There were several occasions after Jenny, my daughter, committed suicide where I contemplated killing myself. It was on the eve of the second anniversary of her death that I succumbed to a very dark moment in my life.
I had traveled to the UK with the intent to set up a light base there, from which to also conduct my business. As the dates for what would have been Jenny’s 18th birthday, as well as the second anniversary of her death, drew closer and the winter began to close in, I slipped into my deepest and darkest place. I had organized to take a week off from working in order to visit my brother in Oxford, and some days beforehand, I found myself seriously preparing how to end my life.
As I planned this process through, I began to deeply understand the similarity between physical and emotional pain. Several years previously, while undergoing radiation treatment for cancer, I had hemorrhaged in the intestine; I remember getting to the point where the combination of pain and feeling seriously ill became too overwhelming to handle. It felt as though dying and being released from the pain was the only reasonable option.
Now with these circumstances, it felt as though I was operating with the same degree of pain, but on an emotional level. An emotional pain that was too overwhelming to cope with. I then realized that I might have an idea of the depth of emotional pain Jen, my daughter, must have felt for most of her life …
“You’ve fucked up my life! You’ve fucked up my friendships!” Jen’s words rang in my ears as she stormed out to her bedroom situated on the other side of our house’s inner courtyard. We had had an enormous argument, and I as her Mom had applied tough love to my 16-year old child.
Over a period of time, Jen had become more and more manipulative, using the threat of not coping with life and suicide in order to maneuver herself out of being responsible and accountable. This had resulted in her balking at standard house rules required for her safekeeping. I had written her a loving, but firm letter earlier in the day, indicating to her that challenging and breaking these rules was inappropriate and that it was vital for her well-being that she should conform. This had resulted in our argument and now she was in her room packing her bags to leave home.
I attempted to distract myself by sending a cell phone text to a friend but finally with a feeling of immense unease, I went to check up on her. I walked into her bedroom, and saw that it had been trashed. Her belongings had been thrown everywhere.
The family dog was sitting at the end of the bed… Jenny was not there… I moved the curtain that separated her bedroom from her bathroom… And found her … hanging from her shower rail with a broken neck. I climbed onto the chair she had used to jump from and attempted to take her body weight off her neck, but I realized it was useless. I urgently called out to Nellie, our family housekeeper to fetch and bring a pair of scissors, and as I cut my beautiful daughter down from the necktie noose she had made, I found myself mentally, physically and emotionally distraught on many levels.
Thinking rapidly… “How do I revive her?” … “Do I call someone for help or run down the road to find a neighbor? … “Do I stay and try to save her?”… Take action. Take action. Take action … Which first?
I dashed to the phone and called a friend and with frantic calm, ran down the road in order to find at-home neighbors. In the meantime, Nellie had run to call another neighbor from the other end of our street and on my returning to the house, this neighbor was exiting Jenny’s room. She was deeply distressed, shocked, and in fright. She shouted at me, asking what had happened because my daughter was dead. I knew then that there was nothing more I could do … it was over. I collapsed in an anguished daze on the lawn outside the house, unable to move or take action anymore.
Part of me was desperate to bring Jenny back to life; the other part of me was filled with overwhelming relief that she was no longer able to hurt herself, that she was now ‘safe’ and no longer my responsibility. This had been her fourth attempt to kill herself and now she had finally succeeded.
I abstractly observed people come and people go. I watched the mortuary men arrive with their van to prepare and take Jenny’s body away. At one point (I have no recollection of doing it), when asked by the police what had happened, I apparently beat my hands on the garage wall and cried out that I had killed Jenny and that it was my fault she was dead.
A little later, a crisis volunteer approached me and as she settled down on the grass to counsel me, her name badge read “Jenny”. Even through my shock, my mind took note: “What a coincidence!”
The days that followed were combined with vivid accounts etched in my memory, together with happenings I inadvertently blanked out and had to be reminded about. We held a church memorial service for Jen, which was followed by a ‘celebration of her life’ ceremony held in a marquee in our garden.
As I finally accepted that Jen was dead, I pondered the fact that she had been our most celebrated child — the much anticipated daughter after two boys. On her arrival, I felt blessed being able to experience that precious mom-daughter relationship.
Over the years and on the surface, Jenny appeared to be a mostly happy child with an engaging smile and an inquiring mind. From time to time, though, she displayed puzzling signs of irrationality and unreasonableness.
By way of example, when she was about 18 months old she created quite a stir in our neighborhood. I had collected her from kindergarten one lunch time, and while easing the car back into traffic, for no apparent reason, she began to cry. During the fifteen-minute journey back to our house, her cries built up to a bloodcurdling crescendo, as if she was being seriously attacked. Neighbors ran out of their houses to assist, and once we had removed her from the car, she just lay screaming, prostate on the pavement. For a good half an hour, absolutely nothing would console her and only once she had become completely spent did her screams finally end. Within twenty minutes, she was back to her normal self, interacting as though nothing had happened.
On another occasion when she was four years old, she accidentally spilt a flask of very hot water over herself. Her shrieks of pain transformed into anguished screaming, not because she was burning, but because she didn’t want to expose her nipples to everyone present.
When she was eight, her best friend’s family had invited her to join them for a celebratory birthday dinner. At first, Jen assumed that she could go wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. But because this was going to be held at an upscale restaurant, and Jenny was the only friend who had been invited,I took out her special occasion dress – a beautiful tartan from the UK. As we were getting ready to leave, she showed up wearing it with a large hold she’d cut right in the center so there would be no other choice but for her to go in her everyday clothes.
It came as a shock when shortly after she turned thirteen, Jenny claimed that she was the family outcast. She was convinced she had been swapped in the hospital as a baby because she felt she had never belonged to our family.
She also confessed to having secretly felt suicidal for most of her life, and that when she was about seven, she had tried whilst standing in front of her mirror, to choke herself to death with her hands. Friends and family were equally surprised with this revelation, as Jen mostly appeared to be a happy child.
As a teenager, after several suicide attempts and two sessions in rehab, she continued to battle with friends’ verbal slights and their perceived insensitive actions, which had the capacity to shift her into a dark place emotionally. At this time her eating disorder kicked in, and overall her schoolwork took a nosedive, and it was very apparent that her self-worth and sense of purpose were severely compromised.
At 13, Jen was expelled from rehab hospital for “bad behavior” after attempting to overdose and cut her wrists in the gardens outside her ward. She and two other adolescent patients subsequently ran away into the streets of Johannesburg. We lost her for thirty hours straight, and I feared that we would never see or hear of her again. She was eventually found locked in a house not too far away from the place they had run away from. Those thirty very long hours felt like the end of the world. Nobody really knows what was happening deep inside her.
I once suggested to Jenny that she was taking life too seriously and that she should try to take her friends’ actions more lightly and embrace these happenings as being a part of life and that she had the ability to choose to feel differently.
Her answer was, “But Mum, everyone is presuming that I feel like everyone else. This is the way I feel, and it is very real to me. How and what everyone else feels and how they cope does not help me.”
Now it was I who nobody understood. I realized that everyone who knew me had no idea what depth of pain I was feeling. Instead, there was an air of acceptance from them, a silent expectation, a general message in body and word that after this amount of time, I should have suitably moved on. And it was this lack of understanding from the people around me that paralyzed me further with overwhelm.
Yes, at this second anniversary mark, my emotional pain barometer had plummeted to an all-time low.
While in this state, I had nonetheless planned to travel to take a week’s break with my brother where he lived in Oxford. We had everything planned down to the detail of texting him from the train to let him know when I was close to arriving at the station.
But I had had a counter-plan – and this one I kept to myself. I had decided that living this emotional pain was more than I could bear and so I made a plan to end my life.
I’d found a town and bed and breakfast and train route in the opposite direction, but didn’t book as I didn’t want to leave a trail where my loved ones could find me. I wanted to go somewhere far away. I wanted to spare them … I wanted to just disappear.
After Jen’s death I had dealt with my marriage ending and my youngest daughter choosing to live with her Dad, and I had been trying with all my might to focus on picking up the millions of broken pieces that now made up my life, and place them together to live a ‘normal’ life once again. I’d gotten to a point where I believed it was an impossible task. Part of my overwhelm was that I had not anticipated a nosedive in my grieving two years on. It was daunting. Feeling isolated and alone, my days became blurred and I shuffled through the hours like an automated puppet.
On the eve of my departure whilst packing my bags, I unexpectedly received a phone call from my brother. For some reason, he chose to call me the night before to confirm my arrival time. It was this phone call that kicked me out of my initial focus and which enabled me to process that these challenging circumstances could change. I re-planned my train route and arrived safely at my brother’s flat.
A few days later while sitting in meditation, I began observing the emotional pain that had me almost leave this world. In the flash of a moment, I gained deeper clarity … a startling understanding of the reasonableness of why Jen had killed herself.
Even though in my logical mind I could acknowledge the unreasonableness by my and society’s judgment of her killing herself, I equally felt a heart-opening understanding of the unreasonableness, for Jenny, of living a long life. I was able to understand that Jenny’s uniqueness in deciding to leave this planet was a reasonable decision for her and that she he had her own unique reasons.
Post-Jenny and right up to and beyond this lowest point, I had spent much time working on myself through meditating, facilitating intuitive workshops and at the same time, spending time equilibrating my deep grief and loss. I consistently worked through a fourteen column equilibrating chart about my memory of Jenny, which opened up a deeper understanding of that memory.
This balancing process was hard work. I called it my daily mental, emotional and spiritual gym. Some days it felt impossible and on other days it flowed. I was driven by the determination that I just wasn’t going to live the rest of my life trapped in a deep black imprisoning emotional hole.
With time, I noticed that my reaction to overwhelming situations shifted in big ways. I found that whenever challenged, I was able to more spontaneously speak from my heart– to unearth a wisdom within me I had known was there before but could not quite fathom and which now naturally flowed out from me from deep within my soul.
I became able to shift the story I had in my head that my life was dreadful– as much as Jenny’s death has been a deep loss, it has also specially led me to live my life on purpose, something I had been searching to do for all my adult years.
With new clarity, I saw that Jen danced to the beat of her own drum and that leaving the planet was about transforming into something else. That seemingly coincidental happening with a social worker named ‘Jenny’ on my lawn was an initial example of my experiencing her in many new ways.
I had always understood and wanted to believe in the connection with loved ones after they die. Since Jenny’s passing, both myself and others have received so many lucid dreams, significant numbers, unusual rainbows at poignant times and other signs of connection that my faith in the universe and it’s workings has stepped into a place of knowing . I now understand that her energy had never left but had re-formed in new ways.
As I sit at my desk today writing this heartfelt story, I acknowledge that working through the loss of my child is and always will be a life-time process. At the same time, I am equally as thankful for the powerful once hidden gifts that I now have and work with in my life BECAUSE of this loss. Every day I wake up with a sense of purpose – living my life on purpose– assisting people around the globe to work through their challenges and traumas with the application of equilibration, and I am deeply grateful for the legacy that all this will leave behind long after I am gone.