Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 17, 2013

Learning to live again after tragedy

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — During the 1980s when Jaletta Albright first appeared as a reporter on the channel 6 news in Bluefield, I recall thinking she was way too pretty to be a broadcast journalist, but then we met and I found her to be a genuine person ... a kindred spirit in a world without end.

When Jaletta and Alan Desmond met and married, it seemed only natural. They were as much different as they were alike and as much alike as they were different. It was a match made in Heaven, and their children — Julia and Jocelyn — appeared to be destined for the same future.

That part of reality came to a crashing halt just one year and two days ago. For a family who truly understands that 3:16 meant more than simply numbers on the tape beneath Tim Tebow’s eyes, 3/15/12 took on new meaning. On that date, they lost their beautiful daughter Jocelyn at the tender age of 17. John 3:16 says that God loved mankind so much that He gave His only son, so that those who believe in Him shall not die, but have life everlasting.

At the end of Jocelyn’s obituary, the family asked for donations to the Pacer Bullying Prevention Center or to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Although Jocelyn was beautiful, popular and loved by family and friends, she suffered through the kind of insensitive youth victimization that always cuts to the quick and takes no prisoners — bullying.

It’s not new. Haters have been around a long, long time and Jocelyn’s tragic death didn’t end bullying. Jaletta Desmond has, however, made it part of her personal mission to help people of all ages, genders, ethnicity, creeds and nationalities understand the consequences that can result from bullying.

As part of her ongoing efforts to combat bullying, Jaletta responded to nine out of 10 questions I sent her on Wednesday afternoon. Most parents — men and women — can’t imagine what the Desmond family has been through. Here are Jaletta’s responses.

1) What have you learned about yourself during the past year?

“I’ve learned that I can handle a lot more than I thought I could. But can I first say what I’ve learned about other people? The capacity people have to love and support and just be there for other people in’s been amazing. This is painful and overwhelming and it could cause people to scatter, avoid you, but we’ve, I’ve learned that people from various parts of our lives have amazing strength to draw near and lift us up.

“A lot of those people say things about how “strong” they think I’ve been. Sometimes I am. Sometimes I’m not. I think my “strength” comes from years of work, actually. To be perfectly transparent and honest, that’s what my therapist says. I’ve been seeing a therapist almost since this happened.

“This is NOT something someone should deal with without professional help, in my opinion. My therapist says I manage this like someone who is three or four years down the road from the loss because of what I had coming into it, my skill set, I think she called it .... she listed my emotional intelligence, maturity, analytical skill set, my spiritual training and my faith, and my self-awareness and acceptance.

“I guess I had enough of all of that ... to serve me well in this terribly difficult year. I’m sharing this very personal information, what my therapist said, for a reason. I think it is important for people to develop the skill sets necessary to deal with challenges in life. I never, for one moment, imagined I would be dealing with something this traumatic or horrible. I had a very happy, well-adjusted life growing up and was trying to build that kind of life for my family.

“But the careful attention I’ve paid to my belief that we are all physical, emotional, mental and spiritual beings has been critical to my ability to manage this crisis. I’ve been a person who was self-accepting but also strives to improve. I’ve maintained balance in my life — working hard and playing hard, striving yet accepting, doing but also just “being.”

“I’ve always been a basically confident person, who had faith in myself and in my God and in the people in my life I know I can trust. I’m not confident because I’m so wonderful but confident because I know my weaknesses, and I accept them or try to improve them but I don’t ever expect perfection in me or anyone else. I would like teens, especially, to understand the importance of loving themselves and others — and how critical that is to emotional intelligence and being able to manage challenges or trauma.

“But I have told my therapist that there may come a day that I crawl into a deep hole of depression or fall off this pedestal of “handling this so well.” She answered that because of my personal skill set she believes that I wouldn’t stay in that hole long and that I wouldn’t go so deep that it would take much to get back out. Being able to verbalize that warning to her gave me more strength and hearing her answer provided even more strength. Being real and honest through this whole process has been critical to my progress. That is the lesson I hope is helpful to others.”

2) What is the silliest thing you can recall about Jocelyn that can put a smile on your face even when you don’t feel like smiling?

“So many things! She is (I still think of her in the present) such a character ... so funny and bold. I can still hear her laugh and hear her sing in a baby voice. Someone said this year that it is an important step to get to the point where you look at the person’s picture or think of them and smile ... but I think I’ve been doing that for a while, because I just can’t help it ... she’s funny. And I don’t want to just cry when I think of her ... laughing is good and healing. But I just wrote my column about her, so I’m repeating myself. :)”

3) Many people have likely shared their stories of triumph and tragedy with you during the past year. Without naming names, can you share one or two of the stories that touched you the most?

“I’ve had a lot of people share their stories with me over the past year — friends, strangers, teens I didn’t know. The first thing I think of are the teens who’ve told me they thought about suicide or even attempted it but Jocelyn’s death and seeing the way it impacted the community made them change their thinking and get help. Those brave kids help me deal with this more than they can ever know. If there’s anything I want to do with this ... it’s to prevent other teens from making this choice, losing out on their future, and prevent other families — moms, dads, sisters, brothers, grandparents — from experiencing this pain.

“There are several other stories that impacted me but one in particular was a woman who lost her oldest daughter to cancer when she was 8 or 9 and then, several years later, her youngest daughter died by suicide. The second daughter just died about six months ago. I cannot even imagine how that woman faces every day and we’ve emailed back and forth a few times.

“She is showing strength way beyond me, or, really, most everyone I can think of ever meeting or hearing about personally. She also has a smaller base of support. I have an incredibly loving and supportive husband, daughter, family and network of friends. She is recently divorced, a mother without her children. She amazes me. She is a nurse and she is pouring herself into her work, helping others. She is incredibly strong.”

4) As a person who has lived most of your life in the public spotlight, do you sometimes seek out solitude?

“Not sometimes. Always.

“I’m an introvert in extrovert’s clothing. I have to have my solitude to re-energize. But the strange thing about this last year is that I’ve become much more social. I used to say I was too busy when a friend wanted to get together for coffee or lunch, but I say “yes” a lot more now.

“Relationships have taken a greater priority in my life. And we don’t just get together and I talk about me and my family and Jocelyn ... I listen and my friends talk about their issues and their lives. That’s an important part of going through something difficult ... remembering that everyone has challenges in their lives, everyone is grieving something and it’s important to get outside of yourself and reach out to others.”

5) My mother said that her mother’s favorite saying was: “If you could put all the troubles of the world in a bag and reach inside, you’ll pick out your own troubles every time.” Is there any similar sage wisdom that you can give to young people who feel trapped and think that death is their only option?

“I think an important thing I’ve heard is that someone who is suicidal should try to remember that they want the pain to end, not their life. They want to kill the pain, not themselves. I was telling someone just the other day that Jocelyn talked about going to Africa ... to Ghana ... with my sister one day, maybe take a gap year during college and go live there and volunteer when my sister retires there with her husband who is Ghanaian.

“This was just a month or two before she died. I simply said, ‘There were so many other things she could’ve done, instead of what she did.’

“The person stopped me and said, ‘That is so powerful. That is a suicide prevention message that teens need to hear.’ It didn’t seem that profound to me, but, really, it is true that anyone, but maybe teens especially, need to understand that there are hundreds of other options out there ... ways to change your life or your circumstances...and, most of all, get help. Jocelyn knew that. She was getting help, but she didn’t stop and seek it in that one moment. So I just want to stress that killing yourself isn’t an option that should even be on the table. Jocelyn had a lot of struggles but she could have chosen so many other options ... she could’ve done so many other things with her life, instead of ending it.”

6) How does faith figure into your daily life?

“It’s important but I’ve gotten lazy. I still think it is a central piece of my life but I feel very distant from God. I completely feel the power of other peoples’ prayers in my life, the power of God in my life. But I feel like my prayers for my family are powerless. So, I’ll pray for others, but I pray very timidly for my family. And that’s because I prayed so much, for so many years, for Jocelyn ... and the prayers didn’t get answered the way I hoped.

“My friend says that God answered them by making her life and death matter ... by having such an impact on the people around her, reaching so many teens and showing them how important life is and not to give up. I can see that, but it’s not a satisfying answer for me not having my daughter, obviously.

“But I’ve walked away from God before as a young adult and I can’t even picture doing that again, so I just feel like I’m taking some space. Like a friend you haven’t called in a while. And then you keep not calling because you have so much catching up to do and you’re too busy to make that call. But, eventually, you call and talk and it’s just like old times and no one is hurt or offended that so much time passed.

“That’s what it feels like it will be when I finally fully reconnect with God. Some people won’t get that, but people who’ve suffered a loss or been deeply wounded might.”

7) Jaletta skipped the seventh question, which, perhaps, I shouldn’t have asked. It’s easy to sit in the pews at church and sing, “Love Lifted Me,” “Lift high His royal banner, It must not suffer loss,” and “Jesus loves the little children,” but as Christians learn in 1st Corinthians; 13:12, as people age, the images that shined so brightly during youth become shadowed by the passage of time. Still in time, everything will become clear.

8) During the past year, what have you found to be the steps that all people of all ages need to take to be more compassionate, considerate and caring for others?

“I wish you could ask that of the people who’ve been more compassionate, considerate and caring of me and my family. They are the experts, they know what to do. But, I will say that it would be a better world if everyone could remember that people hide secret pain, they pretend everything is OK. People don’t want to appear vulnerable on the outside, but they are inside.

“If we could remember that, and be willing to be real about our pain, we may be more kind to those who sometimes seem unkind or distant. I’ve always told my kids that the kid who is teasing you or being “mean,” probably has something going on inside of them that has nothing to do with you ... so try to keep that in mind.”

“Also, I’d add that it has helped, from the beginning of this whole painful journey, to reach out to others who are hurting and try to help them. Sometimes your pain, the heaviness of your load, is lightened when you help someone else carry their load. You have to be balanced ... you can’t take on too much ... but helping others truly does help us.”

9) What impact has this experience had on your family?

“We’ve seen how loving and supportive people are. We’ve seen amazing goodness in our friends and family. I think we’ve also seen a strength in each other and built greater bonds...we are in this together and refuse to let it tear us apart. That sometimes happens in families who deal with a loss like this and we try to make sure that we all know we are there for each other, while also giving each other the personal space we sometimes need and respecting that we each grieve differently and on different schedules.”

10) Is there a particular passage in Scripture that comforts you?

“Romans 5:1-2, 6 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God ... You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  

“The reason this is important to me is that a picture of this scripture, in this version, the New International Version, was found in Jocelyn’s cell phone. She took it a few days before. It means a lot to me that she was clinging to grace and hope, in God, if not in her own life.

“I think she felt powerless against her pain, so she was clinging to the belief that Christ died for the ungodly, because she probably felt very ungodly in her pain. I am putting myself in her head...her heart and soul ... in a way I can’t, really, but these verses or Romans 5:6 obviously meant something to her, so it means something to me. And it gives me assurance that God forgives all, forgives her, and forgives me. That idea of grace sustains me here, as we learn to live without her, and gives me hope that she is living in eternity and one day we’ll be together again.”

— Contact Bill Archer at´┐Ż