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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Today marks three years since Julie died. I've thought of her so much lately and about what she meant to me and others. One word keeps coming to mind, beloved. The word describes perfectly what she meant to so many. She was beloved in life and she still is in death.


Dearly loved.
A much loved person.
adjective.   dear - darling - favorite - favourite - loved
noun.   sweetheart - darling - love - sweetie - lover

Last year I discovered a Facebook page called Putting a Face on Suicide (PAFOS). It was started by a father who lost his 21-year old son to suicide in 2008 while he was serving in the Navy. The page is a suicide awareness project that creates posters and videos to pay tribute to those lost to suicide with dignity and respect. PAFOS humanizes the daunting statistics; lovingly replacing numbers with faces. 

Their objective is to gather 99 pictures of people who have died by suicide for each day of the year, i.e., 36,135 faces representing 365 days of loss by suicide in the U.S. Day 16 of the project was dedicated to Julie.

It's a very powerful project. The suicide statistics in the United States are staggering, but even more staggering is that behind every number is a face, a person, a life lost, individuals beloved to so many. Look at the faces. It's hard to not look away, painful to realize the magnitude of the losses to so many left behind. Yes, Julie's death is now part of these statistics, but more importantly she is one of the faces behind suicide. 

Look at her face. See her gorgeous blue eyes, her sweet smile, her beautiful curls. See the person she was, the beloved person her family and friends lost. Maybe when you look at her it might help you understand our pain. 

Thinking of you today and always Jules...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Margaritas and Memories

Last week Mike lost his beloved 88-year old grandma, known to friends and family as G. It's been an especially hard loss for him as she was the mother figure in his life. Losing someone you love, especially someone who represents comfort, safety and security in your world, is devastating. Even though I feel like a seasoned veteran when it comes to loss and grief, I've felt more than a little helpless and at a loss as to how to help him navigate the painful journey ahead. 
G and Mike having a margarita on her birthday.

I've tried to help by taking care of the practical things, the many tasks that follow a death. It's all reminded me of the business side of death, the bureaucracy and paperwork that follows, all of it necessary and none of it anything someone deep in the process of mourning wants to, or is even really capable of dealing with. When my sister died I remember wanting time. Time to cry and be sad, time to come to terms with the awfulness, but it seemed there were so many decisions that had to be made so quickly. It's that way after all deaths. Before anyone has barely had time to wrap their mind around the reality of their loss, they're expected to focus on myriad mundane details. It all seems a little wrong and insensitive to me.

One decision Mike didn't have to make was which mortuary to call. That alone can be a difficult choice, especially having to decide at an extremely emotional time. G had long ago made the decision to donate her body to the University of Utah's Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy body donor program. I wasn't sure what to expect of the process, but everything was handled smoothly, efficiently and with kindness and sensitivity for the family. A day after her death, Mike received a thank-you from the University along with a pine tree sapling to plant in G's memory. Every year on the Friday before Memorial Day they hold a memorial service honoring donors and thanking the families for their gift. All in all, I was impressed with their level of care and respect. 

Sunday, a wake was held to honor G. Friends and family gathered and shared a margarita toast in her memory. She loved margaritas, so it was a very appropriate gesture. Now come the other tasks, stopping automatic deposits and payments, closing accounts, settling the estate, cleaning out her home. None of it is easy. Dismantling the details and belongings of some one's life, cleaning out a place that was home--the place were cookies and hugs were given and so many memories made--is excruciating. The urge to keep nearly everything is strong. So many things are tangible reminders of moments. Letting them go takes time. It's something I found was best done in stages, erring on the side of caution. Later, after the loss isn't so fresh it's easier to let some things go. 

Mike and I have already been through so much in our three short years together. We've seen each other at our worst, during some of life's most challenging moments. Sometimes it seems like we've both aged 20 years over the last three. Surviving Julie's death, Mike   fostering Isaac and pushing so hard for him to get legal residency, job changes, financial challenges, and most recently, overseeing G's need for 24/7 care for the last seven months have been a crazy roller coaster ride. 

Facetime with G earlier this year
One thing I've learned for sure over the last three year is that Mike has really strong shoulders! He juggles more than is really humanly possible. Shortly after I met him, I met G. Mike was taking her on errands and he carried her purse for her on one arm, supporting her with his other. People say to pay very close attention to how a man treats his mother, as it's an indicator of how he'll treat you. In Mike's case, his mother was G, and I paid attention. He loved her unconditionally, cared for her, treated her like gold. Over the last several months I've watched him carry her down her stairs in what turned out to be the last time she left her house, lift her in and out of cars and into her wheelchair, make her laugh, fight for her getting the proper level of dignity and care from her medical providers, and quietly weep from the pain of slowly losing her. I knew that very first time I saw him with a purse on one arm and his little gray-haired grandma on his other that he was a keeper. He still is. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Running in the Rain

Yesterday was race day in Ogden, Utah. In mid-May each year O-town hosts the Ogden Marathon and Half Marathon. It's always one of my favorite weekends with the town full of runners and fans. It feels like a giant party! I love the vibe of community support, encouragement, accomplishment and fun. The course is a nationally ranked favorite, winding down scenic Ogden Canyon, along the Ogden River and then finishing up in downtown Ogden. This video gives a birds-eye view of the entire course. Ogden Marathon Course

I've run the Ogden half marathon twice. Yesterday I ran as part of a marathon relay team, one of five people running legs of varying distances for a total of 26.2 miles. I ran leg four which is five miles down Ogden Canyon. Here's our team at the finish line--cold, wet, hungry and proud of our finisher medals!
Foley's MMA Training Center Relay Team
Tom, Shawn, Justin, me, Mike
It rained all day yesterday with a constant drizzle coming down from early morning throughout the entire race. At several points during the day there was a serious downpour! The rain didn't seem to dampen anyone's enthusiasm though. I think it even added to the enthusiasm for some of the runners. Although I wasn't excited about the rain, I didn't mind running in it. Being wet is much, much better than being too hot and getting dehydrated. The rain also made for some amazing scenic views. The mix of gray granite canyon walls, lush greenery and misty clouds was gorgeous! Mike ran the second leg and took this picture during his six-mile run through upper Ogden Valley. 
Mike McAuliffe photo
Marathon weekend is filled with memories and meaning for me and I tend to get very emotional when I run the course. I ran my first Ogden half three years ago, which I wrote about in this earlier blog post: Chasing Pavements. It was a real accomplishment for me. I'd trained alone and I ran the entire race alone. Looking back now, I'm pretty impressed at my level of dedication and training. I was focused and determined. My life was in a really good place in May of 2010. I was 40, I was fit, and very happy with my friends, family and life in general. 

The weekend is also forever linked to my memories of Julie. She was with me that weekend in 2010 and it was the last time I saw her alive. Those memories and feelings are overwhelming to me. Yesterday, I slept at Mike's house in Ogden Canyon so I didn't have to get up so early to catch a shuttle bus to my relay starting point. I walked the mile up from his house to my relay exchange point. 

Walking up the canyon is rare. It isn't wide enough for foot traffic and very unsafe for pedestrians, but on race day it's closed to vehicles for several hours. I was alone in the rain, walking next to the Ogden River, surrounded by lush, green beauty. Runners from the full and half marathons passed me in the opposite direction, happy and waving. It was one of those rare, peaceful, completely content life moments and it made my heart hurt so badly I could hardly breath. Moments like that never fail to make me think of Julie. She didn't just leave me and everyone who loved her, she left this beautiful life and world. She left those moments like yesterday of being alive, healthy and strong on a beautiful day. And of course, she left me, which I think about every single time I run. I miss her horribly on race days. She was my inspiration, my cheerleader, my coach and one of my biggest fans. I used to run races looking forward to the finish. The finishes and the victories no matter how short or long the distance are different for me now. They make me both happy and sad. I want her there waiting for me at the finish line. I always will. 
Our last picture together
May 15, 2010