Aunt Karen… after the rain (part 4)

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On the evening of January 18, 1992, as Heidi was out on a date, Tim and I were home watching Top Gun (which was Jamie’s favorite movie) when the phone rang.  We paused the tape in the VCR, and I answered the kitchen phone.  It was Daddy (Grandpa Ken).  He immediately instructed me to get Tim on the phone.  I assumed something had happened to Grandpa Philip (Great-Grandparents).  Details of the initial news… escape me now.  Only, I remember hearing he’d hung himself, but I didn’t remember hearing he’d actually died.

I remember lying on the floor of the kitchen… crying… in complete disbelief. “It can’t be!  It just can’t be!?!”   I had to know for sure.  So, I called Carlton.  He was just about to leave his home to drive into the mountains to the camp where Jamie was retreating.  Carlton confirmed Jamie was gone.

The next thing I remember…FEAR.  What is this going to do to Heidi?  I had worked at a middle school at the time a well-loved eighth grade girl had taken her own life, so I knew the behind-the-scene precautions outlined by mental health professionals and implemented by school counselors… how do we tell her?  Her twin is gone.  How will she take it?  Copy -catting is an unwanted reality.  Heidi’s close relationship with Jamie would cast her into a shadowed statistic…to keep a closer eye.

I wanted to leave and go find Heidi.  I was afraid someone else would tell her before we could get to her… not logical, but among my early thought.  Tim reminded me that was nearly impossible and suggested we stay home.  He called over a couple friends.  One lived close by, and she arrived before Heidi did.

As we sat… and waited for Heidi to get home… and cried, my heart felt torn out of my chest.  Memories flashed in mind…shock sent in silences… thoughts rushed again.

“How sweet to hold
A newborn baby
And feel the pride
And joy he gives
But greater still
The calm assurance
This child can face
Uncertain days

Because He Lives…”

Gloria and William Gaither

Tim locked the front door, so we’d know when Heidi got home.  She was irritated when she first pulled her key from the door knob questioning why we’d locked her out.  I guess she  realized something was wrong as her eyes darted around the room to each of us.

Tim asked her to sit down several times, but she just kept demanding, “Just tell me!”  Eventually, he did.  Again, I don’t remember all the words… but, the pain… palpable… as her legs crumbled beneath her.  And her sobbing… exclaiming, “I knew it!  I knew it!  I knew it!”

That night… we knew we needed to get to Colorado as soon as possible.  However, we needed sleep.  I think I’d hoped we’d leave before sunrise.  I wanted to get to my family as soon as possible, but Heidi wanted to go to church first.  Tim decided we’d pack up for the 11 hour road trip, stop in at church, and head out of town directly from there.  Tim shared the news with our Sunday School class by saying “We lost our ‘son’ last night.”  This actually was confusing, so we had to explain he was our nephew, etc.

The Sunday School class responded… generously.  They actually collected an offering to help us with the trip.  The drive… long and quiet… outside of the reflective music filling the car.  A salve to our souls… reminding us life is bigger than what we see, dream, battle… we’re not alone.  When our souls sing, we remember.  Who He Is.

“God sent his son
They called him Jesus
He came to love
Heal and forgive
He lived and died
To buy my pardon
An empty grave
Is there to prove

My Savior lives…”

Gloria and William Gather

continued … Aunt Karen… after the rain (part 5)

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Aunt Karen… after the rain (part 3)

 

aunt-karenJamie and Heidi wrote each other letters quite often, especially for their young age.  Heidi would get so excited when mail came for her.  Their move (Carlton and Kathy) to central Nebraska expanded all our experiences.

From time to time, we’d drive the six hours to visit and leave Heidi for a few days.  And they’d do similarly with Jamie.  So, we were able to maintain family connections.  Mother  (Grandma Phyllis) and I were able to be there with Kathy when Holly was born.

During their elementary school years, Heidi and Jamie both excelled in school.  They both enjoyed challenges.  Heidi… very competitive, in general.  But, Jamie’s work  was near perfection, and already had a vision for his future.  Focused.  Serious, indeed.

Actually, Jamie and I shared a dream.

Both my Dad (Grandpa Ken)  and my uncle were pilots.  My Dad flew The Hump (Himalayas) during World War II.  And despite being in a small plane crash with my uncle (yes, really… private plane in a field), I quietly dreamt of getting my pilot’s license one day.  Jamie, on the other hand, set his sights on the Air Force Academy.  In time, he knew exactly which planes he wanted to fly and why.  He knew exactly what criteria he needed to fly those planes, including all the rigors of getting into the Academy.

His love for aviation only grew when his Dad took a job working for a major airline in Denver, Colorado.  Part of the benefits package includes flying privileges for immediate family members.  This meant Carlton and Kathy’s kids grew quite accustom to airline travel.  I think they all enjoyed it.  But, Jamie listened and learned every time he flew…he firmly planned on making his visions of flying planes a reality one day.

Even when we moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1986,  Carlton and Kathy came to visit as often as they could.  Jamie commonly visited us on his own as well.  He spent a lot of time with us… a lot of time- nearly a month every summer as well as periodic weekends throughout the school years.  Even as they aged into their teens, Jamie and Heidi got along very well.  He was easy to have around.  He was neat and tidy… helpful.  And not nearly as argumentative as Heidi could be at that age.

I think we all had high hopes for these two, our twins.  My own college experience, though limited, stirred delight and intrigue that I truly hoped for both Heidi and Jamie as well (and Michael and Holly, too).

The university’s (that several of us in the family either attended or graduated from) hymn is “A Mighty Fortress.”  A grand… epic song.  No journey is without struggle.  Higher education offers opportunities to learn, to wonder, to question, to grow, to share… to solidify our own faith.  Sure, there would be days they’d be tested.  Yet, I truly thought the sky was the limit for Jamie and Heidi, and I expected he’d be a pilot first.

“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever”

Martin Luther (circa 1527)

I do remember Kathy mentioned Jamie’s attitude beginning to sour  around his freshman year in high school.  He initially attended a larger high school in Colorado.  He had to get glasses which caused a great disappointment because he’d no longer be eligible to fly the planes he’d been planning on for so long… as the military standards still disqualified persons with such “handicap.”

Although I don’t remember noticing anything significant in his demeanor until summer 1991.

That summer he flew from Denver to Tulsa to stay with us a few days before he & Heidi traveled with youth groups to Washington DC for a youth conference called DC ’91.  I remember him being exceptionally quiet that trip.  We’d set up a bed in Tim’s study for Jamie, and he seemed to linger there for long portions of the day … alone.

I remember walking by the study.  He was listening to metal music.   We didn’t allow Heidi to listen to that kind of music, so I asked him to put on his headphones because I didn’t want her to hear it.

This has lingered with me for years… I’ve wondered if he thought I didn’t care about him enough … to ask him to stop listening to the music – which just seemed full of repetitive negativity… to apply the same standard of protection that I had for Heidi?

I also remember that around that same time he seemed to be battling something like depression.  He had just had a battery of medical tests run, and he was quite hopeful they would find an imbalance that  could be corrected with medication.

The next time we saw Jamie alive was Thanksgiving 1991.  Again, he flew into Tulsa to road trip with us to my parents who were living in Leavenworth, Kansas at the time.    He seemed to have a weight on his mind.  Extraordinarily quiet… but also somewhat tense.  He mentioned that he needed to talk to Grandpa and Grandma while he was there.

My energies much of that trip were focused on planning, preparations, clean-up, and helping Mother host all of us.  I do remember he did talk with Mother and Daddy.  I remember him being quite helpful with the Thanksgiving meal (see him pouring drinks in photo above).  But, my favorite memory of that trip came when we drove him to the airport to fly home.  Even on the drive to Kansas City, he seemed lighter… less preoccupied or agitated.

When we walked him to the terminal (we could still do that in those days), he checked in & we hugged him and said our good-byes.  As he walked through the corridor, Uncle Tim moo-ed, yes…moo-ed (a real talent he has… he actually sounds like a cow… we’ve had herds come across a field to his call).  Jamie turned over his shoulder, with the biggest smile, and he laughed.

 

continued… Aunt Karen… after the rain (part 4)

Aunt Karen… after the rain (part 2)

aunt-karen

Those early years… we lived … farm and small town life… together.  Daddy farming.  Mother canning pickles, apple sauce, and strawberry jam.  While Carlton and Kathy’s lived on the homeplace, we spent quite a bit of time there as well.

During the school year, my Tim taught K-12 social studies, phys.ed., and coached wrestling.  So, as remains common in small towns, the school and the church were the hubs of activity outside the farming and ranching demands.

My Swedish ancestors planted the church we attended.  Mother sang solos, quartets, and in the choir.  She even taught children’s Sunday School to be with Heidi and Jamie.  Daddy served on the deacon board and often sang in quartets and the choir as well.  His soft-spoken mother had been the longest serving organist for the church for many years.

Huddling around a piano to sing hymns… one of my most cherished childhood memories.    Mother made sure our brothers, Kathy and I learned to play the piano. While I don’t ever remember not having a television, we lived in such a rural area we only had one channel out of Cheyenne for years.  We made time to watch the evening news, but we certainly  didn’t allow it to steal our time. (Once the technology was more widespread our rural community still only had three channels available until the early 80s.)

So, yes, working land and all the support tasks to keep a farm going forged a work ethic in me… that I didn’t realize was that uncommon until I was much older.  Work awakened us.  And we worked until the sun tucked itself away.  Yes, we worked.   But, we also praised and prayed.

Our morning routine included coffee, circling around a table, and reading the Bible and Our Daily Bread.  We prayed for the weather today and missionaries serving in foreign lands.  We lifted up others in the community facing hardship.  We weren’t vaguely talking to the air, but Jesus was (is) the Hearer of our prayers.

Jesus Jesus Jesus
There’s something about that name
Master savior Jesus
It’s like the fragrance after rain

Jesus Jesus Jesus
Let Heaven and Earth proclaim
Kings and kingdoms will all pass away
There is something about that name

We Love the name
The holy name
Your precious name”

Gloria and Bill Gaither (1970)

On Wednesday evenings, we’d go into town for prayer meeting.  We usually went to town for every athletic home game.  And commonly we traveled to the away games, too.

We all spent time helping around the farm, though.  Whether the intensive hours of harvest or the day-to-day operations, the unspoken expectation… help out wherever and whenever you can.

Except on Sundays.  My Dad believed in honoring the Sabbath with worship and rest.  My Mom prepared a roast with potatoes and carrots, so we could feast together around the table after church.  We discussed the sermon.  So, for some, this conversation lingered while others of us cleared the table and washed dishes.

Once the dishes were dried and neatly put away, we’d grab a pillow & a spot to nap.  Sunday afternoons meant nap time for everyone.  Some seasons this might be to the quiet drone of a football game on the television.

Jamie loved football.  Even as a young boy, he’d sit through whole games.  He wanted to understand every play and penalty.  He’d play catch with anyone willing to play.

He also had the most contagious laugh.  I loved to hear him laugh.  But to see him laugh… full body joy.  We all loved watching he and Heidi run around the living room.  We’d shut off the television just to watch those two toddlers.

Coming from an Italian mother and Swedish dad, people often suggested my olive coloring came from the Italian side.  My demeanor, though… far more stoic.  Some of my siblings’ personalities… far more emotional, demonstrative than mine.

But Jamie’s joy made me smile, too.

Our concept of family was both broader and tighter than may be customary in the USA nowadays.  Although Tim and I didn’t live on the home-place, we spent a lot of time there.  Jamie and Heidi played outside a lot.  They had generous boundaries.  They knew not to wonder into the fields or bother Grandpa Ken or any other workers around the farm.  My grandparents (Great-Grandparents ) summered on the farm.  So, with them, Mother (Grandma Phyllis), Kathy, and me… those two had eyes on them, but a lot of exploring freedom as well.

“A family is a formation center for human relationships.”

– Edith Schaeffer What is a Family? pg.62

We’d often dress Heidi and Jamie in coordinating outfits. I remember their first snow suits.  We bundled them up- cozy tight.  And they loved playing in the drifts. They looked so much alike in the early years.  They played so well together.  Sure, they’d fight and argue similar to siblings; however, they’d figure out how to get along again.  They had their similarities, compatibilities throughout their childhood.

“A family is a  blending of people for whom a career of making a shelter in the time of storm is worth a lifetime…. a family is meant to care for each other, and to be a real shelter- from birth to old age.” 

Edith Schaeffer What is a Family?  pg. 102-103

They were like “our” twins, so Jamie really was more like a son than a nephew.  We loved them, disciplined them, and taught them collectively.  And they looked after each other, too.

Three years after Jamie and Heidi were born another nephew who-felt-more-like a son was born to Kathy and Carlton.  We only had Michael on the farm for a year before Carlton and Kathy moved to central Nebraska.  They moved just before Jamie and Heidi started kindergarten.

And everything changed… Although we all did our best to remain close, everything changes when our lives no longer mingle day to day.  Oh how a thunderstorm of tears poured from Heidi when they moved away… We thought that would be the toughest separation these two would learn to endure.

continued… Aunt Karen… after the rain (part 3)

 

Aunt Karen … after the rain (part 1)

Aunt Karen.JPG

PERSPECTIVES:  We can learn so much from one another as we sojourn horizons that both beckon and daunt us.  While our general experiences may have general connections, the specificity of our experiences depends on our position, our perception, and how we filter it all.  What is this all About?

This grief journey led me back to our family.  How do you navigate such a loss?  When I nervously asked if they were willing, several vulnerably shared distinctly personal elements of grief, sadness, struggle through this heavy darkness.  Each generation recognizing the varying social stigmas of suicide as well as the responses of their closest friends.  I am supremely grateful for their honesty.  While we share common relationships, every memory is profoundly unique to those who cycle through them; yet, our family’s openness to sharing weaved threads of bravery within me.

“While they spoke, I penned their words…and processed my own.”

– Heidi L. Paulec

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 subsequent 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.  We invite you  to subscribe to receive emails as we publish pieces here.

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Reflections of the Interview:

Interviewing both my parents were actually the toughest for me. (Heidi)  We spoke so many, many times about Jamie and his death…  that was actually comfortable.  But, the articulating of devastation and the growing difficulty with parenting me after … that was difficult.

Many conversations fuse to make up these reflections for which I am profoundly thankful.

My Mom’s desire to comfort … as her daughter numbed into a distance… she longed & tried every way she could think to reach in.

I’m so grateful she didn’t give up on me.  Her answers on the surveys were thorough and easy to discuss.  And her enduring commitment to help me realize… I still have a pulse; I’m still breathing… Thank you is inadequate, Mom… but, we’ll start there.

Brief History:

Aunt Karen is both sister to Jamie’s Mom, Kathy, as well as sister-in-law through her husband (Uncle Tim) to Jamie’s Dad, Carlton.  These two sisters married brothers in the early 1970’s.  And she is Heidi’s Mom.  During the first five years of Jamie and Heidi’s lives, they lived in the same rural community in southeast Wyoming.  Jamie’s parents lived on the same homestead as  Grandpa Ken & Grandma Phyllis (Karen & Kathy’s parents).

Aunt Karen highly values excellence, order, education, making memories and creating a welcoming home.  Friends of the family enjoy teasing her by finger-printing doors and windows… wondering how quickly she’ll notice.  Aunt Karen loved Edith Schaeffer’s What is a Family?  She’s a keeper of memories & a creator of traditions.  She fosters remembering past family legacies while envisioning a huge family reunion in heaven one day.   Along with her own family and childhood with the richness of grandparents, Aunt Karen prioritized a tidy home, making memories with extended family, and educational and social endeavors. 

She chose to stay home with Heidi until she was school age.  At which time, Aunt Karen began volunteering at the hospital in Cheyenne, Wyoming where Jamie & Heidi (and Karen & Kathy’s siblings were born there) as well as at the school Heidi attended.  She worked part time for husband Tim throughout the years.  When they moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, she again volunteering.  This time at Heidi’s middle school.  Eventually, she moved into human resources of a large public school system where she worked for several years.

She’s always been a celebrator of seasons.  She’s an intentional homemaker, reader of biographies, collector tea cups, and most detailed oriented Grammie around.

And honestly, Aunt Karen isn’t adequate to describe her relation to Jamie…   He was like a son to her, and she like a second-mom to him.

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Perspective:

“…How sweet to hold
A newborn baby
And feel the pride
And joy he gives
But greater still
The calm assurance
This child can face
Uncertain days
Just Because he lives.”

Because He Lives (verse 2)

Bill Gaither, Guy Penrod

Going back to 1973-74, I’m reminded with gratefulness of the Lord generosity to our family.  Tim and I were married in 1971.  Not long after, we were ready to start a family of our own.  However, this turned out to be much more difficult than either of us imagined.  Tim, second-born of five, and I (second-born of four) both envisioned having a large family one day.  I couldn’t wait to decorate for the seasons and find ways to celebrate God’s Goodness every day.  Tim, being the all-star athlete and studying to be a social studies teacher with phys.ed. emphasis as well, looked forward to an active family.

By late 1973, I wondered if something might be wrong… we longed for children.  We had hopes for children.  And Tim, well, children loved him.  But, not yet.

Our whole family was so excited to hear the news of Kathy’s pregnancy.  I was overjoyed for them.  And so grateful that not long after, we announced what-would-become my only pregnancy.  How generous is the Lord!  Kathy and I got to walk through these pregnancies together which included a hot summer.

The wonder of a late summer rain on the plains where I grew up… is the scent of rain.  The deep grey-blue taking over the vast sky with ever- approaching streaks… and that fresh fragrance…

God’s rich blessings rained down on our family during the autumn of 1974.  When Jamie was born… I’ll never forget holding him and loving him instantly like I’d never loved anyone before.  And seven weeks later when Heidi arrived,  I know Kathy felt the same about her.  They looked so much alike.  Jamie’s face a little rounder.  Heidi’s more oblong. Jamie’s hair grew in faster.  Both of them got the family curls.  These two kids had the same family history… same grandparents on both sides of the family.  The same aunts & uncles and cousins, too.  But their kinship…  so much more.

continued… Aunt Karen… after the rain (part 2)

 

 

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