Eulogy for Daughter
I would like to thank you all for coming to Arlyn's funeral. I am truly touched that you care enough to show your support for us and your respect for Arlyn this way.
During the past few days, many of our friends and family have come to our home to show their love for us and for Arlyn. I have been especially moved by the fact so many of her teachers and principals have shown up and cried with us. I am also touched by the love her young friends had for her. Our memories of this sad time in our lives will therefore not all be bad.
But now, I would like to talk with you a little about my daughter
, Arlyn Maria Johnson, who was born on Wednesday January 12, 1980 at Archbold Memorial Hospital in Thomasville, the most beautiful little girl I had ever seen.
On Wednesday, August 7th, Arlyn ate lunch at home, acting normally. I noticed she didn't eat a lot, but it was no big deal
. Afterwards, she showed us a dress she had bought, presumably to wear in Misty Smith's wedding. Then, Arlyn said she wanted to go visit friends and left the house.
A few minutes later, 3 miles from our home, Arlyn held a rifle to her head and pulled the trigger. She left no note.
How does a child who seemed to have everything going for her end up this way?
Arlyn had a family that loved her infinitely. She was beautiful and intelligent; her sense of humor was remarkable. Arlyn was kind, a friend to anyone who would let her into his or her life. She had a part-time job as a waitress at Quincy's, which she enjoyed.
Arlyn had accepted admission to Tulane University in New Orleans
and the week before she died, she shared her schedule of fall courses with me enthusiastically. I reviewed these facts over and over in my mind, trying to discover why she would not see how lucky she was, but I could not find an answer.
From the time she was a little girl, Arlyn has brought joy and laughter into the lives of others. When she was little, she sucked her thumb. She was nurturing; she carried her teddy bear with her everywhere. One of her greatest pleasures was dressing up in beautiful long dresses; she dreamed of being Miss America one day. Arlyn and her friend, Lydia Cross, often put on plays for us on the stage in our living room.
Arlyn had a voice that was a gift from God; she loved to sing. When she sang Amazing Grace, it could bring tears to your eyes. When she sang Wind Beneath My Wings, you could feel her soar. The words, "You are my hero" are still ringing in my ears. One day, she told me, "Mom, when I sing that song, I always think of you."
When Arlyn was 12, I remember her goal was to grow up, finish college, find a husband, and build a house in our back yard with a covered walk way to our door, so we could be together forever.
At home, Arlyn was loved unconditionally. She knew she was safe. In the real world, however, Arlyn did not always fare as well. I remember her crying when she was very little, hurting because other little boys and girls would insult her, criticize her, make fun of her. When she got in middle school, she tried desperately to conform, but all she seemed to receive was rejection from her peers. Arlyn was very lonely.
In spite of any personal problems, Arlyn was an outstanding student. She loved school more than anyone I have ever known. The teachers she respected the most were those who managed to challenge her mind.
In 9th grade, she decided she wanted to be valedictorian, even though there were quite a few other students ahead of her in the ratings at that time. She started the climb, and soon found herself in first place. All through 10th and 11th grades, Arlyn was number 1.
In her senior year, her behavior became more out of character. She marched to the beat of a different drummer, and challenged the system in minor ways. She learned a hard lesson; a minor lapse in maturity can result in consequences much more powerful than the offense. Because of that, her grades plummeted, and she lost the drive to excel. When she graduated, she was number 6.
At some point, she reconciled herself to the fact that she was different from her classmates, so she decided to assume that role of being unique with enthusiasm.
In high school, her reputation for dressing in ways no one would expect was wide-spread. In most classes, the students always knew to expect the unexpected from Arlyn, but the truth was that it was a cover. My child was hurting inside, and each day, the feeling of loneliness she experienced added another layer to the pain.
During the past few days, Ronnie and I have reviewed our lives with our daughter, and searched to discover what went wrong. I have felt nothing except an ache inside me, a pain so excruciating that I began to wish for death myself. How could I live when my child, the beautiful angel I brought into the world, took a violent way to end her life? Why would I want to?
I have not slept since Arlyn's death. Last night, I prayed for sleep, but it did not come. About three o'clock in the morning, I got up and went into Arlyn's room. I lay down on her bed and closed my eyes. Waiting. Hoping. Feeling nothing except that piercing pain in my heart and soul.
After I lay there a while, I started talking out loud to Arlyn. I asked her why she had not understood that we would have helped her with her problems. I asked her why she had not let us know she was upset. I asked her why she shot herself, and I begged her to give me some answers. I reminded her how much her dad and I loved her, and told her we were dying inside.
A minute later, the pain inside me began to grow sharper and it mushroomed. I hurt so badly I thought I was dying, and I began to wail and sob. I wanted to die, to be with Arlyn and to end my grief.
But then, along with the hurting, I felt a soothing flow of energy spread through my body. The answers to my questions were suddenly clear to me, and I knew Arlyn's spirit had joined mine.
Suddenly, everything stopped hurting, and I knew Arlyn was at peace. For the first time in a long time. My child was no longer hurting.
Ronnie came into the room a while later, looking for me. He lay down and began to tell me more about a conversation he had recently had with Arlyn. She had admitted to him several things we were previously unaware of. We were shocked. We discussed what he had learned, along with the new insights into our daughter we had gleaned from reading her private writings these past few days, and now, we have pieced together the puzzle.
What happens to change a child who seems to feel good about herself into one whose sole purpose in life is to destroy herself? I think I know what happened to Arlyn, and I am going to share my feelings with you in hopes you will be able to gain something positive from this.
Of course, keep in mind that this is a simplified version, and there may be holes in it. This is only my opinion.
Several years back, Arlyn was a sweet, innocent little girl who became infatuated with a boy who lived in the area. She went out on a date with him, and he raped her.
Several months after it had happened, Arlyn had told me she had been sexually intimate with this boy, but she insisted he had not raped her. I took my child to be tested for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. That was traumatic for both of us. It was only in her talk with her father two weeks ago that she admitted she had not told us the truth, that the young man had raped her.
Apparently, being raped by a boy she cared for was the beginning of the end for my child. From then on, Arlyn was not herself. She began to smoke pot, and she began to fantasize about death. She was out to destroy herself.
Adding a psychological trauma like sexual violence to the life of a young, vulnerable little girl who was already dying within herself negatively could only result in more pain than before. Arlyn drank some to escape the hurt, but it didn't go away. Arlyn tried to find solace in intimate relationships, but her hurting only increased.
Meanwhile, the pain Arlyn felt grew and grew. The harder she tried to find ways to end it, the more she suffered. Almost daily, she wrote in her journal of wanting to die. Arlyn tried to kill herself several times. We never knew. Then, on August 7, she resolved to succeed. She did. She ended the pain.
From my daughter's tragic death, I have tried to pull out something that would be of value. I want to find a way to turn this tragedy into something good.
First of all, we had tried many times to get Arlyn to go to a counselor, but she refused. She insisted she had no problems, that she could handle anything on her own. she insisted on being in control of herself. Furthermore, her opinion of psychologists was extremely negative. Sometimes, refusing help may be a first step in the journey to suicide.
When children are cruel to each other, they don't understand that they may be helping to add to the spiritual pain of another person. We, as the adults, must be good examples for our children.
I am concerned about the attitude of people today concerning the issue of sexual violence. When young boys feel they have the right to rape a girl they are dating, something is wrong. When rape victims suffer in silence, something is wrong.
Most of all, however, we must understand that sexual assault has long-lasting results. Victims of rape suffer from a variety of psychological consequences, immediately after the incident, and often for the rest of their lives. Sometimes the anger and shame and depression a victim feels turns within, eating away at life, causing intense pain and turmoil. Eventually, she may become desperate enough to end it all.
My daughter will never greet me with a smile and a hug again. I realize that to blame her death on one rape may seem a bit dramatic, but the reality is that rape is a violent, despicable act, and to minimize it does a disservice to every female victim. I honestly believe that if my daughter had not been raped, she would be alive today.
My daughter is gone forever, but the Arlyn I know did not die Wednesday. She died the day a local young man decided his desire for violent control mattered more than her life.
When children become teen-agers, they are overwhelmed by life. No matter how much we love them, we must understand that at times, they are going to suffer, and there is nothing we can do about it. All the love in the world is not always enough.
As for us, we have come to terms with the fact that Arlyn died a tragic death because we understand now that what she did was beyond our control. Dying as she did was Arlyn's choice, so we must respect that. She had friends and family who loved her, but she did not love herself.
We will mourn forever for the little girl we loved so, our angel, but we now understand that our daughter was hurting so deeply she could not go on, so she sought death as the only way to stop the pain.
When you think of Arlyn, remember the sweet little girl who had a hunger for knowledge and who wanted to help others. Remember her smiles and her laughter. Remember that she is now at peace.