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There and here.

img_1565Today is Julian’s sixth Angelversary. Six years since he lost his battle with leukemia and left the planet. In the early days, I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to live without him. Six years later, I’m living… but I’m not without him. Because he is both “there” and here.

Every once in a while, someone will shyly ask me, “Do you ever sense that he is with you? Do you communicate with him? Do you get signs from him?” And the answer is yes, yes, and yes. Constantly… if I’m paying attention.

Sometimes it’s little things, like looking at the clock when it reads exactly on the hour (to which I always respond, “Hi baby!”). Or, a parking lot that is completely full, except for the spot closest to the door (in our family, that’s known as the “Julian Spot”). Sometimes it’s coins crossing my path unexpectedly, dimes especially. Sometimes these are isolated events, but often they have a frequency. For example, in the past 24 hours, I estimate that I’ve seen the clock at X:00 at least 7 times. That’s not a coincidence, that’s Julian saying “Hi. I’m with you. Always, but especially today.”

Sometimes the gifts from Julian make me laugh in their awesomeness. As I’ve shared before, it’s because of Julian that we are good friends with a famous chef. He’s in the process of opening a new restaurant, and we recently received an invitation for a friends-and-family preview night before they open. The event is on March 12th, the day that would have been Julian’s 10th birthday. This was not a coincidence, this was Julian saying, “It’s my 10th birthday, and I’ve arranged a special dinner for you to celebrate!”

Sometimes Julian sends Earth Angels to protect my family. For example, when my parents were on a train in Russia, they were discussing their plans for getting to their hotel after disembarking at their station. There weren’t many English speakers on that train, but it turns out there was one in earshot. Not only was she listening to their conversation, she was the type of kind person who approached them and explained that their train wouldn’t be stopping at that station on that particular day. Not only did she help them figure out an alternate plan, she negotiated directly with the cab driver to make sure they paid a fair price for their journey. AND she stopped by the hotel the next day to make sure they arrived safely. This wasn’t just random. This was Julian saying, “I’m always watching over you. I see that you’re vulnerable right now. The plan you made can not happen today. I’m sending an Earth Angel to help you.”

My whole family has these experiences. Sometimes we share them with each other, sometimes we keep them to ourselves. But what we all know for sure is that Julian is not gone. He is obviously “there” in Heaven or whatever label we chose to use, but he is also very much HERE with us, all the time. And he confirms that message frequently, when we’re paying attention.

He is the puffy white clouds reflected in a mirror-like lake. The line between “down here” and “up there” becomes almost imperceptible. His spirit is communicating directly with us, just like the beauty of the sky is literally visible here on Earth. He is there AND here.

img_0363p.s. This past year I started making art again after many years. I created an artwork based on this visual metaphor, and it was selected to be included in a show called Spirit: Made Here in downtown Minneapolis. They even interviewed me and made a video about my work. The inspiration for this work of art, as well as the acceptance into the show, was yet another gift from Julian.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2017 in Angelversaries, year 6

 

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Chopped All-Stars! (Part 2)

Last night was the finale of Chopped All-Stars on the Food Network. And — spoiler alert! — after a grueling duel of culinary skill and endurance, our friend-slash-celebrity chef Gavin Kaysen beat every single opponent… except one. 

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Gavin in action (source: Food Network)

So he didn’t win the grand prize of $50,000 that would have gone to the Children’s Cancer Research Fund (CCRF) in memory of Julian. But what he DID do is raise awareness for an amazing organization that my husband and I are so proud to support in every way we can. And, he shared Julian’s story with the world.

Words can’t even describe what an honor it was to watch Gavin on national television (NATIONAL TELEVISION!) talking about Julian and CCRF. He said things like, “”I’m here to tell the story of Julian Golden and the Children’s Cancer Research Fund.” And, “”I have to get that check for Julian!” It literally brought tears to my eyes every time I heard my son’s name.

Funny thing is, the competition was filmed over a year ago at the Food Network in Chelsea Market in New York. And, amazingly, the filming of the finale occurred on the exact day that John and I flew into New York to celebrate one of my best friend’s 40th birthday.

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Food Network headquarters

 

When the show’s producers learned we’d be arriving in the city, they told us they might be able to have us visit the set. But of course, we had to just play it by ear because no one knew which competitors would be “chopped” until the chopping occurred.

So the producers had us on call, and then we got the green light — Gavin had made it to the final round of the finale!

So we made our way to Chelsea Market, and then were escorted to the Food Network studios. After signing some hardcore legal documents about keeping everything confidential, we were able to watch the final round as it happened live.

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We watched the dessert round as it was happening live, via nine different camera angles.

 

If you watched the show last night, you know how that last round went. Gavin’s dessert was PERFECTION. His competitor, Scott Conant, was… not. In fact, it was a pretty big mess! We were positive Gavin had won it. The producers and crew were positive he had won it.

The producer took us into another room and wired us with microphones, because they were getting us ready to go out on set and surprise Gavin after his big win.

(I was more than a little freaked out about being on camera, but I was so excited for Gavin!)

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John getting wired for sound

But then, there was a delay. And more delays. Then the producer told us that Scott’s family was getting wired for sound, too. (Huh?)

The minutes ticked by. Then an hour. The producer and crew were visibly different than they were initially… something was up. And then they told us the heartbreaking news: Gavin wasn’t going to win after all.

They still had us come out on set and surprise Gavin, and it was sooo exciting to be on a full-blown TV studio! We stood there in front of the judges, side-by-side with Gavin and Scott.

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The host Ted Allen, me, my husband John, and judge Marcus Samuelsson

The judges asked us questions, and we chatted about CCRF and even talked about this blog. It was awesome.

When we were done, we got autographs and photos with the judges Marcus Samuelsson, Geoffrey Zakarian, Aarón Sánchez, and the host Ted Allen. Marcus Samulesson even walked us out of the building! It was pretty unbelievable to be making small talk with one of the U.S.’s most iconic celebrity chefs.

So in the end, the big money didn’t go Gavin’s way. But we could not have been more thrilled with the awareness that he created for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund. And, he brought Julian’s story to a national audience.

It was never about the money. It was only about making a difference… and Gavin was DEFINITELY a winner in every way that matters.

Did you watch the show? Did Gavin’s hard work inspire you? Please consider making a donation of your own. Visit JulianGolden.com and click “donate” — every donation makes a difference.
 
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Posted by on May 6, 2013 in year 3

 

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Chopped All-Stars! (Part 1)

To say my husband John is “into” cooking would be an understatement. Because although he has never pursued a career in food, cooking has been a life-long passion for him. (When most kids were watching cartoons, John was watching the Galloping Gourmet.)

So in John’s world, there’s pretty much nothing better than meeting a celebrity chef. Except maybe becoming friends with a celebrity chef. Or maybe… learning that his friend-slash-celebrity chef was selected to be on a cooking competition in which each chef was invited to compete for a charity, and this friend-slash-celebrity chef selected the Children’s Cancer Research Fund in memory of Julian.

And that’s exactly what happened!

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Gavin and John on 7/22/11

As I described in a post from January 2012, we initially met Chef Gavin Kaysen after my dad (a friend of Gavin’s dad) visited Gavin’s restaurant in New York City. My dad introduced himself to Gavin, and ended up telling him Julian’s story… and also told Gavin about his son-in-law’s passion for cooking.

One thing lead to another, and a couple of months later, my dad and Gavin had planned John’s ultimate birthday gift — a day of cooking with Gavin, resulting in a dinner party for John and our closest friends… all in honor of Julian. That day of cooking together turned into an ongoing friendship, including unforgettable meals in Gavin’s restaurant, joyful celebrations with his family, and a trip France to cheer Gavin on as he coached the Bocuse d’Or USA team.

If you visit the videos page on Gavin’s website, you’ll see that he is no stranger to cooking competitions and TV appearances. In addition to representing the USA in the Bocuse d’Or, he has competed on the Food Network’s Next Iron Chef, and more.

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Gavin in an interview segment on 4/14/13.

So it didn’t surprise us a bit when Gavin shared his secret with us… he would be competing in a televised cooking competition! John and I both had tears in our eyes when he asked us if it would be ok if he told Julian’s story, and then if he wins, $50,000 will be donated to the Children’s Cancer Research Fund in memory of Julian.

The televised competition isn’t just any cooking competition. It’s Chopped *All-Stars*, currently airing on the Food Network. There are four categories of four chefs each — The winner of each category will then go on to compete against each other in the final round on Sunday, May 5.

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My family with Gavin’s parents on 4/14/13.

Gavin is in the appropriately-named “Mega Chefs” category, which aired on Sunday, April 14. We were thrilled to watch Gavin make his magic on the TV screen, and cook his way to victory! That means he is will be competing in the final round on May 5.

So if you have cable, please watch Chopped on the Food Network on Sunday May 5. You’ll see that the only thing bigger than Gavin’s talent is his heart.

This whole experience has been amazing, and reminds us once again that the tragedy of Julian’s death has not prevented us from feeling love and joy. We are so incredibly greatful for the gifts Julian has given us in his life as well as in his death, not the least of which is our friend Gavin Kaysen and the attention he is bringing to the Children’s Cancer Research Fund.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2013 in year 3

 

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Day Zero.

It wasn't just a coincidence that my mom and I were unexpectedly served a red velvet cupcake at lunch today. Red was his favorite color, and we served red velvet cake at his Celebration of Life. This was a message from him. The message was, BE ALIVE.

One year ago today was Day Zero. The “before” was over; the “after” hadn’t quite started.

One year ago today was the day that started with a quick trip to the pediatrician to get my son treated for a persistent cough, and to ask some questions about his unusual bruises. One year ago today was the day that ended with a diagnosis of leukemia.

One year ago today I drove from the pediatrician’s office to Children’s Hospital. Most of that drive, my mental mantra was, “He’s going to be ok. He’s going to be ok. He’s going to be ok.” But for one brief moment, just as downtown Minneapolis first came into sight, I remember thinking… “If Julian died, I would die. I would not be able to function. I would JUST DIE.”

One year ago today I thought I would literally die from grief if one of my children died.

But today, I am alive.

Today, thanks to Julian, I understand more about being alive than I could have even imagined a year ago. And for that, I am grateful.

One year ago today is also the day that I started Julian’s CaringBridge site. You can read about that day, and the days that followed, in my CaringBridge Journal.
 
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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in the second six months

 

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The myth of the “five stages of grief”


We’ve all heard about the five stages of grief, right? Many of us have them memorized, or could name at least two or three of the stages. But, do we know where they came from? Do we know what they are based on? Does it occur to us to question whether or not they are based on actual research? Nine months ago, my answers would have been no, no, and no.

But here I am today, almost nine months after Julian‘s death, with a whole new perspective. As I mentioned in one of my early blog posts, one of the first things I did after I came out of my initial shock was ask a friend, “What are the 5 stages of grief, again?” I wanted a roadmap for my future. I wanted a to-do list. Then, I learned that the theory of “The Five Stages of Grief” — also known as the “Kübler-Ross Model” — is neither based on bereavement nor scientific research. Surprised? I was. So I decided it deserved another blog post.

I wasn’t just surprised, I was disappointed when I learned the facts about Kübler-Ross’s five stages. I was mostly disappointed because I liked the idea of having a map or path through this process, which I could follow and track my progress through a journey that by definition (I assumed) had a beginning, middle, and end. But I was also disappointed to learn that these five stages had become conventional wisdom in the field of psychology and mental health without any scientific research to back it up.

So who was Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and where did these five stages come from? In the ’60s, she was one of the first psychologists to dedicate her career to working with terminally ill patients. She became a respected lecturer on the topic of how nurses and doctors could/should interact with their terminal patients. Because of the uniqueness of her work and her lectures, she was offered a book deal. It was then — after signing her book deal, and with a deadline looming — that she came up with the stage theory.

She wrote her book based on her work (not “research”) with terminally ill patients (not “bereaved people”). That first book, On Death and Dying, was published in 1969 and was interpreted as fact, and also turned her into a bit of a celebrity. Perhaps it was because of her sudden fame that she didn’t go out of her way to point out that the five stages were simply her “theory,” not proven through research. But in reality, as the introduction to the 40th anniversary edition says, “It is essential to note that … On Death & Dying is not a work of research. It is a popular book of description, observation and reflection based on a series of dialogs with dying people.”

The unfortunate thing for people like me is that the “conventional wisdom” of the five stages has made a negative impact on our experience of grief (as if it weren’t bad enough to be grieving in the first place). One of the most helpful and interesting books I’ve read in this past 6 months, The Truth About Grief by Ruth Davis Konigsberg, confirms what I have experienced: the embrace of the “Kübler-Ross model”…

“…has actually lengthened the expected duration of grief and made us more judgmental of those who stray from the designated path. We have been misled by the concept that grief is a series of steps that ultimately deposit us at a psychological finish line, even while social science increasingly indicates that it’s more of a grab bag of symptoms that come and go and, eventually, simply lift.”

Kübler-Ross, standing on the shoulders of Freud before her, set the foundation for today’s understanding of grief. Unfortunately for all of us, this foundation is fundamentally flawed. To quote The Truth about Grief again:

“a subject that is not supposed to be discussed… is the possibility that grief may be finite. ‘There is no timeline for grief,’ is how the advice books and web sites put it. Even the concept of recovery itself is seen as a misleading elusive goal. Though Kübler-Ross identified acceptance as her final stage, implying some kind of end point, she also said that you could never fully close the chapter on grief. “The reality is that you will grieve forever,” she concluded in On Grief and Grieving. “You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it.” This undoubtedly may be true for many, but the grief movement has taken that statement to mean that no one should ever get over such a loss, although that rule seems to get more strictly applied to women than men.”

Did you catch that last part? That rule seems to get more strictly applied to women than men. For me personally, it’s the judgement of myself and others (real or imagined) that has been hardest part of my grieving process. After those first couple weeks of shock, my instincts told me to focus on moving forward — but I couldn’t stop the voice that would pop up in my head that questioned, “Wouldn’t a ‘good mother’ actually never move forward from losing her child? What does that say about me that I want to survive this? What will this say about me if I’m actually successful?”

Now, almost nine months later, I don’t ask myself those questions anymore. I know there are people who read this blog, or see me going about my day, and ask those questions in their head. (“How can she work? How can she be functional? How can she be smiling and laughing? If my child died, I wouldn’t be able to do any of those things. She must be in denial.”) These people worry that I’m not grieving correctly, and someday it’s going to finally “hit me.” The reality is, the only “denial” I experienced was Julian’s last day in the hospital. I was in absolute denial that he could die. Until he did. (You can read about that day on his CaringBridge site.)

I believe that the concern about denial and other judgement is primarily based assumptions about the stages of grief, and society’s expectation that no one should get over the loss of a child (especially a mother). But the truth is, both science and my natural instincts tell me that those people (including Kübler-Ross) are wrong.

We all need to re-think and re-discover what grieving really looks like. 

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2011 in the second six months

 

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It’s time for a new chapter in the American history of death.

For much of our American history, it was not uncommon for a family to lose a child. Disease, childbirth, war, and lack of hospitals made it unusual for a household *not* to have been touched by death in some way.

Despite the frequency of death, or perhaps because of it, grief was not discussed in those days. Grief was expressed in the appropriate times and places, such as at a funeral, but it was not discussed. Our American ancestors were never urged to go to group therapy to revisit their loss… over, and over, and over.

Then, there were two important changes in our country’s history. First, the medical world made significant advances: hospitals became more accessible and more sanitary, vaccines were discovered and distributed, and diseases became more curable — resulting in fewer deaths. Second, death became a topic of interest among philosophers and psychologists, who suggested that death had become an “unnatural taboo” which caused repression of emotion that would surely cause damage to one’s mental health.

On one end of the pendulum swing, in 1911, an article called “Facing Death” in Harpers Bazaar said, “Grief is self-pity. Perhaps if we were less centered upon our own happiness, grief over the loss of our beloved ones would not be the terrible thing that it is.” On the other end of the pendulum swing, the 1960s and 1970s brought about an emphasis on self-expression, talk therapy, and the overwhelming influence of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross‘s book On Death and Dying* published in 1969. By the late 1990s, it had become a widespread belief that people must “give voice” to their grief, or else it would fester. And now we do get urged to go to group therapy to revisit our loss… over, and over, and over.

In other words, death went from being a frequent occurrence with an expectation of limited outward expression, to being an infrequent occurrence with an expectation of significant outward expression.

Here’s why our culture’s history of death is of interest to me: I believe we must let the pendulum fall closer to the middle. I want us to all be thankful that the death of a child is so uncommon… but I want us to remember that it is not unheard of. I want us to respect those who choose to express their grief outwardly… but not judge or “worry about” those who don’t. I want us to remember that life is a gift… but also remember that death is part of the same cycle. I want us to honor the loved ones we have lost… but not lose ourselves in the process.

It’s time for a new chapter in our American history of death. In this chapter, we don’t expect people to die, and we don’t expect people not to die. We don’t judge people for expressing themselves, and we don’t judge people for not expressing themselves. We mourn the ones we have lost, and we celebrate that we had them in the first place. We remember the loved ones who have died, but we never forget that we are still alive… and we have a lot of living left to do.

* Note: I wrote about this book in one of my first blog posts, and I’ll be writing about it again in one of my next blog posts.
 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in month 6

 

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Red sunsets.

I feel like it’s been a long time since I wrote a blog post. Early on, I wrote because it was therapeutic and the writing process created a good structure for me to understand my own thoughts and feelings. Later, I wrote because I was reading books and discovering new things that I wanted to explore. Today, I’m writing just to share what’s going on in my life.

When I wrote my last blog post, I was at a cabin on a beautiful MN lake with my extended family. It was hard to be there without Julian, but it was a wonderful week. The relaxing environment and the beauty of the lake made me feel more peaceful than I’ve been since Julian died.

Almost immediately after leaving the cabin at the end of the week, I longed for more. I instantly missed that peacefulness the lake inspired in me, and I had a whole new appreciation for getting away and having focused family time. John and I talked about it, and we decided to consider buying our own cabin. We started researching our options.

I have now viewed hundreds of cabins online. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin have beautiful lakes within driving distance of our home. We want something small, and certain details are important to us — for me, feature that is most important is that the cabin must be West-facing. I need to be able to see the sunset.

My whole life, I’ve sought out the sunset. I’ve planned vacations specifically to see the sunset over the ocean. I’ve strategized the best reservation time to watch a sunset from a restaurant. My boys would sometime’s tease me about needing to “watch mommy’s sunset.” If we are going to buy a cabin, a beautiful sunset is a must.

Two weeks ago, we rented a cabin that is also for sale. It had wonderful ’70s modern architecture that reminded John and I of our own house… but most importantly, it had what the owners describe as an “Aloha sunset.” We were only there for 2 nights, and I was so disappointed when the first night was cloudy. I could see a glow in the distance where the sunset would have been, but not the real deal.

The second night was beautiful. It was, indeed, an “Aloha sunset.” As I sat there on the shoreline, I watched John and Oscar fishing right off the dock (and actually catching fish!). It reminded me of the times when Julian was John’s fishing buddy, as shown in this cute photo, and this one too.

I was entranced as I watched the sky change from blue to purple to orange and red. When the red tones came out, it hit me. THIS is why sunsets are important to me. The red sky, the beauty of nature, the cycle of sunrise to sunset, the cycle of birth to death. THIS is where I feel close to Julian’s spirit. His favorite color, red, is what makes a sunset beautiful.

From now on, every time I see a sunset, I will think of my sweet boy and the beautiful things he contributed to my life. Hopefully, soon, we will own a cabin with a sunset of our own. Until then, all I have to do is look at the photos I took (like the one shown above), and I feel peace.

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UPDATE ON 8/10/11: This week we made an offer on the cabin I mentioned in this post, and it was accepted! Now we will own that sunset — and the sweet little cabin that looks out over the lake. We look forward to creating wonderful family memories there.

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2011 in month 5

 

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