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The Time Traveler's Wife
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“You know,” said my husband, “she would have been a good influence for Levi.” Yes, Cristi would have.

Tonight, I found out my cousin’s sister in law, so my cousin’s WIFE’S sister died – at 33 years old. No reason. No explanation. Just died. Thirty three years old.

My aunt and uncle lost a son (my aunt’s step son) when he was in his twenties.

Another aunt and uncle can’t have children.




My sister, as you may know, died when she was 29. Just turned 29 two months and 6 days before her very untimely death.

Sure, I don’t think about the piercing grief daily, although I think about her daily. My aunt, the one who lost her step-son when he was 20, made a facebook post that she didn’t understand God’s plans.

So much sadness. Is this supposed to make us more thankful for the time we have with the other people we love, when those who we love equally are taken away?

My grandmother has been sick. She’s in her 80s. For some purposes, she’s “lived her life.” But, I don’t feel like I could handle another piece of tragic news so close to home.

That’s the one line that sticks with me from A Time Traveller’s Wife (the book, not the movie). Henry reflects on his life with Claire about how much sadness they faced and how surprised he was that they would even face that much sadness.

Rambling thoughts that point t one thing: my surprise in how much sadness we are faced in our lives. No wonder people call humans resilient.

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Cover of "Nonviolent Communication"
Cover of Nonviolent Communication

Dealing with death is hard. And, I don’t think we ever get over the loss of a loved one. I think we just learn to live with (to cope) with the grief that can plague us, daily. Someone I know through these varied Portland networks just reconnected with a childhood friend, only to find out the friend had passed, had died. They are both in their mid-thirties. It’s acceptable when grandparents or old people die, but when it’s a peer when we’re young, or someone  younger than  us, we couple the grief of their passing with thoughts like, “They died too young,” or “They were taken from this world before their time.”

I’ve written a lot about grief since Cristi’s death in 2007. It’s a way for me to cope. To put these words on screen, to see if they accurately reflect how I feel. To see if other people share similar thoughts and feelings around death. We are dealt so much as mere humans, challenges, sadness, happiness, fortunate and good luck, bad luck, job losses, money losses, relationship losses — it’s been thought that if hell exists we are living in it. Such an emotional roller coaster throughout our lifetimes with one resounding theme: Life is not fair.

People disappoint us. We disappoint ourselves. Hopes are lost and realized, and throughout all that, we find ways to survive. Some people survive through their children, hoping for a better life for the children and their children’s children. Some people survive by hoping for a better day themselves. Some people survive by enjoying their relationships and learning how to create better relationships. Some people survive by realizing their passions and going, unabashedly, for their dreams.

The bottom line is that life is not fair. Life gives us challenges, rewards, failures, and successes – sometimes daily. I think the goal of life is learning how to navigate these stormy waters that we are thrown into, some of us at birth, some of us later in life.

We have the pursuit of happiness as a realized goal in our Declaration of Independence, by why do so many people fall short of what we deem, as a society, a noble goal? I am still reading Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg. He theorizes that depression stems from the inability to clearly articulate our needs. If we cannot define what we need, and need from others, how are we to get what we need from ourselves and from others? Grief is one of the greatest challenges we are dealt, as humans, where we need to realize our needs. Where what we need, the bubbling, boiling over of emotion, of “Life is not fair”, “Why did this happen to our family?” comes out, full force. A lesson, I know my family is still learning – how do you take this precious gift and learn from it, learn to communicate better, instead of distancing yourself from those needs and distancing yourself from those who care about you, thereby distancing yourself from loving relationships – which could lead to depression.

  • Observe
  • Feel
  • Need
  • Request

Rosenberg has more to say on the subject of nonviolent communication, but I think these four steps at are very helpful. My mother has always said no one has the right to argue with your feelings, and that it’s important to explain what action a person has done that has made you feel a certain way. Rosenberg expands on this concept by suggesting we be more specific. I felt angry, sad, frustrated, saddened when my sisters ex-boyfriend shot her and ended her life. I need to be able to express this sadness to those I care about. I would like those I care about to tell me how they feel so we don’t repeat this cycle of violence – of death.

Death. The epitome of the lesson, “Life is not fair.” Death, the wake up call when it hits close to home that life is too short. Death, a chance to renew relationships with those you care about who are still in this world. Death, a lesson I am still learning.

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Three Years

The 19th has passed. The third anniversary of my sister’s brutal murder in a murder-suicide performed by her recently made ex-boyfriend. This was my rude awakening into Domestic Violence and its horrors.

It’s like I have a heightened awareness of domestic relations now. My ears perk up listening for clues into controlling behavior while my heart wrenches when I think I see narcissistic-obsessed people living with those close to me.

It still remains, though, as adults we make choices and we must be responsible for those choices. The lessons I am choosing to learn is to pay more attention to my loved ones and to listen better. I can’t call her and say, “Don’t go to that concert, you have no obligation to him.” It’s much too late to send off any warnings, “Cristi, I don’t really like Joe.” Besides, there’s always the argument of whether or not someone will “hear” you when they think they are in love.

There’s something that also seems empty about the anniversary of Cristi’s death. I think it’s because we live so far away. Everyone is in Michigan. The grave is in Michigan. The mourning, it seems, takes place in Michigan. So, the 19th came and went with a phone call and my mother telling me how she and my step-father would visit the grave. But that’s it. We don’t call each other. We don’t discuss our feelings regarding our sadness or sorrow or simply just missing her.

I’m not really sure what we’re supposed to do, either. We have to live, we have to move on. And sometimes to do that you just reflect privately and mention what you’re doing if someone asks. But, again, it seems empty and unfulfilled. But, maybe that’s I still do feel partially responsible even if I logically recognize I am not.

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When I was in my 20s…

I love being in my 30s. It feels like I’ve finally matured. People always told me I was “mature for my age”, but this is different. I feel like I’m finally learning the lessons I was given years ago. Often, I find myself saying things like, “When I was in my 20s…” and then insert whatever it was in my 20s that I did or believed and juxtapose that with my current beliefs. My current beliefs are shaded with the family, mother, wife lens. In my 20s, my perspective was from the single, liberal, must-change-the-world lens.

When I was in my 20s, I believed that fences shouldn’t be allowed. Now that I am in my 30s with a 3-year old, I crave nothing more than an enclosed, fenced yard, where Levi can “run free.”

When I was in my 20s, I smoked cigarettes. Now that I am in my 30s, I lost the taste of the habit (actually 5 years ago) and would rather set a good example for my son.

When I was in my 20s, I experimented with a vegetarian diet. Now that I am in my 30s, I embrace my love of meat but try to find the most equitable, environmentally friendly option my budget can afford.

When I was in my 20s, I hopped from job to job, getting bored easily, looking for something or some place that better embraced my talents. Now that I am in my 30s, I have been “unemployed”. I am now a Stay-At-Home-Mom who still tries to find something or some place that will embrace my talents. The biggest thing that has changed here is the desire to hop is gone. The desire to hop has been replaced with a desire to cultivate relationships.

When I was in my 20s, I began to experience death. Now that I am in my 30s, I am finding ways to make peace with that death and use those experiences to make me a better person.

Ultimately though – when I was in my 20s, I made a lot of mistakes. Now that I am in my 30s, I feel like I am really trying to learn from those mistakes and apply those lessons to everyday life. I sometimes drank too much or drove too fast. I’m “over” those phases, and have resolved to moderation. I still miss cigarettes, but I don’t like being addicted. So, that’s a habit that will just be missed. I’m trying to calm down and continue to find balance. That means, not only in my everyday interactions, but also with my moods. I try to embrace the phrase This too shall pass because it means both the good and bad will pass. It reminds me to enjoy the moments we have because, as death teaches us, those moments don’t last.

Related posts:

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Missing You

Placard at her grave.

Today, I am thinking of my late sister, Cristi Curtis.  She was shot to death by her estranged boyfriend on July 19, 2007.  Many things have changed since, as time ever goes on; but missing her has not.  I dreamt about her for the first time in maybe a year at the beginning of this week.  She was mostly just there, unlike some of the interactive dreams I had when she just passed.  So, today’s blog is simply a reminder that I’m still thinking about you Cristi, you are still missed and loved by all those left behind, and my awareness to domestic violence quadrupled since your passing.  Moreover, I am still thinking of ways I can support and educate others on domestic violence issues.  Here’s to the hope of seeing you again.

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GVSU Women’s Center has a Silent Witness Project where they honor DV victim’s with a short bio and a call to remember the victim’s name.

My sister, Cristi Curtis was placed on this list.  When I saw this, just a few moments ago, I felt anger and rage that my sister would be honored in such a shallow manner.

Continue reading Honor

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The Land of the Stupid

We must live in the Land of the Stupid.  Every day this month, something in the paper has indicated we need to be legislated more.  Apparently, according to the Oregonian, we aren’t legislated enough, and we need to be further protected from the very bad things people do in this world.

I’m going to begin this blog by going personal to really show why I believe the way I do on this subject.

Continue reading The Land of the Stupid

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Sarcasm as social teaching

Cristi Christmas.jpg
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

A few years ago, a friend was explaining to me how he and his new love viewed sarcasm as a cop-out for being in touch with one’s own feelings. For a while, I pondered this explanation and considered it an interesting take on sarcasm. Soon, I realized I wasn’t really going to give up my sarcasm even if this mode of thinking was juvenile compared to the more enlightened living without sarcasm; I would rather be juvenile than dull.

That said, recent interactions have reminded me of the importance of sarcasm as a tool for social teaching. Particularly when it is used to show someone they have erred without specifically saying, “You’re wrong.” Sarcasm, when used appropriately, seems to be a way to offer a humorous alternative to the middle-manager. For example, my mother-in-law was helping me make hamburg patties for my graduation celebration. I asked her to add the spices, and she was being very ginger about it. So, I jokingly said, “Come on! You can do better than that!” And, we giggled at the spice mishap.

But, when does it go bad? When does it go wrong? When do we resort to sarcasm too much? For example, I value personal freedom and choice and find ridicule, shame, and embarrassment as means of social discipline infuriating on many counts. Take teen pregnancy as an example. Why do we feel it is appropriate for a teenager mother to be shunted off and hidden away while she deals with a very difficult time in her life and probably shouldn’t be cut off from her support network? When I was in high school, I heard about a school for pregnant moms and a few of my classmates who no longer attended class with us were rumored to be going to “that” school. I don’t know the particulars of their situations, but it seems that hiding the problem only makes it the elephant in the room about whom no one speaks. Were these girls given the choice to attend “regular” public school or the other, or were they politely asked to leave?

Maybe the point is to remember to have fun and be open and honest about how we feel about something. What would happen to our society if replaced the temptation to say, “You should,” with “I feel?” For example, what would have happened to Cristi if I called her when I found out she asked Joe to move in with her. What would have happened if I called her and said, “Cristi, I think I understand that you want to be closer to Joe, but I feel like I should tell you that he makes me afraid, and I feel afraid for you with him living with you, and I feel like you should know how I feel.” Would she have thought about it more? I don’t know what other people said to Cristi about Joe, but I know I wasn’t the only one who was afraid for her by being in that relationship. With my families tendency to assume that the person we worry about won’t hear us, I can only imagine we are saying, “I think you should,” instead of, “I feel.”

So, let’s check ourselves. Maybe that’s the moral of this thought process. Let’s examine when we’re using sarcasm. Are we in a place where wit is a cover up for expressing feeling, or is it genuine fun?

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One Year

Last year, July 19, 2007, my family was rudely awakened to the horrors of domestic violence.

Peter and I were barely working between the two of us, he had been laid off and with struggles feeding Levi I was barely pulling 5 hours a week. We were at the DHS office applying for food stamps when Peter got the call that yes indeed TriMet was offering him a job. We had been at the DHS office since 7:20am and we finally got home close to 10:30am. We barely set our things down, relieved that there was more money in our future and we could at least buy food for our small family when the phone rang. It was my mother. It was one of those phone calls where you just know something is wrong, and how wrong it was. She asked if I was sitting down, and I think I sat down. She didn’t wait to tell me and simply said, “Cristi is dead.”

My sister. Step-sister to be truly accurate, my sister who is the same age as me, only three months younger. My sister who promptly finished college to begin teaching children who have difficulty learning was dead. She had no health problems, so we all knew the story was only going to get worse. Her boyfriend, Joseph Frees, killed her. Their bodies were found in the bedroom that morning after Cristi failed to show up for volleyball practice. Her mother was phoned and prayed the entire way to her house, “God, please don’t let me find what I know I am going to find.” The lights were on and the cars where in the drive, but of course no one answered. Cheri used a cooler to climb through the kitchen window, and she was the one to find her daughter murdered and the boyfriend dead too.

Joe and Cristi worked together. Joe served as the athletic trainer while Cristi taught and coached. It’s not surprising they found common interests. I hate that I have no good memories of him. Others do, and I suppose that is some comfort. But, for me, it’s one of those situations where I knew he was no good for Cristi.

A murder-suicide in my family. Such horrid violence that one usually only hears about on T.V. while watching an inflated drama like that of S.V.U. has waded itself into my family. I couldn’t believe that Domestic Violence would be a part of my family. It’s something that only happens to other people right? This time, though, the other people was us. My family splashed on the front cover of the local newspapers in Grand Rapids. My family’s story for all to read. It couldn’t be a private event because Cristi affected so many.

After we got home, I met with a local shelter group to discuss ideas for planning an event. Soon, though, I realized that with school commitments that I would not have the time to arrange something that I wanted to be on a grand scale to raise awareness about Domestic Violence. But, then I pledged to myself that I would attempt it for another year. So, the new goal became by 2009. The initial idea was to raise money and split the funds between shelters in the Portland area, and then the idea expanded to paying off Cristi’s debts.

This goal needs to be revisited.

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Country Music & The Service

I have been completely inundated, by choice, with country music. Something has changed in me since becoming pregnant and having a baby. I used to tolerate, better, swearing, cuss words, in every day language and in media I would watch or listen. But not anymore. (That’s not to say that I don’t need to clean up my mouth.) So, since Peter has a plethora of country music on the computer, it’s easy to pick from and listen. A song by Kenny Chesney was played at Cristi’s funeral, and that helped tip the balance in favor of country music.

One of the artists on the computer is Toby Keith. When Peter and I would take trips to Mt. Hood or the Coast, the CD Shock ‘n Yall would frequently be played. Most of the songs have a catchy beat and easy lyrics. When we’d come to the songs regarding our War in Iraq, though, I wouldn’t enjoy the music as much, listening to the music and feeling a pro-war agenda being sung. I’ve been listening to these same songs now for months, and I have listened to the lyrics better. (I’m one of those people who needs to at least try and understand the lyrics of the song I’m jamming’ too.) It became clear that the lyrics were not pro-war but rather pro-soldier. One of my biggest pet peeves while expressing distaste for this war is being chastised for being anti-soldier, and that’s just not the case. Those who are saying, “Bring the Troops Home, Now!” want our American Boys and Girls to be safe and with their families. They would rather see their energy and enthusiasm used for causes at home instead of abroad where the motivations are sketchy at best. I must say I was surprised to learn that Toby Keith had similar sentiments. He is quoted as saying,

“Here’s the thing. Just because you’re pro-troops doesn’t mean you’re pro-war. And just because you’re anti-war doesn’t mean you’re anti-troops. Just because you don’t support the war people think you are anti-troops and you are a bad guy. And just because you go support the troops and rah-rah the troops up all of a sudden you’re pro-war. Those are the two biggest misconceptions of the whole thing.”

I had been listening to this guy for so long and getting irritated with his songs which I thought were misplaced patriotism. And, then I learn he voted for Clinton, twice.

Now, I may be wrong here, but it seems country singers are more likely to sing and support our troops. I don’t care what your feelings are about the wars in which we partake, it’s so important to support our troops. (And I know I don’t do any job of that.) My brother-in-law is in the Army National Guard and his mother regularly sends him care packages. My uncle was in the navy, another was in the army, another in the air force. Two of my grandfathers were in WWII, one a nurse in Germany and the other in the Air Force serving in the Pacific. We all know someone who has served. I get this idealized image of heroic men and women who put their wants at bay to serve the greater good, whether or not we agree with their orders.

There are more disorganized thoughts running through my head, so I will close with a question. Do you know anyone who has served in the military, someone relatively close, and what have you done to “support” them?