Journey from Darkness to Light
By Phil Garber, Observer Tribune
Published: Feb 27th, 6:11 AM
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.”