After my sister died I inherited many of her things, including several household items. Having things that once were hers incorporated into my home makes me happy. I especially love using her KitchenAid mixer, measuring cups and spoons, and green milk glass salt & pepper shakers. The salt & pepper shakers were something I often jokingly threatened to carry off in my purse because I loved them so much. Using them now never fails to bring a smile to my face as I remember the many times she made me eggs and toast for breakfast.
At first I was conflicted about taking my sister’s things and making them mine. I was more than a little hesitant about having reminders of her around me. Would they stir up sad memories and remind me of my loss? I couldn’t imagine having anything in my life as a result of her death that I’d be grateful for. Certainly I never expected that from her death I’d gain a new circle of cherished friends.
Because Julie and I hadn’t lived together since I was 13 and she was 7, I knew very few of her friends. Except for a short time in her early twenties when she lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, we always lived in neighboring states.
|Sheridan & Julie - December 2009|
About five months before she died, Julie visited me in Utah for the Christmas holidays. During that visit we spent an evening out with a longtime friend of hers, Sheridan. The two of them had worked together when Julie lived in Salt Lake, and had also been roommates for a while. They’d been friends for over a decade, and Sheridan lives only about 25 miles from me, but somehow I’d never met her until that Christmas visit. The moment I met her I understood why she’d always been one of Julie’s treasured friends. In May, Julie was in Utah for another visit, and we again met up with Sheridan. I still vividly recall our goodbyes on a sidewalk in downtown Salt Lake that evening. There were smiles, hugs, and promises to see each other again soon.
Barely two weeks later, I was frantically trying to find a way to reach Sheridan by phone to tell her that Julie had died. It was a holiday weekend, and it took a day or two before she received my message. Even though I didn’t know her well, she had been such a good friend to Julie for so long I felt it was important that she was personally informed by someone in our family about Julie’s death.
The next week was a blur. Even now, many details of the awful tasks I took care of that week are fuzzy to me. The day of her viewing and funeral was surreal. So many friends of hers introduced themselves to me that day. I knew very few of them. After the service, I remember wondering to myself “What now?" The entire week before had been consumed with the many details and tasks that come with preparing for a funeral. Now the goodbyes had been said, and I felt very much at loose ends.
|Julie & friends - East High School Prom 1994|
Over the next few months we maintained contact via Facebook, mostly through public postings and comments on each other’s pages, but also through private messages. Of course, we bonded over our shared loss and love of Julie, but we also began to connect on other levels. Julie had many fantastic people in her life, and it was easy to see why she was friends with these women. Sharon, Leana, Keri, Joni, and many others are amazing women, people anyone would be lucky to have as friends.
In September, four months after Julie’s death, a large group of Julie’s family and friends participated in the Race Against Suicide, a suicide prevention fundraiser in Colorado. Leana and Sharon organized Team 808 for Jules, keeping everyone informed about details and designing shirts for the team. 808 is a reference to a silly moment in a car when Julie was in high school and noticed the time 808 on a digital clock looks like BOB. Bob was her all-purpose name for her future dream man. Seeing 808 on a clock was like sharing a private, inside joke--a reminder that her Bob was out there somewhere.
|Sharon, Leana, Amy, Me, Sheridan|
That race weekend further cemented the connection between all of us. Sheridan, who hadn’t been able to be at Julie’s funeral, flew to Colorado with me and joined us for the race. In fact, she showed us all up that day, taking first in her age division. We laughed, joked and talked with each other like we’d been friends for years. There were some tears, but the laughter and fun outweighed any sadness that weekend.
A year after Julie’s death, we were all together again for a memorial service and the burial of Julie’s ashes. Once again, I was supported, comforted and loved by the same group of amazing women during an unbelievably emotional time. Many of us ran the Bolder Boulder 10k that weekend, an annual race held every Memorial Day in Boulder, Colorado. It’s fitting that we connect and honor Julie through running races, since that was one of Julie’s main passions in life.
My sister brought so much joy into my life. Losing her brought me unfathomable grief and pain. I didn’t think there could possibly be anything positive that would come from losing her. Gratitude just isn’t a word I thought I’d ever include in the list of many feelings her death caused me to experience. Yet, here I am, full of gratitude for the final gift she gave me--her friends, my friends, our friends.