Wednesday, August 13, 2014

No Answers. But Thank God for Books

Robin Williams died the other day. Suicide. Which seems to upset and confuse a lot of people. Mostly because we want to understand why. Coping with a death is difficult enough for the ones left behind, but when the death seems to have been preventable, it's even more difficult.

If only the person had asked for help or had gotten therapy or had taken medication or had tried harder to fight his depression or had snapped out of his bad mood or whatever, he'd still be around.

There's also a guilt factor. We wonder if we could've done more. We wonder if it was our fault in some way--to not have noticed the depth of the loved one's depression. Maybe we could've said something/done something or not said something/not done something.

I liked Robin Williams, as most people did.  We liked the version of Robin Williams that Robin Williams showed us. The manic, hilarious, brilliant man who appeared in Dead Poet's Society and Good Will Hunting and The Birdcage and Aladdin. Like millions of other people in my generation, I was introduced to him in Mork and Mindy. I suspect I was not the only kid who put rainbow suspenders on my Christmas list in 1978.

(Side note: I think I wore my rainbow suspenders one time, recognizing that the idea of rainbow suspenders was much cooler than the reality of rainbow suspenders.)

I am not one of those people who thinks suicide is a selfish or cowardly act.

When I was seven years old, my father committed suicide, so I have had a long time to think about suicide and depression and death and loss and grief.

Because I am a reader, I look for my answers--imperfect as they are-- in books.

When I was younger, I did this too. Probably because reading was a nice way to escape from real life. I loved fantasy books like A Wrinkle in Time, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Charlotte Sometimes, mysteries like Trixie Belden, and stories about happy families like One of a Kind Family. 

I didn't read many stories about death. But the few that I did read, I read over and over. I didn't realize it when I was a child, but I think I was grappling with the loss of my father, and reading was a safe way to do that.

Some of those books have stayed with me.

A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry. This is Lowry's first book, interestingly enough. (If you don't know Lowery's work--she is the acclaimed author of The Giver, soon to be a movie.) A Summer to Die is about the death of a sibling, the MC's older sister.

Beat the Turtle Drum by Constance C. Greene, also a book about the death of a sibling.

A Pocket Full of Seeds by Marilyn Sachs. This book is heartbreaking. Main character Nicole is sleeping over at a friend's house when her entire family is taken away by the Nazis during WWII. She ends up in hiding at a Catholic school. There's a scene that's stuck with me where Nicole has a rare moment of fun with friends and a nun yells at her, basically saying that Nicole has no right to laugh when she doesn't know the fate of her family.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, about the death of a best friend.

Some books I WISH I'd had back when I was a kid:

Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard. Main character who has failed in a suicide attempt befriends a girl whose father committed suicide.

Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers. A girl's father, a famous artist, commits suicide and she teams up with one of his students to figure out why.

Looking for Alaska by John Green. A boy's quest to understand why the girl he loved died.

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt. There's no death in this book, but it could be a life-saver for a kid struggling with a not-so perfect home life.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Also, a potential life-saver. Romance between a boy named Park and a girl from the wrong side of the tracks named Eleanor.

There are no definitive answers about why some people are so profoundly sad that they feel the only way to end the pain is through death.

Books don't have the answers either. But they give a little bit of comfort. A few hours of escape.

A voice that whispers, You are not alone...


  1. So sorry about your father, Jody. Both my grandfathers and each of their oldest sons (my two uncles) took their own lives and the impact lasts through generations. Sometimes it's a terminal illness that can't be cured no matter what the goodwill and hard work and medical science may be. xoxox

    1. Thank you, Tracy. It's sad to me now--for a variety of reasons--but mostly because I think there have been many breakthroughs in treatments for depression, that I would like to think could have helped him. But maybe not. I mean, I assume Robin Williams had every possible treatment available to him, and yet, he still suffered.

  2. I am sorry to hear about your father.*hug*

    Some of your childhood favorites were mine as well--I read A Pocket Full of Seeds from the library and then bought it as an adult because I could never forget it. I think as a child I didn't really understand where Nicole's family had gone and what was likely to happen to them; their sudden disappearance was bad enough. And I loved the Lowry book; I haven't read it in decades but still recall so many details: the Easter eggs (I always wanted to make eggs like the ones she described), the fringed gentian, the baby named Happy.

    1. Thanks, Jenn. It's funny the things you mentioned remembering about Summer to Die. I don't remember any of those details. What I remember is how the sisters shared a room and drew a line down the middle, and I remember something about the girl visiting with an old man and him helping her after the sister died. In Pocket Full of Seeds there was a picture of the girl and her family and she would look at it and remember them together and the feel of the sunshine on their faces. That line could still make me cry.