At the time of Jamie’s death, our maternal great-grandparents (Phil & Ruth) along with our paternal great-grandmother (Hazel) were still living. Oh, their days paced out a bit slower than their younger years, but their minds kept current with their offspring and their families as best they could along with national news and local social circles. They weathered turbulent eras including the First World War, the Dust Bowl, The Great Depression as well as more personal losses. Hazel, quite the classy lady, loved and lost two husbands before Jamie’s death. Grandpa Phil and Grandma Ruth lost a son to an accident on Thanksgiving Day a few years before Jamie’s passing. (Their marriage formed as fresh immigrants in Chicago’s “family run” south side. Their life story is book-worthy, probably even film-worthy spanning 72 years.)
Both sets of grandparents were still actively living life in the early 1990s as thriving members of the Greatest Generation. Both grandfathers served in World War II. One by sea in the Navy as a signalman (Morse Code) in the Aleutian Islands (Alaska) (Grandpa Darrell Remembers… Mercy (part 1)), and the other by air as Army Air Corp pilot flying most missions over the Hump (Himalayas) (Grandpa Ken… He Reached Out to Me (part 1)). Due to the demands of the day, they all knew family members, local boys, and friends who did not come home from the War. The grandmothers vividly remembered the Great Depression and made homes for their families frugally. Both earned an income when at least some of their children left home. (Grandma Wanda… Beyond Brilliance (part 1) and Grandma Phyllis… patios & picnics (part 1))
Jamie’s younger brother,(middle school age) and younger sister (upper elementary)resided with their parents in the family home. While both our paternal and maternal sides of the family tree had rural roots, by this era we all resided in cities stretching from Colorado to Kansas to Oklahoma to Texas. Aunts, uncles, and lots of cousins rounded out both sides of our family.
Despite our diversity in age, experience, vocation, life pace, our collective lives stalled suddenly and fractured frightfully on January 18, 1992. Time -once common, obvious, predictable- now ticked erratically… allusively. During the week of funeral preparations, the slow moans tugged and unearthed floods of memories. Pastors and funeral directors set schedules. Family friends delivered meals. Conversations centered around Jamie- mostly his life and potential… and lingering questions of his death. Lulls reminded us he was even here to shy away from all the attention. The weight of the days bid us to rest in the night, but only this week… for many, the nightmares begin when bodies are buried and tucked away.
Routines resumes like Cuban refugees trying to set cycles of life in motion homesteading in a January blizzard. Sun and moon may be the only predictable similarities. But try applying old world antics surrounded by foreign tongues and inept supplies and tropical fortitude for the season?!? Similar to a first time mother resuming roles of responsibility after a difficult labor and delivery, energy and emotion simply do not meet demands. In a grief-stricken haze, we went back to school, back to work, back to treading familiar turf as foreigners distantly misunderstood.
“All the great stories of the world elaborate one of two themes:
that all life is an exploration like that of the Odyssey or that all life is a battle like that of the Iliad. The stories of Odysseus and Achilles are archetypal. Everyone’s childhood serves up the raw material that is shaped into the life of mature faith.”
Eugene H. Peterson Run With Horses
Individually, we experience life-markers we remember vividly. Maybe we achieved something. Maybe someone else overcame some great obstacle.
So, we witnessed, we celebrated and we vowed to remember. Marriages, births, deaths.
Collectively, we had our “before Jamie’s death” lives and our “after Jamie’s death” lives. Nothing, none of us, would be the same again. Even the elders among our family noted the depth of pain dulled and tarnished the adventure like no other time in their longer lives. Earthly lives dimmed. Some for a long, long time. Yet, our connectivity to Eternal Life slowly illuminated a more palpable awareness that the intersection between here and there is redemption poured out and risen above only by means of Christ enduring and overcoming The Cross on our behalf.
The beauty after any death- but especially one as complex, confusing, and painful as suicide- rises in community. When hearts reach across the death’s divide, we may not realize it, but we are poised to circulate Christ-flowing compassion. This circulating points out orbiting stars, shares a strawberry harvest, bakes bread, dances at dusk, and helps us open our eyes, fill our tummies, hear the beat, and find our feet again.
A note to those of you who brave the death divide to offer comfort, refuge, rest, and simple delights as agents of the Almighty… you must know, grievers are often at a loss… loss of words, loss of expression, loss of vision… but, every act, every prayer prayed on behalf of the mourning feeds, focuses, and encourages us to engage life again. Yes, eternity grips us with a deeper awareness than “before.” But your bravery and kindness reminds our souls to make the most of this passing-through…
And to those of you facing fresh loss… gripped in grief, we know not one of us traverse loss the same. Yet, we share our family Perspectives… maybe one or more of our stories may encourage you where you are right now… maybe grant words to feelings you’ve yet to define in the shock and reverberations of the silent new normal.
These, indeed, are Defining Times.
written by Heidi L. Paulec
Update December 2016… We’ve heard from so many readers this last year that our Perspectives have even been exceptionally helpful for families to read & discuss together… loss, pain, and living after all types of loss… most particularly tragic deaths- whether murder, suicide, overdose, military related… we continue to pray our family’s words may encourage other families in the space where the grief pelts with memories, deep feelings mixed with numbness… but definitive words remain allusive still.