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.
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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)
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.
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.
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)