Aunt Karen… after the rain (part 4)

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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)

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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

 

Grandpa Ken… He Reached Out to Me (part 4)

Grandpa Ken

On January 16, 1992, our youngest daughter Kathy (Jamie’s Mom) along with her younger two children (Michael and Holly) came to visit us for the long weekend.  Jamie opted to attend a winter retreat with his church youth group.

Although we were a bit disappointed, we certainly understood.  And, I think, a little hopeful he was making some good friends after the difficult couple years.  Also, some suspected his interest in spiritual matters had dwindled in recent months.   So, his initiative to go an such a retreat was a welcome option.

The evening of January 18, 1992 – the phone rang.  I answered it.  The voice on the other end?  Our son-in-law (and Kathy’s husband), Carlton.  He spoke directly.

Matter of fact:  “Jamie killed himself.”  Initially, I could not believe he would joke about something like that.  But within moments, I knew this wasn’t a joke.

Jamie’s gone.  Shock set in immediately.

I numbly told Phyllis and Kathy.  Their tears… The screams… shook the street, I think.

Then, hearing the commotion, Michael and Holly rushed in…  “What’s wrong?”  I think they asked… By now, I’m not even sure what explanation they received.  A total blur in my memory.

I remember Phyllis flew with Kathy and the kids while I drove from Kansas City to Denver the next day.  The blur continued.  I do not remember any part of that drive.  Numb, I suppose.

As the family gathered for the funeral, we shared sorrow and loss.  Jamie’s gone.  We proceeded through the customary funeral preparations.  Trips to the funeral home and cemetery.  No dress rehearsal.  Nothing prepares you for all the formal finalities.

One thing I really regret now is that I viewed the body.  While I’d been to several funerals in my life, seen the bodies and it didn’t trouble me.  However, Jamie’s body… in a coffin … That’s different for me.  Very hard to see.  I wish I’d never seen it.  And I can’t seem to forget it either.

I want to remember the young gentleman from Thanksgiving instead.  Sure, he had concerns.  But, he also seemed to be handling them with grace and peace… maturity beyond his years.

Remembering Jamie… some memories- I just want to be fresh again.  Others … just sad.  What could I have done differently that may have impacted his decision?  Or, if in fact, did I do anything that contributed to his decision? … That troubles me some still.

I hurt for Kathy and Carlton and the family.  If it were possible, I would have done just about anything to take that pain away.  We cannot walk in another man’s shoes- even though we sure would like to sometimes.

Recalling memories of his childhood with Phyllis and Kathy eases grief’s sting, I think.  I remember the time he placed his foot in a tub of hot water on the back porch – he was just a toddler.  He pulled his foot out fast and said, “Dumb Kid!”  When he got excited as a toddler, he bent his elbows, clenched his fists, and then swing his arms back and forth.

The countless rides on the tractor or combine.  His laugh…  and Heidi’s, too… laughs that I hushed.  And what a proud big brother.  A good brother, too.

Photographs around the house remind us of Jamie’s life.  His death is hard, but the manner of death is the hardest part.  I think general knowledge of Scripture and trusting that God’s children cannot be lost… That brings  a great deal of comfort… despite what Jamie did.

Prior to Jamie’s death, I remember a childhood friend losing his life to his own hand.  We never knew if it was an accident or on purpose.  But, you think about these things even if no one talks about them.  Back when we were younger, you just didn’t speak of such things.

Although I’ve not spoken about all Jamie’s death that much, I’d be open to sharing with another going through a similar situation.  We deal with any death.  It takes time.  But, this kind of death has its own sharp, deep pain, too.

I think it is important to know that time does take the edge off.  Accepting the absence of a grandson, first-born grandson, is not easy.  But, I am thankful God gives us memories.  We’ve got some real good ones with Jamie and the rest of the family, too.

God also gives us Hope.  Hope in Jesus. “…When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace...”   Hope that leads us to Heaven one day… And I look forward to seeing Jamie there one day.

He reached out to me… and I remember.

 

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

Refrain:  On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

Refrain

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

Refrain

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

Refrain

-Edward Mote

written by Heidi L. Paulec

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Follow the family…Grandpa Ken married Grandma Phyllis… patios & picnics (part 1).

 

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 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 1)

Grandma Plinsky.JPG

PERSPECTIVES:

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

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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

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Perspective:

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)