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Janice Miller in her daughter's bedroom
Daymon Gardner
Daymon Gardner
Health

‘Check on Your Strong Friends’

A brainy, beautiful and beloved daughter’s words echoed in her mother’s heart after the daughter died by suicide.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, a mental health professional can help. If you are currently in a state of distress, call 988 or click here to contact services now.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

My name is Janice Miller. I am the mother of Arlana Janell Miller. She was my only daughter.  Arlana was very smart, even at a young age. She was a leader, but also very humble. She loved to shop at thrift stores and chose to drive a Toyota over a BMW. 

We need to let them know, ‘You’re not weak when you admit that you need help. You’re not letting us down if you fail at something.’ Just let them know, ‘We love you no matter what. And we’re here to listen.’ 

She was a kid that didn’t give you any problems and helped everybody. 

Arlana was put in the gifted and talented program at a magnet school in Louisiana, and during her seventh-grade year she received the President Obama Presidential Award for Academics. I’ll never forget when she got it. 

Arlana made captain of the cheer squad her senior year. She ran track and was also runner-up for homecoming queen. I mean, everybody liked her. She excelled at everything. 

If you are having thoughts of suicide, a mental health professional can help. If you are currently in a state of distress, call 988 or click here to contact services now.

For her graduation, we put up two big life-size pictures of her. We had all her favorite foods, like seafood pasta and wings. We had candy apples, chocolate Oreos, cupcakes, all the things she liked. We had a locker brought in and decorated it with her cheer uniform inside. We had a lounge area with Southern University colors because that’s the school she was going to. We were so proud of her. She had graduated in the top 14 percent of her class. 

Arlana loved church and singing in the choir. She loved working at Amazon. Anybody would tell you she never had a bad day. She was always smiling, always happy. She was just a happy kid. She had a lump removed from her breast before college. But she never said, “Mom, I don’t feel good. Mom, I’m struggling.” 

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Daymon Gardner

The day it [her suicide] happened, that Wednesday, I’ll never forget. I was walking her dog around the lake. She texted me that she was failing math. I called her and told her to drop the class, but she told me she couldn’t because they were getting ready for finals. I told her to see it as a lesson and that your freshman year is always the hardest year. She just got quiet on the phone. I said, "Well, I will see you Friday." I was going to pick her up and bring her home because she had an orthopedic appointment that Monday. 

I had no idea that there was such a need for mental health [services]. I started reading. I was just in awe. 

Arlana was worried about her scholarship. She had gotten an academic scholarship to attend Southern University. She had told her cousin that a lot of times she just couldn't get to class because her leg was aching and hurt. And she had gotten behind in her math class. She didn’t tell me that. She just said, “I’m failing this class.” 

Then later that evening, I started getting text messages to check on Arlana. She had posted a disturbing message on Instagram.

I called the coach. I called the cheerleaders. They told me, “They’re searching for her. They’re at the riverbank. The boats just went out. The tow truck is coming to get her vehicle.” And my heart dropped. 

Mr. Banks, the director of athletics, called me. He said, “Are you sitting down?” And when he said [they had found her body], I just started screaming. I said, “It can’t be.” He said, “Yes, it is.” I was like, you got to have the wrong kid. It cannot be our Arlana. You don’t even know her like that. 

If you are having thoughts of suicide, a mental health professional can help. If you are currently in a state of distress, call 988 or click here to contact services now.

I was so upset. I felt like somebody took the air out of my body, like somebody just ripped my heart out. It felt like a nightmare, like a bad dream or something. 

Arlana had a letter for me in the car.

Whenever I talk about her, it drains me sometimes. I don’t think anybody can understand how much I miss my baby. And it hurts because I’ll never get to see her get married. I’ll never get to see her have any kids. I’ll never get to see her graduate from college. She was only 19. 

If you are having thoughts of suicide, a mental health professional can help. If you are currently in a state of distress, call 988 or click here to contact services now.

I’m not going to lie to you. I have my days. I have my moments. Grief counseling has helped me a lot with the church. I go every week. I spend about two hours in grief counseling, setting goals. 

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Daymon Gardner

I question myself, What did I miss? And I didn’t see anything. I just saw somebody who was happy, always trying to help everybody else. But when she made the statement, “Check on your strong friends,” she was talking about herself. 

I had no idea that there was such a need for mental health [services]. I started reading. I was just in awe. Remember how we used to sit down and eat at the table? Remember how we had to spend time with our family and tell them how our day went? 

I think we may need to go back to putting the phones down. Asking our kids, “How was [your] day?” Sitting down, eating with them, talking with them. I think that would be a start. And just listening to our kids, to see where they are. And be present. I know I was at everything. But I believe Arlana had a moment. 

I do know that we’ve got to reach our kids. We’ve got to figure out where they are. We’ve got to get them some help. We’ve got to listen to them. We didn’t really ask these kids what COVID-19 did to them the last two years — not being at school, not being around their friends. We have not asked them how this has affected them. And we need to start asking. 

We need to let them know, “You’re not weak when you admit that you need help. You’re not letting us down if you fail at something because you’ve already succeeded and beat the odds and beat the expectations that we’ve already thought.” Just let them know, “We love you no matter what. And we’re here to listen.” 

If you are having thoughts of suicide, a mental health professional can help. If you are currently in a state of distress, call 988 or click here to contact services now.

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