“Jenny, you need to come home.”
Jenny Neset will never forget these words.
It was her dad, speaking over her work phone. She was immediately concerned; he had been diagnosed with cancer just months earlier, and was reliant on a pacemaker and a defibrillator.
“Dad, is everything okay?” she asked.
“Jenny, you need to come home,” he said again.
Her husband came and picked her up, and they set off for her childhood home in Mayville, North Dakota. Throughout the one-hour car ride she thought, “Dad. What’s wrong with Dad.”
“Not once did I think of my sister,” she said. “Not once.”
Jenny’s twin sister, Jolene, was in town for the holidays. She had moved to Chicago six years ago and studied at Worsham College to become a mortician. Her work was filled with sad stories; late shifts of picking up people who had died in various ways. Car accidents. Sickness. Suicide.
“She’d tell us these stories and we’d say, ‘Wow I can’t believe it,’” Jenny remembers. “We just felt bad for the people who had to go through that.”
Over the years, certain parts of Jolene’s life in Chicago had grown dark. Jenny wouldn’t hear from her for weeks, sometimes months. When she did, she was often moody. Jenny knew they both struggled with depression, and encouraged her sister to keep taking her medicine and seeing a counselor. She had no way of knowing if she did.
Even still, when they were together, Jolene’s personality was as vibrant as ever. All of Mayville knew her, Jenny said. She was an old soul, a woman who loved watching Golden Girls and had a soft spot for animals — especially her white pitbull, Q-Tip. Her style was colorful, always punctuated by classic red Ray Bans.
She was wearing those flashy sunglasses the last time Jenny saw her, as she took their Dad home from an appointment. Jolene saw Jenny from the driver’s seat and grinned, wiggling her fingers. “Heyy,” she mouthed. Jenny laughed. Her twin was always the more goofy one.
It was two days later when Jenny got the phone call and headed to Mayville. When she arrived, the first thing she noticed was the cars lining the driveway. Her older sister was outside on the phone. Jenny hurried inside and her dad was there in the entryway, breathing through his oxygen tubes in long, shaky breaths.
“Jenny, she’s gone,” he said.
“What? She’s gone?” Jenny repeated, baffled.
“We lost Jolene.”
Jenny crumpled to the floor. She started to scream. The details came in pieces; asphyxiation, carbon monoxide poisoning. Jolene was found surrounded by three cars in a warehouse used by the family business. She was wearing Jenny’s bracelet when she died. Jenny screamed until she couldn’t scream any more. And then there was just the shock.
Through the blur of confusion and grief, one path was clear to Jenny. She needed to find help.
“The first thing I did was go to FirstLink,” Jenny said. “I wanted to know what I could learn, what I could do.”
She pushed her family to do the same. “We need this,” she said. They attended group sessions, where they connected with others going through similar loss. They met with a counselor, who walked alongside them as they processed the shock.
“Nobody ever tells you what it’s like after a suicide until you go through it,” Jenny said. “At FirstLink, everybody was understanding.”
It has now been four years since Jolene’s death. As Jenny continues to work as a nurse and raise her two kids, she often struggles with wishing she could have done more. In those dark times with Jolene, she didn’t know where to go.
Now, Jenny speaks openly about Jolene’s story to encourage others to speak up about suicide and mental health. Whether you personally are struggling with suicidal thoughts, or know someone who is, she encourages all who hear her story to talk with someone you trust or contact First Link for help.
“FirstLink is going to point you in the right direction,” she said. “They show you where you need to go.”
How can I help?
FirstLink is built on a mission to care for those struggling with suicidal thoughts and those who have lost loved ones to suicide. We operate a 2-1-1 suicide hotline that anyone can call, 24/7.
Help support our work by giving on February 9, Giving Hearts Day, a one day only give-a-thon where your gift is matched. Together, we can work to prevent more suicides while caring for those like Jenny and her family.
To support our work, you can give HERE.