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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Not for the Squeamish: Embracing the Bad

Frequent conversation:

"My daughter died.”

“How did she die?”

“She committed suicide.”

Most people express their sympathy but do not probe further.

However, more often than I expected:

“How did she do it?” Followed by protestations of denial and disbelief.

Mom says she wants to retort “Why? Do you want to try it too?”

Why do people disturb our grief with inappropriate questions? Today’s meditation from Meditations for Survivors of Suicide included the following statement: “Cherish the good times; embrace the bad experiences your loved one knew; learn from them but then let them go.”

Looking through Jolene’s pictures, we remember the good times, the happy, joyful girl whom everyone loved. Reading the poetry, we recognize the inner pain she felt so often, almost constantly, in fact. But the one bad experience that troubles me now is the manner of her death.

Jolene didn’t just commit suicide. She hung herself.

I prayed about it this morning. I wouldn’t feel happier or at more at peace if she had gone a different way. But the thought of the agony she endured scratches my soul. I’m not sure if I should try to push it down or take it out, dust it off, and examine it in the clear light of day.

Well, I must have decided to take it out of the box, at least for a few minutes. Because feelings don’t stay pushed down; they leak out, often at inappropriate times. And this blog is my safety zone.

It makes no real difference. Nothing I do or say or think or feel will change the facts. She is with God, at peace, beyond physical and emotional pain. However awful the manner of her death, it is over.

Nonetheless, I ache about it. Mom aches about it. Pray with us for peace about it, please?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Pursuit of Goodness

Another line from a hymn, When All Thy Mercies: "Thro' every period of my life Thy goodness I'll pursue, and after death, in distant worlds, the glorious theme renew."

The idea of pursuing God's goodness, whatever is happening around me, resonates with me. Like Paul promises in Romans 8:28, God will make everything work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.

Somehow, God will weave the tragedy of Jolene's death into the beautiful design of eternity.

That faith—that affirmation—is what I must seek through these day. Today's meditation in Meditations for Survivors of Suicide included the prayer "When we stand stranded by the roadside of our shattered hearts, You promise, 'I will show you the way.'" I feel stranded, my heart is shattered, but God's promise is sure. He will show me the way to His goodness. When I am to weak to walk, He will carry me on the path.

Here on earth, I see the underside of the divine design, each event a knotted clump of dark thread.

After death, I will see the design beautiful beyond imagination. And with the countless multitudes, I will renew the theme of God's goodness.

Until then, I trust His purposeful goodness when all I see are tangled threads.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Light Bounces Back

A few days ago I wrote about God’s light shining in the darkness. At the time, I finished reading Janice Thompson’s cozy mystery Gone With the Groom. “Annie Agatha” asks God to shine His light on the darkness surrounding the disappearance of her future son-in-law. God echoed the message of His overpowering light through her words.

Janice Thompson is not only a great writer but also a good friend. In the wee hours of the morning when we learned Jolene was dead, I posted a message to the Barbour author loop. To my shock, Janice wrote back immediately—a real night owl. Her response was a harbinger of the outpouring of love we received from the Christian writing community.

Thank you, Janice. Thank all of you who care and pray and read.

And when you have a chance, check out Gone With the Groom.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Empty Chair

Jaran, Mom and I sat at a square table. The fourth side stared back at us, daring us to mention the missing member of our family.

Something about having Jaran here made Jolene’s absence more palpable. Because until March 17th, Jolene was the 4th member of my immediate family. I have no one else: mother, son …. That is it. No husband, no brothers, no sisters, father’s whereabouts unknown. I know that deaths often come in threes. I don’t even dare to express my fear. What if God takes Mom? What if He takes … Jaran? I can't afford to lose any more.

This weekend was doubly hard for Mom; many of Jolene’s knickknacks came from her home in Maine. The work multiplied her sense of loss exponentially. Jolene, her home on the coast, a lifetime in New England , her husband of 28 years.

Mom’s in good health. I have no reason to expect her to die. And I affirm that whatever happens, God will enable me to bear it.

But I will rest easier in my spirit when a year has passed and the three of us are still here.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hard Day's Night

After I spent a night tossing and turning, Mom, Jaran and I worked for six solid hours today going through the majority of Jolene’s things. Surprising things brought tears to my eyes: Jolene’s karate gui, the infant/child size 6 uniform that she wore when she played soccer in kindergarten, the “Jekyll & Hyde” T-shirt that reminded of us of the wonderful time we went to see the musical when it came through Denver.

One thing that stopped us all in our tracks, a poem Jolene wrote on November 11, 2004, an eerily-prophetic piece. Some of you know that Jolene won awards for her poetry. This isn’t quite “polished,” but it’s beautiful and it makes us cry. It expresses Jolene’s feelings as well as our own.

In Dire Need

Prayed in this moment in time,
That this time has made,
In dire need I call out to you.
Sorrow fills my soul
Like an ocean tossing and turning
Leaving behind a hole that cannot be filled.
Life is like ashes in the wind
Blowing away where none can see
Leaving behind a hole of sorrow.
Oh, Lord, please bring me back again.
Still these waters of mine.
Fill this hole of sorrow
With rays of joy.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Treasure Trove

We spent half an hour at the storage place this morning. Just long enough to see how much lies ahead (33 boxes) and to look specifically for the scrapbook I had given to Jolene for Christmas a few years ago.

We feared Jolene had torn up the scrapbook in a fit of rage (because the packers had not found it in packing). So … God’s perfect timing … the scrapbook was in the last box we opened as our 30 minutes came to an end. Amen! Hallelujah!

But we found so many other things we feared were lost. That I have mourned in this blog.

Yes, we found several of the porcelain dolls! Including “Natty Gann,” the one I most wanted. That’s when I came the closest to crying.

Her artwork? Removed from the walls, yes … but carefully wrapped and put away. We found an entire box of folders full of sketches and drawings. Much more than I guessed she had saved.

Also journals, poems, undiscovered writings, a scrapbook with certificates of her accomplishments.

All in all—a record of a life of promise, a life in progress, a life lived to the full.

Part of me celebrates.

Part of me cries.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jaran's here!

Just a quick note to say that Jaran arrived safely this evening. It's 10 PM and I've just come home from work/airport/dinner.

Your prayers appreciated as we face sorting through Jolene's things.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Shining Light

This morning I tried hymn #2: God Is Love, His Mercy Brightens. I'm not familiar with the tune, but I can sight-read music (at least some of the time), and the words are powerful.

E'en the hour that darkest seemeth, Will His changeless goodness prove; From the gloom His brightness streameth; God is wisdom, God is love.

Somehow the darkness of this hour will prove God's changeless goodness. I've already seen it, in the abundant generosity of time, money, and prayers, poured out to us through God's people. Through the many blessings, from meeting another Jolene to selling another book to, wonder of wonders, becoming a grandmother, that God has showed on me over the past month. The darkness doesn't prove God's goodness, perhaps; but it can't hide it either. If anything, the darkness seems to provoke God's goodness. In the dark, even one candle shines brightly. And God's light brightens all of heaven, where there is no sun or moon. He IS light. The darker the hour--and this has been VERY dark--the more clearly I see God's light.

And the April sunshine that has come out to play this week helps my mood as well.

Brighten my day. Share a time when God brightened a dark time for you.

Footnote: I told a story about Jolene today (about a humorous encounter with a donkey) that focused on her life and not on her death. Progress.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Mighty Fortress

After tearing up during Sunday's music, I decided to add hymns to my daily quiet time. This morning I dug out my faithful Worship & Service Hymnal (anyone out there of an age to remember and appreciate that volume?) and started with the first song: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."

Luther was probably talking about the divisions and persecution brought on his followers during the reformation, but it still applies:
Let goods and kindred go; this mortal life also. The body they may kill. His truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever.

I thought about those wonderful porcelain dolls that Jolene had given away in the months before her death. Mom and I loved looking for dark-haired, brown-eyed dolls that resembled Jolene. I can still picture some of the dolls from her collection: Natty Gunn, Anastasia, Alabama, Lady Bug, Guadalupe, Arwen. I want at least one of them, a physical reminder of precious memories. I expect I’ll revisit the subject of material possessions this weekend, when Jaran is in Denver helping us sort through Jolene’s things. Do I have the strength to let her “goods” go?

The hymn affirms that Jolene is with God, in His eternal kingdom. God has not changed. Jolene’s suicide does not alter her choice, made as a young child, to come to God the Father through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

Footnote: At work yesterday, I checked out my perpetual calendar. The page still read March 17th. For the past five weeks, time stood still. I flipped the page to April 21st, a small but symbolic step forward into the rest of my life.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sitting Shiva

Today’s reading in Meditations for Survivors of Suicide (by Joni Woelfel) said something to the effect that God doesn’t so much lift us out of our grief, as He sits with us until it passes. It made me think of the Jewish custom of “sitting shiva.”

“Sitting shiva” comes from the book of Job, where his friends sat with him without speaking for seven days.
Shiva, literally meaning seven, refers to the seven intensive days of
mourning following a funeral. Jewish tradition seeks to create an island
around the mourner. She is relieved of all forms of work, all social
engagements, the pleasures and comforts of life (such as bathing, shaving,
laundering one’s clothes, and engaging in sex), and she is surrounded by
community so that she need not be alone as she confronts her loss.
(Taken from

Of course I am well beyond a seven day period. I want, I long to feel “normal” again.

The truth is, of course, I will never feel “normal” again; or to put it another way, I need to redefine normal, one that incorporates the absence and loss of my daughter into my worldview.

The first week, someone told my mother that she lost a child to suicide three years ago—and she’s still not over it. When I first heard it, I was shocked at the callous-feeling lack of comfort in her words. I didn’t believe it, or thought the person who said it must not have faith in God.

Now I’m not so sure. It will never be okay that my daughter took her own life. I will always mourn the loss.

What I do expect to happen is that it will no longer consume me. Now, I escape, for brief periods, into work or sleep. Eventually, I will go days or even weeks without that sudden stab of pain.

Until that day comes, God sits shiva with me.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Blessed Reminders

The last couple of weekends have passed fairly easily. Not so this week. I wish I could write happy things, or at least things that focus on the positive. I know I dumped enough on you who read the blog this past week to scare away enough but the most dedicated friends.

But, the truth is, after a day of relief on Friday, the pain bore down on me again yesterday. Mom and I went to a ladies’ brunch at church.

It wasn’t a mother-daughter event; it wasn’t even on Mother’s Day weekend. If Jolene was still alive, she probably would not have come with me. Nevertheless, it was the kind of event that mothers attend with their daughters. The first of many such events, a daggered reminder of my loss.

By the time I got home, I was missing traffic lights, scaring Mom (and myself) out of our skins, and yelling at other drivers. Not a good day.

This morning, I sang with our church choir, in the choir loft. It felt like every song mentioned God’s faithfulness (amen), heaven, death, grief, sorrow. Why didn’t I bring a packet of tissues with me? I snuffled away my tears and smiled when the director turned to the choir and painted a smile on his face.

Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share? (What a Friend We Have in Jesus)

Purer in heart, O God, help me to be; until Thy holy face one day I see. (Purer in Heart)

Is it true that You are thinking of me? How You love me, it’s amazing! (I am a Friend of God)

The music affirmed the words to my soul; I wasn’t crying because of a lack of belief. Instead, my tears said, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

Our pastor’s sermon, one of a continuing series from the gospel of Matthew (chapter 23), focused on the dangers of religion. One point was focusing on externals, not internals, reformation vs. transformation. He challenged us to examine our hearts. In our inmost parts, do we desire to please God?

And I realized, that in the depths of my pain, I believe God. That’s not what the pastor asked. But that’s where I’m at. I don’t question God, His love, His goodness. I hurt. The pain is almost unbearable. But the pain—and the questions—don’t push me away from God. They drive me to Him.

And that’s a good thing.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Life in Death

My son, a Messianic Christian, celebrated Passover with his extended Oklahoma family tonight.

At one point, they ate the “hallel sandwich”: horse radish and a honey/nut/apple mixture between two pieces of matzo.

“The horse radish represents the bitterness of our sins—things like Jolene’s death.”

“The sweet mixture represents the sweetness of God.” He couldn’t stop the smile from spreading across his face. “Like the baby we’re going to have in December!”

It’s official. Conceived during the days of grief following Jolene’s death, her niece or nephew will (probably) arrive before the end of the year. (And yes, I have Jaran’s permission to share their news!)

What a gift from God, the sweet cut with the bitter, grace when we feel grace-less.

It's no accident, this first biological grandchild at the time of my greatest grief. Thank You, Loving Heavenly Father.

(In chronological order) Since Jolene died, I’ve had a book published, a book and an article sold, and learned about a grandchild on the way. Not to mention the daily support of friends from every side. How foolish to let grief blind me to God’s abundant goodness.


Friday, April 18, 2008


I’ll keep it short tonight. Today was tough for my son Jaran; he learned about Jolene’s death on the morning of the 18th. But yesterday was the watershed day for me; I have passed that first difficult anniversary, and today was much easier.

My writer friend, poet Connie Peters, encouraged me to write poetry throughout this experience, because poetry expresses our emotions. The following attempts to capture the feeling of relief that came today.


Sentenced to life without Jolene
Jailed by grief
30 days sentence served
Sun shines
Sad glances
World unchanged
I, transformed
On probation

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dancing with Grief Plus One Month

Today is the one month anniversary of the official date of Jolene's death, the day the coroner pronounced. Is it possible to live a hundred lifetimes in thirty days?

Before I revisit those days when our hopes were slowly stripped until the impossible became the only possibility left, let me say this:

God is Faithful. He is good. He is loving. He has carried us in His hands through the last thirty horrible days. Those of you who have read my blog before have read of the many ways He has comforted us.

May His light shine all the brighter against the darkness of what happened.

Sunday, March 16th, Jolene's birthday, served up a mixed bag of emotions. We made it to Sunday school (sometimes we miss it because of the early hour.) I asked my class to pray for Jolene. I signed up to sing on the upcoming "Fifth Sunday Sing" scheduled for March 30th and talked with someone about the church's summer mission VBS in Alaska (Yes! I could go, in spite of my disabilities!) I went home much encouraged. I wondered where Jolene was, but I was at peace about it.

That afternoon, Jolene's boyfriend called. "Do you know where Jolene is?"

She isn't with Marius. Our first, best hope died with the news. That left two possibilities—jail or the hospital. In either case, she was safe. We spent an anxious night, though, hoping to get a quick answer from her "case manager" (with the Mental Health Corp of Denver) on Monday.

Monday is my "long day" at work, so Mom took on the task of reaching the case manager. She was at a conference. Mom figured out how to contact the hospital, and then, the jail. Jolene was not in either place.

Next, Mom called the police. They went by her apartment, but Jolene didn't answer the door. By then it was late afternoon, we were both worried, and Mom couldn't take any more. I took over the phone calls, while still at work.

The police said I couldn't file a missing persons report over the phone; I had to go to the city where Jolene lived. I told my boss that I had a family emergency, left the office, and headed for the McDonalds where we had agreed to meet. I waited for an hour for the officer to show up. By that point the probability in my mind had slipped to suicide.

His first words? "Ninety percent of adults who are missing have chosen to disappear." Not very comforting. I explained about Jolene's illness; that the people Jolene might have gone to see were asking where she was. I explained that the police had gone by her apartment earlier in the day, and no one answered.

Whatever I said, I convinced him that something was seriously wrong. He asked for a physical description, got her address, and explained the procedure. First they had to send officers to the apartment again; if she still didn't answer, they would obtain a warrant for a forced entry.

Three hours later, about five minutes after Mom and I decided to try to sleep, the phone rang. (The police never came to visit us.) The caller identified himself from the coroner's office.

Just in case there was some possibility that the obvious was not true, I asked, "That means--"

"Your daughter killed herself."

Mom says she heard me cry, a high, keening wail. She came in and put her arms around me.

I buried my head against her shoulder. "She's dead!"

The nightmare had become reality.

Nightmares and Dreams

I lost my internet connection last night--no blog.

Today is a month since Jolene's official date of death, the day the coroner pronounced her dead. Will I ever again wear green for St. Patrick's Day?

Tonight (providing the internet is still working) I will blog about those last two horrible days waiting and wondering. But this morning I will catch up on a few other things ...

My dear, wonderful co-workers did it again. They knew how difficult this week has been for me. When I arrived at work yesterday, a beautiful bouquet waited on my desk, along with a card with their individuals prayers and greetings for comfort and joy. I love you all; you have been great and SO supportive.

Mom dreamed about Jolene the same night that I did. She felt the same jolt upon awakening - Jolene's alive! They had it wrong! The return to consciousness. No, she's dead.

God sent us both a reminder that Jolene is alive and well in His house. We just still want her here with us.

Mom finally cried this week (for some reason, tears don't come easily to either one of us.) She's been thinking about one of the songs from the musical Rent. I'm not sure of the title (is it "Will I Lose My Dignity?") The line says something like "will someone wake me from this nightmare?"

Those words did it for her. I can hardly type them without crying myself. I think that's how Jolene often felt; Borderline Personality Disorder created a perpetual nightmarish existence for her. She knew she wouldn't be "cured" of Borderline Personality Disorder, although we both believed she would learn to live with it. A permanent disability, one that would not go away apart from a miracle.

And that's certainly how Mom and I are feeling. Will someone please wake us up from this nightmare? Can we wake up one morning and see Jolene here and now? And like the characters in Rent with terminal AIDS, no, they can't. We won't. It's permanent.

Knowing she is alive and with God lessens our grief for her, but it does little to lessen our loss and loneliness.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dream about Jolene

Today a month has passed since Jolene’s 24th birthday. I will blog about that tonight. This is a bonus blog.

I don’t often remember dreams. But last night, about 4 AM, I dreamed about Jolene. I remember only a very brief part of the dream. The woman was recognizable as my daughter. Her hair was cut in a dark, short bob, not the longer style she usually preferred, often unwashed. She seemed older, like she was in her 30s. I looked at her in surprise, but not the disbelief a real life encounter would trigger.

The older Jolene looked at me sheepishly. She looked like she wanted to say, “I’m sorry I caused you so much worry.”

Before we could embrace, or talk, or catch up, or—do anything—I woke up. The aftereffect of the dream lasted for a nanosecond. Jolene’s alive. Then the reality sank in. It was only a dream.

After that, I had trouble sleeping. But I accept the dream as a special gift from God, when I look back on the day that we should have celebrated Jolene’s birth. Jolene is alive, she is well, and she will always be a part of my life.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Faint Alarms

We dubbed March 15th "Jaralene Day" because it fell between my son Jaran’s and Jolene's birthdays (born four years and two days apart).

A month ago we experienced the first faint alarms that the most recent upset with Jolene was more serious than many others we endured over the years.

Since we were unable to call, we drove to Jolene's apartment. I went to her apartment. I rarely did so; once when I visited, the elevator that carried me up five floors stopped working when I needed to leave. When you're disabled as I am, walking down five flights of stairs is difficult. I avoided repeating that experience. But on Saturday, I made the effort.

I knocked on the door—heavy knocks, raps with a brass door knocker. I waited a minute, then knocked again. After trying several more times, I left a message on her door. Mom and I had brainstormed for a way to attach the paper to her door; we ended up using an address label. As best as I can remember, I said, Jolene, I understand your phone's not working. Hope you're having a good day! Call me when you get home and we'll get together. Love, Mom.

I expected a phone call some time that afternoon; Jolene rarely missed a time we planned to get together.

Of course she didn't call, and we started to worry. What had happened between Thursday morning and Saturday that would make her angry enough to withdraw from me? She had withdrawn off and on over the past few months. Or had something else happened?

I knew it was hopeless to ask the apartment manager for a key to her apartment; we had been down that road the previous summer, when Jolene had been arrested. They would not allow me in because Jolene had not listed me on her lease. I felt helpless.

Even so, we thought one of three things had happened. One: Jolene was with her boyfriend (in which case she was avoiding us on purpose). Two: Jolene was in a hospital (but if so, why hadn't she called?) Three: She had been jailed for breaking parole (in which case she couldn't call.) I'm not sure if the possibility of suicide even crossed our minds.

We were concerned enough to call Jaran and ask him to pray.

If we haven’t heard from her by Monday, we decided, we’ll call her social worker.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Dancing with Grief Plus 4 weeks

Today it's been a month since we had the first inkling that something might have gone wrong with Jolene.

Why am I revisiting the events of those days?

I want to get them in writing before the details slip away from me. I am sharing them, because when they were happening, we told no one. We saw no need to; we had no idea that tragedy had struck.

March 14th is my son's birthday. (Yes, and March 16th was Jolene's birthday.) One month ago today, my thoughts were with Jaran. If I thought about Jolene at all, I wondered when she would call to arrange the time for us to pick her up on Saturday. I may have tried calling her before I went to work; I don’t remember.

Late that afternoon, Jolene's new friend called, concerned. She told us about the scene with the police on Thursday afternoon. She also informed us that Jolene had broken her phone into small pieces, so we couldn't call her.

That didn't ring any alarms for me, not beyond the usual concern that Jolene was having a bad time, and always around holidays and birthdays. Jolene had destroyed phones before; she would get angry and throw things around.

I confess that my feelings at that point consisted of frustration and anger. We can't call her, and she can't call us. That means we'll have to show up at her apartment unannounced tomorrow, and hope she's ready to leave. We went to bed, steeling ourselves for another tough birthday.

By the time we received that phone call—Jolene was already dead.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


I could spend a lot of energy second-guessing myself. Did I miss all the signs pointing to Jolene’s decision to kill herself?

The day Jolene (probably) died, I spoke with her in the morning—a month ago today. She was happy; we made plans to celebrate her birthday on Sunday. She told me what kind of cake she wanted—chocolate bottom layer with a white top layer, with pink and blue flowers. Eventually, we threw away the cake. We couldn't bear to look at it.

“I don’t want to go to a movie this year, Mom. I want to do something outside.” She seemed to like my idea of going to Lookout Mountain.

She gave me no hint that anything was wrong.

By that afternoon, she had deteriorated to the point where she called a friend for help. “I wish I could just die,” she reportedly said.

The friend rushed to her apartment, with the police. The friend left—her boyfriend left—the police left. They must have believed she was not suicidal; otherwise, they would have taken her to a hospital.

Sometime during the following 24 hours, Jolene took her life.

No, I don’t think anyone failed her during those final hours.

But when I look back over the past few months, I see possible signs.

Jolene returned several of the most personal gifts I had given her. I was heartbroken when she returned a personalized cross stitch picture I had made for her. She also only displayed pictures of her father, and none of me. Hurt and maybe angry, but not worried, I told myself that she needed to separate from me, that it was a temporary stage.

Some time ago, she gave away half of her porcelain dolls. She had accumulated a beautiful collection, enough to fill a china cabinet and more. The week before she died, she gave away the remaining dolls.

Again—I was dismayed, but I told myself that she was saying, “I’m no longer a child.”

She discarded most of the artwork, her own creations, which she had used to adorn her walls. Again—I figured she was leaving childhood behind, trying to figure out who she was becoming.

I took those actions as her attempt to move forward, extreme, yes, but that was natural given the nature of her illness.

Maybe I was wrong. I don’t know, and even if I was wrong—I can’t go back and fix it.

But someone else mentioned “giving things away” as an indicator of suicide. Maybe—someone who reads this blog will see a loved one going to the extremes that Jolene did. Maybe, someone will seek help that will save a life.

A month ago we had our last conversation. I miss you, Jolene.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Anger and Celebration

It’s a Saturday night, and you know what? It’s been a good day. Instead of spending the evening worrying about another weekend without Jolene, Mom and I went out for a celebration dinner. Not only did I sell my fourth book, but also my first mystery, Gunfight at Grace Gulch, was (hopefully) shipped today to members of the Heartsong Presents: Mysteries book club.

But this blog is not to brag about me, at least not for now. So I’ll return to the one conversation that darkened an otherwise wonderful evening.

Like many of us, Mom tends to say, “I should have … I could have … if only I would have …..”

She repeated a familiar story. Years ago, her therapist tried to jolt her out of negative thinking. “You’re right, if only you weren’t such a good mother, Darlene would be in Skowhegan” (a state facility for troubled girls.)

It’s one of Mom’s favorite stories. I was my class valedictorian, all-state band and paid pianist. In spite of her perceived shortcomings, she raised a good kid. Since I’m that kid, I like the story too. Most of the time.

But tonight her words reinforced the inner voice that whispers You were a terrible mother. That’s why your daughter committed suicide.

Mom said, “For that one moment, when I told you the story, I had forgotten.”

We made a deliberate choice to spend the evening in celebration and not in mourning.

How easily the anger and guilt that I blogged about a few days ago resurfaces. Anger at my ex-husband? That’s easy. Anger at myself? That comes out all the time. Anger at Mom, just because she’s there? Of course. I need to redirect that anger at its real objects—at Jolene, for leaving me. At God, for letting it happen. Only He can heal the rage.

I missed Jolene tonight. We ate at a local Chili’s restaurant. I remembered other celebrations at Chili’s when Jolene was present. I wanted to share a skillet queso appetizer with her. I could almost see her climbing on the gigantic stone peppers that adorn the grounds.

I hurt, a dull ache that explodes into fireworks at unexpected times.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Word from Mom

Mom wrote a letter about Jolene to send to family. I asked for her permission to share it with you tonight:

I wanted to tell you a little bit about Jolene. Her illness was Borderline Personality Disorder. When she was happy, she was delightful to be with and fun to be around. She was very caring, kind and compassionate.

Although she had learning difficulties, she was highly intelligent and often made profound observations. She wrote wonderful poems.

She enjoyed watching the Discovery and History channels and Animal Planet. She would share what she had learned in her conversations. She especially enjoyed Sci-Fi television and movies.

At church the last few years, she felt invisible and found it hard to strike up a conversation. However, out on the street she seemed to find it easy to talk to people, and often gave her last few coins to someone who was needy.

At other times, she was very unhappy, and talked to us at great length about the things that were troubling her, often telling the same sad story over and over.

A group called Infomercial Television Ventures convinced her that she could earn several thousand dollars a week. She invested in this and other groups like it, and was heavily in debt. I believe this added to the final despair that was too much to bear any longer.

On the morning of March 13, Darlene talked with her, and they were joyfully planning her birthday celebration the coming Sunday. However, during the afternoon, she had an argument with her boyfriend, and seemed to be very troubled when a friend came by later in the day. We wonder when she decided to end her life. The coroner was unable to ascertain the time of death, and put it at the time she was discovered the following Monday.

She had so much to offer. It is such a tragedy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I'll See Her Again

I am just as tired tonight as I was last night. Even worse, perhaps, for I came in the door crying and screaming. Then I remembered … I ran out of my thyroid medicine on Tuesday. Oops. Add that to a full work week, and no wonder I’m tired. Somehow knowing there are physical as well as emotional reasons for the exhaustion eases my self-disgust.

So rather than dwell on that episode, I will talk about my wise granddaughter.

My dear son Jaran mentioned Shannon on yesterday’s blog. At the memorial service Shannon attended, she told Jaran, “Besides, you’ll see her again.”

Oh, the precious faith of a child—the kind of faith Jolene always had, pure, undivided, regardless of the countless ways that God’s people disappointed her.

So … I’m no poet, but that sounds like a poem. I’ll try.

I’ll see you again.
I wish you were here.
My arms are empty.
His arms hold me.
Holidays, holy days, the first alone.
First of forever.
No one to care, no one to share.
I see it all.
I wish you were here.
I’ll see you soon.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Tonight I’m SO tired.

My first week back at work. I sailed through Monday and Tuesday and the first half of today. Along about 4 this afternoon, I started … slowing ….. down ……

Last night I didn’t sleep very well. I was in bed for the requisite number of hours, but I woke up every hour or two and didn’t get back to sleep for a few minutes. Not a restful night. Add that to a normal work schedule and tonight’s cold rain, no wonder I’m tired.

I got great news yesterday: another book contract (can’t give details until I actually sign on the dotted line.) That always buoys me up, and right now, it’s a welcome distraction. I can focus on writing a good story and not … mope.

But as glad as I am for the contract, I pray that I can write and grieve. Because it will come when least expected, draining me of all energy, feeling like a lighthearted romance or mystery will make me puke.

I trust God’s timing. And for tonight, I’ll curl up with a warm blanket and catch up on some of that missing sleep.

And I’ll dedicate this book to my daughter who rejoices with me in heaven.

Book Review

As you all must know by now, I am a writer as well as a grieving mother. So from time to time I will let you know about an excellent book that has crossed my path, mostly fiction, because I devour at least ten times as much fiction as nonfiction. Return this evening for my daily blog about Jolene.

I first became acquainted with Kim Vogel Sawyer when I read the three books that now have been republished as Kansas Weddings. Her courage and skill in addressing difficult subjects such as mentally disability and alcoholism made me seek her out again. So when she asked for people to review her new book, I jumped at the chance. She exceeded my expectations.

My Heart Remembers tells the story of three siblings who traveled west on one of the “orphan trains” and were separated. Others have written orphan train stories, but rarely so well. Hope, love and joy flow in spite the hardships that the oldest two children endured, and the betrayal that the youngest experienced.

Predictably, the siblings reunite by the end of the book, but road they each travel and the dreams God gives for the future make it well worth reading.

If you are already one of Kim’s fans, delve into her latest story. If you have not yet read anything by Kim, My Heart Remembers is a great place to start.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Hmm. I composed a blog for tonight. Posted it. It's not there. There are also fewer than usual comments left.

So ... I won't try to recreate what I said. Expect me back again tomorrow.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Dancing with Grief Plus 3 weeks

I thought about writing more about anger and the grief process, but this isn’t a magazine article but a log of my day-to-day struggles.

Mom asked me what I was doing while I waited for the police officer to come and take my missing persons report on that Monday three weeks ago.

What did I do? What I always do. I wrote. The following is what I wrote in my journal while waiting an hour for the officer to arrive.

Father, I know she is not missing to You. But this is the most scared I've been about Jolene in as long as I can remember.

Where is the peace of someone like Dianne, who faces breast cancer with a smile and a feeling that everything will be okay? Maybe because everything has never been all right with Jolene, at least not in worldly terms, and this feels so far from all right. That she could be dead. That is my fear.

Oh, Lord, I thank You that You gave me feelings. That You understand and accept. That I can say, Your will be done, and know that it is and good and perfect, even when my insides scream with pain.

If Jolene is alive … what fear and guilt and despair she must be feeling. I pray for her, for her safety. For You to bring someone into her life now, tonight, who will reach out to her and help her get through the emergency where she finds herself.

I pray for Mom, that You will give her peace as she waits. That You will give us grace with each other as we respond to the stress. Lord, may we both reflect Your presence in the midst of this storm.

Because You are at the Center. All that live and breathe depend on You. You are good. You have overcome the world and You will give me the strength I need in this trial.
Like David of old, I would call down hail fire on those who have hurt Jolene, on the illness that has plagued her, on my own inadequacies as a parent.

I'm cold and hungry, Lord, can't they get here soon?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Family matters

Today I’m going to write about something that makes me look bad. Maybe.

My ex-husband’s family held a memorial service for Jolene today, in the state where he lives. For some reason that really bothered me.

Without going into details, my divorce from my ex-husband left us both bitter. I have come a long ways towards forgiveness and letting go. I thought the funeral arrangements demonstrated the change. I bent over backwards to accommodate his requests—even the request that we hold the service on Friday instead of Monday, which meant we could not adequately inform local friends.

I thought I had grown, that is, until today. My ex planned the service and date without any consideration of whether or not I could, or would want to, come. I was angry.

A wise friend advised me, “This service is for him. Not for Jolene.” And I was totally satisfied with the service we held. It was beautiful, meaningful, comforting. I had no reason to resent a second service. The ugly truth was, not only was I angry—I was jealous.

I’ve heard that family squabbles often interfere with grief. I just didn’t think it would be me.

Love your enemies. I’m trying, Lord.

This week I return to a normal work hours; that means an eight-hour day tomorrow. Your prayers are appreciated.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Quiet Saturday

It’s been a quiet day, and that’s good. A week ago, I dreaded the arrival of Saturday—the day we usually spent with Jolene.

Mom and I ate lunch at a restaurant where we often went with Jolene. As we dined, I told Mom, “I’m not frightened of Saturday the way I was last week. I may fall apart at some point, but I’m not scared.”

We slept late. Had a leisurely morning. I bought a book of meditations for suicide survivors; each day has a scripture verse and a simple message on how to cope and move forward. Practical comfort from someone who’s been there.

After lunch, we stopped by Jolene’s old apartment to pick up the last of her mail. Nothing there to provoke tears, not like the “grant application success kit” that was forwarded to us. Jolene and I had spent a pleasant evening applying for a grant … something that now no longer matters. We stopped by the library, our books a week overdue, normal activities like returning borrowed items a mere footnote in the nightmare of the last few weeks.

And then we returned home during the hours we normally spent with Jolene. And you know, it wasn’t bad.

The one cry point of the day came when I picked up the mail. We received a sympathy card from complete strangers, women who knew Jolene from a therapy group she attended. People whom she had touched and we had never met. Somehow that reached deep inside of me in a way that all the expressions of sympathy from my friends have not.

Now if I can only get to sleep at a reasonable hour tonight.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Girls' Night Out

I need to keep this short, if I can. It's 11:30--a very late night for me.

At Jolene's service, a former co-worker and Christian friend approached me and said, "We're going to have another girls' night out soon, and you're coming." Susan has a great gift for humor and can make me laugh in almost any circumstance.

Tonight was the night. Our plans changed because Mom had a rough day and needed to stay home. Susan arrived with two girlfriends in tow. We became friends when we attended the same church. We now all attend different congregations, but the bonds of friendship remain intact. We talked about our children (I've taught all of their kids at some point in Sunday School), teddy bears, dreamy actors--about the loss of Jolene and my grief. And we talked and ate Boston cream pie and talked some more. They finally left a little after 11.

Thank God for friends who weep and laugh with you. Tonight, I thank God for Susan, Blanca and Hannah.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rough Day

I knew I was due for a rough spell. The last seven days have been comparatively easy.

It came today. My arm got caught between my bed and the wall while I was trying to get dressed. I cried in pain. I couldn't find my socks or put on my shoes or tie the laces. I screamed every step of the way.

And finally, once I was dressed and dripping with sweat from the effort, I gave voice to my real pain. "I failed Jolene as a mother." Tears fell.

I don't precisely blame myself for Jolene's death; but I have often wondered (long before she died) why God gave her me as a mother. I felt so ill-prepared to guide my very troubled girl.
I'm not getting into that today. Not really. Mom stepped in. She called my boss to let him know I'd be late. She fixed me a cup of tea and sat with me.

Then God gave me a moment of joy, through my cat.

While I lay on my bed sobbing, Talia watched me with wide blue eyes, obviously concerned. She followed me to the kitchen and kept me company while I drank sweet tea and ate a sandwich. Satisfied at last that her human was okay, she returned to play.

And the thought struck me as I watched her. Jolene now knows the answer to the question, Do animals go to heaven?

Anyone who has lost a beloved pet has asked that question. My feeling has always been that either way, we will be completely happy.

But now Jolene knows. Even now she may be hugging Andres (our 35-pound tom whom Jolene watched being born)--hugging that Talia never tolerates.

Thank God for Talia's unconditional love.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

More Interpretations

Maybe God directed my thoughts towards the "whys" of suicide last night. Today three different people (without reference to yesterday's blog) have shared their understanding of what drives a person to suicide.

One gave a rather secular explanation, from her clinical counseling experience. "Suicide is the final act of self-determination," she said. She gave the rationale that is used to support assisted suicide. Someone choosing to end their life now because they can tell it's only going to get worse.

I can see Jolene feeling that way. She wanted what all young women want, financial security, a loving husband and family, a home of her own. I suspect that on that final night, she felt she had lost all of that and would never have it.

A writer friend wrote that "the Lord takes the 'gems' home early ... because their work is done here." (although the whole issue of God's sovereignty and suicide is another question entirely.)

Yes, Jolene compacted a lot into her short life. She lived it to the full. And now she is enjoying life in heaven, ahead of me. In a way I envy her peace.

A minister gave voice to an opinion that clicked with me. He said that there are broken minds as well as broken bodies (which I totally believe). And that just as a broken body may bring death, so may a broken mind. In a sense, Jolene had no choice. If I want to blame anything, I could blame her illness (borderline personality disorder).

I hope I don't turn you off with these rambling thoughts on suicide. I learned long ago that there is no satisfactory answer to the "why" questions. God didn't answer Job; He didn't answer Habakkuk; and He won't answer me. Except to remind us that He is God, and He is good. With Habakkuk I say, "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength." (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

I am in a good place tonight. I returned to choir rehearsal tonight; with William Cowper, I discovered the Light that surprises the christian when she sings.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


I’ve known what I wanted to write about today since last night. And it’s put my stomach in knots, just thinking about. It’s probably what kept me awake until midnight last night.

My daughter took her life.

I told that to a co-worker yesterday, the security guard who always asks after Jolene whenever she sees me. Last night was the first time I’d seen her since returning to work.

And somehow saying it out loud brought home the reality again. It seems so … impossible. So contradictory. Doesn’t something like taking a life imply the will to do so? And how can one maintain that determination to take one’s own life long enough to make it happen?

Does that make any sense? I’m not denying it. I’m trying to understand it. I hate it. I hate the fact that in the end, Jolene saw no joy or hope ahead. That she felt that way long enough and hid it well enough to make it happen. I hate the thought that she had no working phone, no way to talk with anyone about her despair. If she would have called. I spoke with her that morning; she was cheerful. Police were there, at her apartment, only hours before it happened; she convinced them she was safe. I don’t know if she hid her intentions or if she slid down into an even deeper depression after they left.

I cannot dwell on how she must have suffered. Of all the unbearable things about her death, that is the most unbearable. Instead, I focus on the fact that now she is beyond pain.

I do not know how my grief would differ if Jolene had died in a car accident or from natural causes.

But suicide is the ugliest four-letter word I know.