A CORK mother opened up about the crippling secret that left her unable to read the dying wishes penned in her teenage daughter’s diary before she took her own life.
Collette Wolfe’s courage touched hearts back in 2007 after her daughter Leanne died by suicide. The 18-year-old had left behind only a diary documenting her spiral into hopelessness.
It contained details of the relentless bullying she had suffered that eventually became too much. The teenager’s struggles had only been revealed in death. However, Collette, who is now a minister with the Redeemed Christian Church of God, confessed that she had a closely guarded secret too. Up to that point, she had been illiterate which heartbreakingly prevented her from reading about Leanne’s funeral requests.
The Ballyphehane woman explained that Leanne had included heartwrenching details to be read out at her funeral. It was her older daughter Tríona who ended up reading the last wishes aloud.
Collette developed an extraordinary capacity for retaining information to compensate for her illiteracy. She said that, as a result, the requests in her daughter’s diary are still as clear as ever.
In a desperate attempt to find peace following the tragic event, Collette attended the Redeemed Christian Church of God- at Inspiration House near the Kinsale Road roundabout, who she credits for teaching her how to read.
“At 46, I learned to read late in life,” she said. “At that point, I wanted to give back what God had given me but couldn’t find a church that suited me. Everyone had gathered there at the time. I’d swear God put it in their hearts that there was a Cork family who needed help. We were still broken as a family.”
She recalled how she finally learned to read through the bible.
“It felt very shameful to be someone this side of the world who wasn’t able to read but there was no judgement. I listened to the audio bible. There were words from the Gospel of John that stayed with me; “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things.”
She described the new lease of life that reading and the church have given her.
“For ten years I couldn’t go for a mortgage. When I told them at the church I was so embarrassed. I had tried to learn so many times to learn but in the end, man couldn’t teach me. It was the Holy Spirit who gave me the gift of reading.”
She described the special connection she felt to the church.“I always wanted a pen in my hand but all I could write was my name. It was wonderful to learn that the founder of the church itself couldn’t read or write. That gave me hope. I still struggle with reading but when I teach the bible I have no problem.”
One in six Irish adults in Ireland is believed to have unmet literacy needs. Despite working in retails for years, Collette managed to hide her secret from the world.
“I hid it from my husband who eventually told me he had known but was too polite to say anything. You feel stupid and worthless but there’s not a word for what God has given me. He took my pain and replaced it with a purpose.”
Collette advised anyone struggling with reading not to give up.
“I still have the memories of Tríona reading what Leanne wanted read out at her funeral. It was so frustrating hearing all these things and not being able to read them. So many people tried to teach me how to read. In the end it came down to God.”
Collette praised the pastor of the church, Paul Orimolusi for helping her achieve her goal.
“He wears so many hats. He is a counsellor, he is a friend as well as fulfilling so many other roles. No matter what time of night it is he will come through for someone with a problem.”
Mr Orimolusi, who has developed a special friendship with Collette Wolfe and her husband Anthony described how fate brought them all together.
“I’d never been to Ireland before,” the Nigerian native said.
“I felt like God was telling me that he wanted to be my voice in Cork, to shine the light. I remember years back seeing Irish missionaries come to Africa. They did a lot of things for the African people. Because, we were in darkness they came and shone the light and cared for us. I want to shine that light too.”
Now, he is determined to help as many people like Collette as possible.
“During the lockdown, there were a lot of people who were depressed, lonely. They don’t see a reason for living. We can’t be in a community like this without making an impact. Since we have started there have a lot of incredible testimonies of joy, testimonies of hope and testimonies of peace.”
Collette and Paul have now joined forces to offer monthly online events to give people in need of hope a lift. The Hour of Healing takes place on the last Tuesday of every month and brings together people online to share their stories and listen to music and prayer. For more information on the event call 087-1897315 or 087-2225496.
Meanwhile, help is available for those struggling with literacy courtesy of their local education training board. Further information about locations of Education Training Board services can be accessed by visiting their website.