Please use this blog to help us remember Joshua Lee Anderson, who made the tragic and fatal decision to take his life on Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Please post any memories or thoughts you may have in the comments.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

39 Book Reviews - updated 5/15/2011

As mentioned in other posts, I've been doing some reading to help me cope with Josh's sudden death (still so hard to type these words). I must confess that my memory is not that great - and Josh would've been the first to say so. Therefore, in an effort to help me remember what I've read as well as when I've read it, I've decided to keep a reading list and book review on the blog. I plan to update it as books are read or re-read.
The books that I am reading first have one thing in common - they are all written by SOS or "survivors of suicide". This term certainly applies to family members, but I would say that anyone who has known and loved Josh as a friend could also relate to the feelings that are described in these books.
It is heart-breaking to read about their loved one's suicide and the subsequent painful journey of grief and survival, while knowing that I have my own such road to travel. In the book that I am currently reading, "Grieving A Suicide: A Loved One's Search for Comfort, Answers and Hope", Albert Hsu describes what it is like to be part of this group. His father committed suicide nine months after his wedding.
Suicide bisects your life with a thick dark line. Everything is divided into "before" and "after". Against our will, those of us who have experienced the suicide of a loved one have become part of a unique grieving community. Our particular kind of grief is incomprehensible to many, since death by suicide is radically different from death by car accident, heart attack or old age. It is a society that no one wants to be a part of, one that we wish we had not been initiated into (page 20).
I have a habit of reading with a pen and when there is something that really hits home or I need to ponder further, I underline and/or write in the margins. Most of the books below have writing in many of the pages as I can relate to almost everything that is read - the initial feelings of shock, disbelief, and numbness. Followed by the unending quest to understand why - coupled by the sorrow and despair, guilt, regret, and feelings of being a failure as a parent.
Each author has put pen to paper in hopes of helping others. It is a brave thing to do as they've had to re-live the nightmare in order to accurately describe what occured. Just as it has been more difficult for me to go to Josh's grave site these days as it is a stark reminder of our horrible reality, so it is sometime difficult to write on this blog. It forces me to think about how I am feeling, which has the affect of making the dull, background pain come to the forefront and become acute, raw and overwhelming. Many tissues are used with each post.
Although difficult, I have to believe that facing the pain and sorrow is better for me than to bury it or not let myself feel it. I have also heard that what I am writing is helping others - this encourages me to continue........

No Time To Say Goodbye: Surviving The Suicide of a Loved One by Carla Fine
The first book that I read which was within the first 2-3 weeks after Josh's death. My emotions were extremely raw, but I found this book to be exactly what I needed. I was the one who found our son, so her detailed description of what she found with her husband did not shock me, nor did the details of survivor stories that were gathered from her interviews. These accounts might be too much for others - so beware. I skimmed through it again recently and am writing some notes in my journal. This is definitely one that I will re-read as I journey through my own grief.

My Son....My Son: A Guide To Healing After Death, Loss or Suicide by Iris Bolton
Second book read after Josh's death - also within the first three weeks. I read this in one night - lots of pages earmarked and many sentences underlined. I have gone back, almost 4 months later and journaled through the book. These survivor books will have to be re-read as time passes. These authors are speaking and writing after they have come through on the other side of the grieving process, whereas I feel as though I've just begun.

Take The Dimness Of My Soul Away: Healing After a Loved One's Suicide by William RitterThird book read - These are 5 sermons given over a period of 5 years from a minster who lost his son to suicide. I will need to re-read as time passes. What he says after 1 year is not something I can relate to very well right now.

When Suicide Comes Home: A Father's Diary and Comments by Paul Cox (no book photo)
Fourth book that I have read after Josh's death. I could relate to almost every feeling this father had as he journaled his way through the tragedy of his son's death, who was in his early 20's. From the book, the father had a very close relationship with his son; they had common interests and seemed to spend a lot of quality time together. His son had admitted having suicidal thoughts at the time of his high school graduation and as his father's request, saw a counselor for a year. He seemed better so his visits stopped. I will keep this book on hand as I go through my journey.

Grieving The Unexpected: The Suicide of a Son by Dr. Gary LeBlanc
Fifth book read about 3 months after Josh's death. I could relate to the father/author in several ways. He is the one who found his son and they had absolutely no idea that his son was contemplating suicide. This book was written three-and-a-half years after his son's death and after going over everything in his mind in the months/days prior to his son's death, the author could still come up with nothing. No signs, no warnings. This is one of the hardest things to deal with. As a result, the author's feelings, questions, heartache, grief and pain are what I can relate to the most. As opposed to the other books (Bolton, Fine and Cox) that were written on the other side of the grieving process, this author appeared to still be wrestling with his son's death. This is not surprising as three-and-a-half years is not a long time. This book is also written from the view of how his faith has been challenged and strengthened through this time which has been helpful to read.

The Pact by Jodi Picoult (fiction)
My first Jodi Picoult book read, although I've seen her books everywhere - even more so, with the release of the movie "My Sister's Keeper", based on one of her books. The reason I picked this up was because of the subject matter - teenage suicide pact. With the unexpected and sudden death of our 17 year old son by suicide, a little over three months ago, I am obsessed with trying to understand why, although intellectually I know the answer is unobtainable. Although being fiction, the characters give a realistic view of where the mind of teenagers can go. A few pages give a glimpse of how a teen could get the point of completing suicide.
"She was well and neatly trapped, with only one small and hidden exit, so dark and buried that most people never even considered breaching its hatch.....there were really no options at all" (pg 206). "I don't want to be here....I don't want to be" (pg.274). "She didn't feel frightened. Now that she'd found a way out, even the thought of dying didn't scare her. She just wanted to end it before other people she loved were hurt as badly as she was" (pg. 325). "In that moment, with the night shrinking around them.....there was no alternative" (pg. 372).
In our case, how does a well-liked, athletic, smart young man take his own life? I think this question may haunt me for the rest of my life. The book offers some possibilities that I will have to ponder.

Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One's Search for Comfort, Answers & Hope by Albert Hsu
Sixth book read after our son's suicide - over four months later. So many thoughts, feelings, struggles, questions that were shared by the author resonated with me. Due to all of the marks in the book, I have a feeling it will take a while to journal through this one. This author writes from a Christian perspective - which was very helpful.

Writing through the Darkness: Easing Your Depression with Paper and Pen by Elizabeth Schaefer.Just "happened" to pick this up in a small bookstore in Vermont. What a gem. Especially the bibliography and resource list in the back. I read this in two days and ordered another 7 books. While I do not have the daily struggles of the author, I do feel like life is dark and grey since Josh has left us. So it has helped.
Lament For A Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff
Written by a father grieving the loss of his twenty-five year old son from a mountain climbing accident. He writes what I feel and has been quoted in my recent posts. The last third of his book chronicles the struggle in reconciling his son's death with his faith. I have made a note to read this section when ready to ask myself the same questions. Would highly recommend.

Those They Left Behind: Interviews, Stories, Essays and Poems by Survivors of Suicide. By Karen Mueller Bryson, Ph. D.
The interviews with survivors of suicide are divided by the relationship with the victim: parents, children, siblings, extended family and friends. Reading the book is like being at a support group where each person shares their story of loss. My focus was on the ten parents who courageously bared their hearts and soul. I could relate to many if not all of their feelings. It helps to know that we are not alone.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (fiction)
I read this book a while ago and remember thinking, "interesting story." Re-reading after our son's death - wow, totally different experience. I found myself thinking and wondering what heaven or the afterlife is like for our boy....can he see us? Know what we are doing/feeling? Can he see how much he was loved - by so many? Made me want to read Sebold's memoir, Lucky, which I did in one night. Powerful memoir. Would highly recommend both books.

Aftershock: Help, Hope and Healing in the Wake of Suicide by David Cox and Candy Arrington
Read this short book in one night. Author's father committed suicide when he was only nine years old. He compares suicide with an earthquake through out the book and I agree. A very personal account of a boy's nearly successful suicide when he was a junior in high school, written in his words was most helpful to me. Up until this point, I had not read anything that gave a glimpse of where the mind of a teenage boy could go in attempting suicide. It gave me a lot to think about.

Surviving Suicide: Help to Heal Your Heart, Life Stories from Those Left Behind by Heather Hays.
A compilation of stories from survivors - broken down by relation to the loved one. So sad as some of them had to write more than one since several of their loved ones took their lives. Personally, I do not think I could survive another suicide in my family. The format is very personal - an introduction to the victim and circumstances around the suicide and then a letter to their loved one. I read the stories from the parents who lost a child and could relate to almost every thought and feeling. Again, like being in a support group without having to attend.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger Excellent book. I saw the movie first, otherwise I would have probably been quite confused while reading. Since Josh has passed away, I read everything from a different perspective and this book was no exception. We say that "hindsight is 20/20", meaning that if we knew what would happen, we would do things differently. But this story makes me wonder if that is really true? Even if I did know that Josh was going to take his life a little over 6 months ago, could I have changed events to prevent what happened? I used to think so which caused a tremendous amount of angst and guilt. Now, I really do wonder.

Paula and The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende (memoirs)
A well-written two part memoir by an author I have not read before. Her young married daughter, Paula, contracts a disease that puts her first into a coma, then a vegetative state, and ultimately results in her death. Isabel spends a whole year completely devoted to her daughter's care, hoping that she will recover. During this heart-wrenching time, she deals with her pain and sorrow by writing - about how she feels, about their family history - like a letter to her daughter. Paula is a very poignant memoir written by a grieving mother. The next book is written fifteen years later and it is clear this author/mother still grieves for her child. I like her writing style and look forward to reading her novels.

Dying To Be Free: A Healing Guide for Families after a Suicide by Beverly Cobain and Jean Larch
A short book, but very powerful. Statistics on prevalence of suicide and yet the difficulty in predicting and preventing. Formula for suicide: "psychache" + thought of death as an escape. I found the chapter called "The Fatal Journey" especially helpful in my attempt to understand why Josh made his decision seven months ago. A couple of chapters are devoted to the grieving process of survivors and some helpful thoughts on how to cope. A chapter called "Staying Alive" is relevant for those who know someone who is suicidal or struggles with suicide. The last chapter recounts stories of the connection between survivor and loved one who died.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie GoldbergI really, really liked this book. Her metaphors and stories are very encouraging to just take pen to paper and write, write, write. She espouses writing practice as a way to learn how to write from the depths of one's soul, to become centered - forgetting all the "rules" of writing, such as punctuation and spelling. Basically, let it all hang out. Very motivating. I am eager to read other books by her.

Journal to the Self: Twenty-two paths to personal growth by Kathleen Adams and The New Diary by Tristine Rainer
Two excellent reference books for those who are brand new to journaling and those who are looking for new ideas. They both speak to the modes of diary expression: catharsis, description, free intuitive writing and reflection. The use of dialogue, lists, portraits, unsent letters, varied perspectives and other techniques in writing are described in detail. Motivating and encouraging as well.

The Empty Chair by Beryl Glover
A short book which can easily be read in one sitting. I found it useful in a supplemental way.

The Suicide Index by Joan Wickersham
This author explores unanswered questions regarding her father's suicide fifteen years after the fact in this riveting memoir. Although my loss is not the same, I can relate to the suppositions, questions, "what if's" and "I wonders". I'd like to read other writer's journeys through grief and loss. It

Ordinary People by Judith Guest (fiction)
Tragic accident in a family is used to reveal how varied grief responses can be, the effect on one another, and the struggle to heal and survive. One son dies by accident, the other feels so guilty, he attempts suicide. As a result, he spends a good amount of time in a psychiatric hospital. The book begins after he comes home. It is a well written book that I would highly recommend, as well as the movie.
By Their Own Young Hand: Deliberate Self-Harm and Suicidal Ideas in Adolescents by Keith Hawton and Karen Rodham
Researchers in England were able to give a survey to over 5,000 teenagers (15-16 years old) that asked questions about deliberate self-harm thoughts and actions. As a parent who is looking for answers as to why our 17 year old son took this life, this book was helpful. I wrote a post on the things learned from
this book.
Hold Tight by Harlan Coben (fiction)
Very quick read. Meaningful references: parents raising teens, to spy or not to spy on them, secrets, teen suicide, and grief. Although I don't feel this way, I found the mother's description of their house after her son had been found dead by suicide, haunting. "The house was dead. That was how Betsy Hill would describe it. Dead. It wasn't merely quiet or still. The house was hollow, gone, deceased - its heart stopped beating, the blood had stopped flowing, the innards had begun to decay. Dead. Dead as a doornail, whatever the hell that meant. Dead as her son, Spencer."

The Worst Loss: How Families Heal from the Death of a Child by Barbara Rosof
Grieving is hard work - unavoidable. For parents: take care of yourself, give yourself time, reach out to others. Timetable varies but generally will take four years before life feels like it is on track. Meaningful references: impact on family as a whole, parents, siblings (based on age), rough timetable, tasks to work through while grieving, specific chapters dealing with various types of death (stillbirths/infant deaths, terminal illness, accidents, murders, suicides).

Beach Music by Pat Conroy (fiction)
Main character's wife committed suicide. He flees with his young daughter to Italy but eventually returns to his hometown in South Carolina. I picked this book up because of the suicide theme. The author does not go into much detail regarding the mind of the wife, which is what I was hoping for. 

After The Death of A Child: Living With Loss Through the Years by Ann Finkbeiner The author lost her only child, an 18 year old son via a train wreck. She wanted to know what happens to parents in the years after losing their child - what are the long term effects. Bottom line - while the pain of losing the child may recede over time, parents never, ever get over the loss. They only learn to live with it. Always there. Has become a part of who they are. This makes sense to me. 

Life After the Death of My Son: What I'm Learning by Dennis Apple
The author's nineteen year old son was an otherwise healthy young college student. He died unexpectedly from complications due to mono, in the middle of the night, at home, on the family room couch. His father found him the next morning after taking his younger son to school. Seventeen years later, he wrote this book. While a quick read, this book was helpful to me as noted in a recent post called "Grief Journey - How Long?"

Legend of a Suicide by David Vann (fiction)
I picked this book up while browsing through a bookstore as naturally, the title caught my attention. It is a collection of short stories of which the longest, is so unexpected and disturbing, it is difficult to recommend. The author's explanation is in the back: "My father killed himself when I was thirteen, and for three years afterward, I told everyone he had died of cancer, because the way he killed himself felt too shameful. And I also didn't quite believe in his death. So this book is as true an account as I could write of my father's suicide and my own bereavement, and that was possible only through fiction."
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (fiction)
Very disturbing story about five sisters who commit suicide within one year. I picked up this book in the hope of learning about the suicidal mindset of young people, which was not a focus for the author. Fiction is an easier way for me to look at this topic, but leaves me thirsting for more. It is a dilemma as I can't bring myself to open non-fiction books that sit on my shelves, such as No One Saw My Pain: Why Teens Kill Themselves. A bit too much right now.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Platt (fiction)
A classic novel based on the author's life, who does end up committing suicide at age 30. In the book a young college student, Esther, struggles with feeling inadequate which fuels insecurity, leading to depression and an obsession with suicide. She has no fear of death, but her attempts are unsuccessful, landing her in an asylum for a period of time. It is a story of a rational mind's descent into the irrational. I have dog-earred a number of pages, wondering if Josh felt, by even the smallest measure, the same as this poor girl.
After Suicide by John Hewett
This book was listed in the bibliography of Hsu's book. I read this short book in less than one hour and did not find anything new. Also, this was not written by a suicide survivor, which is now an important factor to me. It is difficult to write about coping with suicide if one has not lived it.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison
It is amazing what this author has accomplished in spite of her constant battle with manic-depression or bi-polar disorder. She is a Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University and has made her illness the focus of her academic research and writing. I knew she had attempted suicide, which is the main reason for reading the book. Her mindset at the time was irrationally rational, an oxymoron, I know. "I was doing the only fair thing for the people I cared about; it was the only sensible thing to do for myself. One would put an animal to death for far less suffering."
Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber
I recently bought a Nook, an e-book reader from Barnes and Noble. Each Friday, B&N offers a free book. One such book was the first in a series by this author; about a knitting shop on Blossom Street. This book is the 4th in the series and addresses the topic of grief, from four women who have lost their husbands. These women decide to write a list of "twenty wishes" as a way of moving forward with their lives. Examples are buying red cowboy boots, learning how to belly dance, going skinny dipping, going to Paris with a loved one, dancing barefoot in the rain. I spent some time the other night writing down my own list and came up with 25 wishes - a good sign, I think.
The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
This book begins with death, has flashbacks of death in the middle and ends with a near death. Various modes of death are used by the author: murder, accident and suicide. The latter, of course, is what interests me. As a result, this book is heavily dog-earred, written in and passages are quoted in my journal with thoughts.

The Grieving Garden: Living With the Death of A Child by Suzanne Redfern and Susan Gilbert
22 parents have lost their children by various means and at different ages. They responded to questions from the authors and this book is the result. It is like having a parent support group on hand at any time it is needed. It took me a while to get through the first half, but once focused, I read through the last half within a couple of days. Very helpful so I would recommend to any parent who has suffered the worst loss imaginable - the death of their child.

Beyond Tears: Living After Losing A Child by Ellen Mitchell
Nine mothers found each other and formed their own support group after losing their children, all young adults from 16 - 24 years old. This book is about their journey. I can relate to so many of their feelings. This book gave me the idea to write on a white balloon and send it up to Josh on New Year's Eve.

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
This is a story of a typical working mom whose life if her family.  She struggles with wanting to be close to her three teenage children who are simultaneously wanting their independence, a marriage that is ok, not great, and a secret she has chosen to forget.  Then "IT" happens and this woman struggles with just surviving.  I can relate to a number of quotes from the book.  A full review is on my reading blog.

I am now maintaining a full list on my reading blog.


Nadine said...

Thank you, Sue. This is very helpful. Unfortunately suicides of teenagers are rampant in India. I am sure I will refer to these books.

wendyrsm said...

Thank you for sharing the books you've read. I admire how openly you express your thoughts and feelings. May God contine to comfort you and use your story to help others.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that Sue
My family do not stop praying for you and your whole family!!

I watched the movie "the pact" it was on Lifetime over the weekend.

I am glad that these books are bringing some type of understanding, comfort, and much more as you continue to try to make some sort of sense of what happend

I love you so much and am also in admiration of your opennes and i hope you are feeling all of our prayers :)
Tami Wilder