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A strong line of fighters

Years later, a daughter reflects

April 10, 2017

I am tempted to start my story at the climax —the point of drama — in media res. But I am also reminded that before any story is my mother’s story. That’s where it all began.

My mother moved over 11 times in her youth and found permanent sanctuary in college in playing basketball at Marquette.

When she was my age, 20 years old, she had already met my father. The two basketball players met in Schroeder Hall, where I now live. They married in Gesu. I pass it every day on my way to class.

I am one of three Fischer kids: Elise, Charlie and me, Jenny. My mom called me her “groundhog,” due to my odd birthday falling on Feb. 2.

When I was a kid, my grandma would come over every morning to help my mom iron and watch me play piano. She was my mom’s best friend, and mine, too.

As a 5-year-old, I didn’t acknowledge my grandma’s hair slowly falling out, or her crying to my mom before chemotherapy. I witnessed it all. It just wasn’t real until I watched my grandma pass after eight grueling years of battling ovarian cancer.

I come from a strong line of fighters, despite ailments.

When my grandma was in her childbearing years, doctors told her she was infertile. After adopting one child, my grandma became pregnant.

My miracle-baby mother came into this world Nov. 4, 1965.

My mother’s mental illness worsened when her mother exited this world Dec. 31, 2009.

My mother died by suicide Dec. 2, 2010. Her “groundhog” was the one to find her.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Fischer

Welcome to my story. It’s ugly and it’s painful, but I own it and I live it. Since 13 years old, death has lingered in my life. Grief has knocked around my soul. And my mom’s suicide has affected me more than anything else.

My mom’s mental illness worsened further as the anniversary of her mom’s death drew closer. Unaware to me at the time, she had already attempted suicide.

The day it happened started like any other. I exchanged the usual “I love you” with her after petting our dog Mollie, named after my grandma, goodbye. After school, I walked into the house to find droplets of blood in the kitchen. I called for my mom a few times – no answer. Her car was in the garage. I spotted her phone on the counter – 12 missed calls.

I wandered to my parent’s room, still searching. I could see the light in the bathroom was on from underneath the crack of the door.

I jiggled the doorknob – locked.

“Mom?”

Mind racing, I walked outside so I could see in the bathroom window. And there she was.

I screamed.

The rest is a blur. The mind has a way of automatically blocking out bad memories to save you.

I remember calling my dad and 911. The police told me to get out of the house immediately. So, my 13-year-old self sat in my driveway on a gloomy Thursday in December with my dog Mollie next to me, my mother already dead for hours inside.

I do not tell the gruesome details for the sake of being gruesome. I tell them for the sake of honoring the story for how it happened. Suicide is ugly and real, heartbreaking and world crushing, and a tragedy in all aspects. Not everything worth talking about is easy or enjoyable.

I could tell you about having to go into your own home, which the police labeled a crime scene with yellow caution tape, to pick out funeral clothes. I could tell you about standing up at your mother’s funeral at 13 in front of thousands of people. I could tell you about the number of times people automatically assume you have a mother, and having to awkwardly tell them she died — but even more awkwardly having to answer the question, “What happened?”

Both of Fischer’s parents played basketball at Marquette. Photo courtesy of Jenny Fischer.

But I could tell you what else happened. I could tell you what came of this on the other side. I could tell you how I’ve refused to give up and found resilience and integrity. I received a card on my 14th birthday, exactly two months after my mom died. It read, “Don’t ask for a lighter load, but a stronger back.” And that’s what I have done. I could tell you about getting into Marquette, fulfilling my parents’ legacy and making them proud, even if one of them can’t physically tell me. I know she’s beaming. I could tell you about the reigniting of my faith. God has held me in the palm of His hand. I cannot explain or own this strength; it is only the strength of Christ within me. I could tell you about being able to separate the suicide from the subject, and how important that is. My mom is not her death; mental illness was not who she was.

People leave, but how they left always stays. I did not get a goodbye. I did not get any explanation. My grandma’s last words to me were this: “It can take years to forget, but it takes just a second to forgive.” I’ll never be able to forget, but I have forgiven without being asked to.

Suicide is permanent and pertinent — but also preventable. Be aware. I have learned to never give up the fight. You will come out stronger and better on the other side. I used to think my mom gave up the fight, when in reality, she fought and lost. Giving up is different than losing.

I come from a strong line of fighters, despite ailments.

My story is ugly. It’s painful. My story is my mother’s and it’s mine. I own it and I live it. And I will not let suicide take anything more away from me.

This story is part of the Marquette Wire’s “Breaking the Silence” series to increase awareness and start dialogue about suicide in college. Read, watch and listen to more coverage here.

Graphic by Anabelle McDonald

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20 Comments

20 Responses to “A strong line of fighters”

  1. Sarah Kasprowicz on April 17th, 2017 2:21 pm

    Jenny, thank you for sharing this with us. I will always remember the shock and sorrow that we (teachers at school) felt for your family and the numbness that dropped upon us all at hearing the sad news. I will always remember your mom as a vibrant, smart, powerful and funny person. I will always remember how much she beamed whenever she talked about any of her kids. I’m glad you shared more of how much of a fighter she was. I also remember a poem you wrote back then and that it resonated strength and power I didn’t even know you had at such a young age. I have thought about you often over the years and am glad you have shared your story here. Your strength, resolve and reflections will make a difference to everyone that reads your post.

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  2. Tabitha Hassler on April 19th, 2017 7:54 pm

    Jenny I write this with tears streaming down my face. Thank you for sharing and helping so many others, sharing is helping so many more than you will ever know. What you have been through is beyond what any 13 year old should ever go through yet you chose to use it for as good as you can and help others. You are so strong and probably more than you ever wanted to be. Sending you a big hug and you are so very right, your mom is proud of her groundhog, I know I am proud of you!

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  3. Cynthia Luksich on April 19th, 2017 9:09 pm

    Beautifully written Jenny. Your strength and grace continue to amaze me.

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  4. Sue Orr on April 20th, 2017 11:12 am

    God bless you and your family!!!

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  5. Ozzie Clemmons (Uncle Fozzy) on April 20th, 2017 11:29 am

    Hi Jenny,
    You were always my favorite Fischer. You truly have grown into a remarkable young woman. One that your mother and grandmother would be very proud of. It took a lot of strength and courage on your part to write this story and that speaks to your character. I think it is good to share so that others know there is hope and that life does continue to go on despite the tragedies we are faced with. God does have a plan for all of us but sometimes it is hard to understand his rationale. Keep your faith and remember that he will never burden you with more than you can carry. I wish you the very best at Marquette (GO Warriors). I know you will do great and as I said make your mother very proud. Remember she is always looking down and watching over her very special groundhog with love and affection. She is in your heart. Keep her there forever.
    Hugs and much love to you and your brave and incredible family.

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  6. Tammy Wallsch on April 20th, 2017 11:41 am

    Jenny:
    I will never forget you, your mom, or the day I heard about what happened. I am so proud of the young woman you’ve grown up to be, and I know your mom is, too. We all have our own journeys, our own battles, and to come out of them stronger, with forgiveness in our hearts for those who have done their best but hurt us nonetheless, is all we can do. Sending love your way!

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  7. Joni McArthur on April 20th, 2017 3:08 pm

    Wow! You have a gift for writing and such wisdom for your age! Thank you for sharing this. Your Mom was loved by so many. Thank you for being transparent and real. Your Mom would be so proud of you. Signed One of her Silpada Sisters…..Joni

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  8. Beth Hutchinson on April 20th, 2017 3:59 pm

    Jenny, I can’t imagine how difficult, how painful this must have been for you to write, rewrite, review over and over again, getting the details down in print. Your strength and resiliency is Christ’s love gift to you—so happy that you lean upon Him. Wishing you love, with every memory of your mother. Wishing you peace, with each retelling of “the story”. Groundhog Day has a whole new meaning for me now…Feb 2 is now on my calendar with your name on it. Stay strong. Will be praying for you.

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  9. Bev Merriman on April 20th, 2017 5:30 pm

    Jenny, thank you for sharing, I know it will help so many people. You have turned out to be a beautiful strong young woman. I know your Mom and Grandma would be very proud of you. Will always remember your beautiful loving family at church. Bless you, Bev

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  10. Cindy on April 20th, 2017 6:30 pm

    Jenny,
    You are correct. Strong line of fighters. Keep the faith. That has made you resilient. It would be so easy to fall into victimization, but fighters like you don’t take the easy route. I knew your mom in HS, and she was always a smiling face. She would be very proud of this article. Prayers for continued guidance and strength.

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  11. Kari Zern on April 20th, 2017 8:07 pm

    Jenny,
    I read your compelling story with such empathy and sadness in my heart. You are an incredibly talented writer, and an obviously strong young woman whom has obviously made a choice to take the high road in life. Your mom would be so proud!! You see, I knew your mom! We worked for the same company and would see each other a few times a year. And just so you know, she was one of my favorite co-workers! I sought out her friendly face and loving hugs. We always enjoyed each other’s company and I feel confident in saying she’s incredibly proud of you, your strength and the example you’re setting for so many! God Bless!!!

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  12. Sue Charette on April 20th, 2017 8:52 pm

    Your story moved me to tears. I’m so sorry that you experienced this and that this became a chapter in your life’s story. I don’t know you. I didn’t know your mom. But I’m quite certain she’s looking down at you with pride in her heart. To accept that ” your mom was not her death and that mental illness was not who she was” says volumes about you and the person you are. But to understand that your mom didn’t give up the fight… that she fought and lost… says even more about what a remarkable and loving daughter you are. I hope that your story will make more people aware that depression is a real thing. And that it’s not something you can “just get over”. I wish the best to you.

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  13. Angela Brzeczkowski on April 21st, 2017 1:20 am

    Jenny, I still have your mom’s picture and the bears we made. God Bless you and your perseverance.

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  14. Carrie on April 21st, 2017 7:55 am

    Jenny, I live in Kansas, I dont know you but I saw your story on Facebook today….what an incredibly wise, strong, courageous woman you are…just wanted you to know your story is out and has touched a total stranger. Love and prayers to you!

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  15. Jennifer on April 21st, 2017 8:55 am

    Thank you for sharing this but so sorry you had to go through this and continue a lifetime without her physically here. I am a mom, I do not know you or your family but this story touches my heart as it will many. Depression is a disease like heart disease or diabetes, those who love people with it should never have to deal with the stigma that goes with it. I have known some who committed suicide and I have known some who have attempted. I do not see them as weak, but someone who was suffering at a scale no one wants to know. Thank you for bringing the topic up and for sharing your personal story. Praying you continue to feel God’s presence, and that your family lavishes love on each other always. You are strong and a child of God, and praising him for holding you close. You will continue to do great things, as He has a plan for you that will prosper you and not harm you. May each day be full of His peace.

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  16. Kristal Beall on April 21st, 2017 9:01 am

    Thank you for sharing Jenny. My husband took his life in April of 2015. We have 6 kids. I am hopeful they will always be as strong as you.

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  17. Krista on April 21st, 2017 10:47 am

    You are so very brave and so very strong. Loves and knowing I am praying for you beautiful girl! Look for your angels, they are everywhere ❤️

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  18. Deb Vincent on April 21st, 2017 11:48 am

    Jenny – your story is so well written. I’m so impressed. As a Mom of four children, I know your Mom is beaming with pride. “Dying by suicide” is very important to “teach” people to say instead of “committed suicide.” I too was a Silpada Rep and am sure that there was a large representation of Silpada “sisters” at your Mom’s funeral. I am going to share your article with a friend who’s husband died by suicide almost 5 years ago and she was the one to find him. To this day, she won’t talk about the details. Thank you for writing this!!!!

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  19. Rena on April 22nd, 2017 7:25 am

    That was the most heart felt story ever. I am still crying. I am so sorry my heart goes out to you. I had also had a flash with suicide attempt. ..not me my brother. I was the one who found him. Your family is strong. Went to school with your sister and know your aunt. You are all fighters. Keep the fight going…your story is heartfelt

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  20. Robin Kostelnik on April 22nd, 2017 8:55 am

    Oh honey. I am so sorry you had to go thru this. I truly believe that our “stories” are given to us so that we can make a difference for others, just as you have done for me with yours. I pray for continued strength and supernatural healing as your life continues to unfold and you break this chain. You are loved!

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