Lois M. Collins: Angie brought new meaning to 'a life well-lived'

Published: Thursday, June 14 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Angie Christiansen gets a hug from her daughter Hanna in their new home on Nov. 20, 2010. They were enrolled in the federally funded Rapid Rehousing program that helps homeless families become stabilized.

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One of the pictures shows a beautiful 20-something young woman, eyes bright, big smile, ready to step into the future. Another is of a little girl, a toddler really, making a home out of a box. There's a wedding, then one birth and another and another and another until four little girls appear side by side in a family photo, holding hands and laughing uproariously.

The photos don't hint at the challenges: The Crohn's disease and fibromyalgia that will derail some of the woman's plans, including her hope to complete nursing school. You can't see her husband's sometimes debilitating anxiety attacks in the wedding photo. There are no pictures of the weeks in the homeless shelter after he lost his job — he missed too many days caring for her and the girls when she was sick — or the moving around or the struggle to regroup once they again had a small apartment.

On the table beside the photos, there's a book with pages of signatures, the roster of those who have come to say goodbye.

Angie is dead and I'm not sure what happened to her. With the little girls, now about ages 6 to 11, hanging on their grandma's arm and hugging their dad's waist, it seems indelicate to ask for details.

"Are you okay?" I ask him urgently, as if their wellbeing is the most important candle burning in my life. "Are they?" I gesture to the little girls, so beautiful and sweet and sad in their frilly black-and-white almost-alike dresses.

But I had lost track of them. It seems I often misplace people I have come to care about, moving on from one story to the next. Sometimes, I look back over my shoulder, as I did with this family, visiting around the holidays, calling once or twice, planning to keep in touch. But time flies and the connection often dwindles.

Still, I didn't lose the things I learned from Angie. I carry them. She was very open about her family's challenges and very matter-of-fact. I knew her during a most difficult chapter and she never complained that life had treated her unfairly. She could say, without flinching, where she and Victor made missteps as they faced unusual turning points. She was very smart and devoted to him and to the girls, determined that they would better their situation as an intact family.

They let a photographer follow them around for a feature we called "A Giving Heart." When she told her story, she didn't look back much at what had gone wrong; she was focused on what she needed to do to move forward.

On the back of the funeral program, her family placed something she wrote last August called "A Life Well-Lived."

"Waking up to your children, wide-eyed, watching Saturday morning cartoons, with syrup on their breath, is a life well-lived."

Her life well-lived had many parts, from the breeze in her hair and good music in her ears to moments jotting down thoughts and a personal relationship with God. She valued "reaching a goal, trying to reach a goal or even realizing that goal is not what you wanted." She cared about friendships and being there for her family.

"Working hard for the things and relationships you have and treating them all with respect is a life well-lived," she wrote. "Finding the love of your life and doing everything you can to keep them, is a life well-lived."

Circumstances send people on different journeys. Angie was at times beyond poor; she was ill, she was homeless. And she always did the very best she could with what she had.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.

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