' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Remembering My Daughter on the Anniversary of her Death

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Remembering My Daughter on the Anniversary of her Death

photo by Ken Robbins
Today is the day. Not her birthday, but my daughter's death day. Odd that we never think of it that way, because one's dying is not something to be celebrated. But it is worth observing: the day she decided to leave this earth, and leave it on her own terms: she committed suicide.

The story, in short, is this: Jane was relinquished for adoption in 1966; when she was fifteen we were reunited, and for more than a quarter of a century had a relationship. Sometimes good, sometimes great, sometimes disconnected, when she would pull back from me, her first mother, birth mother and just plain mother, but it was a "knowing" relationship. I knew where she was; she knew where I was; I knew what happened to her; she knew she could reach me with a phone call. Even in the darkest moments--say, on her birthday when she wasn't talking to me, I knew where she was. We were not two people in the dark left alone with only questions. 

But beyond adoption, there was much turmoil in her life. First and foremost, she had epilepsy. Not just childhood seizures, but seizures that did not go away when she passed puberty, as some do; no, she had seizures great and small, grand mal and petit, that had to be controlled by the powerful drug valproic acid, or Depakene  and Depakote. This diminished her mental abilities, and she knew it, but she had to take it, for it controlled the frequency of the seizures and kept her from having grand mal ones. Despite that, epilepsy is a terrible disease, as the seizures can come at anytime, so one never knows what the next day, the next hour, the next minute might bring. 

I could not stop the seizures. I could not make her a person who did not have epilepsy. My daughter, Jane Jackson, wrote about her experience with epilepsy. She called her story The Power Within You, and that link will take you to it. She wrote about her first seizure, and her life, the discrimination she encountered as an epileptic, and how she ultimately planned and held a benefit for the Epilepsy Foundation. In some ways, the benefit was her finest moment. She was planning to do a second on the next year, and she said she had figured how to increase participation. 

But that same year, months after the event, she went into a deep depression; she stopped taking my calls; a week of sleeplessness led to her overdosing on Tylenol PM which caused liver toxicity, which lead to a week in a hospital and now, anti-depressant drugs.  Google “suicide and epilepsy” and you get more than five thousand hits. “People with epilepsy are three times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, conclude authors of an article published in Lancet Neurology[1] in 2007. 

A few days after the first anniversary of my daughter’s suicide, in December of 2008, the Federal Drug Administration announced that it will require makers of epilepsy drugs to add a warning about increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors to the products' prescribing information or labeling. Depakote was on that list. The FDA actions were based on the agency's review of 199 clinical trials of 11 epilepsy drugs, released only a month after her death, showing that patients taking those drugs had almost twice the risk of suicidal behavior or thoughts than patients taking a placebo. Of course I wondered, had the epileptics taking the placebo had their lives upended by as many seizures, great and small, as my daughter had? Might there have been even more suicides? 

But that's not all. Adoption was always a leitmotif in her life.  
Google “suicide and adoption” and what pops up is an entry from Pediatrics, “Adoption as a Risk Factor for Attempted Suicide during Adolescence.”[2] The main conclusion of the three authors? Adolescents who live with adoptive parents are more likely than their peers to attempt suicide. The researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine looked at more than 6,500 students in grades seven through twelve and found that nearly eight percent (7.6) of those who were adopted had attempted suicide in the past year, compared with only three percent of their peers. They were also more likely to receive psychological counseling, nearly seventeen percent (16.9) of adopted youth compared with eight percent  (8.2) of the non-adopted. 

My daughter's life was fraught with turmoil. In 1986, she also surrendered a daughter for adoption, and while at the time I felt like another knife hacked away at my heart, in this last year I have met this granddaughter, Lisa, and we have continued to build a relationship. Neither Lisa, or Jane's other daughter, Kim, has epilepsy. Both are bright, attractive people. And both are a blessing in my life. 

On top of epilepsy, adoption, surrender, she also had runaway premenstrual syndrome, and I think that, as much as anything, played a huge role in her decision to take her own life, for I know that she was suffering from it at the time she made the final decision to put a bullet through her brain. As someone who was afflicted with severe PMS, or PMDD as it is clinically called, myself, I understand how it can totally control your emotions and sense of reality.  I had contemplated suicide many times throughout my life, and looking back I feel confident it was always at that time of the month. 

When my husband and I got the call that she had shot herself, I had a momentary sense of disbelief--this is not happening, I am watching that woman on the phone (me) from someplace above--but hard as it may be for others to understand, I also instantly understood that Jane had found her way to peace. At her funeral, her adoptive mother and I both said to each other: She is at peace at last. 

Oh Jane, I loved you when you were born, I loved you when I did not know you, I loved you when I met you, I wept when you rejected me, I hold the memory of good times with you now. I see your smiling face, I hear your ironic one-liners, I remember all the ways in which we were alike, from our heavy footfall to the way we can't snap our fingers on our right hand. I remember the time we watched a Detroit Lions-Green Bay Packers game at a bar in LaValle, Wisconsin and cheered for opposing teams, I remember the time we tried on antique hats in a musty second-hand store and laughed ourselves silly, I remember sitting with you at the top of the World Trade Center and watching the helicopters fly by, I remember racing up the steps of the Statue of Liberty to be the first to the top that day. We had some good times, and that is what I will remember best and hold dear to my heart. --lorraine

[1] Adoption as a Risk Factor for Attempted Suicide during Adolescence; Slap, Goodman and Huang, Pediatrics, Vol. 108, No. 2 August 2001, p. e30. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/108/2/e30
The study included students who were living with their mothers, adoptive  or biological, and had not been separated from them for more than six months. All were in their first marriages, to filter out children of divorce. Not surprisingly, the teens who contemplated suicide were more likely to be depressed, smoke cigarettes, engage in delinquent behavior, have low self-esteem and—be female. More recently, Psychiatric Times (January 26, 2009; http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/display/article/10168/1367897 ) reported that researchers at the University of Minnesota found that adopted youth, as a group, had a higher incidence of clinical disorders (such as ADHD or ODD) than the non-adopted. Any research showing that adopted individuals had a higher incidence of emotional trauma and related problems has always been controversial and met with disdain by many in the adopting community, and generally attributed to the greater income of many adoptive parents, and their acute sensitivity to their children’s welfare. When I mentioned it at a conference a few years ago, it was generally ignored. Other pro-adoption writers dismiss it as “garbage research.”
However, the researchers of the Minnesota study found that these possible migrating factors for the high incidence of adopted teenagers in therapy and otherwise seeking emotional and/or psychiatric counseling did not explain the differences, and that their over-representation is due to the fact that the adoptees are experiencing more of the kinds of behavioral problems for which parents refer their kids. The Minnesota study included 540 non-adopted adolescents born in that state and 692 domestic and international adoptees. At the time of the assessments, the study participants ranged in age from 11 to 21 years, and the average age at time of placement was four months. From the Psychiatric Times: “The assessments were rigorous and involved use of the Diagnostic Interview for Children and Adolescents-Revised (DICA-R) and the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R (SCID-II). I’ve gotten clinical here because this study has been attacked by adoptive parents on various blogs.

[2] The Lancet Neurology (2007, July 8). Epilepsy Means Three Times Higher Risk Of Committing Suicide, Study Suggests. ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070706143417.htm


  1. My heart hurts reading this. I am so sorry.

  2. Thinking of you on this sad day. I am glad that even through Jane's turmoils, you were able to know each other and make some happy memories.


  3. I hope you are surrounded by love and support and are in good company today. I am very sorry for your loss.

  4. I know this is a terrible day for you. Thank you for sharing her writing: horrifying and touching all at once. The frightened 4-year-old came through and no doubt horrified you as well. She soldiered on as long as she could and, of course, it wasn't long enough. It never is, is it. Treat yourself tenderly. Jess

  5. Your daughter had an incredibly hard row to hoe in life. Despite the common belief, sometimes life does give us more than we can handle. Although I know you and Jane's amom have the consolation of knowing she is at peace, I'm sure it is still wrenching. As a fellow adoptee, I can tell you she did have one incredible blessing. She was so lucky to have a first mom who loved her so much, who looked for her when she was young and who always wanted to be there for her. ((hugs))

  6. May extra love and support surround you today. Thank you for sharing some of your daughter's life with us. It keeps her memory alive.


  7. You have my sympathy on this very sad day. May Jane rest in peace.

  8. There is nothing more horrific on Earth than a parent losing a child. That's just not supposed to happen. Lorraine, I am very sorry that it is something that you have had to experience. May love and light surround you today and may your sweet daughter rest in peace.

  9. I wish you peace, even as I know that such is not really possible for us on this life...

    It is particularly sad that this anniversary will always come right between Thanksgiving and Christmas, marring those otherwise happy times of the year.

    I'm glad you have your granddaughter and that Jane's adoptive mother included you. I hope that brings you comfort and solace.

    My daughter likewise suffered multiple causal factors that led to her suicide, not the least of which was her adoptive mother's inability to put Alicia's needs above her own fear of me as an threat.

    FYI there is a group called SOS: Survivors of Suicide for family members.

  10. Dear Lorraine,
    I thought a lot about you yesterday.... my heart is with you....
    I was separated from my son in 1970, reuinted in 2002 and then he died in my arms in March 2008 of Testicular Cancer....it is incomprehensible isn't it? My son, before he died called it "a cruel twist of fate", and surely it is...when he was dying and in hospice,
    I had this adorable Sikh cab driver, who told me "Don't worry, in the Sikh religion we believe that this is his soul's journey...all of us have a journey to make, and his is over now...this is the amount of time his soul needed to make the personal journey it had to make; and that time was already pre-determined as all our breaths are counted before we breathe life" That sweet little Sikh guy, I will never forget his kind demeanour, and his kind words...what he said still gives me comfort ...and I hope sharing it brings a little to you today.....Best and (((hugs))) ...Valerie xo

  11. Dear anonymous:

    Thank you so much for that thought. My daughter's life was so scarred by so many things that it was hard to see that it was ever going to get better, and a part of me feels that she made a rational decision. And hearing it in the context of your words--which are so powerful to me--brings a modicum of peace.

    Thank you all for your comments.

  12. I loved you when you were born, I loved you when I did not know you, I loved you when I met you, I wept when you rejected me

    Lorraine, Thank you for your profound words. The ones above really caught me. The moment I learned of my sister's suicide I thought of her peace. I know your Jane found hers. A sad, sad journey. I rejoice for you and your grand daughters. The sweet with the bitter. Thank you for your raw truth, your deep words, your wisdom. Jane Guttman

  13. I know of many people who get angry when people suicide, and stay that way, never forgiving themselves or the person who was struggling...I hear them say things like "it was so selfish", and this disturbs me. I understand why they are angry, but it always strikes me that compassion for the person who was suffering so much is a good thing to strive for - a person would have to be in incredible pain to have suicide seem to be the only way to peace - we wouldn't wish that kind of ongoing pain on anyone.

    I think it is so beautiful that both you and Jane's amom respected and understood that this was Jane's path to peace. If there's an afterlife, just imagine how wonderfully free Jane's soul must be in knowing how both of her moms understand and respect her path.

    Sending you comforting thoughts as you ponder the incomprehensible.



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