Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Daughter's Suicide


 photo by ken robbins
by Lorraine Dusky (c) 2009

Two years ago today my daughter pried open a locked gun cabinet, took a pistol, drove off to a secluded spot and put a bullet in her head. It was not her first attempt at ending her life--and though of course it was shocking and immediately unbelievable when the news came over the phone about twenty to twelve that night, my first coherent thought was: she is at peace. My daughter is at last at peace. You had to know my daughter to understand why that's where the news of her death would ultimately lead.

Though FirstMotherForum.com is about adoption and its far-reaching effect on birth/first mothers, adoption was only part of Jane's cross to bear: the first was her epilepsy. Her epilepsy. It truly controlled her life from the time of her first seizure when she was five. Eventually drugs (Depakane, and then Depakote) mostly, but not completely, controlled her seizures, yet they extracted a huge toll. Epilepsy medications dull intelligence, and that was her great disappointment. No matter what she did, or how hard she tried--getting a degree from a two-year school with honors, taking on-line English college course and get an A, winning a trophy from her local Toastmaster's organization--she somehow found it impossible to keep track of simple things, math was her downfall, her organizational skills were pretty much non-existent, and no matter how hard she tried, she found herself failing at one job after another except the most menial. And that killed her. Google epilepsy and suicide or drugs for epilepsy and  suicide, and you find no dearth of articles.

But the being given up. That was a part of her tsouris also, and of course there is no way to fathom what part it played in the entire arc of her life. You can read about adoption and suicide too, and know they are not unconnected. I know of four suicides, one serious attempt, and only one of them does not have an adoption connection. Three adopted individuals; one birth mother. Does this prove anything? No, these are just a personal accounts, but still, there they are.

Jane and I talked about my giving her up sometimes, but there was no way to sort out any of this, not really. Yet it was obvious to us both that the "being given up" was a sore that would always be there. Our relationship had its high points and its lows, though we knew each other for more nearly a quarter of a century, there was always the sense she held that meant she could walk away at any time. Her other mother might say the most awful things to her, and on occasion did. One time after a particularly brutal fight, when her adoptive mother told her that she did not love her, Jane, she called me crying and when I picked up the phone the first thing she said was: Tell me that you love me.

Yet within the week, her other mother called and apologized, and they were a family again, albeit somewhat fractured. But still back on track. In less than a week. They would go on as before.

Not so with me. If I made the slightest transgression, and sometimes I did not even know that I had somehow crossed an invisible line, she would cut me off for months, even years. I was dead to her for long stretches of time. Less than a year before she died, we had a falling out over something that seemed designed to hurt me, and I told her so, not happily. In all the years that I knew her, from fifteen to forty-two, she had never come to visit me from Wisconsin where she was raised and lived on her own dime. I paid. I always paid. That was okay. But now she got it into her head--as a way to prove to herself,  to both her families, to everyone who ever fired her that she was indeed smart--that she would be a contestant on The Millionaire. What's the worst that can happen, she said? I'll come to New York and see you.

Trouble was, she arranged this trip at the very time--the only time in the year--that I would not be in New York. I would be attending a niece's graduation in Michigan. Jane could have come any other weekend, but when The Millionaire gave her that very weekend to try out, along with hundreds of others, and she did not change it, which, from looking at the website, she surely could have. I had told earlier not to make her plans that weekend, I was very specific about the dates before her "tryout" was finalized; but she ignored that and made non-refundable air reservations before she called to tell me the great news.

I was irritated, more than just a little bit, and told her so. But I did not scream at her, say anything really nasty, I was as hurt as I was angry. We had a few short words over the phone, and I figured, oh, well, that is Jane, I'll have the find the money to bring her back here. She came to New York, stayed with a friend of mine in Manhattan who had befriended her, stood in line with hundreds of other people to take the test of The Millionaire, and did not make the cut. I was in Michigan, she was in New York, she would not take a call from me.

Then she cut me me off for months, from June to October. My emails went unanswered. I apologized beyond what seemed reasonable for my supposed transgression, but I thought, well, you know, I gave her up, I don't have a lot of leeway with here. She changed her phone number to an unlisted one. A letter came with a bright red stamp on it that said: REFUSED. I began to think we would never get over this.

And then one fall day, she called, and we both said at the same time: How are you?  I did not recriminate her--what would be the point?--and we chatted that day as if there had been no break in our communication. And what do you know--for those two, three months, we had possibly the closest relationship we had ever had. We spoke three, four times a week, emailed in between. Sometime later, I brought up the disruption--gingerly--and asked that she never cut me off again like that. She readily agreed. I didn't push for an analysis or apology. Without words, everything was understood and known between us. We both knew what the break really had been about: that she had been given up. That I had no right to be cross with her, ever, because I had committed the original transgression, the primal one, that we would spend our lives trying to heal the breach.

Shortly before the end, I have a couple of emails about our relationship that are so comforting, about what I and my family (including my husband, not her father) mean to her. I cherish them dearly.

Then a new low period hit: mid-December, a time when her premenstrual disorder (it runs in the family) engulfed her like a tidal wave. We talked and talked on December 8, she made up crazy stories about her husband that had no basis in reality and wept profusely. The stories that had too many odd details to be believable provided a way for her to spill out how bad she was feeling. I listened that day for hours. Four times we were on the phone. I begged her to take the prescription progesterone that I had finally convinced her to get for her PMS, as it had helped me tremendously. She took the progesterone, she calmed down. We spoke on Sunday, the following day, and she seemed...normal.

Over the next couple of days, the emails were about what she was making for dinner, the Green Bay Packers game, the darts league she and her husband were in. Normal stuff. Everyday stuff. All is well for now, I told myself, we've weathered that storm. If she will take the progesterone before her menstrual periods, she'll be as okay as Jane could be.

On Wednesday, December 12th, she wrote me a short friendly email, told her daughter before she left for school that no matter what, she loved her, and wrote a terse note that was left in her printer. It began:  I am tired of the craziness. At the funeral, I learned that when she was not talking to me that Saturday, she was spilling out the same grief and nuttiness to a friend. At the time, she was taking her epilepsy medication, drugs prescribed for her depression; she was in the throes of rabid PMS. So who or what is to blame? Nothing can be pinpointed as the single cause.

I wish I could share the grief today with her daughter, my granddaughter, take her for a walk or a cup of hot chocolate at the Deli Bean, Reedsburg's homey answer to Starbucks, but Kim is in Wisconsin and if she is passing the day without remembering, I am not going to be the one who reminds her. So I will not call or email her today. Yesterday I went to the funeral mass of a man I knew in town, not well, but well enough. He worked for our neighbors as a caretaker when they were away in Florida, and over the years we got to know one another as nodding acquaintances, and then, more. When we saw each other at the grocery store, we would stop and chat for a few minutes rather than simply nod and walk on by. Jack was a good man, a veteran, a dog lover like me. My profuse weeping at his funeral was way out of proportion to our casual connection, but I understand that I was weeping not for him, but for my daughter, and, weirdly enough, for another individual who had died long ago but for whom I had not properly grieved.

I wish I could find meaning in all this, today on the anniversary of my daughter's death. Essays are supposed to wrap everything up and teach us a life lesson, or at least be profound. But I find no reason here. She is gone; I miss her, I miss Jack and the other person too. Life goes on. --lorraine

31 comments :

  1. Lorraine,

    As you know, I am an adoptee, and I have sort of the reverse situation with my birthmother that you had with your daughter. There have been a lot of times when I have been afraid that if I say or do the wrong thing, SHE will leave again. It's not a fun way to live, but it's the price I pay because I want to have a relationship with her and because I truly do love her. So I could really relate to what you wrote about your relationship with Jane. I hope that, over time, you can continue to deal with your loss and I truly believe that, by sharing your experiences, you are helping others understand their own experiences and the resulting emotions. Thanks for sharing, and it's been a pleasure getting to know you a bit of late (both directly and indirectly!).

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  2. ((((((((((Loraine))))))))
    What a terrible sadness you must have today. I am sooooo sorry to hear the details of your daughter's death. My heart goes out to you today.
    Your daughter must have been in so much pain. I cannot imagine how terrible one must feel to take one's own life. I do hope, as you have said, that she is in a better place now.
    Adoption ruins people in the most cruel way. I WISH that adoptive parents would just learn to accept their infertility and live their lives without disrupting other families like this. It is wrong for the first mothers; wrong for the adoptees; and it is wrong for adoptive parents as well. They need to learn to live with reality, not fantasy.
    You will be in my thoughts today.

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  3. You are in my thoughts and prayers. As I read your story, I felt how I could relate to your fear of her cutting you off.
    I feel as if I am always walking on egg shells around my son whom i have been blessed to be reconnected with. It happened once 3 years ago when we 1st met, and he is back now. I just thought I was the only one who feels this way..

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  4. I grieve with you. Blessed Be.

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  5. I am so sorry for the pain both you and your daughter feel and have felt. It is all so terribly sad. Bless you for sharing.

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  6. Oh Lorraine (((((((((((((hugs))))))))))))))

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  7. I also am keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.

    Susie

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  8. Thank you for being so strong & sharing with all of us.

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  9. My thoughts are with you, Lorraine. My mother has epilepsy and also struggles with depression. I didn't know that re., the brain damage caused by the epilepsy although I know my mom suffers short term memory loss from her meds. Thank you for sharing this.

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  10. I'm very sorry, please take good care of yourself.

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  11. So very sad for you. I am thinking of you and Jane and her daughter.

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  12. I am so sorry about the loss of Jane, and all the difficulties you have in navigating your post-reunion relationship.

    This is a remarkable essay that will leave me thinking and feeling.

    Peace to you. I wish I could find better words.

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  13. It's been a strange and emotional week here but everyone's kind and caring words mean a great deal today.

    Thank you, every one.

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  14. Lorraine,

    Your post is very moving.

    I worry about my own child too. There is a lot of anger. More than anything I wish peace for him.

    Thinking of you.

    UM

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  15. Dear Lorraine,

    I am Linda Zoblotsky. You and I have sent some emails over the years. I saw your name in an article about the reality show FIND MY FAMILY and I googled you. I am sorry to hear and to know that your daughter, Jane, committed suicide. My thoughts are with you this week-end.

    Love and Peace, Linda Zoblotsky

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  16. Hey, Linda, of course I remember meeting you and talking to you. How could someone whose family name began Drozdusky forget an Zoblotsky?

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  17. Lorraine,
    I am so sorry for your loss. No mother should have to lose her own child twice.

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  18. Ah, but Anonymous, that's precisely what has happened hundreds, if not thousands, of birthmothers who relinquished their newborns to closed adoptions. How many reunions have we read about here on FMF where the birthmothers and/or adoptees lost their mothers/children once to adoption, then again when reunions became overwhelming or simply impossible to sustain?

    As Jane said stated in today's (12/14) blog, If we are going to storm the Bastille, we have to come out of the closet. There's strength in numbers, people! Sign a petition, write letters to your local paper and legislators. Stand up for adoptee rights, and get those unsealed records open in every state in the union rather than just the current seven or so...if not now, when?

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  19. ((((Lorraine)))))

    I read your story with such fear - my son behaves very much like your daughter. I never know what transgressions I have committed. It can be as simple as not returning a call when he has not left a message - he believes I should be checking my caller id to see if he called and if so, return the call.

    Obviously his emotional state is different but certainly there is alot of damage there that I believe stems from his being separated from me - his mother.
    Just know you're in my thoughts and prayers.

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  20. I am so sorry. What a heartbreaking story.

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  21. Lorraine, thank you for sharing this heartfelt story and my deepest sympathies on your loss.

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  22. Michelle,

    The Orphan Train movement, when kids were indeed adopted as farm labor, ran from the late 19th century to sometime in the 20s I think, and yes the majority of those children were not bastards. Being the children of immigrants, they were still considered "inferior stock" to WASP Americans, legitimate or not.
    Child welfare was not really a profitable business then, but it was very bigoted, and mostly run by wealthy lady do-gooders.

    Georgia Tann and other such crooks and exploiters made adoption profitable and fashionable by seeking and courting celebrity adopters. At the same time, the social work profession was "saving" the children of unwed mothers from the stigma of bastardy, and unwed mothers from having to live with their "sin". These were the two trends behind sealed records; to cover up the illegal activities of those like Tann, and to give both mothers and bastards a "new life" under the blank slate theory of human development. This piece was not all about money, but about some very bad and mistaken theory taken as gospel by social workers trying to appear more professional and modern.

    Adoption today is driven by huge adopter demand that was not there in such volume in earlier times, it is unregulated, and much of it is indeed a business. But it is more complex than just economics, as there is always that other strand of "do-gooderism" be it sociological or religious that thinks it is saving children in some fashion. And some of the worst harm is caused by those who are sincere in their belief that their beliefs are better than yours, and that they know what is best for you child. It is not just cynical businessmen running adoption, yesterday or today, but a sometimes toxic mix of bad practice coming from all sides.

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  23. Most adoptees do not commit suicide or live in clinical depression. And most suicide victims and those who suffer unbearable depression are not adoptees. But, sometimes, an adoptee does commit suicide. Sometimes people with freckles or blue eyes commit suicide - but there is no connection to their fair skin or eye color.

    Your daughter suffered depression that was probably not at all helped by the epilepsy or the many medications she was taking.

    The reason she could "cut you off" for months, yet not her adoptive mother, is because she had a daughter bond in that relationship. The kind of bond only a mother and daughter have. Where it's wonderful and awful and you hate her and love her but no matter what, you can't cut her out - because she is your mother.

    You were absolutely the link to her genetics - but that an emotional link does not make, no matter how hard you try.

    So don't feel any sort of guilt over something that wasn't about you having given her up. I'm sure she felt hurt by being given up, of course, but in context of life as a whole - most of us adoptees have much bigger fish to fry.

    Be kind to yourself - it had nothing to do with you. You did the right thing by giving her up when you couldn't care for her and giving her to others who could provide for her and were ready to do just that.

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  24. Janet, a first motherDecember 27, 2009 at 8:38 AM

    Dear Anonymous Adoptive Mother:

    You do need to do more reading. Check out some of the links above.

    My daughter lived not far from her adoptive mother and HATED the holidays at their houses because the mother in the end always ended up criticizing her...for not being a different daughter. I'd get the phone calls later in the evening.

    If you read the emails from my daughter about our relationship, you would undoubtedly be very unhappy. There is a bond between the mother whose DNA the adopted person carries that continues on and on.

    I'm not going to tell you to be kind to yourself because you are blind to reality, and you don't deserve even such a stupid pat on the back. And I suggest you sit through back to back episodes of Find My Family before you spout off on how there is not emotional attachment to the woman who gave birth to you. In everyday parlance, your REAL MOTHER.

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  25. To Anonymous -

    "don't feel any sort of guilt over something that wasn't about you having given her up."

    I will extend you the benefit of doubt that you meant well in saying this. However, it is never soothing to tell anyone, under any circumstances what they should or should not feel. Feelings are feelings and need to be validated. Period. Guilt is a normal part of grieving felt by all who survive any death of a loved one. To not feel guilt in the wake of the suicide of a mothers' daughter would be sociopathic.

    All of the other comments extending sympathy were far more compassionate, healing, helpful - and in keeping with common decency - than yours, no matter how well-intentioned.

    Your ability to simply discount a fifteen relationship - in addition to genetic connection - is unfathomable and outside the realms of reality.

    It is perhaps comforting for you to believe that suicide is no less related to adoption than it is to freckles, and would we all wish it were so. Unfortunately, it is not. Freckles are not recognized as causing feelings of loss, identity confusion, rejection or abandonment. Adoption is. Do the math.

    As a mother who twice lost my firstborn child - first to adoption and then to her untimely suicide at age 27 - I take offense, not one ounce of comfort, in your words. I find them cruel and heartless. Not any way to speak to anyone who has suffered such a catastrophic heart-wrenching, lifelong, irresolvable loss as any mother losing her child....even if she had never laid eyes again on that child or ever spoken to her, much less had a meaningful and intimate reunion with her.

    I sincerely hope you learn how to address people in the throws of grief before you ever comment on another blog.

    Shame on you for adding insult to injury.

    Peace.

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  26. Anonymous, having freckles doesn't predispose one toward depression, PTSD, anxiety and a host of other illnesses. Being adopted (or surrendering a child) does.

    Lorraine had an emotional link to her daughter. They were reunited for many years. Even if they hadn't been, you can't just dismiss the bonds between mother and daughter. Your lack of compassion is startling.

    Parents can love more than one child. Why can't a child or adult love more than one parent? What makes "the kind of bond only a mother and daughter have" and why do you assume Lorraine's daughter had only one mother, the adoptive one?

    You say "us adoptees" but why do I get the feeling you are hiding behind that anonymous moniker...? Why are you so threatened by the idea that adoptees and birth parents can and do establish relationships with one another? Or, even more scary... that maybe those relationships always existed despite the adoption separation?

    And don't say "you did the right thing". Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. To say it was the "right thing" is an attempt to negate the losses that always, ALWAYS accompany adoption. You'd like this to have "nothing to do" with Lorraine as a birth mother--because that would negate her role in her daughter's life, and thus negate all mothers who surrendered. And it's much easier to ignore people's feelings when you dehumanize them.

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  27. Thank you Triona, Mirah, Janet, Linda...and all my friends near and far who come to this conversation. Since it is hard to share these feelings with more than a few in my personal life, it is so great to be able to share my story and thoughts with you all.
    xoxox

    lo

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  28. Lorraine ,

    I'm a " birth " " mother " too. Been reunited with my son for 17 years now.

    But , I want to say please accept my deepest sympathy to you in the loss of your precious daughter. I can't say I know exactly how you feel , but I know you're hurting. It hurts with these kids we've lost , been reunited with and then work so hard to keep the relationships going. Yes , I can relate to so much you shared. I can't imagine what you're enduring on TOP of it all . I'm so very sorry. : (

    I will pray that God will comfort you and give you His peace .

    Elizabeth

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