My daughter, Jolene, committed suicide ten years ago this March. 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. I’ve gained perspective into how I survived the loss in one peace (sic). I’ve summarized the lessons as statements, some complex, some simple. They offer hope to people struggling with mental illness, grief, depression, any one of a multitude of losses.What I can say beyond any doubt is that God was intimately involved with every breath I took. “But God” became the theme of my days.1. The days crawled into weeks then months as I wallowed in grief but God gave me time and distance. 2. I blamed myself for my mistakes but God helped me understand I’d done my best.3. I wanted to take responsibility for Jolene’s death but God gave me grace to forgive myself.4. The days were empty but God filled my nights with dreams where Jolene was close enough to touch.5. My arms ached to hold my daughter but God gave me her teddy bear to hold.6. My heart felt ripped in two but God surrounded me with twenty-four hour love from friends around the world. 7. My lips had forgotten how to smile but God helped me laugh again. 8. My life spun out of my control but God gave me stories to write that I could control.9. I had questioned God during my children’s teen years but God used those times to prepare me for the trial of Jolene’s death.10. When Jolene lived, her illness made it difficult for me to enjoy her but God has restored the memories of her heart for God, her generosity, her passion for winning souls, and her poet’s heart. 11. I imagined the future Jolene had missed but God showed me her life wouldn’t have been perfect and probably not pleasant. 12. Jolene had felt misunderstood and unwelcome at church but God has used her life and death to shine light on mental illness in the Christian community.13. I could barely function at work but God made me strong in my co-workers’ eyes.14. I lost my daughter but God gave my granddaughter Jordan Elizabeth Franklin (name meant to echo Jolene’s) nine months later. 15. Two years later, I lost my mother, but God gave me my grandson, Isaiah Jaran Franklin. My son said Isaiah, “the Lord is salvation,” came to remind us our hope is in the Lord. 16. I shuddered when I pictured how Jolene died but God showed me how He stood, waiting to take her into His arms.There is so much more I could say. The principle that God takes every grief and pain and transforms them continues to direct my life.
I’ll close with Jolene’s own words:Hope in Black and WhiteBy Jolene FranklinHow can I be such as I am in this world of whiteIn this world of white where everything goes rightBut there’s a world of blackWhere the sky is gray and no sun shinesI go into that black sometimesInto a world of darkness and despairBut hope is always thereI am on a journey to hopeWhere the sun shines and gladness stays
Darlene Franklin is both a resident of a nursing home in Moore, and a full-time writer.