"Journey from Darkness to Light" by Phil Garber, Observer Tribune, Feb. 26, 2009
 
Some writers bare their souls on the printed page but otherwise, don’t stand out in person.
Julie Lange is not like that. If anything, Julie is more impressive in real life, filled with wisdom, empathy and love.
Julie formerly lived in Long Valley and now lives with her husband, Lou, in Mansfield. She is a former reporter with the Observer-Tribune and currently an information specialist with the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC).
I’ve been lucky enough to know her but for those not as fortunate, you can read her book, “Life Between Falls; A Travelogue Through Grief and the Unexpected.”
At times, the autobiographical 146-page book is agonizingly sad, at times it seems as if there will be no relief for Julie’s tragedy but in the end, it is a story of hope and finding the path of fulfillment on the other side of sadness.
She begins in 1993 with the event that changed her life forever, when her youngest son, Justin, died of asphyxiation from nitrous oxide, commonly known as “laughing gas.” It happened at Julie’s home. She wasn’t there when Justin succumbed downstairs while a few friends were upstairs.
Just 16 at the time, Justin was full of life, music, joy and love, his lifetime ahead of him. But when Justin’s life was snuffed out, Julie felt her life also would or should end.
She struggled through the minutes, hours, days and weeks of the following year, trying to get over the demons that made each day a tortuous challenge. Things would seem better, until some small event triggered memories and the unhappiness would pour out like a tidal wave.
As she wrote, “I couldn’t make small talk, I couldn’t do meetings, I could pretend to be interested in matters that seemed trivial to me and everything seemed trivial compared to missing Justin.”
Loved ones tried to help but Julie felt trapped and alone. Her heart was broken, and it seemed, never to mend.
But gradually, she began to see light. She learned to meditate and found relief by writing down the insights that slowly began to come more frequently.
“I felt greater today, lighter than air,” she wrote one uplifting day. “I felt playful, powerful, peaceful, fearless, empathetic and happy.”
Invariably the sadness returned but the times of relief seemed longer.
There was joy as a second son married and more grief, as Julie’s father died of cancer and later her mother died. She had worked in the corporate world of advertising but that ended after Justin died.
A messy divorce from years earlier didn’t make things easier and Julie nearly lost her home in foreclosure.
She wrote a poem to her father after his death.
“These are the things you gave me, Dad,
“And these are the things I’ll prize...
“To find God in a field of corn
“And hope in each sunrise,
“To learn the greatest truths of all
“Seeing nature through your eyes.”
As time passed, she began to pursue her love of writing and her love affair flourished with Lou, a man she had met a year before Justin died.
Helped along by a compassionate therapist, Julie began to find a balance in her life and she began to understand herself like never before.
She found moments of inspiration while taking long walks. On one walk, she wrote:
“I am standing, here and now, in the center of the heart of God,
“My feet firmly planted on the ground
“And my spirit open to possibility.
“My mind reaches out with curiosity,
“My eyes seek the truth.”
Along the way, Julie kept in touch with Justin’s friends and they began to gather informally at Julie’s home to talk and share. The informal meetings eventually morphed into creation of a teen center that still flourishes in Washington Township, known as the “Fuzz Box.”
She joined with friends to coordinate a festival at Schooley’s Mountain Park to honor the beauty and sanctity of Native American ways. The festival continued for many years, drawing more and more people.
She discovered shamanism and other forms of energy healing, including African drumming. She began offering her services as a spiritual healer and teacher of shamanism.
Julie learned to gain strength from the earth and her garden. A granddaughter was born and brought immeasurable joy into her life.
She writes about the healing power of getting her thoughts onto the written page and acknowledges that she will never be completely healed.
She writes, “I still miss Justin. I still find my eyes tearing up when a sweet or sad memory of him pops up unexpectedly or when certain songs play on the radio.
“I still feel regret sometimes that I wasn’t a better mother. But mostly I celebrate his life and the joy in thinking about him.”
For a copy of Julie’s book visit the website at www.lifebetweenfalls.com or www.amazon.com.
 
 

 
 
"Writing helped her face emotions from loss"
by Lorraine Ash, Morris Cunty Daily Record, April 19, 2009
 
In Julie Lange's new memoir "Life Between Falls: A Travelogue Through Grief and the Unexpected," the 61-year-old writes about what death and loss did to her life. They took her son, her father, her grandmother, her occupation, her old friends, her outlook, her identity.

 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.
 
To learn more
For more about "Life Between Falls" (BookSurge, $14), visit www.lifebetweenfalls.com. For more about Julie Lange's shamanic GriefWork program, visit www.ravensdrum.com.
"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 lvash@gannett.com.