Remembering to Remember


“Ask the former generations…”

Just over a year ago, we began to make public our family story and journey spanning 25 years now.

What is this all about?  Our first year, we’ve recounted our individual Perspectives along with some of my personal journey in collecting researching & grieving along the way.

Honestly, there are so many layers, textures, tensions, nuances… finding a place to begin was a difficult first step.

I’ll never forget the afternoon my husband came home with Frederick Buechnner’s Telling Secrets.  My husband had been working with a friend.  Somehow they got onto the topic of untimely death and grief.  This friend suggested to my husband that I read this book.

Over the course of just a couple deep days, I met a kindred mind whose heart inked onto pages and pulsed pain, yes… but beauty and compassion most resounding.

Again, over the years, I’m not sure of one writer who has impacted my journey more into the deep.  But from that initial reading, I distinctly remember feeling shock & gut-clenching emptiness as he recounted his father’s death when he was just a boy.  Due to the nature of the death,   young Frederick’s family – not only did they not have any type of funeral or memorial service- they were to speak little of the man again.

This man… Frederick’s Dad died… by suicide.  (That’s how they say to phrase it today.  ‘They’ don’t want us to say ‘commit suicide’ anymore.  I’ll leave this discussion for another day.)

Immediately, I yearned to run back to 1936– and circle this family up tight.  Love on them.  Love on them with the wringing of words.

You know… Oh, we must talk this out. Get the feelings out, right?  Now!
And yet, in the few scant words chosen, we hear … straining strength tidying … with true tenderlings…

“‘Your father was gentle… 

The world is not gentle.'”

Frederick Buechner

The Sacred Journey pg. 28

What Truth!  We recognize it.  And if I am honest, I prefer to see & accept the surface of this… the dual between grandeur & gentleness… the myth & the man… the war of the world.

Throughout the 25 years of this personal, family loss as well as the writing project, I’ve discovered the deepest well of Hope.

The thirst exposing… the thirst quenching kind.  Living Hope.

I also have discovered some enter & endure life with a toughening up… a fragmenting, maybe.  You know, I hurt here, but you’ll never know because I hide it with humor… or hiding myself.

Or maybe even relegating hurt to the past and never looking back.

Through this journey, I’ve discovered I’m one who has been called into a space of softness … a space I’ve often earnestly resisted.

This softness holds a tension.  A tension that feels deeply (I can’t seem to tame, leash, or avoid empathy… though I’ve tried.) and thinks intricately (not claiming to be a smart-y by any means- just saying my mind hits overdrive with or without my permission.)

This tension in our times can easily seem off.  Something is wrong.  Just, generally as a culture we’re more comfortable avoiding the annoying & complaining away the minutely uncomfortable, we’ve no room for the deeper, darker, real & relevant as aspects of the human existence.

Those parts that demand an entering into… that entering draws into Eternity while breathing our own moments in history.

The Scriptures and the Spirit of the Living God unveiled mighty mysteries to me throughout the journey.

The forthcoming series, Remembering to Remember, will unveil more clearly some of the earthy and eternal elements I’m learning along the way.

We’ll work through the family Perspectives, some of my more personal wranglings as well as address more of your questions and comments.

Thank you for journeying with us.  We know how uncomfortable shadows can be.   The shadow of death is real; yet, so is the All-Sufficient Shadow of the Almighty.  And the chasm between the two… may be a jousting … for minds, hearts, souls, strength, and real community.

“My soul continually remembers it 

and it bow down within me.

But this I call to mind, 

and therefore I have hope

the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,

His mercies never come to an end; 

they are new every morning 

great is your faithfulness.

‘The Lord is my portion’, says my soul ‘therefore I will put my hope in him.’ 

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. “

Lamentations 3:20-25 ESV

Remembering to Remember is an act of the will.  It is not the same as the cliche “getting stuck in the past.”  Why?  Stuck in the past is passive.  Remembering to Remember is active, intentional, and always points to Living Hope.

So we invite you to join in our journey of collecting remembrances that root & bloom hope from a hardy, gritty place.  How can you join in?

As always, you may comment here on the blog, comment on our Facebook page, send us a Facebook message…

and NEW this year… For this series, “Remembering to Remember,” we are going to add the hashtags –

#RememberingToRemember

&
#LivingHope

– for you to share your own faith stories connecting the earthy tensions with the steadfast love and eternal hope.
What a delightful realm to live

-not demanding only happy or sad,-

but daily seeking & finding abundance & leaning in… sharing compassion.

Living Hope,

Heidi

 

Oh, and if you’re just stumbling across this space for the first time, I invite you to check out the following to get to know us a bit.  We’d love to get to know you as well.

He Stopped Laughing

Perspectives

… from Heidi’s hand …

Aunt Karen… after the rain (part 5)

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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
Uncertain days
Just Because he lives
(Chorus)

(Verse 3)
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”

Bill Gaither

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
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.

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.”

 

 

Aunt Karen … after the rain (part 1)

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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.

______________________________________________________________

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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September… Silence, Light & Hope (part 2)

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Light… The visual reverberations jolting us awake… awake to life again.  This time… the contrasts – louder… darker.  As much as we long to return to our naiveté, we both strain and squint… the presence… an absence.

“You do not have to sit outside in the dark.  If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find darkness is required.  The stars neither require it nor demand it.”

Annie Dillard Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

So much surrounding Jamie’s death etched a surreal inking on my soul.  Such vitality… secreting volume… volleying sense of violence, vice and sacred virtue.  However, as much as I remember… vivid pockets stole away from me.  I remember so many random details from our drive from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Denver, Colorado for the funeral… memorial service… whatever you call it.   But, on the way home… even the leaving, I don’t remember anything.

Maybe the heavy veil shrouds darker etchings of loss as mourning maneuvers -however unwelcome or unready we may be- back to the mundane routine… that is forever changed.  That proverbial “new normal.”  Routines do help some.  I certainly won’t argue against that, but when are we grievers ready for routine?

I remember returning to familiar territory.  My large high school.  Academics.  Dance team.  Church youth group.  I remember hearing caddy chatter all around me… signs of life-taken-for-granted…  I remember trying to study & reason through my studies.  Suddenly, for the first time… this type A driven student wondered if any of it was really relevant, really worth on ounce of time and cognition.

Pioneering paths into the familiar?  Illuminating… hovering shadows pulse & prance… irritating and exacting… All the familiar… seemed muted and smeared.  A heavy haze.

He discoverth deep things out of darkness, and bringth out to light the shadows of death.”           Job 12:22 KJV

Yet even in this space… what I do remember… is Light.  I remember morning sunrises.  Sunrays cutting through trees as I ran to escape the quiet clatter clinched in my head.  I remember music, movement, and nature  beckoning… daring me to dance within the contrasts.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”     John 1:5

How profoundly generous and personal!

“When tragedy makes its unwelcome appearance and we are deaf to everything but the shriek of our own agony, when courage flies out the window and the world seems to be a hostile menacing place, it is the hour of our Gethsemane.  No word, however sincere, offers any comfort or consolation.  The night is bad.  Our minds are numb, our hearts vacant, our nerves shattered.  How will we make it through the night?  The God of our lonely journey is silent.

And yet, it may happen in these most desperate trials of our human existence that beyond rational explanation, we may feel a nail-scarred hand clutching ours… We make it through the night and darkness gives way to the light of morning.  The tragedy radically alters the direction of our lives, but in our vulnerability and defenselessness we experience the power of Jesus in His present risenness.”

Brennan Manning Abba’s Child pg. 105-106

Seriously… I had never sensed death’s nearness like this.  Have you seen the movie, “Meet Joe Black” starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins?  Similar nearness; however, much darker realness.  I remember feeling so tired.  I wanted to sleep innocently again.  What do I mean by innocently?  I mean… I wanted to dream in the light again.  My dreams dripped with shadows, groans, crowds & utter isolation.

“If the night is bad and our nerves are shattered and darkness comes and pain is all around and the Holy One is conspicuous by his absence and we want to know the true feelings of the inscrutable God toward us, we must turn and look at Jesus.”

Brennan Manning Ruthless Trust pg. 91

I longed for it all to make sense.  I felt the clash, but longed for harmonious synergy… oh to find the poise to live, to walk, to dance, to see… and to sing again.  But where is the rest?  Where are the words?

Nicole Nordeman’s “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”

Interestingly, a couple songs surface… First,  one we sang at Jamie’s funeral… also a summer camp anthem of my childhood:

It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s Love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
Your spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on.

What a wondrous time is spring,
When all the tress are budding
The birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming;
That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it.
You want to sing, it’s fresh like spring,
You want to pass it on.

I wish for you my friend
This happiness that I’ve found;
You can depend on God
It matters not where you’re bound,
I’ll shout it from the mountain top – PRAISE GOD!
I want the world to know
The Lord of love has come to me
I want to pass it on.

I’ll shout it from the mountain top – PRAISE GOD!
I want the world to know
The Lord of love has come to me
I want to pass it on.

Pass It On  written by Kurt Kaiser

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”    Matthew 5:14-16

Please be clear…  I struggled, wrestled… with this “new normal” largely because I wanted the Light back…alone.  Set apart.  Not the Light framed by darkness. Yes, the Light may have been dimmer without the contrast, but I wanted an “either/or.”

My journey… led me to accept the “both/and” aspect of Life & Light.  A tension I don’t pretend to fully comprehend- even still.  But the mere warmth … of the Light … stirs my  soul.  “The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.”    Psalm 118: 27

The brilliant power and faithfulness of an all-powerful Creator, who is simultaneously mighty and tender, grants us dawn and dusk every day – illuminating the abounding contrasts.  Yet, how many times in our darkness & disappointments do we slip into slumping postures and sleeping habits that block out the wonder & fragility of the days we breathe?  While we think we yearn for the Light, we nest into the dank and desolate.

In this space… the tension tight, contrast steady…prayer & praise became more than a whimsical wish list or shallow gratitude journal.

“Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
    shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
    come and save us.

 Restore us, O God;
    make your face shine on us,
    that we may be saved.”

  Psalm 80:1-3

Slowly, tenderly… mightily He warmed & relaxed my soul with wonder in His world & His Word … breathing Light & Life… even into my pen.  “ But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.”     II Timothy 4:17

This “new normal” includes a persistent awareness … dark & light.  silence & sound.  death & life… with prevailing Hope.  “The darker the night, the brighter the stars.  The deeper the grief, the closer is God.”  Fyodor Dostoyevsky Crime and Punishment

Pulsing fresh delight… joining ancient prayers…”Where there is darkness, let me sow light.”  (St. Francis of Assisi)

by Heidi L. Paulec

Dialogue: Breaking Silence

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Join us September 10th at  9pm eastern as we “Dialogue”

this tough & tender topic.

Edit: Join us on Shadows Presence facebook page.

the Live recording … here’s link: Dialogue: Breaking Silence … Perspectives with Alex & Heidi

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.

The first piece I ever wrote on this subject, He Stopped Laughing (follow link to read in entirety), has received heavy traffic as well as feedback from readers world-wide.

In his silence, questions screamed in me.  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?”

At first I couldn’t even put words to the whirling questions and emotions.  I scoured libraries first.  Evidentially, my search led me back to my own family.  Who, despite generational stigmas in the realm of suicide, opened up to me their Perspectives regarding Jamie’s death and their own subsequent grief.

We do not speak as professionals.  We’re grateful for those who serve in the frontlines of crisis and counseling, so we encourage all to seek the helpful resources available.

We speak from a more raw and personal place.  We speak honestly, but hopefully as well.  Tender space, indeed.  Those who grieve will likely find a voice or two that speaks clearly to their journey.  And the feedback we’re receiving is that our hope & prayer to share is encouraging families beyond our wildest dreams.

We look forward to sharing more of our journey with you.  We welcome you to shadowspresence.com.  Come on in & read around our story.  You’re welcome to leave comments, questions, etc.  Although this is over two decades of research & writing, we began sharing publicly in January 2016.

My husband Alex & I will be dialoguing this evening on the Perspectives portion of this project.  We’d love for you to join us on Shadows Presence  (click this link to find us:  Living Hope ~ Connect ).

Here’s to Living Hope Together~

Heidi  (founder & writer of Shadows Presence)

“Light the path that I must walk. 
I don’t care how many hurdles are in the way, how many pits I must jump over or climb out of, or how many thorns I must step through. 
Guide me on the right path…
Just show me which path is Yours,
dear God, so I can walk it.”

~ Nabeel Qureshi
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

“…God has woven a beautiful nest out of the ‘twigs’ of my life.”

~ Alice von Hildebrand
Memoirs of a Happy Failure

 

September … Silence, Light & Hope (part 1)

Silence, Light & Hope…

Silence… When death silenced Jamie, I fell silent, too.  A silence… I didn’t understand.  A silent intrusion… felt both foreign & serene.  (He Stopped Laughing)

Some silence quiets questions.  Some silence calms chaos.   Some silence honors the sacred.  And some silence screams shame.  Complicated Shame.

Shame?   Shame on me because I didn’t know how hopeless he felt.  (Not all of our family felt shame.  In fact, Grandma Wanda never did.)  But some of us did.

Some silence is welcome.  Quieting questions, calming chaos, and honoring the sacred…

The Breaking Silence …

… for the one suffering with hopelessness in its various forms, we acknowledge your anguish.  You are NOT alone.  If loved ones reach in, please don’t shut them out.  We urge you to reach out.  Don’t know exactly what to say?  Maybe a simple, honest start… “I need help!”?   If family and friends are unsure how to help, keep reaching out.  Counselors, teachers, clergy, doctors… all prepared to embrace you with help.

We thank educators, the medical, mental health professionals  & so many others who work and advocate on your behalf.  We thank groups like RemedyLive who are available to you in moments of crisis.  Their commitment, work & availability make asking for help more and more accessible.  Please reach out for help.

… for those of us who’ve lost someone who maybe never felt hopeless before… yet, struggle with the silenced voice.  We may attempt to silence the ever-spinning world to hear that silenced voice again.

How many of us have wrestled with dark shadows in silent shadows?  You’re the heart why we’re not remaining silent with our family loss.  Testimonies… persevering… gathering… sharing.  There is a Living Hope.  This Hope anchors our souls with compassion for all you’re facing… whether your grief is fresh or a few years deep already… we know we share something hard… and deep.  And we learn to live aware of the daunting shadows of death.  But we’re not locked in… in paralyzing fear, doubts, or sadness, either.  Living Hope.

And finally…

… for those who long to love on your hurting people lavishly.  Thank you for seeing & hearing our hurt.  And thank you for overcoming the awkward… And enduring with us.  These are Defining Times.  How do we “Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Mourn with those who mourn?”

We have to move in close…You know exactly how to celebrate the graduations, the weddings, the baby showers.  However, these darker times require a different kind of Breaking Silence.  Some times the quieter the voice… the louder the love.  Your presence means so much… even if we can’t properly thank you… please lean in & learn to listen… even to the silence.

written by Heidi L. Paulec

 

 

Grandma Phyllis… patios & picnics (part 4)

Grandma Phyllis

I think, Jamie, with his heart of excellence and service, knew how to give to others; however, he had a real hard time receiving.  Maybe he thought he was taking something, and he just could not do it.  I don’t know, but my heart still breaks thinking of this.

As I am of Italian ancestry (my grandparents emigrated from Sicily just before my Dad was born), I am emotional.  I cried so often in the months following, but I felt deep concern for Carlton and Kathy, Michael and Holly.  Somehow their little home would feel so empty, and I ached for them.  Also, my folks, Grandpa Philip & Grandma Ruth, were older, physically weaker.  And emotionally they seemed quite unsettled for a long time.  (Great-Grandparents Grieve (part 1))   My Dad was an extremely sensitive man.  I saw grand displays of his every emotion.  Even when he knew one of his family was sick with a cold or the flu, he would get upset to the point of tears at times, so I knew this would be nearly unbearable for him and my Mom.  Finally, I felt so concerned about Heidi.  She and Jamie were like our twins.    They had been so close.  What is she going to do?  How is she going to handle this?

While my own pain was deep and real, I felt a great deal of comfort just gathering with family those initial weeks and with church friends when we returned home.  Our church friends comforted us with listening ears, wonderful meals, encouraging prayers, cards and plants.

For me, crying myself and comfort from others drained much of the heaviness of the pain, but the deep confusion that followed still haunts me.  I still can’t believe he is gone.  At times, I have felt so angry he hurt so much— from his mouth sores to the lack of sleep to the rejection of his freshman year.  Why did this loving boy who was becoming such a wonderful young man have to endure so much pain so early in this life?

The Scripture from Ecclesiastes (Chapter 3) shared at the funeral, “A Time for Everything,” has been an encouragement to me.  In a fallen world, we do have a time for birth & death, planting & harvesting, war & peace, laughter & tears, silence & speech.  I still cannot claim to understand all this.  But I trust the Lord will one day restore our fallen world.  Jamie’s personal profession of faith in Jesus and baptism at age 13 along with the Scripture where Jesus said, “Let the little ones come unto me,” comfort me.  Despite Jamie’s earthly suffering, he knew Jesus.  Trusting in this truth, I have confidence Jamie is at eternal peace.

Our home continues to be filled with family photos including Jamie.  Often, I will pass of one of his photos and think, “Where would you be now, Jamie?  Would you be married like Heidi?  Would you be an airline pilot?  Would you be a Dad?”  The questions don’t go away completely, but I am not overwhelmed by them.

Jamie sent a card to Ken, his Grandpa, I treasure.  In his handwriting, he signed it, “I love you, Jamie.”  What a gift for us to pick up every now and then!  We loved him; he loved us.  Oh, how I wish that could have been enough to keep him alive.

Even now, I cannot believe he is no longer with us.  I can still see him on Grandma Ruth’s patio on a mid-day picnics with Heidi —both her arms around his neck, Jamie smiling and pulling away.

Grandma Phyllis… patios & picnics (part 3)


…From that time on, Jamie seemed to carry a sadness with him.
Our loving and happy little boy slid into a state of discouragement. Some young people do not have specific dreams or goals, but Jamie did. Yet, they all seemed to unravel one after the other when he entered high school.

He did not lose his sense of humor entirely, but he was much more serious more of the time. I remember the last time he visited our home, Thanksgiving 1991. I had some photos for Kathy, so I took them to Jamie. When I asked him to slide them into his suitcase, he looked at me with his half-smile and said, “I don’t have room, Grandma!” We giggled, and he packed the photos neatly into his duffel bag.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

Psalm 23:6 KJV

On that same visit, we noticed Jamie’s maturity. As he wanted to talk with Grandpa and me about his troubles living with an elder family member living in the mountains. We went downstairs, and he calmly shared his concerns. Basically, three teenagers living together under one roof with different rules seemed unfair to him. If I would have been in the place he described, I would have been unhappy, too. One example, he had to make his bed daily; the others did not. The others had permission to drive while Jamie did not. If there had been a reason maybe he could have understood, but no reason had been given. Inconsistency is tough for anyone to swallow, but I think this is especially tough on teenagers.
Jamie had gone to live up there because of an unsettling situation at his local public high school. Going to a smaller community might help. He originally looked forward to the change. However, I do remember him saying something about the one year old little girl Kathy babysat at the time he moved out, “Rachel isn’t going to remember me.” He loved children, and he had often helped in the church nursery. We knew he was going to make a great Daddy someday.
On the evening of January 18, 1992, I was playing a game of Aggravation with Michael and Holly. When the phone rang, I answered. The party on the line said, “Is Ken there? I answered, “Yes, one minute.” As I walked back to the bedroom to hand him the phone, as I am a curious person, I wondered who was calling. I didn’t even recognized the voice of my own son-in-law, Carlton.
When Ken hung up the phone, I went back to see who had called. He said simply, “Its Jamie. He’s gone!” Instantly, I collapsed on the bed and started screaming. Kathy responded in turn, and Michael and Holly, too. My emotions controlled my body; however, I do remember seeing Kathy sitting on the edge of the bed shaking terribly.
In the days and weeks ahead, we hurt some for ourselves, but more so for Kathy and Carlton. This kind of loss is so devastating! I felt plagued by the unanswered question, “When someone close to you passes away, regardless of how, it hurts, but then especially in this way— what could have been so bad for him? Something horrible must have happened!?! Why couldn’t Jamie have told someone? What couldn’t we have had the chance to help?”
As I flew with Kathy and the children to Colorado, I felt we must hurry because Carlton was still alone. No family was present with him. I remember feeling so concerned about Carlton being alone. I remember seeing him so drained as he tried to explain what he knew and field our many questions.
We spent the week preparing for the funeral with many people coming and going with meals, snacks, and supplies as well as plants, flowers, and cards. Young people from the church Jamie and Michael’s age lingered in the home for many hours. As I cried through much of this, I kept thinking, “Look at this…look at this …look at this…how could Jamie not have known how much he was loved?”

… always holding somebody up … (part 3)

Jamie and Heidi Lake 1985

“Lifeboat 12 was lowered to the sea.

It was one of the last boats to go, and it dropped fast, the boys hanging on.  Like monkeys, Ken Sparks thought.  For a terrible moment the stern fell, dropping awkwardly, the bow left, the top end of a dangerously steep angle.  The roar of the sea lifted, close now.  To O’Sullivan it seemed they were riding ‘a badly adjusted elevator.’  But then Cooper had the falls back in alignment and the lifeboat leveled.  Not one of his charges was thrown to the water.

What mattered most was how the boat would land, and this Cooper managed adroitly, letting out rope in slow and steady increments, adjusting the boat’s angle several times as it neared the water.  The trick was to come down level, though the Benares [the British liner sailing the North Atlantic in September 1940 when it was torpedoed by German U-Boat] herself was leaning profoundly to the stern.  Cooper succeeded where most others had not, and his passengers held on.  Lifeboat 12 touched the water relatively gently and evenly.”

Tom Nagorski

Miracles on the Water: The Heroic Survivors of World War II U-Boat Attack pp.182

Over the 20 years I wrote, researched, and revived this “Shadow Project,” as I called it (now known as Shadows Presence)… I found kindred souls surviving terrifying, horrific, and lonely losses throughout history. Their ingenuity, humility, courage, and driving love continue to speak of the mysterious rest & wrestle of vulnerably sharing hope in troubled times.

In … always holding somebody up … (part 1), I shared my Dad’s words at Jamie’s funeral that included the story of Dawson Trotman. In … always holding somebody up … (part 2), I shared a compelling story of a Hero of Hope of mine from World War II, Friedl Dicker- Brandeis.  Each inspiring story strikes hope and courage despite death’s dark and dank pursuit.

Who doesn’t love a good epic hero story?  Isn’t it gripping to consider all the obstacles overcome?  I get all Olympic-Glory energized, and I want to tackle the world to feel the weight of a medal and to sing the National Anthem … but, then real loss creeps close enough I nearly lose my own ability to move, to think, to fight … or even breathe.

Since I was one of the closest people to Jamie… suddenly, I needed people … to hold me up…  like never before in my life.  And I’m not the greatest at being needy and horrible at expressing anything when I feel utterly weak, abandoned, alone.

Yet, so many people acted in beautifully simple ways to comfort us along the way. I am deeply grateful for every little thing everyone did to lighten our days.  Because of you,  we learned grace… to grieve and live again.  Whether we remember every detail or not, I’m fully aware your efforts- especially prayers held us up for a very long, long time.

Similar to steadying Lifeboat 12 on the sinking Benares, sincere souls grabbed and grappled details around us.  We’ll may never know how all the prayers, sacrificial acts of kindness, and words of encouragement buoyed and steady us still.

As I think back, I don’t remember who sent the biggest flower arrangement to Jamie’s funeral.  I don’t remember my first days back to school.  But I remember how songs people wrote -sometimes decades before- became my anthem and heartbeat.  I remember going out to the garage at Jamie’s family’s home to see mounds of soda and stacks of tissue and feeling the pause… a weightlessness -not of wanting, but of not needing… I remember vividly fearing falling asleep the night of his death… somehow I just knew he’d invade my dreams, but a dear friend sat silently on the other end of the phone line… just so I’d know I wasn’t alone.

“Who know what ‘the communion of saints’ means, but surely it means more than just that we are all of us haunted by ghosts because they are not ghosts, these people we once knew, not just echoes of voices that have years ceased to speak, but saints in the sense that through them something of the power and richness of life itself not only touched us once long ago, but continues to touch us.”

Frederick Buechner  The Sacred Journey pp. 23

After the shock dissolved and the new day-to-days began, Jamie’s absence and the prevailing silence of so many who don’t know how to mourn formally or how long real grief lasts… I remember the few souls who spoke his name, dared to ask how I was doing, and share songs, quotes, questions, etc.

An honest take-away for me has been a bit of a wrestling among the waves … a gripping plea of my heart to forbid anyone from committing suicide ever again and a warrior stance to prohibit anyone else to have to face such a loss, pain, and epic journey back to life.

… someone is always holding us up …

You have no idea how -even to this day- how much it means, how much we feel upheld, to know people remember Jamie, our loss, our pain, and speak life into healing spaces of our hearts… yes, scars remain.  However…

Similar to steadying Lifeboat 12 on the sinking Benares, sincere souls grabbed and grappled details around us.  We’ll may never know how all the prayers, sacrificial acts of kindness, and words of encouragement buoyed and steady us still.

More to Come… Living Hope.

written by Heidi L. Paulec

 

… always holding somebody up … (part 2)

Jamie and Heidi Lake 1985

“She helped restore a balance to the trembling consciousness of terrified children.”  Chaim Potok wrote of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, a Vienna-born, Baushaus-trained, German-speaking artist who turned down a personal visa to enter Palestine during World War II.  Rather, she remained in a ghetto to teach children as the official art teacher of the camp.  To the Nazi’s, the camp was known as Theresienstadt.  And the Czechs and the rest of the world, the camp became known as Terezin.   From 1942-44, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis helped children create and express through nearly 5,000 pieces of art.  (1)

“Auschwitz was the Kingdom of Death.  Theresteinstadt was the Kingdom of Deceit.”  (2)Terezin posed first as a relocation station then as a preparation stop for Jews heading to Palestine; however, the humanitarian smoke screen both dangled and diluted hope day by day.

Yet, truth and beauty found its way out of that mire, in part, because of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, who held no pedagogical credentials,  faithfully and sacrificially taught art and expression to non-German-speaking children in this Nazi-run camp situated just outside Prague.

‘… always holding somebody up …’  Although Terezin maintained a posh façade as a countryside resort (a featured location for Nazi propaganda films), the inhabitants knew this ghetto offered any real rest…  Perhaps, all but the children fortunate enough to find themselves under the tutelage of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis.

Despite language barrier, she animated techniques.  They listened… and learned.  Time. Observe. Think. Texture.  Time. Observe. Think. Texture.  Repeat.  Mrs. Brandeis -the artist turned teacher who refused payment of any kind- ceased her own work to conserve and to share the meager art supplies with her pupils.

“She taught in the way she herself had been taught by her art teachers in Vienna and the Bauhaus:  exercises in breathing and rhythm; the study of reproductions, texture, color values; the importance of observation, patience, freeing oneself from the outer world of numbing routine and inner world of dread. 

She would tell stories, and the children would be required to draw objects she mentioned twice.  They drew flowers, butterflies, animals, cities, storms, rainbows, streets, railway stations, family portraits, holidays, merry-go-rounds.  They drew their concealed inner worlds, their tortured emotions, which Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was then able to enter and try to heal… A member of those classes who survived said of her:

‘I remember Mrs. Brandeis as a tender, highly intelligent woman, who managed- for some hours a week- to create a fairy world for us in Terezin… a world that made us for get all the surrounding hardships, which we were not spared despite our early age.'” (3)

This fairy world doesn’t seem to have been an escape, but a means to express, understand, and overcome present horrors with vivid remembrances… all while stirring future hopes.  Brilliant.  Beautiful.

Mrs.  Brandeis took great care to hide the children’s art before she was deported to Auschwitz on October 6, 1944.  She later died in Birkenau.

Some may think  her artistic endeavors were wasted.  Some may view the children’s work and wonder if any of it really matters in the scope of ‘real’ art.  But in the scope of humanity, Mrs. Brandeis’ instruction encouraged the children to keep remembering, living, hoping, even if only for a few hours a week as their minds spilled a fraction of that life onto paper.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,

but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” 

Philippians 2:3 ESV

She upheld their dignity in those days they were imprisoned.  And she preserved their dignity as she packed away each piece for had in turn churned life and hope in her.  The world needed these to remember, and she knew it.

So it is with us- as we journey the epic endeavors of life… including the pangs of grief.  We know souls who so seamlessly call out hope and happiness in the bleakest moments.  When they rally, people around them rise above disheartening circumstances and join a contagion -if only by a breath- of inspiration and ride on.  We know people who journey alongside us when we are fun… and when we are frozen… with fears… in grief.    They’re patient and tender.  And they risk upsetting us by calling us back to life again.  Sometimes, it takes some remembering, some savoring, some hoping… ‘holding somebody up.’

Who rallied around you in your darkest night,  deepest loss?

Because I was one of the closest people to Jamie, I felt the honor and obligation to “hold somebody up.”  I took over as a big sister to Michael and Holly.  Jamie loved them both, so I’d try to love them and look out for them more.  (being an only child, myself, I now know I had no idea what it means to be a sibling, but I gave it the ol’ heave-hoe.)   Sending Mother’s Day & Father’s Day greetings to Jamie’s parents as well as my own.  Even his best friend and I became fairly close through periodic letters and phone calls.  But, mainly, I thought “I need to be strong enough (or at least ok) for them.”  Overall, I think these were genuine and proper responses for a time…

However, because I was one of the closest people to Jamie… suddenly, I needed people … to hold me up…  like never before in my life.  And I’m not the greatest at being needy and horrible at expressing anything when I feel utterly weak, abandoned, alone.

Yet, so many people acted in beautifully simple ways to comfort us along the way.   I am deeply grateful for every little thing everyone did to lighten our load as we learned to grieve and live again.  Whether we remember every detail or not, I’m fully aware that your efforts and especially prayers held us up for a very long, long time.

More to come… Living Hope.

Heidi L. Paulec

 

(1) Volavkova, Hana. ed.  Potok, Chaim.  …I never saw another butterfly…: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944.  Expanded Second Ed. Schocken Books. New York. 1993. pp.xix

(2) Ibid. pp.xvii

(3) Ibid pp.xx