Great-Grandparents Grieve (part 3)

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We did not think anything like this could happen in our family.  We love our family too much.  They love each other too much.  We still don’t understand.  For a while, we did not want to see or talk to anyone.  Grieving takes time.  Jamie’s mother sent us a copy of the funeral video, I (Grandpa Philip) just cannot watch it.  I still can’t bear it.  After Grandma watched it she look straight at me, pointed her finger and said, “If anything happens to Heidi, don’t tell me!”

Suicide.  How repulsive!  Before Jamie’s death, we thought someone who kills himself must be a coward or sick in the mind.  Only a troubled person in need of attention with problem that needed to be solved—seeing no other way out or seeking escape could consider such an act.  And now, we feel so sorry for a person (and his family) who ends his life… because he cannot seem to live it.  Oh, those left behind— how deep the grief!  Knowing we all ask the answerless questions, we wonder “What could we have done to help?” in hindsight.

We think of Job from Scripture.  Oh, how he suffered!  Losing his family, property and health, he cried out, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return.  The Lord gives; the Lord takes away.  Blessed be His Name.”  Yet, we continue to battle disappointment with God.  Not anger.  We know God does not make mistakes, but we struggle with the, almost, hopeless finality of suicide.  We forget the sovereignty of God for moments; we don’t want to do that.  So, we keep the Scriptures close.  I (Grandpa Philip), though retired, still write sermons which keeps me thinking and praying and healing, I hope.

A natural death seems easier to accept as God’s timing.  We lost one of our sons to an accident a few years before Jamie.  While inspecting a roof of a commercial building, our son fell through a sky light and never regained consciousness.  Oh, what pain we felt at his loss!  However, he enjoyed full life with wonderful children and grandchildren.  His loss was easier to accept than Jamie’s.

Knowledge and review of Scripture comforts us with peace, faithful assurance, and hope for eternal rest in heaven.  This is denied to those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit and reject Jesus.  All other sins are forgivable.  Jamie broke one of the commandments by taking his own life, but he also had confessed Jesus as Lord.  Romans 10:9-10 says, “That if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”  We believe the Lord when He says, “He who comes to me, I will not cast out.” (John 6:37)

Jamie’s life reflected that of a faithful servant.  Even as a teenager, he volunteered in their church with children and the sound equipment.  He was gentle, kind, and thoughtful of others.  We could see his heart by the way he lived his life.

Yet, his mind was troubled.  We speculate his choice to go on a retreat at Christian camp was an effort to settle some of his thinking.  The torment must have been so heavy.  We know we don’t understand what he faced.  As time has past, picturing Jamie at peace… walking the streets of gold… free from that torment… does give us some comfort.  We believe we will join him in a joyous reunion one day.

As time passes, we go from seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling our pain and misunderstandings to see how this kind of pain and loss can serve goodness as well.  First, we are drawn to seek God even more in our confusion and hurt.  We think harder about how we interact with others.  And we are reminded to value and communicate that value to those we treasure.

I (Grandma Ruth) speak of Jamie often.  Oh, how we miss that boy!  Grandpa can only handle so much talk of Jamie, so I share with several people in our assisted living building.  They are touched.  Then they ask questions which leads into sharing Jesus in such a personal way.  As Romans 8:28 says, “God is working all these things together for the good to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Pain and sorrow continue, but seeing the good restores our joy at the same time.  Mysterious metamorphosis occurs during grieving.  Our heart aches so much for our only remaining twin, Heidi.   Her sorrow must be so severe because they were so close from birth.  We wish we could take that pain away.  But, we just can’t.

We try not to dwell on the manner of his death anymore as it conjures up so many unanswerable questions:

What could we have done differently?

Why was his pain so deep?

Why didn’t anyone see how much he was hurting?

Additionally, these thoughts seem to reopen the wound.  I (Grandpa Philip) cry every time we speak of his death.  I hate suicide!  Not the person who dies, but the grief he leaves behind!  I hate it!  Some have said all this would get easier.  As the years go by for us, the reality of Jamie’s absence is still so difficult.  When Heidi got married, we thought Jamie should be standing up with Alex.  Imagine what a marvelous man -husband, dad, pilot, doctor- he could have become.  He had no idea his place in our family, in history, or his potential to better the world.

Oh, how we miss him!  If we live to be 100 years old, we will never understand it!  We just can’t.  Simply, we choose to remember Jamie’s life and the joy he brought to our family.

We share our perspectives because we still love Jamie and miss him terribly.  And we know we’re not the first family to face this, so we speak love and life into the silent places where the shadow of death has convinced the grieving they must sink in their deep sadness and remain silent because suicide is a shameful stain on a family.  We believe it is a wrong choice with painful consequences, but we also believe God is bigger.  He is Good.  His Grace is Sufficient.

Philip:  June 27, 1905 – January 26, 1999          Ruth: September 10, 1910 – April 6, 2003

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

  Job 1:21 ESV

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Great-Grandparents Grieve (part 2)

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We remember the day Jamie was born.  Instantly, we burst with pride!  Summering in the north, we stayed on the same farm where our daughter and son-in-law (Ken and Phyllis) along with Jamie and his parents lived in three different homes on the homestead property.  Simply, we had experienced nothing like the joys of retirement with strong bodies and minds.  This great-grandson was like no other.  We were blessed with other children before Jamie, but they lived more than a day’s drive away.  We experienced great-grand-parenting differently because he lived close to us.  We really got to enjoy him because we could focus on him.  We did not know the limitless love the Lord would provide us for other great-grandchildren until Heidi came along, and she stole our hearts as well.

Even before the great-grandchildren, oh, how we loved being grandparents!  We took our grandchildren to the lake on weekends to stay in our camper, fish in the lake, and enjoy God’s creation together.  What delight they brought to our lives!  However, we were still in the throes of pasturing churches with all the preparations, energies, tending and time required.  We did not realized exactly how amazing being great-grandparents would be until these two.

From our front porch on the farm, Ken and Phyllis’ home stood large to the right as Kenny had built on several times over the years to accommodate for the growing family, including a 24’x24’ living room. Oh, how we loved gathering there!  While our summer home nestled behind the big house, Carlton and Kathy lived in the smaller house to our left.  The summer of 1974, just before Jamie and Heidi were born, Kenny laid a concrete sidewalk connecting foot traffic of all three homes.

Anytime Jamie’s Mom needed a break, she would send Jamie on his way over to our place.  We had not idea how nice that side walk was going to be for those kids.  And for us, too.  With all that foot traffic, it sure helped keep the floors and entries cleaner.  Oh, how I can still see him, Jamie, toddling along the sidewalk or riding his little four-wheeled elephant.  We loved having those kids come over because they knew how to mind.

Now you must already know, idleness is one of the seven deadly sins, and we did our best to keep our kids busy.  Although we seemed to attract them with our generous supply of ice-cream, rice pudding, and peanut butter by the spoonfuls, we required them to complete jobs before we enjoyed sitting down with them to watch television (which was difficult to see because the reception was very poor on the prairie in those days).  Jamie, and Heidi too if she were over (as she lived on a different homestead), were often required to pick up sticks and took turns sweeping the porch.  They may have only been about three or four years old, but they knew what was required, how to do a good job (no monkey business), and they still loved being with us.  And we loved having them.  They would sit quiet and still for some time  just watching Grandpa’s room making fishing lures.  They would just sit there.  Then, we would often watch Hogan’s Heroes and The Flintstones together quite regularly.

We took our pontoon out on the lake, and those kids loved to go with us.  In fact, Jamie’s first night away from his Mommy and Daddy was with us in our camper at the lake.  Most of our memories from these years enter around Jamie and Heidi.  We use to sing the “Jack and Jill” nursery rhyme using “Jamie and Heidi” instead.  They smiled so big.  And when they looked at each other, oh they were just so cute.

Along with fishing, one of my (Grandpa Philip) hobbies was filming the family.  Oh what fun I had filming the grandchildren!  Moving pictures.  Can you even imagine such a thing?  Well, in your day and age, I suppose you can.  But this technology was new for us and fascinating for me.  So I naturally continued to film the new batch of kids in the family.  We could not get over how cute those two were together.  Jamie, always the smiley and happy one, endured Heidi scooting closer and closer to him trying to invade his space and tell him what to do or not to do.  Those two were twins to us, and other people told us that often as well.

Jamie’s parents remained on the farm for one year after their second born Michael was born (Jamie was about five years old at the time).  And that Michael.  He was something else, too.   Oh, how we loved every moment with those kids!  And nothing was the same after they moved off the farm.  Honestly, we felt sick over it.  With Michael, we hadn’t enough time with him.  And with Jamie, well we felt he was our own.  We mourned the loss as part of us seemed to vanish.  Between us, we just did not feel right about them moving.  We argued back and forth recognizing the right of the parents, but we also agonized over our own emotions and loss because we felt like those kids were ours, too.

We only saw them once a year for short visits after that.  And oh, how they changed from visit-to-visit.  Jamie’s Mom communicated with us as to the kids’ academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and sent photos from time to time.  We knew Jamie,  a very bright boy, worked hard and did very well in school.  As years passed, he seemed to become more shy and less smiley.  He struggled health wise with allergies and with horrible sores in his mouth.  They said the sores were stress related.  Why was a young boy stressed?  We didn’t know.

The last time Jamie was in our home he had traveled with Heidi and her parents to celebrate Thanksgiving at Ken and Phyllis’.  We invited Jamie and Heidi, now teenagers, to stay with us in our apartment at the assisted living facility.  They accepted our invitation.  As always, we were so glad they wanted to stay with us.

Jamie seemed to struggle going to sleep.  He mentioned he was suffering from headaches as well.  Each night they stayed with us, we had to say, “Now, Jamie, you need to put that light out, and get some sleep.”  He did not quarrel; simply and quickly, he obeyed.  He seemed restless much of the visit.  Yet, we also, saw him happy on that visit as well.  I (Grandma Ruth) slipped him $5 to take Heidi to Wendy’s for a light lunch.  He accepted with a familiar smile.  He and Heidi returned acting silly… so nice to see an older version of what we remembered of them… carefree kids… running around the sofa and finishing each other’s sentences.

We would shut the television off and just watch those two toddlers play together.    When they were, oh two or three, they would chase each other like puppies.  One chasing the other around one side of the sofa only to be chased around the other side.  We laughed and laughed.  Those two… they were so cute together. I (Grandma Ruth) remember speaking to him, “Say, Jamie, you are growing into a handsome young man!”  And he replied with a smirk, “I know, Grandma!”

I (Grandpa Philip) remember feeling sorry for him because something seemed to be haunting him, especially one night.  One evening, he was switching the off and on the button on the remote control for the television repetitively.  I rebuked him.  He did not quarrel.   And I still feel bad because I did not take the time to ask him what was bothering him. Instead, I rebuked him like that.  Oh, how I wish I would have taken the time to ask.  I think he would have told me… if only I had asked.

Early in the morning on Sunday, January 19, 1992, our even-tempered son-in-law Kenny (Swedish) came over- which was unusual at that time because we were still driving ourselves to church then.  He came in quieter than he normally did; his jaw clenched tight.  But he spoke sternly and said, “Dad, better sit down.”

Okay, the Italian in me went berserk.  We have no words adequate to articulate how we felt.  He could have put a bullet in MY head.  I (Grandpa Philip) went crazy!  I just kept shouting, “It can’t be!  Jamie committed suicide!  SUICIDE! It can’t be! Not Jamie!  Not our Jamie!  No! NO! No!”  As vivid as those initial moments were, the many days following remain a distinct and literal blur due to the constant flow of tears.  My eyes ached from the tearful drain.

As with the biblical character Job,

“My face is foul with weeping, and

on my eyelids is the shadow of death.”

Job 16:16

We knew we could not go to the funeral.  We could not see Jamie lying in that box.  We could not bear to face his parents…not yet.  We just knew seeing their sorrow, combined with our own, would ignite a ghastly scene of uncontrollable emotion.   Such a demonstrative demonstration would have been a disgrace.  My (Grandpa Philip) grief, my remorse, my sorrow are feelings too strong for me.

As a child, I attended many Italian immigrant funerals.  The emotional demonstrations included weeping, sobbing, and yelling.  The rest of Jamie’s family is not as demonstrative as I am, so I just knew I could not disgrace them.  Our grief, the week of the funeral, we bore alone.  That was the way we felt best to honor the family.

During the days following, we kept repeating, “His poor mother!  His poor mother!  Oh, his Dad!  What are they going to do?”  Jamie’s death took part of our life away.  Nothing compares to his loss.

Death is one thing, but suicide… “Oh, Jamie, didn’t you know how much we loved you?”

 

to be continued   Great-Grandparents Grieve (part 3)

 

 

Great-Grandparents Grieve (part 1)

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PERSPECTIVES:

When invited to participate in this perspective endeavor reflecting on Jamie’s life and subsequent suicide, most family members offered openness to share their story.   However, most did not feel either capable or comfortable to write their own perspectives.  Therefore, I conducted oral interviews to establish primary source material from which to write on their behalf in the first person.  In each perspective, you can expect “Reflections on the Interview” and “Brief History.”  Both sections are written in the third person.  Then, the voice will shift to first person for their Perspective.

We welcome you here.  This remains tender space for us.  So join us accordingly.  Know you’re also welcome to subscribe to receive email links as we publish pieces here.

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Our Maternal Great-Grandparents, Phil and Ruth,  share their grief over Jamie’s death.  Their perspective will be presented here in segments, so keep your eyes open for the remaining parts.

Each family on earth is a magic kingdom,

and the spell that is casts

are long-lasting and powerful.”(1)

Frederick Buechner

            Oral Interview:  July 1997

Reflections on the Interview:

After 70 plus years of marriage and physical limitations (hearing loss) and the emotional weight of the conversation, I (Heidi) opted to interview our great-grandparents, Philip and Ruth, together.  Then, I compiled notes from the transcripts to write their perspective in a collective voice rather than conduct separate interviews resulting in individual voices.  Unless otherwise noted with “I (individual name),” their “we” voice reflects both of them.

They needed each other, even five years after his death, to even speak about Jamie and especially the manner of death.  I wish you could have heard the rising voices as well as the faint whispers.  I wish you could have seen her tenderly patting his arm as he wiped the endless flow of tears.   And the speaking turns… when one slowed thoughts and speech, the other spoke up.  Often repeating in agreement or possibly adding to clarify, a couple reflecting their enduring love.  They learned and lived a rhythm together for seven decades.

Our great-grandparents adored each other immensely.  And they spilled that adoration over to our entire family.  Our earliest lessons of discipline and love came from them.

Brief History:

Philip’s parents emigrated from Sicily just prior to his birth in the early 1900s.  He was the first American born of his immediate family.  His mother spoke only Italian.  He described his family as typical of Italian immigrants living in the Chicago area at the time.  (Due to mob complications, he eventually changed his last name…which is another story.)  When he married Ruth, he thought she was 18 years old.  She and her mother had stretched the truth a bit.  She was just 15 years of age.  When the family teased her about this, her characteristic response, “Oh phoo-eey, I was practically 16.”

Ruth, the youngest of a Scotch-Irish family, loved people with the absolutely most unique (I get these are ambiguous non-writer words… but with her, they are the only ones that fit.) blend of toughness and tenderness.  Standing tall at five feet, she nuzzled in with tight hugs, huge squinty-eyed smiles, and commonly pinched waists to determine how well we were eating.  She never lost her youthful sense of adventure or her uncanny ability to speak the tough truths with the deepest love to anyone from family to first time meeting her.   Although cultural Catholicism was the extended family norm, Philip & Ruth accepted Jesus as personal Savior and became practicing Protestants after they had three children of their own.

Eventually, Philip graduated from Moody Bible Institute, and he became a preacher of the gospel of Jesus.  He pastured congregations in the Great Plains including Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming.  His favorite hobby:  fishing.   Ruth actively served these communities.  And she fried his fish to everyone’s delight.  It was in one of the Swedish settlements in southeast Wyoming, their only daughter Phyllis would find her groom Kenneth, a World War II hometown hero.

During retirement, Philip and Ruth spent several years wintering in south Texas or Florida and summering on their son-in-law and daughter’s farm.  When age slowed their bodies some, they relocated into an all year round assisted living facility where they remained active socially.  Ruth commonly checked in on those who did not have many visitors, read many books, and kept an immaculately tidy tiny home.  Philip continued to watch boxing, write sermons, and find a good theological discussion wherever with whomever he could.

Philip:  June 27, 1905 – January 26, 1999  &  Ruth: September 10, 1910 – April 6, 2003

Additional Note:  Many question the theological implications of suicide.  Some prefer to avoid such questions altogether.  These questions are not my primary focus.  My primary focus remains our discovery of Living Hope beyond the shadow of death.  In a pluralistic day like ours, the inclusion of such wrestling as well as subsequent findings may stir additional discomfort and potential disagreement among readers.  I have intentionally not edited my great-grandparents’ theological conversational points on this because their words reflect both his and her hearts’ Life beat.

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 Perspective:

 Great-Grandparents Grieve (part 1)

Before delving into this most difficult subject in our long lives, we must convey what has been most important in our lives.  The Lord Jesus Christ touched us when we young parents, and His touch has changed us.  Next only to Him, our family is of supreme importance to us.  Our definition of family includes blood relatives, their spouses, and every branch leading to us and flowing from us.  We feel responsible for them- no matter how old we are.  We love to be with our family as often as we can; they are the joy of our lives.

We lived a great many years with many trials and pains within the family.  Sadly, we endured loss in various forms…severed relationships, divorce, and death.  Oh, how these struggles have pained us!  When some of our grandchildren chose to divorce, we hurt so badly.  Oh, how we wished we could do something to patch-up the brokenness in those marriages!  However, nothing could have prepared us for the pain of losing Jamie…

“Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned,

for we were born only yesterday, and know nothing,

and our days on earth are

but a shadow.”

Job 8:8-9 NIV

to be continued…  Great-Grandparents Grieve (part 2)

By Hand

Cousin poem 1988

written by Heidi L. Paulec

While he was bright, brilliant and articulate, I’m fairly certain Jamie did not create, but rather copied this poem for my 14th birthday.

Also soft spoken, he quite likely would shy away from here… this world wide web…  Wondering why am I sharing?  The compassion, that, he would likely endorse.  So, I proceed.  In a time shrouded by impersonal fonts and white, shiny screens, what still means the most?  … I’m not sure about you, but to me… anything by hand.  Letters, lunch, lace, and lanais (shout-out to my boys!), I still appreciate the work behind the work all so much more because I know someone paused to create, or in this case- copy,  by hand.

A troubling truth of this poem lies in the last line, “A part of my life, my cousin, you’ll always be special to me!”  I was part of his whole life (minus the first seven weeks).  However, while he was part of mine for only 17 years.  I have now lived nearly 25 years without him.

During the first two or three years without him, I wondered if I could make it without him.  Not because I felt suicidal, but isolation introduced me to a loneliness and troubling uncertainty I had never known.

Not the isolation that literally hides away… I fulfilled my leadership duties as an officer of my high school varsity dance team.  I went on to college (and be the first young woman in our family to graduate), participated in Student Government Association and cross-cultural experiences, and made hilarious and deeply thoughtful memories with dear friends.  No, this isolation is more a gnawing of mind and emotion conflicted in the quest to balance the past, be in the present, and yearn for a future.

“The pains and struggles we encounter in our solitude thus become the way to hope because our hope is not based on something that will happen after our sufferings are over, but on the real presence of God’s healing Spirit in the midst of those sufferings.”

Henri Noumen    Making All Things New 

…and the moments in between…