Archive | Julia

Sad Days :: Loss, Grieving, & Saying Goodbye


“I’m so sad,” I said softly, my fingers fiddling with the hem of my skirt.

Elliott didn’t say anything, just listened. There was a long silence while I gathered my thoughts.

“I love this house.” I took a deep breath. “I am so sad to leave it.”

Tears welled up.

“I have so many happy memories in this house. And I will miss this town. And the weekly market. And walks to get gelato down the street….”

We both knew these things already. I’d said them before. But as we sat there on Sunday afternoon, we knew there were also a million other things weighing us down, making these simple physical goodbyes that much harder to bear.

There was the argument right before we walked into church. It was over who would put on Lena’s shoes, of all things. She can put them on herself. But it soured our whole Sunday morning.

There is our car. We’ve tried for a month, lowered the price by $1500, and it’s not selling. It’s small and scratched up, perfect for Sicily, but we’ve probably outgrown it as a family. I say “probably” because it might be coming with us to California.

There is my U.S. driver’s license. I can’t find it anywhere. I need to request a new one, but that’s hard to do when you don’t even know the number of your old one.

There is a whole bedroom set that just won’t sell either. It’s a beautiful antique! Why isn’t it selling?

There is the final moving out of our belongings this coming Tuesday, and then a goodbye party on Wednesday, and then CLEANING THE HOUSE LIKE CRAZY on Thursday. So much to do, so many boxes to tick.

And then handing over the keys on Friday. No more beautiful house on a cliff by a castle. Oh, I shall miss this house!

And then maybe a weekend at the beach. We’d been planning a special goodbye to Sicily: going back to this beach before our flight out on Tuesday morning, July 15. But now that weekend might be spent very close to base and far from the beach, if we can’t sell our car. We’ve joked about standing at the base gate and waving signs. “Amazing Honda Civic for sale! Come test drive now! Turn left, turn left!”

But then there is a deeper sadness. A dull ache, always there, that becomes a sharp pain on July 7 every year.

Two years ago today, my little sister Julia was killed in a car accident. It was, as best we can determine, a total mistake—a split-second glance at the radio, or a deer darting into the trees in front of her—that led to hasty overcorrecting, and overcorrecting again, and hitting a tree in the median. And then another tree. And then she never came home.

The comfort is that we believe she is home with Jesus, and we eagerly look forward to the day when we are all reunited there. Oh what a rejoicing that will be! There is much to be thankful for in this life.

But in the meantime, I look at my children, and I miss Booie so much. She knew Gil was coming, but she never met him. Booie, her friend Renee told me later, hoped Gil would be a boy, and I know she would have gone nuts over him, just like she did over Lena. Except Booie and Gil have the same hair — curly, thick, blond, stops people on the street — and she would have loved sharing that with him.

Lena talks about Booie frequently, sometimes asking acutely painful questions.

“She died?”


“Where is she now?”

And I answer them until I can’t bear it anymore and quietly change the subject. I am glad she knows about her Aunt Booie, though, and can recognize her in pictures. I will encourage that the rest of my life.

I miss Booie for my children’s sake, and I miss her for my family’s sake. We’ve always been such a family: four kids, two parents, a six-pack of adventure and support and laughter. We also functioned as a unit, needing each one of the kids to contribute their dose of crazy, or serious, or silly, to balance out the whole. Without Booie, our family will always walk with a limp, always have a glaring amputation, always gather somewhat sadly, knowing a piece of the whole will be missing the rest of our lives.

And I miss her for my sake. She was almost six years younger than me, and so for most of our growing up years we were sisters, but too far apart in age to be besties. That was reserved for Emily and Booie, just 18 months apart.

Then I went to college, and Boston, and married Elliott, and I was gone most of that time. We did have one very sweet period together: Lena was born, Elliott was still deployed, and I moved in with my parents for three months with a newborn. Booie was there, finishing up her senior year of high school and working at Starbucks. For awhile, we were under the same roof again, sharing the same meals, and I have a dozen pictures of her holding Lena every chance she got.

I wish we had more time than that. I wish we had time to be adult sisters together. I wish she could have met Gil. I wish I could have seen her fall in love and get married. I wish we could be three crazy old sisters dancing at Lena’s wedding one day. I wish, I wish, I wish.

I miss you, Booie, today and every day. I love you so.


“Who’s that?” Lena asked when she saw this photo just now.

“Who’s that?” I repeated, knowing that she knows.

“Lena,” she said softly, “and Booie.”

“That’s right, Lena.”

“But Booie died,” she continued softly. Then a pause. “But she’s alive now.”

That’s right, little one. Praise God.

34 :: in grief, Julia, memories, thoughts

my new necklace


On July 7th, I woke up to find a little white box addressed to me by the kitchen sink.  This beautiful necklace was inside: three rings on a gold chain.  The gift was from my three sisters-in-law (Eden, Jess, and Erika) and it was given on the occasion of the first anniversary of my sister Julia’s death.

I haven’t said anything about this anniversary or the painful ache of missing Julia on here, even though these things were very much on my mind recently.  I wish I had some brilliant and articulate post to write about grief and missing Julia, but I don’t.  I just miss her.  Maybe wise words will come eventually… but for now, I feel empty and sad.  I often go back to my dad’s words about thankfulness in the midst of grief.

This necklace means so much coming from my three Garber sisters, and the rings symbolize a great deal to me as I think of my sister Emily, my sister Julia, and myself.  Each of us is so different, each of us is so much the same.  I also love that there are three rings because rings symbolize continuity, wholeness, and eternity.  Although Julia is separated from her body now — as Emily and I will be sooner or later — one day our bodies and souls will be united, perfect, and whole in the new heavens and the new earth.


I don’t wear much jewelry — usually just my wedding rings and a ring that Julia’s friends made with Romans 8:18 inscribed inside it.  Now I have this beautiful necklace too.  Do you wear special jewelry that was given to you by or reminds you of a loved one?

10 :: in grief, Julia, my faith

life in an Italian villa {Part 2 of 2}

For so many reasons, this week away with my family (read Part 1 here) was peaceful, joyful, and in every way the perfect Sicilian vacation.  In others, it was somber and tainted with grief.  As many of you know, my youngest sister, Julia, died in a car accident this summer.  This was our first real family vacation without her and we felt her absence at every turn.  Although we have every confidence that Booie (our nickname for her) is in Heaven experiencing fullness of joy and rest, and although we have so much to be thankful for, we will be missing her the rest of our lives.  I would be leaving the biggest thing out if I tried to write about this week and didn’t mention the thing that was most on our minds.

We continue to ask for your prayers as the weeks and months go by.  We’d especially appreciate them tomorrow, March 23, which would have been Julia’s 20th birthday.

Here are some more photos from this week. Thank you, family, for coming so far and living life with us… newborn and all!
becca-garber-villa-sisters-beach becca-garber-villa-love-beach We took another walk on the beach mid-week and snapped some of these photos. Below are a couple of attempts at a family portrait… easier said than done!

becca-garber-villa-family-portrait-fail becca-garber-villa-family-portrait becca-garber-villa-dad becca-garber-villa-reading Above, we enjoy some reading outside as a family. Below, some photos from our last lunch together as a family, which we ate at a little restaurant built into the seawall in the tiny town of Brucoli.

becca-garber-villa-brucoli becca-garber-villa-steamed-octopus   becca-garber-villa-steamed-octopus-2 Em wasn’t so sure about the steamed octopus, but Lena enjoyed it. Her attempt to say “octopus” sounded more like “apple-de-guts.”

becca-garber-villa-eating-octopus becca-garber-villa-family-restaurant becca-garber-villa-grandpa-sitting becca-garber-villa-aunt-baby I love this photo of Emily and Gil! Below, a photo of how we spent many evenings: watching Downton Abbey (some of us for the first time, others of us for the second or third…).


8 :: in family, grief, holiday, Julia, memories, Sicily

not ready to say goodbye yet

on a hike near our home in Sicily in early January 2012

I’ve attempted to write this post several times and it just isn’t flowing out of me.  “Goodbye 2012, you were great!  Bring it on, 2013!”  That is anything but what I feel right now.  When you stare at your computer screen, attempting to write, and then end up sobbing in bed instead, you know there’s no joy in your heart about sweeping out the old and welcoming the new.

How do you say goodbye to a year in which your baby sister died?  How do you make yourself look forward?  How do you celebrate what a new year could bring when this last year brought such sadness and loss?

The tears were mostly caused by looking back through old photos and videos.  I was trying to find a photo from a year ago that I could use in my post, but this search led me to albums of images from the trip my family and I took to the Balkans last year.  I found a video of Dec 31, 2011, when we were exploring Zagreb, Croatia.  It was just a simple clip on my iPhone, but it included a scene–such an ordinary scene!–with Elliott and Julia standing side-by-side and taking pictures of my parents with Zagreb behind them.  At the end of the video, Julia walked forward to show my parents the picture she’d just taken on my dad’s phone.  Everything about that moment was so ordinary, so familiar: the way she walked, the shape of her hands, the expression on her face as she glanced at me to see if I was done filming before she started talking.  She was so real in those few seconds, so present, so alive.

I guess I haven’t watched any videos of her since she died; maybe that’s what shook me up so much.  Or maybe I am so busy a lot of the time that I just don’t think about it.  Unexpected moments like this take me back to Square 1 of grief again.

And so… I don’t know.  Sometimes I think I’m still in the denial stage of grief.  (Actually, what I really think is that you go through all the stages multiple times… probably for the rest of your life.)  And so, on this New Year’s Day, I hold many different emotions in my heart.  Sadness as well as joy.  Sorrow as well as hope.  Disappointment as well as thankfulness.  Anguish as well as peace.

I often go back and read this letter from my dad, which reminds me of truths I confess, truths about Julia, truths about life even when the night is very dark. Truths that give me joy, hope, thankfulness, and peace, even in the midst of sorrow.

This will be, I do hope, a beautiful year for our family.  We will be welcoming a new baby in about 4 weeks!  We will be making important decisions about Elliott’s career, our life after Sicily, and the future for our family.  I also have a lot of personal goals and hopes, which I’m eager to share with you soon.  Even this blog will see some exciting changes.  We have good reason to be hopeful, thankful, and faithful. 
And yet… there is this fear that instead of respite from turmoil and sadness, I may in fact experience more turmoil and sadness, or worse.  I wonder if I was just living in a happy bubble before Julia died and now I really know “the truth.”  The truth that most of life is sorrow, that the peaceful times are the exception, and that sadness and suffering is the rule.  It’s a rather bleak picture, but perhaps it’s a more accurate way to view this life.  What do you think?
11 :: in Balkans, grief, Julia, my faith, thoughts

holding them close.

I have been moved to tears more than once over this past weekend after the events in Connecticut.  I didn’t use to be this way, but then I had Lena and lost my sister, and now it only takes a few words of a news article or interview to cause my eyes to well up with tears.
There just aren’t any guarantees in this life, are there?  You choose a small town in a state known for its decorum and law-abiding citizens.  You settle down, have your long-awaited children, send them to a lovely elementary school, welcome them home each day.  And then one morning you find yourself standing in the parking lot, watching children run out of the school, weeping, and you wait and you wait and you wait and your child never comes out.  
Or you fall asleep on a quiet July Saturday night in Sicily, sleep through your sister driving down the highway, sleep through your sister overcorrecting, sleep through your sister hitting a tree, wake up to a phone call from your dad, and phone calls should never come at 4am.  Never.
I read A Wrinkle in Time yesterday and my heart swelled with the family reunion at the end of the book:
Sandy suddenly yelled, “Father!”
Mr. Murry was running across the lawn, Mrs. Murry running toward him, and they were in each other’s arms, and then there was a tremendous happy jumble of arms and legs and hugging, the older Murrys and Meg and Charles Wallace and the twins, and Calvin grinning by them until Meg reached out and pulled him in and Mrs. Murry gave him a special hug all of his own.  They were talking and laughing all at once, where they were strartled by a crash, and Fortinbras, who could bear being left out of the happiness not one second longer, catapulted his sleek black body right through the screened door to the kitchen.  He dashed across the lawn to join in the joy, and almost knocked them all over with the exuberance of his greeting.
Through the achings and the longings of this life, through the griefs and the sorrows, I am holding out in hope and awaiting with eagerness a reunion like this in Heaven, when Booie will come running across the Jordan and we’ll all be together again, reaching for each other and falling down and laughing in the shallow water, reunited for all eternity in joy and peace, where there are no more tears and there is no more night, and all the light comes from Jesus.
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5 :: in family, grief, home sweet home, Julia

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