… 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





Grandma Wanda… Beyond Brilliance (part 4)

Grandma Plinsky

As months passed (Defining Time) after everything changed, our house needed some remodeling, so our mental and physical focus preoccupied us and lightened the press of heartache.  We still miss Jamie, and we always will.  And our concern for the our whole family’s response to his death remains.

A pastor at a funeral of a Godly man who committed suicide once said, “God didn’t call him home, but He welcomed him.”  Some days we may feel sadder than others.

Questions still arise.  Does the hurt ever really go away?  No, we do adjust to it.  We wish Jamie would have had a longer, fuller life.  Yet, we must remember we still have a life to live.  Hopeful living is a gift and a choice.

At every family occasion, we always feel the missing.  But I’ve felt we ought not overly focus on Jamie’s absence at the holidays or at our other grandchildren’s special events; otherwise, we let death overshadow the living.  Whether we say anything or not, Jamie is always missed.  Yet, we must also be careful to go on enjoying life without restraining one another with added guilt and unearthing grief.

We want to be there to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.”  Not with divided hearts.  Rather, we choose how we adjust, remember the dead, and encourage real living.

Has God used all this for good?  I’m sure He has in countless ways we cannot see.  I am grateful for the ways He’s allowed us to see good.  For example, one of our daughters, Gretchen worked at a bookstore.  When customers inquired after books on suicide, her colleagues referred to her.  Her assistance helped them find what they were looking for, but more than that her compassion encouraged them as well.

Our other daughter, Lori,  and I had the opportunity to share our experience losing Jamie at Wichita State several years ago.  After we shared our story, several young people approached us with tears.  They thanked us for being willing to talk on the subject.  Several were grieving losses, including some whose families decided to pretend the suicide away.  Acknowledging death is one thing, but accepting it was a suicide is another.  This denial was much more common in the past; however, this class helped me realize it is still a common method of hiding from the truth.  We must be able to talk about it.

I remember one telephone call we received from a man who didn’t believe in God and  whose son committed suicide.  This man, clearly tormented, found no comfort any where.  Up to that point, he chose to close himself off from God.  I pray for him and others like him to be softened toward God through these times, not hardened all the more.

For me, searching the Scriptures brought great strength and perspective.  At first, I thought only of Judas Iscariot as being the primary suicide of the Bible.  However, as I studied more, I realized how many there were and how profoundly God used them in life and in death.

So, how does all this help us today?  The choice is ours.  Death cannot be undone.  We can choose to be defeated daily because of how our lives have changed, or we can watch God use it for good.  We can draw others to the Lord Jesus Christ by following Him and thanking Him without restraint.  Or we can become sullen, bitter and envious of others we think are experiencing good fortune.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Hebrews 13:20-21

Join my prayer~  Lord, please use Jamie’s life and death to bring honor to Your Name by displaying Your Comfort and Goodness in personal ways that draws souls to You and restore them with Your Joy and Strength.

Grandma Wanda… Beyond Brilliance (part 1)

Grandma Plinsky.JPG


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 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 to subscribe to receive email links as we publish pieces here.

Heidi L.Paulec


Reflections on the Interview:

On January 13, 2007 I interviewed both Grandpa and Grandma individually in their home in Wichita, Kansas.  The home in which they raised their family.  Prior to the interview, Grandpa Darrell and Grandma Wanda Plinsky both wrote multiple pages in their own handwriting along with filling out the initial project survey I sent to them.  This made the interview much easier for me as I could just ask them to expound some or recount what they had already penned.

Brief History:

Born Wanda Mae McGeary, Grandma was born on a farm in rural Kansas just months after the stock market crash ushered in the Great Depression.  Her parents were James Eber McGeary and Olive Anne Turner McGeary.  She had two brothers and two sisters.

She started dating Grandpa Darrell when she was a junior in high school- the day he returned home from serving in the United States Navy during World War II.

In June of 1946, Grandma Wanda, nearly a senior in high school, paid a visit to local pastor’s wife.  During their time together, Grandma invited Christ into her life.  Although she wasn’t personally raised in church, she did attend with Darrell during their dating season and off and on through out her growing up years.

She graduated high school on May 20, 1947.  She married Grandpa Darrell on June 29, 1947.  She added Plinsky to her name.  Together they moved to Denver, Colorado where Grandpa had enrolled in Denver Bible College- renamed Rockmont by they time he graduated.

Their first son, David, was born May 21, 1948 in Denver.  Next son Timothy (Heidi’s Dad) was born June 18, 1951 in Salina, Kansas.  Third son  Carlton (Jamie, Michael, and Holly’s Dad) was born March 27, 1953 in Harper, Kansas.  Their first daughter, Lori, was born June 1, 1959 in Attica, Kansas.  Second daughter and baby of the family, Gretchen, was born October 16, 1966 in Wichita, Kansas.  As a young mother, Grandma Wanda was busy at home, and home changed often until they moved to Wichita.  Then in 1973 she began working at Christian Challenge School where she worked until 1990.  From 1991-2000, she continued to work doing food demonstrations until she fully retired.

Throughout her life, Grandma has been active in her church as well as hosting countless friends in her home.  From game nights to widows’ luncheons as well as celebrating her favorite time of year- Christmas, she’s gifted with flavorful food and welcoming hospitality.  Fried chicken- no one makes it like our Grandma. (And she always made it for Michael, Jamie’s brother.  She probably made it for Jamie, too.)   And her colorfully, tasty Jell-O salads, we call “Fluff,” thrill any room full of guests.  But as her grandchildren, I think we’re pretty convinced we liked them best.  My favorite… picture a ginormous glass bowl with layers of crushed graham crackers, sliced bananas, and freshly whipped cream…oh my… the best.

Grandma remains passionate about reading.  She claims she struggled with reading when she was a child, so she wanted her children to learn and love to read.  She indeed passed that on as many of us share her passion.  Some, like Michael, prefer the movie form…but we’ll save his story for another day.

And her sense of humor?  Outstanding.  She spills joy, and she wants to share it.  Speaking of Michael… the banter interplay between Grandma and grandson still makes me smile.  They just tease each other about all kinds of things.  She helped us keep our sense of humor from being sucked away by darker times.  Grateful for that, for sure.

Although their pace has slowed, Grandma Wanda and Grandpa Darrell still enjoy their friends, their family, their home.

And just to be honest~ they are a huge reason I am finally sharing this work.  I really wanted them to see the realization of this project where the Shadow of the Almighty clearly overwhelms the shadow of death.

Living Hope ~ Heidi L. Paulec



The phone rang.  I answered.  My husband Darrell and I were sitting with our grandchildren as our daughter and son-in-law were out for the evening.  “Hello?  I’m sorry Steve and Lori are not home.”  The caller stopped me.  “Mom, this is Carlton.”  Our youngest son.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I didn’t recognize your voice.” I replied a little confused.

“I’m not too surprised, Mom, because I have bad news.”  And then, he said the unthinkable.  “Jamie’s committed suicide.”

Immediately, I shrieked.  “Oh, NO!  Oh, NO!”  (I’ve felt bad about this as I imagine Carlton’s replayed that over and over in his mind too many times.)

Darrell hurried to take the phone until I composed myself.  Darrell continued to talk with Carlton.  I remember asking, “How did he do it?”  I remember Darrell talking a bit longer, then he prayed with him and hung up the phone.  I remember calling a dear friend to ask her to call another mutual friend as well as our pastor.  Our pastor called us as soon as he knew.

Our youngest daughter Gretchen and her husband Roy also lived in the same city as we do along with our older daughter and her family.  That evening, Roy and Gretchen were at his mother’s home for a birthday party.  I called and told Gretchen.  They left the party and came to Lori’s home.  Lori and Steve arrived home shortly after.  So many questions.  Yet, so much silence still.

Of course, we were all in shock.  I felt I must be strong for them.  As we left their home that night to go back to our home, I prepared myself to break the news to my sister and her husband.  They were staying with us as my sister just had a heart transplant.  I was caring for her until she was strong enough to return to her country home.

We called our eldest son Dave and his wife Marie.  Of course, we talked to Tim (Heidi’s Dad).  We also called Darrell’s brother Dean and his wife Doris.  We asked them to tell Grandma Neel.

I remember finally going to bed that night.  Exhausted.  Wanting to sleep.  Trying to sleep.  Tense and tired.  Where is the rest at a time like this?

“Jamie was a lively little boy.  As our first grandchild, he was both fun and extra special to us.  He was brilliant.  No, he really was.  He read all the time.  He thought things out real well, too.  I remember playing games with him.  He won easily without hardly trying.  This frustrated his younger brother so much.”

Grandma Wanda Plinsky

We did get some rest that night.  The next morning we faced many detailed arrangements, so we could be with the family.  Meals needed to be prepared for my sister as we did not know how long we’d be gone.  We called Carlton, who worked for a major airlines, and he made arrangements for us to fly to Denver.  Somehow it all came together.  Something to be thankful for.  And we headed to the airport.

When we boarded the plane, I burst into tears.  With my sister’s tender physical state, I had not yet found a place quiet and alone enough.  Whether I was ready or not, the tears spilled out right there.


Grandpa Darrell Remembers… Mercy (part 2)

Grandpa Plinsky

The caller?  Our youngest son.  Jamie’s Dad.

He methodically explained all he knew up to that point in time.  I listened.  (What do you do when your youngest son calls to report his firstborn child is gone?  Gone… at his own hand.  What do you do?  Listen.)  Before we hung up the phone, we prayed.  That next morning, Sunday morning, our flight arranged easily as our son worked for a major airlines.  We were grateful for that.  The airlines made the flights, and the employees made it comfortable.  We made our way to Denver.  In shock, I remember meeting family there.  So few details remain.  It was a time of intense sadness.

Several days were spent together with family and relatives awaiting Jamie’s body released from the morgue in the mountains and transported to Denver.  Wanda and I went with Carlton and Kathy to the funeral home to choose a casket and vault.  Over the years, Wanda and I  had buried both our Dads along with a step-father.  In addition, recent to that time, we made all the funeral arrangements for Wanda’s mother, so we had some idea our limited experience would be helpful at such a time.  We appreciated the funeral home representative who was respectful, helpful, and non-pressuring.   He left us alone, so we could take the time we needed to think through all the details.  We are simple people, so deciding how many pillows are sufficient for burial can seem complicated.  Difficult though it was, Wanda and I were thankful we could be of some help in this process.

Then the day came.  All the men of the family went to the funeral home to view the body before the rest. Tears flooded me.  My expression, “What a waste!” A whole, hopeful life ahead.  Jamie was so intelligent and hard-working.  Humble and compassionate.  He could have been a doctor, a lawyer, or a business man, but he did not grant himself the opportunity to live out his capabilities.  Those 17 years were not a waste, but all I could see, as a grandfather at that moment, was all he had ahead of him.  Vanished.

 As written in The Fierce Good-bye: Hope in the Wake of Suicide, a response to a daughter-in-law’s death:

“I stood beside the coffin a few moments, my brain a turmoil of confusion.  Grief, loss, and pity flooded over me, but the most overwhelming feeling was one of waste.  For those who are desperately ill, death can be a welcome relief.  Sudden death by accident or heart failure always shock and devastate.  But suicide, deliberate self-destruction, especially of a talented and gifted young person appalls.  The unfulfilled dreams, the unfinished work, the uncompleted promise, mock like demons.”

The Fierce Good-bye: Hope in the Wake of Suicide G. Lloyd Carr and Gwedolyn C.Carr 27

After those intense moments, God’s grace did a healing work helping me to focus more on being thankful for the remaining family members, especially the grandchildren.  God granted strength to free my focus on this horrible death and shift to the life we who remain are called to live.

continued… Grandpa Darrell Remembers… Mercy (part 3)

Grandpa Darrell Remembers… Mercy (part 1)


Grandpa Plinsky.png

“While thoughtful when choosing his words, he confidently spoke in his soft-spoken manner.”

(For Photo Collage Captions, See Notes at the End of Grandpa Darrell’s (part 3)Perspective.)


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 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 to subscribe to receive email links as we publish pieces here.


Reflections on the Interview:

On January 13, 2007 I interviewed both Grandpa and Grandma individually in their home in Wichita, Kansas.  The home in which they raised their family.  Prior to the interview, Grandpa Darrell and Grandma Wanda Plinsky both wrote multiple pages in their own handwriting along with filling out the initial project survey I sent to them.  This made the interview much easier for me as I could just ask them to expound some or recount what they had already penned.

As I was preparing to go on a writing retreat following these interviews, I decided last minute to ask Grandpa to describe himself.  And I love his succinct reply.  Can you tell Grandma Hazel was his Mom?

“Think before I speak.  (Hope what I say is right.)  Much less talkative than my wife.  {smile}”

Grandpa’s ease and peace stood out to me throughout our conversation.  While thoughtful when choosing his words, he confidently spoke in his soft-spoken manner.  Although this conversation, nearly 15 years after Jamie’s death,  Grandpa Darrell did not seem to camp too long on any particular questioning element to Jamie’s depression and subsequent suicide.  His desire:  Remember Jamie.   Be grateful daily to the Lord for His grace, mercy , and constant comfort.

Brief History:

Darrell Plinsky was the firstborn child to his parents, Ernie and Hazel. His family farmed.  He attended a one room schoolhouse from grade school through high school in Beverly, Kansas.  As an athlete, he lettered in basketball, football and baseball.  From what I have been told, he threw a mean knuckle-ball.

He attended Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas prior to farming some for his Uncle Hermon.  Uncle Hermon’s son was killed in Africa while serving in the US Army during World War II.  Eventually, Darrell signed up for the military draft.  He chose to serve in the US Navy.  After bootcamp he was sent to the Aleutian Islands, Alaska where he boarded the ATR-32 ship, a fire fighting vessel, traveling with a fleet of ships bound to bombard the Japanese Islands.

At the end of World War II, Darrell returned to his hometown.  He’d received many letters from Wanda during his many months away.  He made a point to see her the first night home.  Later, they were engaged and married about a year later.  They raised three sons -David, Timothy, and Carlton- and two daughters -Lori and Gretchen.  Darrell also attended Bible College in Colorado.  His spent his working years at Quartzite Stone Co. (two years) and Tweco Manufacturing Co. (37 years).  Additionally, he served at Calvary Bible Church for 50 years.

My Dad (Darrell and Wanda’s second son Tim) shared several observations of Grandpa Darrell during my growing up years.  For example, Grandpa was a morning runner before running was cool.  Additionally, my Dad said he gratefully remembers his Dad getting up before the rest of the family stirred.  He began every day reading the Bible and on his knees in prayer.  This quiet consistency laid a solid foundation for my Dad who did the same for me.

He and Grandma Wanda continue to faithfully pray for their entire family every day, plus any additional heartfelt concerns for any within their circle.  I’m deeply grateful for their persevering love and care for each of us – far and near.

Although retired now and in his 90s, Darrell still maintains home projects although his pace has slowed some.  He and Wanda still live in independently and are a true testimony of consistency and joy to their family.

prepared by Heidi L. Paulec



Grandpa Darrell Remembers… Mercy

That Saturday evening in January of 1992 found us at our older daughter’s home caring for their children as she and her husband went out for the evening.  Wanda (my wife) answered the phone.  She broke down as she handed the phone to me.  I knew something serious had happened—a critical injury or a death.  Although naturally talkative, Wanda is not one to emotionally react like that without sufficient cause.  The caller?  Our youngest son.  Jamie’s Dad.

continued…Grandpa Darrell Remembers… Mercy (part 2)


Great-Grandmother’s Endurance

Grandma Neel



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 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 to subscribe to receive email links as we publish pieces here.



Reflections on the Interview:

Our paternal great grandmother, Grandma Hazel, not only agreed to participate in my project to collect the family memories and ponderings, but she quietly endorsed my efforts to encourage other families who face similar loss.

Initially, I sent a questionnaire to each family member to fill in prior to our recorded interview.  Grandma Hazel filled in the sheets with brevity and reverence.

She passed on before I had the opportunity to seek more understanding from her.  However, I think her brief guarded responses illustrate perfectly the varying distinctions grief maneuvers among us.  Some personalities (and maybe even some seasons) need to put words to all they deal with in order to move forward while others move forward more privately… without such words.


Brief History:

Hazel Fern Schafer Plinsky Neel (March 10, 1906-February 19, 2005)  Our Great-Grandma Hazel grew up and lived her life in rural Kansas.  Hardworking.  Content.  Kind.  Practical. Classy.  She endured much in her life, including the loss of two husbands.  She penned some her own memories in May 2001.   She described the pipeline being built when she was a school girl and the response from her small town.  She wrote of improving race relations through children playing together and community potlucks.   She acknowledged being a bit hungry during the Dust Bowl years.

The depravation of the Great Depression?  She wrote that she really did not notice too much until a government official stopped in to inquire about their living conditions and how she was feeding her farming family.  From her notes:

One day before the pipeline came through a lady came to the door- I was ironing and heating flat irons on the cook stove.  She started asking questions, so I began to ask who she was and why all these personal questions… I asked why she asked about our food- clothing and income, etc.

For instance, she asked “What did you have for breakfast.  I said toast, coffee and Ernie had two eggs.  The boys Darrell and Dean each had one egg and a glass of milk (we didn’t have Carolyn yet).  Then, she asked again what I ate.  I said, “Toast and coffee.”  She wanted to know why I didn’t have an egg.  I told her that we only had a few hens and without proper feed, they didn’t lay many eggs.

She looked at me and said, ‘Lady, you are on a starvation diet.’ She almost made me feel sorry for myself.  She kept asking other questions about our other meals.  When she asked where Ernie* ate for lunch, I said I sent lunch with him.  I made a sandwich with mustard on one slice and butter on the other one- no fruit.  She almost fell from her chair and told me that in a few days someone would be bringing us some food.

I was so curious about so many things and asked  so many questions.  She finally said she wasn’t suppose to tell us, but it was a government deal and was free as long as we needed it.  Of course I looked for it every day, but Uncle Sam is never in a big hurry to do things for us- (only when he wants our taxes).  But in due time, someone did come with lots of food- flour, rice, canned meat, canned peaches, and corn meal that I remember.”

*Ernie was our great-Grandfather we never met…our Dads never met him either as he passed away just a month after my Dad was born and well before Jamie’s Dad was born.



Great Grandmother’s Endurance… Encourages

“Oh, Jamie… he was a loving and caring young man.  Polite.  Smart.  A very young man.

Due to my age and limited travel as well as his family’s move to Denver, I seldom got to see Jamie and the family.  I stayed in my small town mostly.  And the younger ones moved around more.  Times changes.  I understood that.  But I so enjoyed preparing gifts for my whole family every January for Christmas several months later.  On the night of January 18, 1992.  I was wrapping Christmas gifts and very happy until word came about his death.

Very sad… such a young man.

The last time I remember seeing Jamie… my 85th birthday party.  I saw him walk up the stairs and thought how nice looking and sweet a person he is… that is how I remember Jamie.

Very, very sad… wondering why?”


“Honest writing shows us how badly we are living and how good life is.  Enlightenment is not without pain.  But the pain, accepted and endured is not a maiming, but a purging.”

Eugene Peterson  Run With the Horses pg. 128

Grief is not a state to ignore, hide or mask, but a path leading to perseverance and perspective.  For a dear lady who endured hardship and embodied joy with such grace and dignity, I am deeply grateful for her life example as well as her selective use of words.

– Heidi L.Paulec

What a treasure is this little note she included when she returned the questionnaire:

Grandma Neel note.png


“… light inaccessible …” (part 3)

photo (26)

Growing up in Wyoming meant many long drives across the Great Plains to attend sporting events or even pick up groceries.  From time to time, I rode alone with my Dad in his pick-up with the windows down.  His observant eye spotted everything- from a pronghorn herd hidden in a grain field to rain streaking the sky hinting storms moving in… I think he taught me to see… really see God’s creation with childlike wonder.

For quite some time, I suggested my childhood died instantaneously when Jamie did.  However, slowly, my senses softened and my lungs expanded again.  The gripping tension in my chest weakened.  And the darken vision of what this “after” life would be… unfolded albeit slowly, mysteriously.

In the dead of winter, we recognize the dormant season.  Willows, once cloaking forts, stand naked and exposed.  Snow shrouds the growth underneath.  Yet, when the cherry blossoms in the spring, when the tulips and daffodils unfurl, when the dawn’s rays rise and the birds sing, do we hide our heart’s recognition of new life?

Little by little, my heart, soul, and mind gained strength reaching deeper than the grief.  Out of the well, fresh awakening and delight saturate my soul.  Withholding gratefulness is an option, but an option that’s sucks life out of us.  Thanksgiving directed toward the “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise” helps us see and breathe- breath by breath.

In the vivid wonder of eternity’s embrace, do I hide and hoard this fresh nourishment?  Am I not utterly compelled  to share?  Who really cares?

Honestly, both response have been mine over the years since Jamie’s death.  The hiding and hoarding are the yielded responses to fears… especially of vulnerability most people stutteringly steer to avoid.  Discerning when to shine solely from the soul and when to speak continues to be a delicate dance.

Struggles taunt me still, but daily His Word and His Creation revive and refresh the wonder of Who He is and who I am in Light of Him.  He chooses to use seeing people among us to encourage and lighten our loads.  Let’s remember to thank Him and thank them… even if the words don’t come for decades.

And He chooses to use us, too.  Sometimes, we see…and choose to look the other way.  When we hear whispers to reach out, no matter how simple, let’s heed and act.  We never know exactly how He chooses to illuminate Light and breathe Life again through our simple acts of obedience… including sharing our keen eyes of His Hand among us.

Artist and saint alike grope in awe to comprehend the incomprehensible disproportion of the glory of God and the humility of the Incarnation:  the Master of the Universe, become of the earth, earthy, in order to be one with his creatures so that we may be one with him.”

– Madeline L’Engle Walking on Water pg. 154

While our earthly breath is temporary and often labored, the Breath of Life breeches shadows and breathes the delights of eternity into dry bones… and grieving girls.

“… light inaccessible …” (part 2)

photo (26)

written by Heidi L. Paulec

Oh, how wanted to keep Jamie alive … who he was… not just to me, but everyone fortunate to know him.   His logic.  His eloquence. His kindness.  His quiet wit.  People claim the deceased “live on in our hearts” or “as long as you have memories, he’s still with you.”  Honestly, these feathery words felt empty to me.

When I was asked to be either a pall-bearer (one who carries the casket) or honorary pall-bearer (one given a seat of honor, but no heavy lifting required), my acceptance of honorary over actual pall-bearer brewed out of my hesitancy to accept the permanence of his death and to assist willingly in tucking his memory into decomposing soil.  Neither could I passively accept his absence, nor could I actively indorse his choice.  And somehow I knew the weight of death in a box… no matter how strong I wanted to be… was too heavy for me.

His choosing suicide still perplexed me. C.S. Lewis suggests, “suicide is the typical expression of the stoic spirit and the battle of the warrior spirit.”(1)   Jamie, the bright and mostly compliant over-achiever, recognized immediate gratifying paths led to meaninglessness.  He willingly worked hard and focused.  From Legos to aviation, his devotion to the process and enjoyment in the successful steps along the way yielded visions far beyond his mere 17 years.  While the methodical details he marked in ending his own life fit him eerily, I didn’t want to believe he really did it… to himself.  How could he?

During much of our childhood, I felt like I followed his lead.  He set the academic bar of achievement high. Before we even started kindergarten, he was reading.  I remember listening to him and watching him read words.  Then sentences.  And yes, paragraphs.

His abilities inspired me to sit still a little longer.  This enabled me to give phonics time to saturate.  Competition edged out my previous excuses to put off learning to read myself.  Like Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun, I found flying in second place to Jamie easy, manageable.  Freeing, really.  He set the standard, and I dared to catch up to him as fast as I could.

But his demise left me solo-ing in the darkness.. left me fumbling and fragile.  I remember my role at the funeral included entering and exiting in a honored lineup.  I vowed to be strong enough that day.  I remember feeling like I trudged through… feeling the spotlight… “This must be the worst of it.”  I thought…                                   {shallow breaths}…silencing my interior groans and screams…securely away… somewhere deep.

Strong enough to live without him?  Strong enough to live out his potential and mine?  Strong enough to see beyond the present shroud cloaking me?   All of us, really.

No, the worst was yet to come.  We grew up primed by the prevalent worldview that perpetuates seizing obstacles by virtue of self-will alone.  If I think it, I seize it.  I win.

The problem?  Since I’m still here, I thought I must live this thing called life brilliantly for the both of us.  I even attempted to embody a few of his character qualities, the distinctly effortless part of him, so foreign to me.   Grief’s grip… was strangling me. And my fight?  Weak, frantic, and hidden… as best as I could manage.   Suffocating, really.

Paradoxically, I became nearly transfixed and self-focused (self-protection) while I also sought to think of others well above myself.  (Remember  “Defining Time” ?)  Before his departure, this would have been much more out of the ordinary; however, after he left… well…

Honestly, this step came fairly easily.  When one loses a loved one to suicide, the rejection of kinship  often severs a confidence in the survivor to extend friendship… because really?  When my friendship resume’ includes loss to suicide, I wondered how many ways I had failed him… and I feared failure might result in all relationships.  While I was just out-going enough to easily hide in arenas of conversation and service.  Instead of really connecting,  I found socializing actually helped me escape, too.  Reminiscent of C.S. Lewis thoughts, I found means to live in a crowd.  Caucus replaced friendship.(2)   All this barely breathing beside people… while the longing for friendship deepened.

Strong enough.  Strive enough.  Serve enough…

…but I am not enough.

In the state of cloudy grief, I returned to a large 6A public high school.   God chose to use my friend, Amy-in my sixth hour Algebra 2 class, to breath His Word into me.  How?   Amy slipped hand-written notecards with Bible verses to me periodically through the remainder of our semester.  Imagine, a high school junior thoughtfully taking the time to scratch out a verse or two to pass to me discreetly during class.   Simple.  Personal.  And life-lifting.

At first, I couldn’t even read them.  Why not?   Another  well-meaning friend approached me within the first 72-hours of Jamie’s death with this encouragement: “You know Heidi, the Lord doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.  He’s prepared you for this.”  In my cloud of confusion and grief, I thought to myself, “What if this God holds me responsible for all I know of His Word?  What if he’s testing my reliance and resilience?”  Again… not enough.

I remember making a decision – not against God Himself for I still awed and revered Him- but against acquiring any more of His Word into my heart or mind out of pure exhaustion and fear of on-going testing.

However, His Word  found me in a quiet corner of a public high school.  I found sanctuary in His Love poured out in His Word hand-delivered on 3×5 cards by my friend who knew only one balm for my heart’s puncture wound.  I’m not sure I’ve ever thanked her enough.  Her simple obedience to keep reaching out quietly to me… rooted my -once rocky- faith in Jesus.

Through His Living Word – handwritten heart to heart~ “The things of this world will grow strangely dim in the Light of His Glory and Grace.”(3)  He’s referenced as the Lifter of Heads in the Psalms.  He tenderly reached out to me.  Personally.  Patiently.  Lifting my gaze.  He helped me distinguish the prowess perpetrators among us while also revealing His Presence pulsing within His people…within me.

Discovering myself loved by God and forging new dimensions of intimacy with God’s Presence had brought healing to my fragmented life.”

C.S. Lewis The Problem of Pain pg.4

Entering every day recognizing, “He’s really gone.”  “He’s not coming back.”  No matter what vivid dreams of him in crowded halls or traffic-jammed parking lots, I awoke… still alone…wondering, “Do I have what it takes to make it through?”

James 1 became my heartbeat:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without find fault, and it  will be given to him.” (NIV vs.2-5)
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” (ESV vs.1:12)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  (Hebrews 10:23-24 NIV)

I don’t have what it takes to carry on… but I know Who does.

continued… “… light inaccessible …” (part 3)


(1)  Lewis, C.S.  The Problem of Pain HarperSanFrancisco ZondervanPublishingHouse, 2001  (2)  Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory HarperCollins, 1980                                                                      (3) Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus a hymn


“… light inaccessible …” (part 1)

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written by Heidi L. Paulec

The palpable difference between being alive and yielding to eternal living often pulses the brightest evidence in our darkest grappling.  “O, help us to see.”

“Our design… is only to discover how, perceiving a suffering world, and being assured, on quite different grounds, that God is good, we are to conceive that goodness and that suffering without contradiction.”

CS Lewis The Problem of Pain pg.27

After being privy to Jamie’s battling with depression & sinking under the shadow of death via suicide, I remember recognizing my own labored breath. The staccato, involuntary panting of shock slowly subsided. Each inhale and exhale… once instinct… now demanded mindful… labored efforts.  Efforts, I feared I simply wasn’t strong enough to muster and maintain.

For a time, my mind attempted to fight the coils of questions with self-sufficiency.  Soon, my own spirit collapsed within me. I may have been alive; I wasn’t the one our family buried in the ground.  However, grief prodded my broken heart incessantly.  Since Jamie and I were so close and everyone knew it, all eyes followed me.

However, the steps to this dark dance… I didn’t know… my stage expressions couldn’t conceal the seething weakness … the gravity of grief gives way to a raw reality that is too heavy for improv.

In the years since, I related to Jim Carey’s character in The Truman Show.  While it would have been utterly ego-centric of me to assume the remaining attention (which prior to his death, I would have snagged eagerly) ought to fixate on me, I felt the stare of focus.  In part,  my Mom worked in human resources of a large public school district.  Her access to counselors as well as statistical data spotlighted me as a possible copycat… Now, I don’t know that she ever even verbalized this to me, but as an intuitive only child, I  sensed the concerned squints hovering around me.

And for the first time in my life, all I wanted to do was escape and hide.  Maybe in silent isolation, this paralyzing ache would evaporate and normal could return.  Virtually, all of me paused. For quite some time.  The outside of me continued to go through the motions of my existence while the inside conflicted between containment and collapse.

While I recognized the loving desire of family and friends to genuinely care, their grief and confusion heaved and hid, too.  At the time, I could not have formulated words to describe it all.  I just knew I didn’t want to add to the burdens already there.  I felt responsible for them… I felt responsible for Jamie.   All more than I could bear.  And I hated feeling this weak.

If  living was what was left for me… I didn’t know how anymore.  High school fashions, gossip, pressures shrunk away… just as a grander purpose for living…and dying demanded a response.  A breathless banter.   In this heavy haze,  I heard the faint whispers of my own wondering prayers.

continued  “… light inaccessible …” (part 2)

ant hills, mud pies, & rainy drives (part 3)

Jamie bucket bath1976

… the ant hill incident opened my eyes to an evil I had previously relegated to time long ago, a snake in a garden far, far away.  Ant armies illustrated the slithering, organized approach of evil’s shadowy tentacles…

Shiny things… horizons and mining mounds…

Biting pain… numbing, dimming soul… sure, we made it home. 

A fact quickly forgotten.  Only to focus on failure…and deadening hopes.

On another sunny afternoon, we found ourselves much closer to home.  In fact, we nestled on a back porch.   Hiding from the wind and sneaking water from the hose to make mud in barren planters, we attempted to pass time.  Great-Grandma Ruth spotted us, and she made sure we had proper garden tools.  She also sternly reminded us not to run the water hose.  Get what we need, and shut it off.  We nodded agreement, and she left us to return to her duties.

As we sat there, wind whistling around us, Jamie and I unearthed dirt clods and some decent four-year-old philosophical questions.  Like, “Why do grown-ups want to know our favorite colors?  Why do they make us eat food we don’t like?   Why is the grown-up world and the children world so segregated?  (I liked the kids’ table and all.  Mainly, we escaped etiquette training when we sat to ourselves.  But, I did listen in on enough conversations I wanted to talk, too.)    Why do the women work they way they do, and why do the men work they way they do? (Although I often complained about our being tossed outside for hours at a time, I couldn’t begin to imagine working anywhere else… I preferred raking out the barn to pushing dust around the house- any day.)  Why do we dress up for church?  And why were we the only kids not allowed to run in or around the church?

As Jamie and I sat grabbing n’ squeezing, grabbing n’ squeezing until dirt darkened under our fingernails, Grandma Ruth approached us again.  This time, she brought us each a pie tin.  She asked, “Have you two ever made mud pies?”  We looked at each other. Eyes wide.  This time- adventure was coming to us.  Although we were already fairly dirt-smudged at this point, we acknowledged our inexperience.  And our eager readiness to experiment.  Grandma helped us move mud into the tins.  She told us that after we finished loading and decorating them, we could leave them in the sun to bake, too.   Again, she left us to our “work.”

Jamie smoothed his heap meticulously.  I impatiently attempted designs.  I wanted mine done first (yes, that competitive). And mine needed to be prettier than his.  However, his slices would be air hole-less and much more precise than mine.  After a while of watching him smooth and re-smooth, I realized “I don’t even like to eat pie.”  I liked to smell it.  I liked to eat left-over crust baked with cinnamon and sugar.  I even enjoyed watching other people eat pie.  (Grown-ups make faces like children when they eat desserts.)  I just didn’t like to eat it myself.  So, how could I imagine even pretending to like this mud pie?  Was all this just wasted time?

Jamie, on the other hand, enjoyed eating real pie.  And he enjoyed this make-believe mess.  He questioned, along with me, on many things that day… (and many days to come).  The goodness of pie, however, was not up for question.  So, we completed our mud pie projects and placed them on a sun-exposed ledge.   And waited.  And we waited.  I touched mine.  Baking?  No way!  It was as wet and gooey as ever. “This isn’t working!”  I hastily complained.   We waited some more.

Finally, we ventured through the wind to Grandma Ruth’s house to ask how long they would need to bake.  She didn’t know.  She didn’t know?  A grown-up who suggested mud pie-making in the first place didn’t know the time they needed to solidify?!?  She suggested going inside to clean up and check later.  Jamie acquiesced to the suggestion while I complained the whole way back to the big house.

“Deep within every human heart throbs the undying hope that somebody or something will bring both an explanation of what life is all about and a way to retain the wonder.”

-Ravi Zacharias Recapture the Wonder p.13

continued… ant hills, mud pies, & rainy drives (part 4)

written by Heidi L. Paulec