Navigating Seasonal Signals

shadows on a city

Memorial Day Weekend – Summer’s Signal to some, and moments to mourn for others… How do we navigate these seemingly colliding times?

As a young girl, my Mom made sure I understood Memorial Day offered a point of pause to remember those who had passed on  before us.  We’d rise early to take flowers Mom tenderly arranged to her Grandpa’s grave at our little rural cemetery on the edge of our little homestead-hometown in southeastern Wyoming.

A grandpa I’d never met because he died when my Mom was in the seventh grade.  She’d tell me stories of how this Grandpa Harry snuck cookies to my Mom and her siblings behind Grandma Carrie’s back.  “He sure got a kick out doing that.”  She remembered.

I pictured him in overalls and glasses from a fading photo I remember seeing.  Mostly, I remember his smile.   Since we grew up among Swedish immigrants, I may have been more accustom to stoic grins than unbridled smiles.  But I remember his glasses and his smile.

Every Memorial Day I lived in Wyoming, we paused.   To remember.  As we made our way through the cemetery with utmost  respect, reverence, and quiet, my parents pointed out a few other family members and friends.  Many, already grew grass despite the arid climate.  And from time to time, an oblong dirt mound reminded us  … loss, still fresh, lingered here.

Let me be clear- our faith believes our loved ones weren’t pandering somewhere in a holding dimension; rather, their souls released from earthly bindings had already gone on to their eternal resting place.  The cemetery visit wasn’t to see them or hope they saw us, but more of an action to remember, to remind ourselves of our own mortality, to acknowledge those who’ve gone before us, and a substantial sober action to soak in the reality we’re just a part of a legacy… we’re the living … we’re responsible to live…

… maybe even pondering of what future generations might remember should they ever stand alongside our well-manicured grassy tomb…

This Grandpa Harry, though foreign to me, seemed so familiar.  He was a pioneer, a farmer, and a hero.  He was my Grandpa’s Dad.  Did my wise Grandpa ever really need a Dad?

While this foreign and fun Grandpa Harry died in his sleep as he’d always prayed he would, we remembered his life, faith, humility, and wonder.  He’d even prayed the right prayers leading to his preference of death.  And we remembered him as our family hero who endured difficulty cultivating a farm, yet lived well.  A long enough life. And a peaceful end.

“From Aristotle I learned that a story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end.”

-Madeleine L’Engle  Walking on Water:  Reflections of Faith and Art

When Jamie, my cousin, died at 17 years old… by his own hand.  I didn’t know where to put that, especially on Memorial Day and any other holiday.

Most citizens of the USA, if they even celebrate the “memorial” aspect of the day, acknowledge the valiant military losses and move on to celebrating the gateway weekend to summer with picnics, boating, water-skiing, maybe camping, if they live far enough north.

The pause seemed it ought be a necessity, but who has room for such a pause when cynicism and silly seem to have edged out any really capacity to remember a complex life and a complex death?

Yes, picnics saddle up the summer season, and we ought to freely celebrate.

But how do we really navigate season’s signal that represent such seemingly carefree celebrating when our own hearts beat heavy… if they beat at all…???  We recognize our need to pause.

Oh, Lord, how do we soberly remember and simultaneously celebrate with the living?

“I will walk with the Lord in the land of the living.”

-Psalm 116:8-

Heidi L. Paulec

Grandma Wanda… Beyond Brilliance (part 4)

Grandma Plinsky

As months passed (Defining Time) after everything changed, our house needed some remodeling, so our mental and physical focus preoccupied us and lightened the press of heartache.  We still miss Jamie, and we always will.  And our concern for the our whole family’s response to his death remains.

A pastor at a funeral of a Godly man who committed suicide once said, “God didn’t call him home, but He welcomed him.”  Some days we may feel sadder than others.

Questions still arise.  Does the hurt ever really go away?  No, we do adjust to it.  We wish Jamie would have had a longer, fuller life.  Yet, we must remember we still have a life to live.  Hopeful living is a gift and a choice.

At every family occasion, we always feel the missing.  But I’ve felt we ought not overly focus on Jamie’s absence at the holidays or at our other grandchildren’s special events; otherwise, we let death overshadow the living.  Whether we say anything or not, Jamie is always missed.  Yet, we must also be careful to go on enjoying life without restraining one another with added guilt and unearthing grief.

We want to be there to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.”  Not with divided hearts.  Rather, we choose how we adjust, remember the dead, and encourage real living.

Has God used all this for good?  I’m sure He has in countless ways we cannot see.  I am grateful for the ways He’s allowed us to see good.  For example, one of our daughters, Gretchen worked at a bookstore.  When customers inquired after books on suicide, her colleagues referred to her.  Her assistance helped them find what they were looking for, but more than that her compassion encouraged them as well.

Our other daughter, Lori,  and I had the opportunity to share our experience losing Jamie at Wichita State several years ago.  After we shared our story, several young people approached us with tears.  They thanked us for being willing to talk on the subject.  Several were grieving losses, including some whose families decided to pretend the suicide away.  Acknowledging death is one thing, but accepting it was a suicide is another.  This denial was much more common in the past; however, this class helped me realize it is still a common method of hiding from the truth.  We must be able to talk about it.

I remember one telephone call we received from a man who didn’t believe in God and  whose son committed suicide.  This man, clearly tormented, found no comfort any where.  Up to that point, he chose to close himself off from God.  I pray for him and others like him to be softened toward God through these times, not hardened all the more.

For me, searching the Scriptures brought great strength and perspective.  At first, I thought only of Judas Iscariot as being the primary suicide of the Bible.  However, as I studied more, I realized how many there were and how profoundly God used them in life and in death.

So, how does all this help us today?  The choice is ours.  Death cannot be undone.  We can choose to be defeated daily because of how our lives have changed, or we can watch God use it for good.  We can draw others to the Lord Jesus Christ by following Him and thanking Him without restraint.  Or we can become sullen, bitter and envious of others we think are experiencing good fortune.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Hebrews 13:20-21

Join my prayer~  Lord, please use Jamie’s life and death to bring honor to Your Name by displaying Your Comfort and Goodness in personal ways that draws souls to You and restore them with Your Joy and Strength.

Grandma Wanda… Beyond Brilliance (part 3)

Grandma Plinsky

… I knew leaving the family and going home would not be easy.  Immediately, I was back caring for my sister who was still slowly recovering from a heart transplant.  What will this new normal really look like?

How grateful we were to our family and friends for their outpouring of support through cards, flowers, and phone calls.  The first Sunday back we arrived intentionally late that morning, and we left as the last song was song.  I wasn’t sure I could handle talking with people just yet.  We did go back to church that Sunday evening, and I was able to stay clear through.  Peace, in bits, comes.

One outstanding feeling I could not shake?  The constant concern for Carlton, Kathy, and the kids did not wane.  I woke up thinking of them, went to bed thinking of them, and countless moments throughout the days wondering how they were adjusting.

Would the pain and ache ever quiet?

We already had a trip scheduled to Denver for a college class reunion in February 1992.  So we flew back out, and we stayed for week again.  While we were there, we joined a group therapy session for suicide survivors.  We took the opportunity to express what was going on in our own processing.  But, we also came to realize how important it was to know we are not alone.  Truly, most helpful.

One thing I want to share is that I have never been ashamed of Jamie or his final act.  I know this use to be a very common response to suicide- family shame, but not for me.  Rather, I’ve been open with other people partly because you want others to know they are not alone either.  Also, I will always be proud of him.

Jamie was sick.  He saw no relief in sight.  His dreams of playing ball and becoming a pilot at the Air Force Academy were shattered.  I’m sure this added to his unnerving.  While I know I don’t understand it all, I’m still so very proud of Jamie.

He loved planes and cooking like his Dad.  He loved Legos.  He could win at games without even trying.  Truly, a brilliant young mind.

Often, for those early months, songs or down days could trigger tears for me which was quite abnormal for my temperament.  But, I should not have been surprised.  He’s gone.  Our family has forever changed.

We don’t forget.  In fact, we found the first year he was gone that we needed to do something in memory of him.  I know some choose to keep fresh flowers on the gravestone, but we chose to do something different.

We chose to share what brought us the most comfort and strength through our grief.  We bought Gideon Bibles in Jamie’s memory every month.  You know the Bibles place in hotel and motel rooms?   Knowing troubled souls might need some guidance and comfort, we prayed these Scriptures would speak life into minds battling depression and hearts in need of salvation.

The Scriptures and prayer for our family had been deeply important to us before Jamie’s death; however, they became even more vital to us after.  Drawing strength from the Lord gave us opportunity to love and to live beyond our capacity.

The resounding ache does quiet down some.  We carry on with a deeper compassion for those around us.  But, normal never really feels normal again.

 

 

Grandma Wanda… Beyond Brilliance (part 2)

Grandma Plinsky

When we boarded the plane, I burst into tears.  With my sister’s tender physical state, I had not yet found a place quiet and alone enough.  Whether I was ready or not, the tears spilled out right there.

The thought the Lord impressed upon me:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Genesis 50:20 NIV

When we landed in Denver, Carlton met us at the airport.  He grabbed me, and he held.  Silently.  We stood there for a time.  Suddenly, I began to realize more than the pain we all shared.  I remember greeting Kathy (Jamie’s mom) and her mother when we arrived at the house.  He was really gone.

Where do you begin to comfort a fractured family?

I remember we all got ready to go to church where they had a Christian Counselor for all the church, the many youth who knew Jamie including some who had been at the camp when he hung himself.  Although still in shock, I remember thinking the time spent together like that was profitable.  That was on Sunday.  Jamie died the day before early evening.

The following day, Monday, many more people came.  Work needed to be done to accommodate visitors, so I just tried to keep busy which gives the mind a bit of a rest.

On Tuesday, Darrell and I went with Carlton and Kathy to the funeral home to help with those details. Carlton and Kathy also had to go pick out a plot at the cemetery.   I remember picking out his casket.  Who would have ever thought I’d pick out a casket for one of our grandchildren?

The body arrived on Wednesday.  They (the funeral home) prepared the body for family viewing.  We spent all afternoon at the mortuary.

The funeral was on Thursday, January 23, 1992.  I cried.  And I cried like I had never cried before.  What a time- I felt sorry that I couldn’t be more of a help to my kids.  I had never known grief to this extent before.  By this time, I had already buried both my parents.  But this was very different.

Why?  Almost harder than losing Jamie has been watching Carlton and Kathy go thru all this grief, and knowing we can’t do anything to make it better.  Standing by … helpless.

But, in the midst of it all… we got glimpses of The Good.

The initial response from Carlton and Kathy’s church, coworkers, and friends was outstanding.  They brought in meals to serve 20 people everyday leading up to the funeral.  I’ve never seen such a creative outpouring of love and ministry.  They brought in paper goods like Kleenex, toilet tissue, paper plates, napkins.  And because so many young people were coming and going, people generously shared pop by the cases.  They really understood that no one feels like shopping, and they thought of everything we might need.  From this church, I learned to take these kinds of things to other families when they grieve.  There is a time of such shock that these thoughtful, generous gestures really do help so much.

Darrell and I stayed another week after the funeral to help.  We helped write thank you notes.  Taking the time to say thank you reminded us how many people did so many things to help lighten this heavy burden.   We cleaned as we could and did the laundry and just about anything we could think to do to help the family get back to “normal”…  which we already knew would never be completely the same with the obvious one forever missing.

Throughout it all, there was much searching for clues.  Jamie wrote a lot of his thoughts down, so there were clues in notebooks, in letters, and his choice of music pointing to his struggle with depression.  So many unanswered questions remain.  A couple specific ones for me:

1.) But was it really more than most teens go through trying to finding their nitch?

2.)  What happened to him at the local public high school that caused him to cry and plead not to have to go back there?

One thing that really helped is nothing was held back.  The family shared everything that was found.  Someone even made copies of all his notes and letters, so we could have copies to read through when we were ready.  This helped us sort through our questions as well as sort through his belongings.  I am grateful for that.

Although we only saw him about once a year, he was our first grandchild and we enjoyed him.  We’re thankful he was part of our lives for 17 1/2 years.  And we hurt.  But Carlton and Kathy, he was their firstborn and their home felt so different without him.  I ached for them and the kids, Michael and Holly.  Oh how we prayed they’d each know The Good out of this awful situation.

They went through the motions of living.  Michael had his sports and so many friends who kept him occupied.  Holly was younger and at home more.  I was more worried about her as she seemed to not realize he really wasn’t coming home.  Initially, she seemed to have fun claiming the things of Jamie’s she wanted- I am not criticizing her. Maybe the items helped her feel he wasn’t so far away.  I’m sharing to remind us that we do not all grieve the same or at the same time.  I just think it took her a long time to reach the real acceptance of his absence and the real grieving process.

No two people sort through our grief alike.  We draw our strength from the Lord.  And He comforts and guides us so personally.  He brings The Good out of everything.  What do people ever do without Him?

I know some need quiet solitude. I needed to be busy.  Even with all the work to catch up on when I got home, I knew leaving the family and going home would not be easy.

 

Grandma Wanda… Beyond Brilliance (part 1)

Grandma Plinsky.JPG

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 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.

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.

Heidi L.Paulec

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Reflections on the Interview:

On January 13, 2007 I interviewed both Grandpa and Grandma individually in their home in Wichita, Kansas.  The home in which they raised their family.  Prior to the interview, Grandpa Darrell and Grandma Wanda Plinsky both wrote multiple pages in their own handwriting along with filling out the initial project survey I sent to them.  This made the interview much easier for me as I could just ask them to expound some or recount what they had already penned.

Brief History:

Born Wanda Mae McGeary, Grandma was born on a farm in rural Kansas just months after the stock market crash ushered in the Great Depression.  Her parents were James Eber McGeary and Olive Anne Turner McGeary.  She had two brothers and two sisters.

She started dating Grandpa Darrell when she was a junior in high school- the day he returned home from serving in the United States Navy during World War II.

In June of 1946, Grandma Wanda, nearly a senior in high school, paid a visit to local pastor’s wife.  During their time together, Grandma invited Christ into her life.  Although she wasn’t personally raised in church, she did attend with Darrell during their dating season and off and on through out her growing up years.

She graduated high school on May 20, 1947.  She married Grandpa Darrell on June 29, 1947.  She added Plinsky to her name.  Together they moved to Denver, Colorado where Grandpa had enrolled in Denver Bible College- renamed Rockmont by they time he graduated.

Their first son, David, was born May 21, 1948 in Denver.  Next son Timothy (Heidi’s Dad) was born June 18, 1951 in Salina, Kansas.  Third son  Carlton (Jamie, Michael, and Holly’s Dad) was born March 27, 1953 in Harper, Kansas.  Their first daughter, Lori, was born June 1, 1959 in Attica, Kansas.  Second daughter and baby of the family, Gretchen, was born October 16, 1966 in Wichita, Kansas.  As a young mother, Grandma Wanda was busy at home, and home changed often until they moved to Wichita.  Then in 1973 she began working at Christian Challenge School where she worked until 1990.  From 1991-2000, she continued to work doing food demonstrations until she fully retired.

Throughout her life, Grandma has been active in her church as well as hosting countless friends in her home.  From game nights to widows’ luncheons as well as celebrating her favorite time of year- Christmas, she’s gifted with flavorful food and welcoming hospitality.  Fried chicken- no one makes it like our Grandma. (And she always made it for Michael, Jamie’s brother.  She probably made it for Jamie, too.)   And her colorfully, tasty Jell-O salads, we call “Fluff,” thrill any room full of guests.  But as her grandchildren, I think we’re pretty convinced we liked them best.  My favorite… picture a ginormous glass bowl with layers of crushed graham crackers, sliced bananas, and freshly whipped cream…oh my… the best.

Grandma remains passionate about reading.  She claims she struggled with reading when she was a child, so she wanted her children to learn and love to read.  She indeed passed that on as many of us share her passion.  Some, like Michael, prefer the movie form…but we’ll save his story for another day.

And her sense of humor?  Outstanding.  She spills joy, and she wants to share it.  Speaking of Michael… the banter interplay between Grandma and grandson still makes me smile.  They just tease each other about all kinds of things.  She helped us keep our sense of humor from being sucked away by darker times.  Grateful for that, for sure.

Although their pace has slowed, Grandma Wanda and Grandpa Darrell still enjoy their friends, their family, their home.

And just to be honest~ they are a huge reason I am finally sharing this work.  I really wanted them to see the realization of this project where the Shadow of the Almighty clearly overwhelms the shadow of death.

Living Hope ~ Heidi L. Paulec

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Perspective:

The phone rang.  I answered.  My husband Darrell and I were sitting with our grandchildren as our daughter and son-in-law were out for the evening.  “Hello?  I’m sorry Steve and Lori are not home.”  The caller stopped me.  “Mom, this is Carlton.”  Our youngest son.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I didn’t recognize your voice.” I replied a little confused.

“I’m not too surprised, Mom, because I have bad news.”  And then, he said the unthinkable.  “Jamie’s committed suicide.”

Immediately, I shrieked.  “Oh, NO!  Oh, NO!”  (I’ve felt bad about this as I imagine Carlton’s replayed that over and over in his mind too many times.)

Darrell hurried to take the phone until I composed myself.  Darrell continued to talk with Carlton.  I remember asking, “How did he do it?”  I remember Darrell talking a bit longer, then he prayed with him and hung up the phone.  I remember calling a dear friend to ask her to call another mutual friend as well as our pastor.  Our pastor called us as soon as he knew.

Our youngest daughter Gretchen and her husband Roy also lived in the same city as we do along with our older daughter and her family.  That evening, Roy and Gretchen were at his mother’s home for a birthday party.  I called and told Gretchen.  They left the party and came to Lori’s home.  Lori and Steve arrived home shortly after.  So many questions.  Yet, so much silence still.

Of course, we were all in shock.  I felt I must be strong for them.  As we left their home that night to go back to our home, I prepared myself to break the news to my sister and her husband.  They were staying with us as my sister just had a heart transplant.  I was caring for her until she was strong enough to return to her country home.

We called our eldest son Dave and his wife Marie.  Of course, we talked to Tim (Heidi’s Dad).  We also called Darrell’s brother Dean and his wife Doris.  We asked them to tell Grandma Neel.

I remember finally going to bed that night.  Exhausted.  Wanting to sleep.  Trying to sleep.  Tense and tired.  Where is the rest at a time like this?

“Jamie was a lively little boy.  As our first grandchild, he was both fun and extra special to us.  He was brilliant.  No, he really was.  He read all the time.  He thought things out real well, too.  I remember playing games with him.  He won easily without hardly trying.  This frustrated his younger brother so much.”

Grandma Wanda Plinsky

We did get some rest that night.  The next morning we faced many detailed arrangements, so we could be with the family.  Meals needed to be prepared for my sister as we did not know how long we’d be gone.  We called Carlton, who worked for a major airlines, and he made arrangements for us to fly to Denver.  Somehow it all came together.  Something to be thankful for.  And we headed to the airport.

When we boarded the plane, I burst into tears.  With my sister’s tender physical state, I had not yet found a place quiet and alone enough.  Whether I was ready or not, the tears spilled out right there.

 

Candles, Cakes, & Crossed Arms


After completing “Sharing Shadows,” a memory surfaced.  Vivid.  An obvious regret… But, I can’t remember ever expressimg how sorry I am.  And how grateful I am just the same.

It was Jamie’s fourth birthday…exactly seven weeks before mine.  So much milling and scurrying about … Food prep here. Decor set there.  First born son, grandson.  

 “Rejoice with those who rejoice.”  

Not me.  All I wanted to think about was how it wasn’t my birthday.  I decided to boycott celebrating you because I wanted to be celebrated, too.  Candles, carrots, cake, surrounding song… I clenched my jaw & pressed out any expression of thanks for who you had already been in our brief four years of life.  Crossed arms. Weighty brow.

I’m not sure if you noticed, but your near constant smile and delight did not wane.  From meal to gift to dessert, you enjoyed your fourth birthday.

Even seven weeks later when my turn finally came, your smile and delight in my celebration on my day… Excited for me and with me… I realized, even at four, how wrong I was to withhold celebrating you.
You taught me a bit about real rejoicing on that fourth birthday.  Thank you.  And I wish I could sing Happy Birthday to you again.

Living Hope,

Heidi L. Paulec