by Beth Saadati
Told through Jenna’s eyes. Literary license was taken with the point of view.
The details about her graduation day, however, are all true.
I peek through heaven’s portal. Though a lifetime separates me from family and friends, the veil between heaven and earth is thinner than I’d thought.
Classmates and their families enter the arena downtown. It’s where, in kindergarten, I sat in the upper deck beside Mom and laughed, amazed, as we watched the circus perform.
This morning that same arena hosts a ceremony I should be at.
Today I graduate from high school—three and a half years after I took my last breath.
The band I was once part of plays “Don’t Stop Believin’,” while Southside High’s principal leads my grandpa, parents, sister and brother to front-row seats. A moment later Mr. Brooks introduces Mom and Dad to their ROTC escort—an ESCORT—named Brandon. I’ll bet they hadn't expected that.
I love seeing them shown honor. The reason for it is what I hate.
Mom fixes her sight on my empty chair marked by a white bow and the cap and gown I’ll never wear. Then “Pomp and Circumstance” commences, and my classmates file by. I look twice. They’ve changed from 14-year-old teens into young women and men.
As Delia, one of my favorite school friends, walks past, she notices Mom, smiles big, and waves. Thankful, I want to hug her for doing what I no longer can.
Next come the opening comments, the ACT word of the day. Resiliency: being capable of recovering from or adjusting easily to misfortune or change. Dad lowers his head. It hurts to see. Resiliency is what Dad wanted for me. It’s what Mom and he now need.
Afterwards, Southside’s chorus sings “I Was Here.” And I'm reminded again.
Katie, a middle-school friend—does she remember the assigned project we did?—delivers the valedictory address. Another friend, Lilly, gives the salutatory speech.
“To Lauryn and Jenna,” she says, “thank you for loving us. We’re walking the stage with you today.”
Why did I think it didn’t matter if I left? My fellow students haven’t forgotten. I’m still missed.
Mom keeps glancing at my peers in their black gowns adorned with honor cords, medals, and the white International Baccalaureate stole I would have put on. Every few seconds she brushes away tears as she pictures the place where I ought to be.
A couple minutes later Brandon motions to my parents. They follow him around the back of the stage, climb the steps to the platform, and wait. Lauryn’s name is called. Then mine. Mom walks toward Mr. Brooks. With compassion in his eyes, he holds out an honorary diploma that bears my name.
“Thank you,” she whispers. It’s all she can say.
Mom and Dad face the photographer and try to force a grin. A sad, close-lipped smile is the best they can give. Mine, on the other hand, would have lit up the room. If only I could somehow step back in.
As they return to their seats, my classmates begin their procession across the stage. Mom is trembling. Though this time it’s noticeably less, I’ve seen it happen to her twice before—at my funeral and on the night of my death.
Two high school peers whose words had cut to my core stand in line—whose words I now know were lies. The truth is I was pretty. I was intelligent. I had friends who cared.
I was enough.
Mom can’t stop watching as their names are announced. Each one halts twice for a photograph, smiling as if nothing has changed in their world. They pass in front of Mom without meeting her gaze while her lips mouth I choose to forgive. Again. And again. And again.
Finally the alphabet’s end nears—“S” always follows “R”—and one name, mine, is left unsaid.
In a few minutes the assistant superintendent speaks those long-awaited words: “Graduates, you may move your tassels.” My classmates toss their caps and let out a happy shout. And, once more, the band plays its songs.
If I had paraded by in the recessional, I would have sent my parents another smile and given my siblings a victory sign. Instead, I’m left indebted to the high school teachers I most adored. To my youth group leader, Oliver—technically Mr. Wong—who clasps Mom’s hand. To Mr. Paddenburg, who stops to hug her in a tight embrace that says more than any words can. Then Mr. Brooks transfers my tassel to Mom, along with the empty chair’s white rose.
Quietly weaving their way through throngs of jubilant, selfie-snapping folks, my family carries my keepsakes—the honorary diploma, program, tassel, and rose. But it’s what they don’t have that causes me to cry. They’re leaving without their graduate. They’re returning home one family member short.
They’re done journeying through my last three high school years, well-aware of the classes, school dances, AP tests, and social gatherings that I wasn't at. They’ll never know which college I would have attended. What my revised manuscript would have looked like when I published my book. Whom I might have married. Whether I would have birthed a daughter or son.
From this point on, they won’t know what milestones I would have reached. Or when.
Neither will I.
I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted to stop the pain. My life on earth shouldn’t have ended this way.
It’s said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Had I known then what I now do, I’d still be here. Telling and writing stories. Holding the diploma I'd earned. Posting graduation photos to my Facebook page. Celebrating with friends and anticipating life’s next adventure, ready to love and serve, laugh and live.
Instead of missing out on all that should—and would—have been.
I can barely read through the tears, Beth. I'm thankful as I imagine Jesus standing by Jenna's side as she watched her graduation, no doubt smiling, and thanking Him for you, her family, and friends.ReplyDelete
Praying for you, sweet friend.
Thank you, Cathy. What a precious picture. I imagined that too. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, right?Delete
Sending you a hug sweet Beth. Beautifully written from your heart. I know tears were dropped on the keyboard as you wrote. They are on mine as well as I read at my computer. Again . . . another hug your way. Prayers continued for you and your family.ReplyDelete
Yes, Beth. A lot of tears with this one.Delete
Thank you for remembering with me. It was so good to see you at Blue Ridge. Hugs sent your way too.
This took my breath away, Beth. I can only write a heartfelt thanks for sharing your heart as tears well in my eyes. I pray that God would continue to grant healing as you pass another milestone.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Lyneta. It's a perfect prayer. I'm grateful for you.Delete
My heart breaks. I remember the feelings ... the what if's.ReplyDelete
Your words and your daughter's life matter--they all matter.
Love you, my friend. Robin Luftig
So true. The not knowing is hard.Delete
Talking with you at Blue Ridge was priceless. Thanks for asking the hard questions. It was good to feel understood. Much love to you too, Robin.
Beth, there are no words to compliment yours. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Sharron, for reading and saying this.Delete
Beth, I am so sorry for your loss. I will pray for you. My heart is with you...I worked with suicidal adolescents, an R.N. on the psychiatric and addiction units. And yet, I understand only in part. You, Jenna's mother, are the only one who really knows this particular struggle. May the Lord embrace you with His loving presence and bring you peace. Carol A. CastagnaDelete
Thank you, Carol, for your kind words and your prayers. And for what you do. Your work is critical, important, and good.Delete
Again the rawness of loss, supported by grace, moves me beyond words. Hugs my sweet courageous friend. And thank you for bringing us into your reality and heart. What a beautiful daughter!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Elaine, for your willingness to go to that emotional place with me once again. I'm honored to know you read the posts. Sending hugs to you too.Delete
This is beautiful. So sorry you had to go through this. God Bless you and your family as you remember your beautiful Jenna.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Deanna, for this.Delete
Beth, you are so brave.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Ellen. I don't feel brave. More healing comes, though, when I run toward the hurt--and let God meet me in it--than when I run from it.Delete
Beth, as always, beautiful beautiful words. Tears fall and my heart physically hurts knowing the depth of your loss. Your writings about Jenna give me courage to hold on when I start believing the lies. Sending you my thanks and my love.ReplyDelete
This, from you, means so much. You encourage me. Thank you, Karen. I've thought of you several times recently. Keep holding on. You're very, very loved.Delete
Oh, Beth, I’m so, so sorry. Thank you for sharing. What a beautiful way for Southside friends, teachers, administrators to remember Jenna. I love you, dear friend!ReplyDelete
Thank you for these words. And, yes, the way they remembered and reached out was beautiful.Delete
Beth - I've kept up with your blog through Julie. My heart aches for you and the family. I know she's standing with Jesus but that still doesn't make it easier for those that loved her and are living daily without her presence. Hugs to you. Patty BeattyReplyDelete
It's good to hear from you, Patty. Thanks for reading, for writing, for caring. What you say is true. Sending hugs from my family to yours.Delete
Wow, Beth. I'm obviously far away and totally out of the loop, but also completely in shock and saddened by this! I remember her as a young child in church with the best smile. I can't fathom what you're enduring, but thank you for your courage in sharing this beautiful post. Much love to you and the rest of your family. -Katti PowellReplyDelete
I loved hearing the memory of Jenna that you shared. Thank you, Katti, for that and your other kind words. It's good to hear from you.Delete
Beth - Thank you for sharing your daughter with us. And for sharing the deep and raw pain of your loss. I pray and am confident, that you find our God to be more than enough.ReplyDelete
You're welcome, Diane. Thanks for reading and allowing me to share. What you say is true. God has been faithful, and He has been here.Delete
Beth, my heart breaks for you. Yet, you have a quiet strength that can only come from God. You''re in my prayers. I'm here whenever you need me.ReplyDelete
And yes, I cried the whole way through. It's beautiful. As was Jenna....
When I rewrote the post in Jenna's point of view, I cried a lot too. But, somehow, that way seemed more real, more right. Thank you, Mary, for remembering Jenna's graduation and leaving a phone message the other night. I love and appreciate you.Delete
Beth, I love you and I hate that you have to go through this pain. You are an amazing woman and Mom and I pray that each day God will help the hurt you feel to lessen.ReplyDelete
Peggy, thank you. I receive that. :)Delete
No words are adequate. Praying for you, my friend. Thank you for sharing.. It may save another family for going what you must endure.ReplyDelete
You're welcome. That's why I share even though, by nature, I'm more private and quiet. Your encouragement means a lot.Delete
Beth, I am SO sorry for your pain and all that accompanies it right now. What a rough time this must be especially. Will pray for you as you continue to walk through this journey that you never imagined you'd take.ReplyDelete
It's been a very difficult season, but it's still laced with unsought beauty and joy--enough to get me through. Thank you, Ellen, for your prayers.Delete
Yeah... over here reading through tears too. That girl of yours is a beautiful kind of tender and intelligent. Today, I'm thankful for her. And you.ReplyDelete
Yes, Jenna was. And is. You make me smile, Mary. I love you, sweet friend.Delete
Mrs. Beth, I am not acquainted with your family...nor can I really commiserate with you in your pain and your loss...but my heart goes out to you and your family. I also wanted to thank you for writing this...I am 19 years old, and I have been dealing with depression and fighting against suicidal darkness for...five, almost six, years...A friend of mine sent me a link to this post and I didn't get very far into before I started bawling...like ugly crying and then some...there have been so many times recently where in I've wanted to just let go of life and be done. To just leave earth and be home in heaven...But you've helped me remember that despite the pain, and even through the pain, God has a plan for our lives...and that He's calling us...me forward. Telling me that it'll be okay and that He's got me...Thank you for your raw vulnerability and emotion. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for touching my heart.ReplyDelete
"You're so welcome," seems inadequate, but, really, you are. Wording Jenna's story is hard. It leaves me emotionally drained--maybe because seeing it in print and sharing it with "the world" makes the daily reality of Jenna's absence that much more real. It's hard to explain except to say that it hurts something terrible. From the first post, however, I've said writing and sharing the story would be worth the cost even if it made a difference to only one person. That was my thought when I read your comment. Telling the story has been worth it for you.Delete
Depression is a real and hard fight; you've held on for a long time. Please don't stop. You're meant to be here. You articulated the reasons why very well. I'm afraid anything I add will sound cliche, even though these past three years I've realized it's not.
May you find strength when you're tempted to give up. May you see light when everything looks dark. May you remember there's hope and love and goodness around you when it feels like there's none. May you discover there's enough for one more day, because God really is here with us. You're very loved, and your life, here, is worth much.
Your transparent words made a difference in my life today and will in the days to come. They're beside me now as I work on the book. Thank you...both for this gift and for you.
Beth, my tears are for your continued grief. I could easily see the POV.ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing. Prayers for you.
Thank you, Daphne. Your words are good. I'm grateful for you.Delete
Beth, you are an inspiration and a testimony to God's unfailing love, and your devotion to Him. The words "I'm Sorry" don't feel like they are enough to express the emotions and feelings that are going thru my mind, and my heart. It's times like this that make it easier for me to empathize with the thoughts and feelings of Jenna, I've been there. Than to know what to say for you and your family, but "I am sorry", and I love you all so much. May God bless you and keep you close during these times. Sending lots of love and prayers to you all.ReplyDelete
Understood, Heather. Many times "I'm sorry" or "Thank you" are all I have to offer. But, when there really are no words, that communicates a lot.Delete
Your comment here is beautiful. "I've been there." How powerful. I think most of us have.
Thanks so much for taking time to write. My family loves and treasures yours too.
No words, Beth.
It was so good to be able to laugh with your family at Alycia's home on Memorial Day knowing I'd be attending Jenna's graduation the following morning. Friendship is a gift. Thank you, Warren.Delete
Beth, this story needs to be read by all teenagers. If a school has a newspaper or news letter, this needs to be in it. It shows powerfully the consequences of actions. Teens don't think about consequences. Please send this out to teens, i.e.English teachers read it in class. You are a beautiful person who can wield powerful truths.ReplyDelete
Elizabeth, that's my hope, too, as I write--that the story/message would impact many and teens would have an opportunity to hear it. Thanks for your input and encouragement.Delete