For two years it felt like everything she knew was dying.
"Sometimes we go through these dismemberments," said Lange, who lives in Hackettstown. "In our culture, though, we just haven't got a name for what's happening."
Her "falls" took place in three successive Septembers:
In 1993 her teenage son Justin, the youngest of her three boys, suffocated in the basement of their Long Valley home while sniffing nitrous oxide. She was at work when it happened.
A year later came another hospital vigil, another loss, when her father succumbed to colon cancer.
In 1995 her grandmother died.
Between these falls came other challenges -- facing foreclosure, losing her business, being broke.
Before the first fall, Lange had been an advertising entrepreneur and a single mom. She gauged all her actions and interactions by how much they'd help her reach her business goals.
After her son's death, Lange changed. She quickly lost her fear of public speaking when she became a national spokesperson against inhalant abuse. She also teamed with other Long Valley parents to create a center for unsupervised teens -- a place for them to participate in healthy social activities. When Lange at first encountered the apathy, denial and resistance of the townspeople, she saw a mirror of her former self. She writes:
Everyone was commuting to highly paid jobs in the New York area and didn't get home till well into the evening. They weren't particularly attached to the community or even aware that there was (a drug) problem. (I know -- I used to be one of them!)
Linda Helm Krapf, who chaperoned Friday nights at the Fuzz Box, remembers the unconditional support Lange gave to many creative, intelligent teens who didn't feel like they fit anywhere else.
"Julie didn't judge them, and what she got in return was the absolute privilege of really connecting with them," Krapf said. "She created something rare and beautiful there, and those kids healed her. It was amazing to witness."
In addition to reaching out to the community, Lange chronicles how she reached into her soul -- a journey that started the day of Justin's funeral at the chapel in Schooley's Mountain County Park. After the service, a small band of family and friends, some playing African drums, walked the mile-long path to the overlook that was Justin's favorite spot.
To her surprise, Lange found the beat of the drums helped transport her to a meditative state. It was her first glimpse inside herself and she ran with it, exploring further in therapy and dreamwork. She wrote poetry. Many times she went back to the mountain to walk and eventually learned it was a healing place for Native Americans centuries ago.
The connection made her curious. Who were the Native American shamans, and what did they know? She knew shamanism was a set of traditions dating back thousands of years that involve communicating with the spirit world, including the soul within each person. But how did it work?
As Lange started an annual Schooley's Mountain Day of Music and Healing, which lasted a decade, she also completed a three-year program at The Foundation for Shamanic Studies and then a two-year teacher training course with Sandra Ingerman, another leader in the field.
Lange learned that the so-called "dismembering" of her life, as shamans call it, meant she had the opportunity to drop all the old perceptions she had of herself and discover underneath them who she really was. She went on to create a shamanic GriefWork program, now offered locally, to help others experiencing any kind of deep loss.
"Shamans work in unseen worlds through journey work, which is just a kind of meditation," Lange said. "In the GriefWork program I help everybody journey together and find their own information about their inner lives."
Today Lange's outlook on life is spiritual, as she describes in "Life Between Falls." She knows her father's spirit is helping her when she mysteriously smells pipe tobacco. She knows Justin is visiting when she finds colorful feathers in unlikely places.
Once bound to logic, Lange now heeds the regions of her heart and soul. In that inner landscape she found the place that still aches for Justin's children who will never be born. There, too, she came to see harmful family patterns she had been unconsciously perpetuating.
It's all in the book. Throughout her long journey, Lange put language on what was happening to her. She also has penned a locally produced play, "Justin and the Dewdrop Princess," and writes for an environmental nonprofit group for a living. Its mission, she said, is aligned with the reverence she has learned to hold for nature.
In the end Lange, who faced emotions for which she had no name, wrote "Life Between Falls" as a gift of language and a way to let others know that the deeper they skillfully go into their pain, the more joy and transcendence they make possible for themselves.
In that paradox Lange found peace at last.
"Human Interests" appears every Sunday and other days of the week from time to time. In each column Lorraine Ash explores interesting angles on local life that may otherwise escape attention. Reader mail is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.