberfriends and her journey. God bless you.

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