by Beth Saadati
January 2 started like any other day—a welcomed return to structure and routine after two weeks of winter break, with all the hope and promise that accompany a new year. At 3:45 I naively wove through the high school car line to pick up my freshman daughter, completely unaware the world I’d known was about to change.
In the backseat, Jenna chatted lightheartedly with a carpooled friend and recounted the day’s happenings. One awkward moment peppered the list—circulated talk about a guy with a girlfriend who’d asked Jenna to the I.B. Ball, even though she’d said no. “I always attract drama,” Jenna declared.
She laughed it off then asked how many friends had emailed to say they planned to come to a game night she’d host in three days. “You’re already up to fourteen,” I replied. She smiled, seemingly happy with the news.
On the afternoon of January 2nd, Jenna waved no red flags. Her arrival home was followed by a little time in her room, the customary change of clothes, a request to go to her “thinking spot” by the stream as long as she returned in time to finish AP world history homework before attending youth group. Without hesitation I agreed and returned to editing a friend’s novel—the chapter in which the villain appears. Unsuspecting fingers clicked laptop keys.
Time ticked by. Darkness replaced light. Jenna never arrived.
January 2 ended like no other night. A long search. A police interrogation. Friends thoughtfully picking up my two young kids. Sirens, flashing lights, yellow caution tape. Fear of abduction, fear unlike anything I’ve ever known, concluding with a friend’s gentle delivery of eleven terrible words: “Your daughter is dead. It appears she took her own life.”
Then a wailing of “no” that didn’t sound like my voice. A sleepless night. A suicide letter to read, a funeral to plan, painful decisions to make.
The morning before visitation, I sat in the funeral-home parking lot with a family friend—a friend who wanted to say his goodbye privately before the evening crowd came in. We sat in the Accent for over an hour, neither of us ready to see the beautiful girl who, in this world, would no longer smile, laugh, or open her eyes. He glanced towards my seat, said he’d known someone who’d walked through trauma and was never the same, said he didn’t want me to end up that way. I internalized the challenge, assured him I’d be okay.
I wanted to believe I could and would but don’t know that I am. Jesus’ words in John 10:10 still resonate: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Nevertheless, I live with unanswered questions. I fight to feel joy. A daughter’s decision to end her life completely changed mine.
It seems impossible that, as of tonight, seven years have passed. My middle daughter, now three years older than her big sister and best friend, is the first sibling to tour college campuses and drive. My youngest son, fourteen, has reached Jenna’s age. Similar in personality, I’m afraid when I see moments of teen struggle. I try hard to be brave.
Seven long years. I’ve lived without Jenna for half the time I delighted in having her here. People talk about the “new normal,” but I’m not convinced it exists. I miss her every day. Her absence still doesn’t seem right.
So, what to do with the replaying of memories, the emotions still surrounding one night? I don’t really know. But I believe the motto on the South Carolina license plate: While I Breathe, I Hope. I share the story I’m left to carry, despite fear people have grown weary of hearing. And, to anyone who will listen, I’ll continue to say, “Please stay. Hope remains.”
Beth is a high school English teacher, wife, and mom to two spectacular teens. She likes to spend time with family and friends, indulge in a Chicago-style mushroom pizza or homemade blackberry pie, and, with shameful inconsistency, lace up her Nikes for a long-distance run. In the aftermath of her beloved firstborn’s suicide, she shares story at bethsaadati.com to offer insight, understanding, and hope—with those who weather the storms of suicidal thoughts and suicide loss…and with those who simply know how bittersweet life can sometimes be.