Uncle Tim… Heaven Draws Near (part 5)

uncle-tim

How do we respond to Him?  Sink into Him through His Word.  As we read and wrestle, we call out to Him … listen carefully… offering thanks and praise for His Presence and very personal provision of divine comfort… presenting our honest emotion and questions … angst, grief… asking Him to enter in and show us elements of His own Character.   He is trustworthy and true.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,  lean not on your own understanding.    In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

When earth’s hurt and heaven’s hope collide… we grieve, but we grieve …hearing the choirs of Heaven on the horizon.    Trusting Him.  Leaning into His Word… allowing His Word to shape our thinking…guide our grieving…  comfort and “tune our hearts to sing His praise.”  His Faithfulness extends this life-giving Hope to others when they’re hurting.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell’st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea—
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Henry F. Lyte (1847)

He is faithful to hear our cries… and He answers… with Himself.   Remembering He’s … always holding somebody up … (part 4) …  Yes, we receive.  And we remember.  Next… we reach out.  We pray to be vessels of His Love and Truth to the hurting around us.   Ultimately, His Identity is… revealing mine in Him as well.  My confidence is not in me or my ability to figure Him out, but rather…in the Great I AM… under whose wings we find refuge…and abide.

Jamie’s absence left an unfillable hole in our family.  Karen walked closest with me through this.  Our prayers for Heidi, Michael, and Holly along with Carlton and Kathy grew deeper.   I’m thankful we had each other to walk through it all.

Since Jamie’s death, I’ve experienced the loss of a business colleague to suicide as well as talking through challenges of this kind of grief with others who endure it. I do not shy away from reaching out to those who are in facing fresh grief of any kind … broaching conversations… attending funerals… do what ever I can to be present with the living to honor those who’ve died.  I’ll share about Jamie and the lingering pain.  But, most importantly we remember to share the Hope we have in Jesus Christ – beyond our present pain… or Jamie’s past pain.  He alone redeems… and ultimately He sets all.. right.

Losses unearth emotions and questions… … Even with the most devastating losses, He grants us memories… of Calvin and Hobbs… infectious laughs… churning needs to investigate and imagine… through the darkness into His Eternal Light … illuminating earth’s hurt and heaven’s hope collides in Him…  Heaven draws near … that we might know our redeemed identity is secure in His.

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Uncle Tim’s married to Aunt Karen, Dad to Heidi, and his parents are Grandpa Darrell Remembers… Mercy (part 1) & Grandma Wanda… Beyond Brilliance (part 1)

written by Heidi L. Paulec

Aunt Karen… after the rain (part 5)

aunt-karen

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 4)

aunt-karen

On the evening of January 18, 1992, as Heidi was out on a date, Tim and I were home watching Top Gun (which was Jamie’s favorite movie) when the phone rang.  We paused the tape in the VCR, and I answered the kitchen phone.  It was Daddy (Grandpa Ken).  He immediately instructed me to get Tim on the phone.  I assumed something had happened to Grandpa Philip (Great-Grandparents).  Details of the initial news… escape me now.  Only, I remember hearing he’d hung himself, but I didn’t remember hearing he’d actually died.

I remember lying on the floor of the kitchen… crying… in complete disbelief. “It can’t be!  It just can’t be!?!”   I had to know for sure.  So, I called Carlton.  He was just about to leave his home to drive into the mountains to the camp where Jamie was retreating.  Carlton confirmed Jamie was gone.

The next thing I remember…FEAR.  What is this going to do to Heidi?  I had worked at a middle school at the time a well-loved eighth grade girl had taken her own life, so I knew the behind-the-scene precautions outlined by mental health professionals and implemented by school counselors… how do we tell her?  Her twin is gone.  How will she take it?  Copy -catting is an unwanted reality.  Heidi’s close relationship with Jamie would cast her into a shadowed statistic…to keep a closer eye.

I wanted to leave and go find Heidi.  I was afraid someone else would tell her before we could get to her… not logical, but among my early thought.  Tim reminded me that was nearly impossible and suggested we stay home.  He called over a couple friends.  One lived close by, and she arrived before Heidi did.

As we sat… and waited for Heidi to get home… and cried, my heart felt torn out of my chest.  Memories flashed in mind…shock sent in silences… thoughts rushed again.

“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

Because He Lives…”

Gloria and William Gaither

Tim locked the front door, so we’d know when Heidi got home.  She was irritated when she first pulled her key from the door knob questioning why we’d locked her out.  I guess she  realized something was wrong as her eyes darted around the room to each of us.

Tim asked her to sit down several times, but she just kept demanding, “Just tell me!”  Eventually, he did.  Again, I don’t remember all the words… but, the pain… palpable… as her legs crumbled beneath her.  And her sobbing… exclaiming, “I knew it!  I knew it!  I knew it!”

That night… we knew we needed to get to Colorado as soon as possible.  However, we needed sleep.  I think I’d hoped we’d leave before sunrise.  I wanted to get to my family as soon as possible, but Heidi wanted to go to church first.  Tim decided we’d pack up for the 11 hour road trip, stop in at church, and head out of town directly from there.  Tim shared the news with our Sunday School class by saying “We lost our ‘son’ last night.”  This actually was confusing, so we had to explain he was our nephew, etc.

The Sunday School class responded… generously.  They actually collected an offering to help us with the trip.  The drive… long and quiet… outside of the reflective music filling the car.  A salve to our souls… reminding us life is bigger than what we see, dream, battle… we’re not alone.  When our souls sing, we remember.  Who He Is.

“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

My Savior lives…”

Gloria and William Gather

continued … Aunt Karen… after the rain (part 5)

“… 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)