Letter to Jenny

January 17, 2012 will forever be branded on my heart with joy and sorrow. My precious son celebrated his 7th birthday that day; it was a day that we didn’t know if he’d be alive to celebrate. In the midst of our joyous celebration, I got the phone call that a beloved student took her own life; all I could do was scream in my shock and sorrow. Jenny was my student for three years. She was the last child of four siblings I had taught. I love Jenny and her family; she had become part of my own.

Yet, I never saw her pain. How could I have missed it? Every day I look at my students for signs of depression, and I never saw it in Jenny. She was the child who would scan the room before I did to see who needed a hug or a word of encouragement. Truthfully, Jenny got to them before I did. I never worried about Jenny. She even called herself Jubilant Jenny in our Journalism name game. Now, I see, I should have been worried. I should worry about all of my students, especially now. Jenny’s closest friends are still suffering, but in silence now. They think everyone has forgotten her, but no one has. We’re just not talking about it.

I’m ending the silence. I want my students to know I am suffering. I can’t understand why a straight-A student, a varsity soccer player, a girl on track for the Air Force Academy would feel her life was not worth living. Why didn’t she talk to me or anyone about her pain and her fears?

If Jenny would have blessed me with sharing her pain, this is what I would have said to her.

Dear Jubilant Jenny,

It’s okay that you’re having an off day today. We all have them. Sometimes everything just feels like it’s going in the wrong direction. But it’s only one day. Tomorrow will be better. You may have another bad day, but that’s what life is. We have our ups and our downs, but you can choose to do something about those days.

You can choose to let people in. Choose people who will really listen to you; people you can trust, like your parents, your siblings, a teacher, or a friend. Tell them how you are feeling so they can walk with you through the dark places and hold your hand when you’re scared. You don’t need to be alone.

You can choose to write about your feelings. You can acknowledge your pain, but don’t stay there. Put more emphasis on the good things in your life. Count your blessings! It’s cliché, I know, but I do it every day. Trust me, it helps. Write about your family, your friends, and your accomplishments. Who has influenced you? Who makes you smile? Think about all the people who have touched your life in a positive way, and remind yourself how blessed you are to be alive.

Then write about all the people you influence. Your presence is felt everywhere you go. How would those people feel if you were no longer around? If for one second you think it won’t affect them, think about how you would feel if any of those people were suddenly gone. That’s how all of us will feel. Your absence will hurt. Your smile will be missed. Your friends will be lost without you. Your teachers will feel like failures. Your siblings will be missing part of themselves. Your parents’ hearts will be broken. Convince yourself through your writing that you matter. You have to be your own best friend and remind yourself that your presence in this world is necessary to every life that you have come in contact with.

I know at times you feel like you don’t really have friends; that they are just people you know. But that’s not true. People can get wrapped up in their own problems sometimes; it’s not because they don’t care about you. You have to let people know you need someone to listen to you. That’s how we build relationships: We share with and listen to each other. Suffering in silence isolates us. When you are depressed you need to feel the presence of other people. Let them hear your pain. You cannot pretend to be jubilant to protect others from your pain. If you keep it to yourself, we will be angry with you for not telling us, so we could help you, and we don’t want to be angry with you, Jenny. We want to love you. We want to help you.

Or, you may feel that no one will understand you, so you intentionally keep your distance. High school can be hard. Everyone is trying to fit in, to find a place to belong. You are not alone with those feelings. We have all felt that way at some time in our lives. I felt that way when I was in high school. Sometimes I still feel that way. It does get easier when you get older. You’ll find people who have similar interests, and, believe it or not, most people mature rather nicely.

It can also be hard dealing with the indifference in others, or the joy some people feel at others’ pain. There will always be mean people in the world. But you have choices there as well. You can ignore them, be nice to them, or stand up for yourself and others; then, you can hope they eventually get a clue. More likely than not, those mean people need a friend, just like you do. You turn your loneliness inward and think of hurting yourself; they turn their loneliness outward and try to hurt others. Everyone needs love and compassion. You can help by being an instrument of healing to others because you will understand their pain.

That’s what I want to be, an instrument of healing. I understand your pain because I’ve been there. I’ve struggled with depression all my life. I know that whatever you are going through, you can get through it and things will get better, because it did for me. Even difficult and painful things won’t always be difficult and painful. You’ll get through it and be stronger the next time. You also need to be your own best friend and take care of and treat yourself the way you wish or want other people to take care of and treat you. It took me a long time to learn that, but it has made all my relationships better, including the one with myself.

When you start questioning your self-worth, when it’s easier to believe that you don’t matter instead of believing that you are amazing, remember you are important because you are a living, breathing person on this earth. End of story. You don’t have to do anything special beyond that. You matter because you are you.

How do I know this to be true? Because I doubted my self-worth constantly and still battle with it sometimes. I think it comes from being raised by an abusive, alcoholic father. It got in my head that if my own father couldn’t love me, I must be unlovable. I know now that my dad had his own demons he had to deal with, and it had nothing to do with me being unlovable. But as a child, I couldn’t understand that.

Now, I have so much to offer the people and children in my life because I experienced that pain. I turned it around and made it work for me, not against me. I can tell when my students need someone to talk to because I’ve been there. I can usually see and feel their pain.

Right now, I hope you think I’m strong. I want you to respect me for how I’ve overcome all of my obstacles to become the successful person I am. I want you to see how amazing I am, because that’s my point. You can be, too! Trust me, please! I felt how you feel when I was in high school. It got better in college. And it continues to get better all the time. I love who I’ve become. I love what I’ve accomplished with my life. I love how I have helped people with their education and their spiritual and mental wellbeing.

The fact that you always want to help me and others feel better tells me you have that strength and desire inside of you to help others, but first you have to stick it out. You will only cause a tremendous amount of pain if you don’t.

The end of your life will be a tragedy. You have so much to live for!

Thank you, Jenny, for talking to me about your depression. I’m ALWAYS here for you! Never forget that! By letting me help you with your pain, you allow me to heal my own pain. It makes me feel that my past has helped your future. Thank you for trusting me. Thank you for reaching out to me. You are more than your depression, Jenny. You are a kind, intelligent person who has so much to offer the world, just because you are you.

So, please, Jenny, my dear student, child, friend, family member, stranger, do not end the beautiful life you have been blessed with. There is no one else in this world like you! You will rob the world of the necessity of you. No one can replace you!

Your loving teacher, friend, family member, stranger,

Pauline Hawkins

Unfortunately, it is too late for Jenny. I hope it’s not too late for someone else who happens to read this letter. I don’t want to lose another child, friend, family member, or stranger to the pain of hopelessness. Who else is struggling in silence and putting on a jubilant face to mask the pain?

Letters

Video: Eppic is a former student of mine. My Journalism students and I submitted a clip for his video “Consider This Goodbye”

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14 Responses to Letter to Jenny

  1. Erin says:

    Your students are so lucky to have you. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  2. Kassidi Warnock says:

    While I was reading this.. it made me remember Krissy and all the feelings of confusion I had after she was gone. Not knowing, not realizing the pain that people are going through everyday and not knowing how to help. I hope that others who may be hurting read this, or writing like it, that bring them back. I wish that Krissy could be celebrating her college graduation this year, as many of us are all these years later. Thank you for offering your experiences for others. I hope everything is going well with you and your family 🙂

    • Pauline says:

      Thank you, Kassidi. My hope is that people who need to read this letter will. Feel free to pass it around. I thought of Krissy, too. I’m saddened by the number of people who give up. That’s why I wrote this. Why can’t they see how vital they are to the people around them–to the world? I don’t want to lose another person to suicide. I don’t know what else to do except share my heart through writing.

  3. Jessie says:

    I just saw this. I think your letter is awesome. Depression isn’t so much about people having a chip on their shoulders or being miserable all the time and it’s easy for people to think that it is. Sometimes if a person acts happy that is their way of protecting the people that they love but then they hate themselves even more for being fake. There is a fear of reaching out for help, and everything that you said is what needs to be heard. Writing is very helpful. You are 100% correct about that. I write before I make any rash decisions in my life because that is the best way for a person to sort out their thoughts. I am very passionate about suicide awareness and I’m sorry that you had to experience this loss. I’m sorry for anyone who has to lose someone they love and especially if they lose them to suicide. It takes a lot of work to get passed that kind of depression or suicidal tendancies. Some people deal with them their entire lives, sometimes it’s just day by day and that is very frustrating because it feels like you aren’t getting anywhere but you really are. Teenagers are particularly at risk because they can’t grasp that things change in life, and when you tell them as an adult they are likely to not believe you because that is the way their brains are wired. Teens need so much support in their lives and it’s great that you are looking. I love where you said that you walk in and you are looking around your classroom for kids who may be having a bad day. Honestly sometimes that’s enough just to encourage someone enough to get the help that they need. One thing people need to hear is that they aren’t as weak as they sometimes make themselves out to be. Every single one of us has that inner strength and just needs to push and push until it comes out and shines.
    I still struggle with things sometimes, only now I know it’s worth it. It’s always worth it. I’m sorry your student never came to you. I hope others do. I hope people stop condemning suicide as an act of stupidity or cowardice and instead see that we need to break down the walls so people are no longer afraid to say that they are in pain. I believe that you are helping to break down those walls and that is a great thing to do in memory of this person that you lost.

  4. Anne says:

    YOU are one of the strongest people I know Pauline.
    I am so glad that you came “home” for our reunion and we picked up our friendship from high school. I am so grateful that Ian will be able to celebrate many more birthdays, and you and your family & friends can enjoy his milestones for years to come. I love seeing him in his Cub Scout uniform!
    I am so proud to call you my friend. You are such an inspiration to so many of your students.
    I am so sorry that Jenny was too afraid to reach out to you, or anyone else that could have helped her see, that yes! life does get better. But the ones who are in this terrible pain need to want to get better. I did. and I am so grateful that I will be able to tell my story someday.
    Here is a book that I highly recommend you share with your students: Life Inspite of Me, by Kristen Jane Anderson. I met her last year, 2 weeks before she got married, and she recently had a baby! She can help you spread the word to your circle of influence through her story.
    http://bit.ly/bbuI4m
    Love you!
    ~Anne

  5. Josh Taft says:

    Thanks, I’m glad you wrote this. I miss Jenny too.

  6. C Stratton says:

    Wow- Very necessary read. THIS should be posted on a billboard! There is such a need… Thank you for sharing. Hoping to help out there.. Working on it!! So very sorry for the great loss…

  7. Hope Scott says:

    Mrs. Hawkins,
    That was outstanding! Such a blessing you are to all of us as your students:). I wish Gabe could have seen this. :/ Thank you for writing this. 🙂

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