Free at last

                                                              Crystal Graham

                                 crystal@augustafreepress.com

 

 

Jackie's obituary read that she died Sept. 12 from complications of multiple sclerosis, diabetes and cancer. At first glance, this appeared to be much like a death notice in any newspaper in America. And yet, Jackie was anything but ordinary - having her sister's blood on her hands and spending her lifetime battling mental illness.

Jackie died in Big Bend Hospice in Tallahassee, Florida, at age 59. She spent most of her life living with paranoid schizophrenia, a disorder often linked with hallucinations and feelings of being under someone else's control.

 

                                                 Saying goodbye

 

Jackie's mother, Maxene Obenschain Kleier, 87, has not had an easy life. A parent is not supposed to outlive her children, and yet, she has now outlived three. One died in childbirth, another, Jyl, at the hands of Jackie, and now Jackie eternally rests in Augusta Memorial Cemetery near Waynesboro, Virginia

"I wanted Jackie to die," Kleier told The Augusta Free Press, just two weeks after her daughter's passing. "She had wished to depart from this planet for a long, long time. Her life was not of a quality that anyone could wish continued," she said. "I am glad that she, at long last, is freed, as I and others that cared for her are freed from suffering as we watched her trying to be happy and courageous with multiple health challenges.”

 

"In my opinion, there is some hypocrisy surrounding deaths that relieve all concerned," Kleier said. "The idea that life must be preserved irrespective of discomfort and suffering for the ill individual and those who love that person, seems inhumane to me."

 

                                             Life is an open book

 

Before Jackie left us all, she perhaps gave us a snapshot into the life of someone diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. But the decision to share her story wasn't one that she originally could come to terms with. Maxene had already begun the process of putting words to paper on the tragic story of their lives. A story that began with a diagnosis of schizophrenia for both Jyl and Jackie that includes Maxene finding her Jyl’s lifeless body inside the entrance door to her home.

 

Near the crime scene was a book of Shakespeare plays that Jackie, two years older than Jyl, had been reading on the couch. The book was open to the stabbing scene in Macbeth.

Eventually, Jackie, who was 26 at the time of the murder, was found not guilty in the stabbing death of her younger sister - by reason of insanity.

 

"Jackie asked me not to publish because it was too painful for her to see our story go public," Kleier said. In Kleier's mind, the story was already public, with newspaper accounts of the murder making headlines for some time. Yet she honored her daughter's wishes and put the draft on a shelf, where it collected dust for a couple of years. In the fall of 2004, Jackie changed her mind. "Jackie called and said, 'Mom, I think I am being selfish. If we publish our story, it may prevent such tragedies as happened in our family from happening to other families. Go ahead and publish the book.” It was the go-ahead that Maxene needed to finish what became Possessed Mentalities.

 

                                             Not an easy journey

 

Airing a family's dirty laundry is usually not encouraged, and was something that Kleier also battled throughout the book-writing process. "The challenge to put the book on paper included concerns about giving up personal privacy and fear of seeming to trash our family," Kleier said. "I wanted to write an educational book that would be helpful to readers." Jackie, in the end, also decided to contribute a chapter to Possessed Mentalities, which was released in 2005.

"Jackie was more interested in getting people to accept her psychological theories than trying to explain an illness that no one understands," Kleier said. "Jackie wrote every day of her life for many years. I have stacks of her poetry and several articles." Maxene says that her daughter wanted to leave a legacy and help others understand severely mentally ill individuals if readers are willing to venture into a world that to most of us is unknown.

 

"I have had a few people tell me that they cannot read the book because they think it will be sad," Kleier said. "So be it." She says she wrote the book in an effort to help others be more tolerant of those affected by severe mental illness, and to allow for as much understanding as possible.

 

"The inclination of many people to deny or ignore the severely mentally ill is repugnant for me and cruel for the victims of that illness," Kleier said. "Life is full of sad happenings, and, since this book was not written to be just another sensational sad story about a murder, I feel some remorse for those non-readers." For those who do take the time to read her story, they may learn something, from a family who most definitely became experts on the subject. Maxene says "Many people have told me that the book created some thoughts for them that they had not considered before."

 

Moving on

 

Today, Kleier says that she does not grieve, and her only hope is that her children no longer suffer from sadness or illness. "It is easier for me to move on," Kleier said. "Jackie and I maintained a relationship for more than 40 years that was always overshadowed by the sorrow of her illness." The sorrow of her life was more difficult than the sorrow of her death."

 

Maxene is scheduled to appear Oct. 14 at Book 'Em at Waynesboro High School, just more than one month after Jackie died. She will be signing copies of Possessed Mentalities and discussing the book with those who stop by her table.

 

For the octagenarian Kleier, her future is a bit uncertain at this point. "What is next for me is unknown, really," Kleier said. "However, once I get details settled that must be taken care of because of Jackie's death, I do expect to continue to write. "I will do whatever time allows."