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

____________________________________________________

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

 

Grandpa Ken … He Reached Out to Me (part 3)

Grandpa Ken

…. Jamie explained, when he attempted to seek explanation, he said he was silenced without reason.

In such a situation, I see how a young man’s self-respect could easily erode.

Yet, I certainly never imagined Jamie was in the process of giving up on living… He spoke so clearly.  Calmly… Compassionately, he really didn’t want to burden others with the conflict.

I think he hoped we’d help.

“Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow.”

Job 8:8-9

In addition to this conflict, Jamie’s dream of playing football deflated as he did not get to play in any games in yet another season.  In his big city high school, his slighter build in a sea of larger athletes hid his ability to strategize the game better than many men I know.  Yet, he’d hoped the smaller school, smaller team would offer a different outcome.

I’m told he practiced with drive and determination.  Eagerness… and asthma.  He even practiced through asthma attacks pleading to be deemed worthy in the coaches’ eyes.  The harsh words, and probably that physical, health weakness, nearly ripped away his love for the sport.

Instead of gaining physical strength during the season, Jamie’s health actually depleted.  He lost weight.  His asthma did not allow him to persevere and progress as hard as his will pushed.  He was hospitalized at least once for his health directly related to these practices.  I suppose altitude may have been a factor, too.

The coaches didn’t play him.  But, I don’t blame the coaches.  He really hadn’t been there long enough for them to know how serious or not-so-serious his asthma may have been.  But, I certainly do feel for him.  He loved football.  He could throw the ball.  And his thinking game…Bright.  In the end… just so sad, really.

“Because he talked so little, his words had a peculiar force, they were not worn dull from constant use.”

Willa Cather  My Antonia pg.55

Our talk, that day, didn’t last all that long.  Jamie didn’t belabor his points.  He just wanted us to know what he thought.  I am still not sure why he chose to share.  Maybe seeking our help… not sure we managed to do that… but, I am thankful for that talk that day… that memory.

Our little Jamie… a young gentleman, indeed.

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

Grandpa Ken… He Reached Out to Me (part 2)

Grandpa Ken

Teenagers don’t often seek out time with their ol’ grandpa.  Jamie did that day.  The night before he left our home for the last time.

Heidi asked me to describe my relationship with Jamie.  My response, “Oh, I suppose we had an average grandfather-grandson relationship.”  He did live on our homeplace the first five years of his life.  As a farmer, I worked the land from dawn to dusk six days a week.  Whether in my workshop, chicken house, Quonset, barn or coming in from the fields… Hearing & seeing Jamie and Heidi, too… just part of it.  Those two… couldn’t have been any closer, I don’t suppose.

After Carlton and Kathy moved off the farm, I remember Jamie (Michael and little Holly, too) growing up so fast between our visits.  From what I heard, he was quite a good student.  Active little guy.  I remember him wresting for the school.  He read a lot.  He sure seemed to enjoy learning… came easy to him, I think.

As he aged into a teenager, I remember noting I never saw him upset or agitated.  His ability to articulate- clear.  His ability to pass a football – exceptional.  And his self-control was admirable beyond his age.    Always in control of himself.  Mature.  And well-spoken.  Bright.  Very bright.

Struggles for Jamie surfaced during his freshman year.  First, I remember he had to get glasses.  He had dreams of being a military pilot.  Like his Dad, he loved planes.  And the corrective lenses meant he was physically disqualified already.  I flew planes during the war (WWII), so I understood the draw to fly… And the turbulence that sticks with you years after war’s end.

Additional external struggles picked at him, too at a large public school near Denver, Colorado where he lived with his parents by that time. He endured difficulties during football season.  (Later we learned coaches and students were directly part of this.)  Evidently, the struggles worsened over the school year.  According to his mom (my daughter) his anxiety grew.   By spring and summer, his grades began to slip, and he begged to not go back to that school.  For a kid, who rarely complained, this surprised me.  But, I figured he and his folks would figure it out.

Honoring authority can be a curious thing to navigate particularly in cases when authority is misused.

From my understanding, the family thought Jamie’s social needs outweighed his living with immediate family.  The decision:  he’d live with his uncle (our eldest son) deep in the mountains. This way Jamie could have a fresh start and attend a smaller school.

My son’s own daughters lived with their mother in the city.  However, his house in the mountains was already home to several young people.  Those residing in the home at the time consisted of he and his wife, a step-daughter, a girl friend of hers as well as a boy friend of hers.  This is what Jamie joined.  Some thought this would serve as an ideal answer to the social friction of the big city school.  Instant social circle right there in the home.  They all went to the same high school where Jamie again joined the football team.  This move offered hope of a new beginning.  Evidently, it played out with far less optimism than Jamie had banked on.

The eventual inconsistencies of this family structure is exactly what he wanted to talk to us about that Thanksgiving weekend.

We made our way down the stairs and sat down together.  Jamie spoke calmly.  He outlined unfair treatment he though he received while living there that fall.  (He’d return to his parents’ home to live before Christmas.)    Characteristically Jamie, he spoke clearly.  I didn’t sense bitterness.  In fact, I sensed his desire… peaceful resolution.  But, again, he felt that was unfairly beyond reach.  He did not lambaste anyone…he simply shared.

“The thorough integration of strength and sensitivity, of firmness and feeling, is rare.”

Eugene Peterson Run with the Horses pg. 56

From the details (which aren’t necessary to share here), he shared I certainly understood his concern.  In general, Jamie said he carried the heaviest weight of chore responsibility within the home while the other teens either didn’t have chores or got away easily without doing them.  Also, Jamie explained that all the teens in the home were at least 16 years old, licensed drivers; however, Jamie was the only one not allowed to drive.  When he attempted to seek explanation, he said he was silenced without reason.

In such a situation, I see how a young man’s self-respect could easily erode.  Yet, I certainly never imagined Jamie was in the process of giving up on living… He spoke clearly.  Calmly… Compassionately, he really didn’t want to burden others with the conflict.  I think he hoped we’d help.

continued… Grandpa Ken … He Reached Out to Me (part 3)

Grandpa Ken… He Reached Out to Me (part 1)

Grandpa Ken

Reconciling Memories of a Child Turned Young Man… Pride, Pain, Regret & Rest … Grandpa Ken

PERSPECTIVES:  We can learn so much from one another as we sojourn horizons that both beckon and daunt us.  While our general experiences may have general connections, the specificity of our experiences depends on our position, our perception, and how we filter it all.  What is this all About?

This grief journey led me back to our family.  How do you navigate such a loss?  When I nervously asked if they were willing, several vulnerably shared distinctly personal elements of grief, sadness, struggle through this heavy darkness.  Each generation recognizing the varying social stigmas of suicide as well as the responses of their closest friends.  I am supremely grateful for their honesty.  While we share common relationships, every memory is profoundly unique to those who cycle through them; yet, our family’s openness to sharing weaved threads of bravery within me.

“While they spoke, I penned their words…and processed my own.”

– Heidi L. Paulec

When invited to participate in this perspective endeavor reflecting on Jamie’s life and subsequent suicide, most family members offered openness to share their story.   However, most did not feel either capable or comfortable to write their own perspectives.  Therefore, I sent surveys and conducted subsequent oral interviews from their responses.  These were used to establish primary source material from which to write on their behalf in the first person.  In each perspective, you can expect “Reflections on the Interview” and “Brief History.”  Both sections are written in the third person.  Then, the voice will shift to first person for their Perspective.

We welcome you here.  This remains tender space for us.  So join us accordingly.  Know you’re also welcome.  We invite you  to subscribe to receive emails as we publish pieces here.

Reflections on the Interview:

This original interview was one of my early interviews  conducted on  July 4, 1997.  Grandpa Ken welcomed me (Heidi) , thoughtfully participated, answered my questions, and commended me for taking on this project to honor Jamie’s memory, help others facing similar loss, and ultimately share hope.  He sat quietly at times throughout the interview.  And while he had already come to grips with Jamie’s absence and reassured by enduring faith, Grandpa Ken acknowledged sadness remains.

Brief History:

Grandpa Ken grew up  farming on his family homestead on the plains of southeast Wyoming. This small community was settled by our ancestors who were Swedish immigrants.  Third born (second son) to Harry and Carrie Lundberg. Grandpa Ken, a content, hard-working, ever-studying man.

Farming the Great Plains …  hardy endeavor for any soul.  Short summers.  Long winters.  Rooting faith seemed the only required element for endurance.  As a young man, our Grandpa Ken learned how to work diligently, grow things, sing harmony, write poetry… and he loved basketball.

Somewhere in his junior high years, his Dad needed extra help and hands on the farm, so Grandpa Ken had to work instead of go to school for an entire school year.  When he went back to school, the public district acknowledged his maturity and capability, so he skipped the grade he missed and moved up with his original class.  (Side note from Heidi … His hand-writing, grammar, and logic… exceptional to read as I prepared for all this.)

As a member of The Greatest Generation, he served in the Army Air Corps- specifically he served primarily as a cargo pilot over “The Hump.”  For more details, please read Grandpa Ken’s World War II bio.  Upon his return from service, he met and married our Grandma Phyllis… patios & picnics (part 1).  They had four children.  First, a son.  Next, Karen (Heidi’s Mom).  Then, Kathy (Jamie, Michael, and Holly’s Mom).  Finally, another son.  Grandpa Ken and Grandma Phyllis raised their family on the farm where Ken grew up.  He took over the farming operation from his Dad.

Ken excelled in carpentry as well.  He constructed photo frames, quilt racks, tables, etc.  He tackled larger projects as well.  As the family grew with grandchildren, he added onto their farmhouse several times.  Large windows framed exquisite views summer sunrises and sunsets as well as whistling blizzard in the winter.

On an autumn day in 1982, their home of 40 years burnt to the ground.  A couple years of crops freezing in the ground along with this loss opened our grandparents to move east for a season.  They moved to Leavenworth, Kansas where Grandpa learned and worked in the oil business.  During their time there, Grandpa Ken especially delighted to serve military families in church  and in the community.

Eventually, Grandpa Ken and Grandma Phyllis moved back to the Wyoming homestead community and  lived out their final nine years on the family farm homesteaded by Grandpa Ken’s grandparents Peter and Sophie Lundberg.

written, researched & edited by Heidi L. Paulec

Perspective:

“Grandpa, can I talk with you and Grandma a bit in the basement?”

I remember Jamie asking of me and his Grandma Phyllis, my bride, on his last visit to our home.  It was Thanksgiving 1991.  He had traveled with Tim, Karen, and Heidi to our home- joining our youngest son and his family who arrived earlier.

During the days prior to his conversation request, we enjoyed the preparations, the celebration of Thanksgiving, and the hours of college football that followed.  The house brims and brews when the kids and grandkids gather.  The table expands, so we can all circle around it together for three square meals.  At breakfast – just after eating, while still sipping on coffee- we’d read the Bible, Our Daily Bread, and pray together.

Then, we’d all find something do.  A project here.  An errand there.  Working together where we can and around each other otherwise.

As much as the hem and hum of activity warms our home, a few extra quieter moments are always welcome to me.  But, this invitation from our eldest grandson serves as a special memory to me.  Teenagers don’t often seek out time with their ol’ grandpa.  But, Jamie did that day.  The night before he left our home for the last time.

continued… Grandpa Ken… He Reached Out to Me (part 2)

 

 

… always holding somebody up … (part 3)

Jamie and Heidi Lake 1985

“Lifeboat 12 was lowered to the sea.

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

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

Tom Nagorski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frederick Buechner  The Sacred Journey pp. 23

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

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

… someone is always holding us up …

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

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

More to Come… Living Hope.

written by Heidi L. Paulec

 

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)