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 sent surveys and conducted oral interviews from their responses. These were used 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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Reflections on the Interview:
Our paternal great grandmother, Grandma Hazel, not only agreed to participate in my project to collect the family memories and ponderings, but she quietly endorsed my efforts to encourage other families who face similar loss.
Initially, I sent a questionnaire to each family member to fill in prior to our recorded interview. Grandma Hazel filled in the sheets with brevity and reverence.
She passed on before I had the opportunity to seek more understanding from her. However, I think her brief guarded responses illustrate perfectly the varying distinctions grief maneuvers among us. Some personalities (and maybe even some seasons) need to put words to all they deal with in order to move forward while others move forward more privately… without such words.
Hazel Fern Schafer Plinsky Neel (March 10, 1906-February 19, 2005) Our Great-Grandma Hazel grew up and lived her life in rural Kansas. Hardworking. Content. Kind. Practical. Classy. She endured much in her life, including the loss of two husbands. She penned some her own memories in May 2001. She described the pipeline being built when she was a school girl and the response from her small town. She wrote of improving race relations through children playing together and community potlucks. She acknowledged being a bit hungry during the Dust Bowl years.
The depravation of the Great Depression? She wrote that she really did not notice too much until a government official stopped in to inquire about their living conditions and how she was feeding her farming family. From her notes:
“One day before the pipeline came through a lady came to the door- I was ironing and heating flat irons on the cook stove. She started asking questions, so I began to ask who she was and why all these personal questions… I asked why she asked about our food- clothing and income, etc.
For instance, she asked “What did you have for breakfast. I said toast, coffee and Ernie had two eggs. The boys Darrell and Dean each had one egg and a glass of milk (we didn’t have Carolyn yet). Then, she asked again what I ate. I said, “Toast and coffee.” She wanted to know why I didn’t have an egg. I told her that we only had a few hens and without proper feed, they didn’t lay many eggs.
She looked at me and said, ‘Lady, you are on a starvation diet.’ She almost made me feel sorry for myself. She kept asking other questions about our other meals. When she asked where Ernie* ate for lunch, I said I sent lunch with him. I made a sandwich with mustard on one slice and butter on the other one- no fruit. She almost fell from her chair and told me that in a few days someone would be bringing us some food.
I was so curious about so many things and asked so many questions. She finally said she wasn’t suppose to tell us, but it was a government deal and was free as long as we needed it. Of course I looked for it every day, but Uncle Sam is never in a big hurry to do things for us- (only when he wants our taxes). But in due time, someone did come with lots of food- flour, rice, canned meat, canned peaches, and corn meal that I remember.”
*Ernie was our great-Grandfather we never met…our Dads never met him either as he passed away just a month after my Dad was born and well before Jamie’s Dad was born.
Great Grandmother’s Endurance… Encourages
“Oh, Jamie… he was a loving and caring young man. Polite. Smart. A very young man.
Due to my age and limited travel as well as his family’s move to Denver, I seldom got to see Jamie and the family. I stayed in my small town mostly. And the younger ones moved around more. Times changes. I understood that. But I so enjoyed preparing gifts for my whole family every January for Christmas several months later. On the night of January 18, 1992. I was wrapping Christmas gifts and very happy until word came about his death.
Very sad… such a young man.
The last time I remember seeing Jamie… my 85th birthday party. I saw him walk up the stairs and thought how nice looking and sweet a person he is… that is how I remember Jamie.
Very, very sad… wondering why?”
“Honest writing shows us how badly we are living and how good life is. Enlightenment is not without pain. But the pain, accepted and endured is not a maiming, but a purging.”
Eugene Peterson Run With the Horses pg. 128
Grief is not a state to ignore, hide or mask, but a path leading to perseverance and perspective. For a dear lady who endured hardship and embodied joy with such grace and dignity, I am deeply grateful for her life example as well as her selective use of words.
– Heidi L.Paulec
What a treasure is this little note she included when she returned the questionnaire: