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