I had 34 years of Julie in my life - not nearly enough. We spent more years living apart than we ever spent together. I was 13 and she was 7 when our family was split, with her and my two other younger siblings moving to Colorado to live with our mom. We saw each other during holidays and summer school breaks. When I was 19 and she was 13, I married. For much of her teenage and young adult years, I was caught up in building my own adult life. We still saw each other often, and kept in touch between visits with regular phone calls and irregular note cards and letters to each other.
|Christiansen kids in the early 90's.|
Our abrupt, early family separation after our parent's divorce instilled in me a sense of importance about making time to see my family, especially my siblings, whenever the chance arose. Julie moved to Utah to attend college when she was 18 or 19. She lived in Salt Lake City, about 30 miles south of me. She changed apartments and roommates frequently during those years. I visited her in Salt Lake for lunches and dinners when I could, and she came up to Ogden frequently too.
Those years are a blur in my memories. The dates, incidents and time lines are all jumbled in my mind. Julie had her first serious mental breakdown and suicide attempt during that time. She moved to Ogden to live with our brother for a while so she could be with family and have more stability and support. I marvel now at how little we understood about how serious her condition was. My heart breaks at our naiveté back then. We essentially thought our love could save her.
Julie eventually went back to Colorado. Life went on. We were in our twenties, each of us caught up in living our own lives. We always stayed connected, and I always adored her, but our day-to-day worlds were very different.
By the time I was in my thirties, I'd come to appreciate and rely on both of my sisters much more. I was a mom, and a three-time divorceé. I had friends and a full life in Utah, but my sisters were my besties. Technology helped. Finally, the decades of physical distance between us mattered very little. Staying connected became so easy. We had mobile phones, email, instant messaging and texting. Julie and our sister Amy were almost always together. They even worked at the same small company for a time. We were part of each other's everyday lives, just like so many sisters everywhere. If there was a life moment to share or commiserate about - funny, frustrating, sad, challenging - they looped me in. We had constant group instant message chats, 3-way phone calls and text messages.
Those were such happy years. Somewhere in the mix of that time Julie had another suicide attempt. We were all alarmed and frightened. Mixed in with all the happy times was a growing awareness in the family that Julie was fighting some very dark demons. None of us took her struggles lightly. We knew she was sick. Each of us did whatever we could to help, love and support her. I realize now that much of what we did was well-intentioned, yet often woefully inadequate.
Maybe it was this awareness of the fragility of her mental health that drove my willingness to spend tine with Julie and my family whenever possible. Until I was 32, I'd never driven alone from my home in Utah to Colorado to visit my family. That changed in 2002 when I drove to Colorado for the birth of my niece Hannah. From then on, my road trips and flights there became more frequent. I said yes to visits much more than I said no. I wanted my daughter Gillian to grow up knowing her cousins, aunts and uncles like I had mine. Julie adored her nieces and nephews, and made equal efforts to visit Utah to see them whenever possible.
It wasn't always easy to travel so frequently to see Julie and other family members. I was a single mom without a lot of disposable income. Traveling required a fair amount of planning, sacrificing and saving. Much of my vacation time was spent visiting family - driving long hours across Wyoming, enduring summer hail and lightning storms, and often unexpected snow storms - rather than on warm, sunny beaches or in exotic locales. It was stressful to make long road trips with my young daughter. I did it anyway. Of course, I had no way of knowing then how fleeting those times were. I thought we had a lifetime of opportunities to be together.
I'm so grateful for the time we had. If there's one thing I could tell anyone about what I've learned from her loss, it's to make time. Make the effort. Make the sacrifices. Spend time with the ones you love. You never know which time will be the last time you see them.
The feelings of loss and the void of no longer having Julie in my life will never go away. 34 years of her wasn't enough. I will always wish there had been more.
Earlier this year I read a wonderful book, Tragedy Plus Time, a Tragi - Comic Memoir by another survivor of suicide loss, Adam Cayton-Holland. Very few books have been written about the experience of losing a sibling to suicide. He writes eloquently about his experiences in the first few years after his sister Lydia's suicide death. So much of what he wrote touched my heart. His closing words to his sister could have been from me to Julie.
"I wish I could have had so many more years with you, but I'm grateful for every second that I had. So thank you. I love you. And I miss you so much. See you on the other side."
I love you forever Jules. I'll miss you always.
|Aunt Julie jumping on the trampoline with her nieces and nephews.|
|Hannah reading to Aunt Julie. |
|Gillian and her Aunt Julie on the 4th of July. |
|Julie and her dog Phoenix at mom's house on Easter morning. |
|Julie rocking a bikini. |
Julie, Atticus and Keicha in the Cheers bar in Boston.
|Sisters together in Boston's North End. |