"Kim's suicide has forever altered the way in which I respond to the world around me. It has transformed the way I think and feel about intimacy, motherhood, friendship, and our responsibilities to others. Her early death changed every preconceived idea I had of suicide, depression, suffering, parenthood, and our debt to another person. Before Kim ended her life, I thought, like most people, that someone who would take his or her own life was somehow different from the rest of us. I was wrong."
I was struck by this paragraph written in the first pages of History of a Suicide: My Sister's Unfinished Life by Jill Bialosky. Bialosky's thoughts about the effects of suicide are ones that I believe are universal to this experience. Throughout her book, Bialosky tells the story of her sister, Kim, who killed herself at the age of twenty-one by closing herself in the garage and turning on her mother's car. Although this happened back in 1990, Bialosky continues to think of Kim daily even twenty years later. She is still affected by her sister's death. Part memoir of her life and that of Kim's, part research about suicide, and part poetry about suicide and death, Bialosky's book covers her own personal story of losing someone to suicide and society's beliefs and reactions about suicide.
As I was reading this book, I thought to my own experiences with suicide - knowing people who have decided to take their lives. While I have not been close to anyone who has chose to commit suicide, over the course of my teaching career, two students in my school (both at the age of ten) have committed suicide. More recently, my oldest daughter's teacher's brother killed himself. We have had conversations about suicide and what it means with our two older children who have asked questions about this now because of what they have heard at school. While I think we gave them enough information - but not too much- they were both very confused as to why someone would decide they didn't want to live anymore. Perhaps that innocent confusion is what adults also feel, yet are better able to grasp the difficulties some people have dealing with daily life and finding hope in the future.
History of a Suicide is Bialosky's tribute to her sister, Kim. It is also an important book about losing someone you love in a way that leaves a lasting impact on those left behind.