Beliefnet

A story from Courage Does Not Always Roar. (Excerpted from Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Heather McNamara.)

"When you are going through hell, keep going."

- Winston Churchill

"Mom, can I go see Luke now?" Arlyn asked, jangling her car keys in her hand.

Hmmm ... I thought. Since when had Arlyn asked for permission to go anywhere? She was eighteen; she had graduated from high school two months before.

"Of course," I replied. Maybe Arlyn wasn't eager to leave home after all. I worried about whether she would be strong enough to survive the rough, scary world outside our safe nest in rural Georgia. Sometimes she accused me of being overprotective. In two weeks, however, Arlyn would leave for college, whether she was ready or not.

But I was wrong. Very wrong. She did not wait two weeks to leave; she left that very afternoon.

Arlyn said good-bye and drove out into the country. She turned down a long, deserted dirt road and parked her car near a stream. She got out, took an old hunting rifle out of the trunk, placed its barrel into her mouth and pulled the trigger.

Around 3:30, I answered a knock on my door. A man identified himself as a deputy and walked in. He strode across the room to a large photograph hanging on the wall. "Is this your daughter?" he asked, as he glanced from the picture to me.

"Yes," I replied proudly, too surprised to realize that this was not a social call. "That's Arlyn."

He stared at the picture for a moment, then sat down in a chair near the door. He described Arlyn's car and I confirmed it was hers. Then he said, "Your daughter is dead." Just like that.

I wrote and gave the eulogy for my daughter's funeral. For a week, I had no time to think, no time to feel, just time to exist. I functioned as a wooden puppet whose jerky movements are the result of strings pulled by an invisible hand. Others quietly kept order in my surroundings.

Then my family and friends left, and I could feel the silence. I called my child's name aloud, over and over. The telephone rang; I picked it up and waited to hear her voice on the other end, but it was never her. I checked her bedroom a thousand times, hoping to see her, but all I saw was her worn stuffed bunny lying on her pillow. Her clothes hung in her closet and her acceptance letter to the university lay on the floor. When I heard the back door open, I would smile. I expected Arlyn, with her guitar slung over her should, to dance in and give me a hug. When someone else appeared, my smile faded and my heart went numb.

I held on to the fantasy that Arlyn would return. I sat in her car, breathing in her lingering scent. I listened to her music, and I wore some of her clothes.

One night, I drank tea at her favorite coffee shop. A tall, slender brunette with long hair walked in; I leaned forward to get a better look. I stood up, ready to dash across the room and throw my arms around her; but when she moved, I saw that she was not Arlyn. At night, I lay in bed stiffly, corpse-like. I stared blankly at the ceiling hour upon hour, until the morning light slipped through the blinds. Then I would get up; or I wouldn't.

Every minute of the day, I struggled desperately to understand what had happened. Arlyn would never have killed herself. My daughter found joy in living; she laughed, learned and loved. Arlyn was in tune with nature and peace. How could she have taken her own life?

I ransacked her bedroom, searching for clues. In her closet, in dresser drawers, under her bed and on shelves, I found several journals and dozens of pages of her writing. I collected them all into one mountainous pile. Then I sat down to read.

"I keep asking myself why. For my entire life, all I have ever wanted was to be dead, to not be. Why?" she had written.

"I don't know why I didn't kill myself in fifth grade when I had the chance," she had also written. I shook my head, confused. The handwriting was Arlyn's but these words could not be hers.

I thought back to when Arlyn was in sixth grade, ten years ago. One day, the school held a talent contest. Arlyn signed up to sing. She picked out a long, green, Victorian-style dress to wear, and I tied a matching bow in her hair.

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