January 18, 1992: The day death clenched my family. Not an accident. Not an elderly relative…not even a fit of rage.
Rather, a seventeen year old young man whose abilities amazed, whose potential inspired, whose kindness encouraged, whose efforts focused on others… but whose hand dared… and successfully silenced his own heartbeat. ( He Stopped Laughing)
In his silence, questions screamed. The “what-ifs,” the “who’s fault,” the “‘what did I say-or-not-say’ or ‘do-or-not-do’ that could have…would have convinced him otherwise?”
Sunken shoulders, uncontrollable tears, smeared sullen eyes… everywhere I turned. Mourning made manifest. Siblings birth order disrupted. Parents undone. Our peers tried to hide in his favorite songs. Our Grandmas, two of the most joyful souls…
An instinctive gathering, but none of us knew how to respond. All of us longing for the front door of my Aunt and Uncle’s house to burst open with his presence to awaken us from the nightmare…
And then, after the snow-shrouded funeral, as grief languishes, but schedules resume, demands demand again… Tired, weary… we recognize this heavy Defining Time… Clouds and confusion set in billowing my resounding question: Is life livable without him?
The void and its clamoring questions clouded my every thought. Every waking moment required my involvement. Where is the clarity? The purpose? Every action, once routine, sucked what little energy my mind agreed lendable to my body.
Scouring libraries, my seventeen year old self, who knew little outside studies, sports, and dancing, searched for confident voices to pointing to the real, tangible silver lining of brave beauty in suicide’s wake. While surrounded by what was normal, fear and sadness nearly convinced me I was treading these icy waters utterly alone.
My research surfaced two primary venues for the subject of suicide. First, the list of ‘warning signs’ and urgent instruction to seek help. And second, if one is facing a loss including suicide, another list of “grieving steps” to anticipate or plan to go through… not at all what I hoped to find… I wanted to hear other people articulate suicide didn’t steal their breath and enslave them to a joyless existence…not clinical books with clinical examples. Skeptically, I wanted to quiet the questions and find courage to live. Without forgetting.
This journey led me back to our family. 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. (Perspectives– a table of contents to their first person accounts.)
In October 2007 in a dimly lift loft room on a farm in eastern Germany, I stood and addressed suicide. The Shadows, The Absence & His Presence. The honest response of this group of women breathed courage into my timid soul. So many hurting souls hide in shadows.
“Some lifting veils from their own losses while others,
so hidden, contemplate their own demise.”
The prayers and prodding of my dear German friends kindled a fire within me. Although darkness, fragments and fears may taunt us for a lifetime, we can live in the Light . When we seek, we find.
Fresh Faithfulness. Who knew that when we step out of our shadows (trembling as our knees may be) and speak out of those deep places~ Hope dares to delight? Despite death’s haunting, Hope relentlessly Delights, still.
And as I release shards and beams of our story here, I pray you come to know and delight in Hope’s tender, yet mighty eternal embrace.
written by Heidi L. Paulec
(For a more detailed rendering as to the birth of this blog, be sure to read: