Gathering as a family in Colorado felt like a much needed embrace… At the same time, all too much to take in all at once. I really don’t remember a whole lot from that week. I remember Tim and my brother going through Jamie’s room looking for answers. I remember wondering if we shouldn’t have brought him to Tulsa for an extended stay… all really too late now. I remember Heidi… alone.
When we went to the viewing, we visited with family and close friends. When our allotted time had expired, I remember actually saying to Kathy … “We can’t let him stay here tonight – all by himself.” Of course, I realized how ridiculous this was to say… and wished I hadn’t.
The day of the funeral… I mainly remember wanting to keep my eyes on Heidi. A complicated day… the end of our twins. And anticipating the impact of this loss on the kids, particularly Michael, Holly, and Heidi.
Upon returning home, I remember gathering resources to try to figure out how we’d navigate this grief with Heidi and Tim. Prior to Jamie’s death, I considered myself fairly stoic… generally able to control my emotions. However, tears surprised me, even at work sometimes.
I tried to imagine being in Kathy and Carlton’s position, and I just couldn’t/can’t imagine what they’re enduring. We missed Jamie… everything about him. But, his immediate family felt his physical absence. They walked by his room every day… his empty chair at meal time… and his silence flooded their home. Forever wounded their family.
Despite others distant discomfort, I was never ashamed of him although some people responded like I should have been… or at least temper the talk about it. (Again, I worked in human resources of a large public school district. Their official policy at the time in reference to anything regarding a suicide was that it should only be spoken of in the presence of a qualified professional… school counselor.)
As Heidi’s Mom, my personal grief easily sidelined as she was our immediate concern. I remember her silence… general heaviness… like our vibrant Heidi had faded into a haze. I’d asked the school psychologist about her and what we could/should do to help. She indicated looking for normal habit patterns to return. If she’s a list-maker, look for those lists.
In mid-February 1992, just a month after Jamie died, Heidi travelled without us to compete with her dance team at a national dance team competition in Orlando, Florida. Certainly not easy to send her. But, she’d served as an officer that year. They’d been training since the previous June, and she loved that team. When we returned from Colorado, there was no question. She would throw herself into competition mode… this comes naturally to her. This was a physically and socially demanding commitment that she took very seriously. And we’re so grateful for her coach, the team, and the parents that year who loved and looked after her.
That trip worked wonders for Heidi. Not only did they rank fourth in the nation, they debriefed for a day at Disney World’s Epcot Center. Evidentially, they had a grand time. I remember when we met the team at the airport. Heidi was laughing, and she even seemed to be the center of the fun. The girls, giddy exhausted, celebrated together before heading home.
I felt such relief to see her happy again. But, I certainly wasn’t prepared for how short-lived it would be. As soon as we walked in the door of our home, the sadness returned. Routine reminded her he was gone.
She could not think clearly. Deep hurt weighed her down and fogged her mind for weeks. Our chiseled-focused daughter drifted off into a heavy quiet place. We worried about her. We missed her. We tried to reach in… not sure if she could even let us in.
We grieved, Tim & I. We prayed. I struggled with people who suggested suicide is the unpardonable sin. And suggested this so freely to us in the midst of our fresh grief.
“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(Chorus)
Because he lives
I can face tomorrow
Because he lives
All fear is gone
Because I know
He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because he lives(Verse 2)
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
Just Because he lives(Chorus)
And then one day
I’ll cross the river
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain
And then as death
Gives way to victory
I’ll see the lights
Of glory and
I’ll know he lives”
We visited family as often as we could. Gathering together seemed right because we could talk about Jamie and his death with ease. Yet, gathering also reminded us he wasn’t there. No quiet jokes under his breath. No pleas for football passing in the yard. And no twin.
We watched as our daughter… wrestled death. Wondering if our feisty, funny girl would win… Mixing grief with worries… heavy, dark times… brim and boil in unexpected ways. I just remember when the weight bore down… whispering…
“Jesus Jesus Jesus
There’s something about that name
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.”
Gloria and Bill Gaither (1970)
I may never know all Heidi went through… or Carlton or Kathy or Michael or Holly or other family members… “Kings and kingdoms will all pass away. There is something about that Name.” I found great comfort knowing He Who comforted me would also comfort & guard with peace our family … as we fractured a little … in grief.
Tim… so grateful for him. He loved Jamie so much. Despite our dreams, we were unable to have more children biologically. I mourned this years ago, so did he. But, we prioritized and opened our hearts to love nieces, nephews and foster children … more intentionally.
I don’t think we ever expected life to be the same. But, I certainly didn’t know what the new normal would be. I remember someone told me not to feel guilty about my tears. “Those tears just show how much you cared for him and your aching family now.” Crying really did help release the pressure within… like nothing I’d known before. Grief takes time… and I do think we need others -maybe a very small circle- who will communicate on real levels.
I must also say one of the mysteriously beautiful things that has happened through this… the tight near sibling-hood Michael and Holly offered to Heidi. Growing up, Jamie & Heidi were the “older ones,” who played together while Michael & Holly made it into their twin plans…sometimes. Heidi, an incessant teaser, drove Holly to tears on too many occasions. However, they lean on each other to this day. This certainly didn’t have to turn out like this. A generous gesture to bond those three. Heidi knows she can’t replace Jamie. Yet, I do think she’s grateful to be “big sis” to them.
Until the releasing of her writings over 20 years after Jamie’s death, Heidi really didn’t let us too close to her loss and subsequent mourning. But I’ve seen her faith grow deep… swell & spill as she loves others. I read her writing, and I know the Lord has done a mighty work. As a Mom, I hear the things she can’t say. We all miss him still. This collective journey… something we’ve all endured… but Heidi uniquely. We continue to pray that our sharing about Jamie- his life and his death- encourages others feeling the drenching ripples of grieving hard losses. Most importantly… “Master, Savior… Jesus… after the rain.”