As one might guess from the title, this book is about a very somber subject matter. While the loss of a loved one to sudden death or suicide is serious, the author provides a hopeful pathway for those that survive to deal with the tragedy. The author, Iris Bolton, is a trained counselor and Director Emeritus of the Link Counseling Center in Atlanta writes of how she and her family dealt with the suicide of her son Mitch. The book is part memoir of their experience and part handbook for dealing with the grief.
One of the first questions she addresses is how a trained counseling professional missed the signs prior to her own son’s suicide. One of the reasons was that, until recently, most that was known about suicide was hypothetical. However, rather than becoming deeply immersed in grief and guilt, she directed here energy in learning more about the subject so she could help others.
During the process of dealing with her grief and learning more about suicide, she identified two challenges survivors deal with to heal from the loss. These include the attempt to answer the question of why it happened and dealing with the guilt of somehow failing your loved one. The challenge of the attempt to answer the why question is falling into the “blame game.” Survivors of loved ones that die from suicide often look for something to blame. What caused this? Was it them, me, or someone or something else? In some cases, there are clear answers, but often she indicates we often never learn all of the answers to what causes one to take their life. The guilt of survival is another difficult feeling. Survivor’s guilt can cause one to feel they will never have joy again due to the loss. How can I be happy and joyful when my loved one has died? She offers several strategies, both mental and spiritual, to regain joy in one’s life.
One of the most profound revelations she provides in the strategies to cope and survive the sudden loss of a loved one was provided by another mental health professional. This colleague told her and her family that the tragic loss could bring their family closer and be a potential gift to the family. Both sound like strange outcomes considering most families fracture and see it as a loss. In her case, the family was open, honest, and supportive of each other in their grief and strengthened their bonds. She indicated it is possible for others to do the same. Her gift came in two ways. First, with the family’s commitment to face the issue head-on, they learned to celebrate the positives and support each other’s mental and emotional needs. Her real gift came in a commitment to learning more about suicide through more formal mental health education. With this training, she pivoted her counseling practice and learned how to help others deal with their own grief from the suicide of a loved one and more critically, counsel those considering suicide and heal mentally.
This is a very personal narrative of one who dealt with the tragic loss of a precious loved one. While it was written forty years ago, it has been revised and still has very relevant truths and resources for those dealing with the sudden loss of a loved one regardless of whether it is suicide or another cause. She provides an accurate description of the journey, the feelings that come with it, and strategies of how to deal with the grief. I recommend this book to anyone dealing with the tragic loss of a loved one.
Book Review by Ray Segars