Retrospective on my Daughter’s Suicide
By Darlene Franklin
My daughter, Jolene, committed suicide ten years ago this March.
My world still stops for a few seconds when I say those words. I still feel the enormity of the loss, the emptiness left in her wake. The wound has healed, but the scar remains.
On the other hand, life has moved on. Jolene is in my past (and in my future, in heaven), but she’s not a part of my present.
And yet. . . when people ask how many children I have, I hesitate. Do I say one son, or explain about Jolene? When I brag on my beautiful daughter-in-law, my four lovely grandchildren and one greatgrandchild, I wonder if Jolene could ever have handled motherhood, given her mental illness.
Mostly I wonder if Jolene would ever have found enough peace to enjoy her life and share all that was uniquely hers with the world.
The questions will never be answered this side of heaven, except that I know without a doubt Jolene is now fully herself, in ways no one ever can be on earth.
It’s time for me to go back. To think what losses I mourn, what regrets I have, what memories I treasure, and a few of the lessons I’ve learned from my daugter’s life and death.
Jolene Elizabeth Franklin was born on March 16, 1984, two days after her brother Jaran’s fourth birthday. Her father occupied the last church position he would ever hold. That year was the high point of our marriage.
Due to colic, Jolene hardly stopped crying for six months. Nonstop colds and earaches stole her hearing and therefore delayed her speech. By the time she turned three, she entered a special preschool. Her father worked at a convenience store instead of preaching at a church, and I tried to remain a stay-at-home mom. By kindergarten, Jaran was a thriving fourth grader, but Jolene had been labeled as severely mentally challenged. I knew better. She was highly intelligent, even if she had trouble speaking.
When we moved to Colorado the following summer, she ran away to the police. They came to me with the worst news of my life: someone had been sexually abusing my little girl. Somehow I hadn’t known or even guessed. I agonized over missing the signs. If I wanted to beat myself up, I’d start there.
Jolene’s problems went from speech delay to horrifying behaviorial issues. She ended up in a residential facility for two years before she came back to a now single-parent home.
I won’t give a detailed account of her remaining sixteen years. There were highlights. One year she took part in a Christmas play and received Christ as her Savior. Another winter, she joined me in a mission outreach at the Salt Lake City Olympics. She discovered her voice as a poet and was recognized as an Outstanding Young Author at Colorado Christian Writers Conference.
But those happy moments were few and far between. She bumped along in special ed and psychiatric services. They finally settled on a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which basically means she had no sense of identity and constantly depended on others to define herself. In the end, she chose death by hanging.
A decade later, I’ve gained perspective into how I survived the loss in one peace (sic) and some of what I learned. I’m offering them as simple statements – some could be articles to themselves, some could stand alone. I hope they’ll encourage those who’ve suffered a devastating loss, whether or not from suicide.
[Pastor Resources will publish Part 2 of this post on March 8, 2018].