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.)

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.

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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.

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

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Perspective:

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)

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Great-Grandmother’s Endurance

Grandma Neel

 

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.

______________________________________________________________________

 

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.

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Perspective:

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?”

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“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

 

ant hills, mud pies, & rainy drives (part 2)

Jamie bucket bath1976

How cruel is it that diamond mounds turn into ravenous ant hills?

We grew up going to the same country church our ancestors built for the gathering of community in worship and service of our Lord Jesus.  We sat still, sang hymns, and gleaned much from older generations.  I especially remember the ladies, especially the grandmotherly ones (some widows), teaching us spiritual formation by example.

Mrs. Hilda, always smiling from deep within her soul, sent birthday cards in the mail to everyone.  Mrs. Susie played the piano with precision.  And Mrs. Sherry, the young pastor’s wife, loved the babies in the nursery.  And our Grandma Phyllis, mostly sang and billowed her delight in the choir.  No matter the size of choir or quartet, her voice inflated the room.  She exuded joy most of the time, but most especially when she sang songs.

Grandma Phyllis volunteered to teach our Sunday School class one year.  How easy she thought it might be – knowing Jamie and me and just a couple other children our age.  The endeavor proved to be a real stretch for her, but resulted in our memorizing the 23rd Psalm.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk

through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;

thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:

thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

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.”

Psalms‬ ‭23:1-6‬ ‭KJV‬‬
http://bible.com/1/psa.23.1-6.kjv

Somehow… “The Lord is my Shepherd” came easily to us.  We’d witnessed neighboring ranchers care for their herds with profound, diligent responsibility.  We’d seen horses come running at the shake-shake of a grain bucket.  Sheep naturally follow-the-leader, and we’d seen that, too.

I shall not want…” maybe not so easily.  Often, I found myself wanting… everything Jamie had.  (Sadly, I even envied his birthday coming before mine every year.  Our Great-Grandparents celebrated Jamie’s August birthday before traveling south for the winter, but they always missed my October birthday.

“…valley of the shadow of death…” how utterly foreign!  Some point along the way, death silenced some older men in our congregation.  I remember an older cowboy gentleman I called Grandpa Claude (although he was not blood relation) and Uncle Reuben both died.  Their weathered skin, distinguished glasses, and stiffened gate indicated life’s naturally slowing pace.  Somehow their deaths followed a predictable, expected cycle.  One I didn’t question.  Sadness seeped in for a time, yes.  I remember Aunt Ruth climbing the church steps alone and sitting alone in her pew.  Yet, I found I liked remembering people’s lives in the whole – the lives we often hear about only in the funeral/memorial service setting.

But somehow, the dissolving diamond mound and the erupting ant hill introduced me to tentacles of the shadow of death as I heard the lies pelting us, “You’re alone!”  “You won’t make it back!”  “This pain is all your fault!  If you hadn’t suggested, even pressed for, adventure, Jamie would be fine.”  Subtle stabs… venturing off the homestead unleashed hopes, dreams, plans, failures, and fears like I had never encountered before that day.

Once we returned and the rattle rested.   Jamie-bathed and balmed- assured me he was fine, sore and tired, but fine.  He firmly noted we should never play in ant hills again.  In the calm, I finally remembered we failed to even get the mail.  He tried to reassure me someone else probably already did that job.  And he was probably right.  But, disappointment and discouragement fueled frustration and fatigue.

Someone quieted us with a snack.  However, a haunting, an unsettling, a soul-stirring churned within me.  This big, beautiful, bountiful world reflects our Creator.  We already knew this from our Sunday School classes, and we’d seen plenty of His systems.  We’d seen barren fields embrace seeds and grow crops.  We’d “worked” sprinklers, rode along tractor runs and combine courses, and “took care” of badger invasions.  We’d witnessed the hardy efforts bring in the harvest.  Big men.  Hat hair.  Dusty jeans.  Worn boots.  Calloused hands.  We’d tasted the joy of a profitable season- both in Grandpa Ken’s study as he worked figures as well as around the dining table where we gathered to feast and give thanks.

But, the ant hill incident opened my eyes to an evil I previously relegated to a 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.

“…the challenges looming on the horizon would test every comfortable assumption of Empire and every fiber of personal faith and courage.”

Stephen Mansfield Never Give In: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill p. 31

continued… ant hills, mud pies, and rainy drives (part 3)

written by Heidi L. Paulec

 

 

 

 

 

 

ant hills, mud pies & rainy drives (part 1)

Jamie bucket bath1976

Sometime in the late 1970’s, Jamie and I (cousins only seven weeks apart in age), just exiting our toddler years, already knew we contributed in big ways to this family farm operation.  We knew our “jobs.”  Mainly, we needed to stay outside, stay as clean as possible, enter any building or work site of the farm only upon invitation, and stay within the circle of the homestead.  This still left us a dozen acres or so to explore, to invent and enter our land of make-believe.

Although hundreds of acres framed our family homestead, our boundaries cinched tightly within the visible interior perimeter of the buildings.  Circling to the left of the dirt road “driveway,” several buildings made up the “home-place.”  The ol’ chicken house.  Quonset- a metal building that stored spuds and grains in season as well as large equipment like tractors.  Next, the corral connected to the barn.  Just up from the barn sat the “bunk house.”   (Honestly, I’ve no idea what the purpose for this room-size building was originally.)  To the center of the circle sat our Grandpa’s huge and tidy shop- housed his tools (wood-working, etc.)

Back out to the circle:  The big house.  Originally, a modest home, my Grandpa Ken build up and out as the family grew.  (The creation and destruction of this house is a story all its own.)  The well house neighbored the water well.  Rounding out the home-place building circle, our Great-Grandparents summer home and Grandma Carrie’s home.  However, Grandma Carrie moved out, and Jamie lived there with his parents until his was five years old.  Now technically, I did not live on this place, but rather my parents and I lived on another family homestead a few miles away.  However, this place felt like home, too.

Sometime in the late 1970’s, Jamie and I (cousins only seven weeks apart in age), just exiting our toddler years, already knew we contributed in big ways to this family farm operation.  We knew our “jobs.”  Mainly, we needed to stay outside, stay as clean as possible, enter any building or work site of the farm only upon invitation, and stay within the circle of the homestead.  This still left us a dozen acres or so to explore, to invent and enter our land of make-believe.  Funny, how even in those early years, we scouted the boundary lines closely… often encouraging… and taunting each other.

One particularly sunny morning… I’m guessing late spring or early summer.  The temperatures, still chilly enough, were warming up by midday.  The adults readily sent us outside.  And after enough pleas, we convinced someone (I wish I could remember who) to grant us permission to wander beyond our customary boundary.  Dressed in our official play clothes consisting of shorts and shirts, socks and tennis shoes that often coordinated or matched, we took off down the “driveway” taking a left toward the mail box.  Unlike city mailboxes, our mailbox stood miles away.  So, our plot and plan – quite akin to treasure hunting- traversed the gravel road of the Great Plains with great hopes of delivering mail to the happy surprise and wonder of the parents and grandparents.

Anticipating our noontime farm-hardy meal as a family,  I’m pretty sure we could hear their pride and celebration… which is probably partly why we ventured… a little too far for our spring season stamina.

“As I went walking that ribbon of highway, I saw above me that endless skyway,  I saw below me that golden valley- This land was made for you and me.”

Woody Guthrie

We jibber-jabbered our way for a good while into the Wyoming wind.. fully focused on the horizon.  The dot of the mailbox.  Racing.  Skipping.  Walking…and looking back… now and again to see the “home-place” growing smaller and smaller behind us.  Can you believe this?  We’re really going some where… all by ourselves.

Eventually, our tired set in, our heads drooped a little, and our gaze set toward our feet.   We spotted the glistening clusters of crystalized pebbles  reflecting in the rising sun.  Then, we imagined we’d stuff our pockets full of these “diamonds,” which is clearly a brighter treasure to the mail… But, what if we came home with both?

Simultaneously, we spotted the pertruding mound of these “diamonds” along the southern shoulder of the road, but just north of the home-place.  We scurried over to inspect it.  Leaning over it, we spotted parading tiny trains of black and red heave-hoing in and out, in and out of tiny holes in the mound.  (I remember someone once warned me some insects bite or sting.  And I hated horse flies because they hurt the worst.)  Anyway, in our fascination observing their order and occupation, we didn’t realize where their marching led right up Jamie’s legs.  An entire ant brigade … “left, left, left, right, left…”

Suddenly, Jamie screeched as his legs jumped and arms thrashed.  Swinging.  And kicking.  Slipping… and falling… into the whole “diamond” mound.  The trains of ants instantly derailed and frenzied.  And I started laughing… yes, laughing.    Kicking to his feet, Jamie paused… right there, both feet planted in the cratered mound… now, erupting with ants.   He looked up at me… and he shot panic- like a light saber- at me.  Then, I quickly grabbed him and started swatting and swiping.  So many of them.  As we cleared some away, I saw his skin welting red.  Looking toward the home-place, I realized how very far, far away and all alone we were…

Mysteriously moving from girly giggles to pure panic and on to lifeguard mode, as Jamie’s tears flowed, his skin swelled, I ran both of us home.  I just kept repeating, “You’re going to be ok.  You’re going to be ok.  Just run with me.  Stay with me.  I’ll hold your hand.  You’re going to be ok!”

Maybe remembering The Little Engine that could, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” or maybe a gusto of grace…we arrived at the first house… dusty and disheveled.  The adults swarmed into take-over duty…  Rushing him off to a bath,  my breath surfaced… racing.  We made it.  He really is ok, right?  His eyes screaming panic… played over and over in my young mind… and sometimes, they still do.

continued…ant hills, mud pies, & rainy drives (part 2)

 

Great-Grandparents Grieve (part 3)

Photo (19)

We did not think anything like this could happen in our family.  We love our family too much.  They love each other too much.  We still don’t understand.  For a while, we did not want to see or talk to anyone.  Grieving takes time.  Jamie’s mother sent us a copy of the funeral video, I (Grandpa Philip) just cannot watch it.  I still can’t bear it.  After Grandma watched it she look straight at me, pointed her finger and said, “If anything happens to Heidi, don’t tell me!”

Suicide.  How repulsive!  Before Jamie’s death, we thought someone who kills himself must be a coward or sick in the mind.  Only a troubled person in need of attention with problem that needed to be solved—seeing no other way out or seeking escape could consider such an act.  And now, we feel so sorry for a person (and his family) who ends his life… because he cannot seem to live it.  Oh, those left behind— how deep the grief!  Knowing we all ask the answerless questions, we wonder “What could we have done to help?” in hindsight.

We think of Job from Scripture.  Oh, how he suffered!  Losing his family, property and health, he cried out, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return.  The Lord gives; the Lord takes away.  Blessed be His Name.”  Yet, we continue to battle disappointment with God.  Not anger.  We know God does not make mistakes, but we struggle with the, almost, hopeless finality of suicide.  We forget the sovereignty of God for moments; we don’t want to do that.  So, we keep the Scriptures close.  I (Grandpa Philip), though retired, still write sermons which keeps me thinking and praying and healing, I hope.

A natural death seems easier to accept as God’s timing.  We lost one of our sons to an accident a few years before Jamie.  While inspecting a roof of a commercial building, our son fell through a sky light and never regained consciousness.  Oh, what pain we felt at his loss!  However, he enjoyed full life with wonderful children and grandchildren.  His loss was easier to accept than Jamie’s.

Knowledge and review of Scripture comforts us with peace, faithful assurance, and hope for eternal rest in heaven.  This is denied to those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit and reject Jesus.  All other sins are forgivable.  Jamie broke one of the commandments by taking his own life, but he also had confessed Jesus as Lord.  Romans 10:9-10 says, “That if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”  We believe the Lord when He says, “He who comes to me, I will not cast out.” (John 6:37)

Jamie’s life reflected that of a faithful servant.  Even as a teenager, he volunteered in their church with children and the sound equipment.  He was gentle, kind, and thoughtful of others.  We could see his heart by the way he lived his life.

Yet, his mind was troubled.  We speculate his choice to go on a retreat at Christian camp was an effort to settle some of his thinking.  The torment must have been so heavy.  We know we don’t understand what he faced.  As time has past, picturing Jamie at peace… walking the streets of gold… free from that torment… does give us some comfort.  We believe we will join him in a joyous reunion one day.

As time passes, we go from seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling our pain and misunderstandings to see how this kind of pain and loss can serve goodness as well.  First, we are drawn to seek God even more in our confusion and hurt.  We think harder about how we interact with others.  And we are reminded to value and communicate that value to those we treasure.

I (Grandma Ruth) speak of Jamie often.  Oh, how we miss that boy!  Grandpa can only handle so much talk of Jamie, so I share with several people in our assisted living building.  They are touched.  Then they ask questions which leads into sharing Jesus in such a personal way.  As Romans 8:28 says, “God is working all these things together for the good to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Pain and sorrow continue, but seeing the good restores our joy at the same time.  Mysterious metamorphosis occurs during grieving.  Our heart aches so much for our only remaining twin, Heidi.   Her sorrow must be so severe because they were so close from birth.  We wish we could take that pain away.  But, we just can’t.

We try not to dwell on the manner of his death anymore as it conjures up so many unanswerable questions:

What could we have done differently?

Why was his pain so deep?

Why didn’t anyone see how much he was hurting?

Additionally, these thoughts seem to reopen the wound.  I (Grandpa Philip) cry every time we speak of his death.  I hate suicide!  Not the person who dies, but the grief he leaves behind!  I hate it!  Some have said all this would get easier.  As the years go by for us, the reality of Jamie’s absence is still so difficult.  When Heidi got married, we thought Jamie should be standing up with Alex.  Imagine what a marvelous man -husband, dad, pilot, doctor- he could have become.  He had no idea his place in our family, in history, or his potential to better the world.

Oh, how we miss him!  If we live to be 100 years old, we will never understand it!  We just can’t.  Simply, we choose to remember Jamie’s life and the joy he brought to our family.

We share our perspectives because we still love Jamie and miss him terribly.  And we know we’re not the first family to face this, so we speak love and life into the silent places where the shadow of death has convinced the grieving they must sink in their deep sadness and remain silent because suicide is a shameful stain on a family.  We believe it is a wrong choice with painful consequences, but we also believe God is bigger.  He is Good.  His Grace is Sufficient.

Philip:  June 27, 1905 – January 26, 1999          Ruth: September 10, 1910 – April 6, 2003

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

  Job 1:21 ESV

Great-Grandparents Grieve (part 2)

Photo (19)

We remember the day Jamie was born.  Instantly, we burst with pride!  Summering in the north, we stayed on the same farm where our daughter and son-in-law (Ken and Phyllis) along with Jamie and his parents lived in three different homes on the homestead property.  Simply, we had experienced nothing like the joys of retirement with strong bodies and minds.  This great-grandson was like no other.  We were blessed with other children before Jamie, but they lived more than a day’s drive away.  We experienced great-grand-parenting differently because he lived close to us.  We really got to enjoy him because we could focus on him.  We did not know the limitless love the Lord would provide us for other great-grandchildren until Heidi came along, and she stole our hearts as well.

Even before the great-grandchildren, oh, how we loved being grandparents!  We took our grandchildren to the lake on weekends to stay in our camper, fish in the lake, and enjoy God’s creation together.  What delight they brought to our lives!  However, we were still in the throes of pasturing churches with all the preparations, energies, tending and time required.  We did not realized exactly how amazing being great-grandparents would be until these two.

From our front porch on the farm, Ken and Phyllis’ home stood large to the right as Kenny had built on several times over the years to accommodate for the growing family, including a 24’x24’ living room. Oh, how we loved gathering there!  While our summer home nestled behind the big house, Carlton and Kathy lived in the smaller house to our left.  The summer of 1974, just before Jamie and Heidi were born, Kenny laid a concrete sidewalk connecting foot traffic of all three homes.

Anytime Jamie’s Mom needed a break, she would send Jamie on his way over to our place.  We had not idea how nice that side walk was going to be for those kids.  And for us, too.  With all that foot traffic, it sure helped keep the floors and entries cleaner.  Oh, how I can still see him, Jamie, toddling along the sidewalk or riding his little four-wheeled elephant.  We loved having those kids come over because they knew how to mind.

Now you must already know, idleness is one of the seven deadly sins, and we did our best to keep our kids busy.  Although we seemed to attract them with our generous supply of ice-cream, rice pudding, and peanut butter by the spoonfuls, we required them to complete jobs before we enjoyed sitting down with them to watch television (which was difficult to see because the reception was very poor on the prairie in those days).  Jamie, and Heidi too if she were over (as she lived on a different homestead), were often required to pick up sticks and took turns sweeping the porch.  They may have only been about three or four years old, but they knew what was required, how to do a good job (no monkey business), and they still loved being with us.  And we loved having them.  They would sit quiet and still for some time  just watching Grandpa’s room making fishing lures.  They would just sit there.  Then, we would often watch Hogan’s Heroes and The Flintstones together quite regularly.

We took our pontoon out on the lake, and those kids loved to go with us.  In fact, Jamie’s first night away from his Mommy and Daddy was with us in our camper at the lake.  Most of our memories from these years enter around Jamie and Heidi.  We use to sing the “Jack and Jill” nursery rhyme using “Jamie and Heidi” instead.  They smiled so big.  And when they looked at each other, oh they were just so cute.

Along with fishing, one of my (Grandpa Philip) hobbies was filming the family.  Oh what fun I had filming the grandchildren!  Moving pictures.  Can you even imagine such a thing?  Well, in your day and age, I suppose you can.  But this technology was new for us and fascinating for me.  So I naturally continued to film the new batch of kids in the family.  We could not get over how cute those two were together.  Jamie, always the smiley and happy one, endured Heidi scooting closer and closer to him trying to invade his space and tell him what to do or not to do.  Those two were twins to us, and other people told us that often as well.

Jamie’s parents remained on the farm for one year after their second born Michael was born (Jamie was about five years old at the time).  And that Michael.  He was something else, too.   Oh, how we loved every moment with those kids!  And nothing was the same after they moved off the farm.  Honestly, we felt sick over it.  With Michael, we hadn’t enough time with him.  And with Jamie, well we felt he was our own.  We mourned the loss as part of us seemed to vanish.  Between us, we just did not feel right about them moving.  We argued back and forth recognizing the right of the parents, but we also agonized over our own emotions and loss because we felt like those kids were ours, too.

We only saw them once a year for short visits after that.  And oh, how they changed from visit-to-visit.  Jamie’s Mom communicated with us as to the kids’ academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and sent photos from time to time.  We knew Jamie,  a very bright boy, worked hard and did very well in school.  As years passed, he seemed to become more shy and less smiley.  He struggled health wise with allergies and with horrible sores in his mouth.  They said the sores were stress related.  Why was a young boy stressed?  We didn’t know.

The last time Jamie was in our home he had traveled with Heidi and her parents to celebrate Thanksgiving at Ken and Phyllis’.  We invited Jamie and Heidi, now teenagers, to stay with us in our apartment at the assisted living facility.  They accepted our invitation.  As always, we were so glad they wanted to stay with us.

Jamie seemed to struggle going to sleep.  He mentioned he was suffering from headaches as well.  Each night they stayed with us, we had to say, “Now, Jamie, you need to put that light out, and get some sleep.”  He did not quarrel; simply and quickly, he obeyed.  He seemed restless much of the visit.  Yet, we also, saw him happy on that visit as well.  I (Grandma Ruth) slipped him $5 to take Heidi to Wendy’s for a light lunch.  He accepted with a familiar smile.  He and Heidi returned acting silly… so nice to see an older version of what we remembered of them… carefree kids… running around the sofa and finishing each other’s sentences.

We would shut the television off and just watch those two toddlers play together.    When they were, oh two or three, they would chase each other like puppies.  One chasing the other around one side of the sofa only to be chased around the other side.  We laughed and laughed.  Those two… they were so cute together. I (Grandma Ruth) remember speaking to him, “Say, Jamie, you are growing into a handsome young man!”  And he replied with a smirk, “I know, Grandma!”

I (Grandpa Philip) remember feeling sorry for him because something seemed to be haunting him, especially one night.  One evening, he was switching the off and on the button on the remote control for the television repetitively.  I rebuked him.  He did not quarrel.   And I still feel bad because I did not take the time to ask him what was bothering him. Instead, I rebuked him like that.  Oh, how I wish I would have taken the time to ask.  I think he would have told me… if only I had asked.

Early in the morning on Sunday, January 19, 1992, our even-tempered son-in-law Kenny (Swedish) came over- which was unusual at that time because we were still driving ourselves to church then.  He came in quieter than he normally did; his jaw clenched tight.  But he spoke sternly and said, “Dad, better sit down.”

Okay, the Italian in me went berserk.  We have no words adequate to articulate how we felt.  He could have put a bullet in MY head.  I (Grandpa Philip) went crazy!  I just kept shouting, “It can’t be!  Jamie committed suicide!  SUICIDE! It can’t be! Not Jamie!  Not our Jamie!  No! NO! No!”  As vivid as those initial moments were, the many days following remain a distinct and literal blur due to the constant flow of tears.  My eyes ached from the tearful drain.

As with the biblical character Job,

“My face is foul with weeping, and

on my eyelids is the shadow of death.”

Job 16:16

We knew we could not go to the funeral.  We could not see Jamie lying in that box.  We could not bear to face his parents…not yet.  We just knew seeing their sorrow, combined with our own, would ignite a ghastly scene of uncontrollable emotion.   Such a demonstrative demonstration would have been a disgrace.  My (Grandpa Philip) grief, my remorse, my sorrow are feelings too strong for me.

As a child, I attended many Italian immigrant funerals.  The emotional demonstrations included weeping, sobbing, and yelling.  The rest of Jamie’s family is not as demonstrative as I am, so I just knew I could not disgrace them.  Our grief, the week of the funeral, we bore alone.  That was the way we felt best to honor the family.

During the days following, we kept repeating, “His poor mother!  His poor mother!  Oh, his Dad!  What are they going to do?”  Jamie’s death took part of our life away.  Nothing compares to his loss.

Death is one thing, but suicide… “Oh, Jamie, didn’t you know how much we loved you?”

 

to be continued   Great-Grandparents Grieve (part 3)