Saturday, July 19, 2008


I am convinced that in real life suicide can't be the backdrop, dwarfed by something else. It is the foreground: itself inevitably the thing that changes people's lives. There is no other plot, and no resolution. And while some healing does happen, it isn't a healing of redemption or epiphany. It's more like the slow absorption of a bruise.


In one sense, I knew exactly why my father had done it. I felt as if I were standing on a mountaintop looking down at the entire topography of his life, a landscape of hurts and failures and physical ailments and disgraces and shames and exhaustion and hopelessness that was suddenly--from this new, high vantage point that had become accessible only with his death--fully visible for the first time. I realized already, looking back at the moment yesterday morning when I had first learned of his death, that in addition to my genuine disbelief, I had also known that what I was being told was true--had known it so deeply and clearly that his suicide didn't even seem like news. It felt like something I'd known about for a long time, which was only now being confirmed by an official source. At the same time that I'd been thinking, "Oh no!" I had also thought: "Of course."


We worried about his heart, his liver, his stomach, his lungs. It was like Brueghel's painting of the fall of Icarus--we were looking the wrong way; the focus was on the big events in the middle of the canvas. Nobody noticed the terrible small thing that was starting to happen in one corner.


We find each other. We're referred by friends. Or we happen to sit next to each other on an airplane. We end up standing together in a hallway, during a party. We stop noticing who is coming and going around us. We talk. It's urgent. We have nothing new to tell each other. Even when the stories are different, they're the same.


Kate said, "I didn't want it to be this big secret. It think it's better for him to grow up knowing than to suddenly find out one day."

I nodded. I could see the logic and the sanity of this, and I admired Kate's clearness.

But I said, "I guess I worry about him growing up knowing that people actually do this. Kill themselves, I mean. I worry that if he knows too early he'll just take for granted that it's part of the normal range of human actions."

"It is," Kate said.

--Joan Wickersham, The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order

I'll not read a truer book all year.


  1. Wow! Powerful emotions must have rocked your soul. I am very tempted to put everything on hold to read this book soon. What would you say? On a lighter note, I love the pic of Ellie and Claudius.

  2. Oh, yes. This book--an unexpected review copy--showed up the day after the 32nd anniversary of my brother's death. If you've a reason to read such a book I daresay it'll speak to you, too.

    And thanks for liking the cats in an exploratory mood!

  3. Jordan9:59 PM

    Sounds amazing.

  4. thisiswhathappens12:23 PM

    Funny, I came across your blog, and this posting just when I needed it most. Thank you, I'll be picking the book up today.

  5. You know, I wouldn't mind seeing if I could set up an interview with the author. But if I did, I would prefer to have everyone (translation: anyone interested in the subject) email me/post questions they'd like to see answered.

    Should I check into this?


As a reader I cherish the fantasy of one day stopping acquiring books, of subsisting only on what is already stashed away in the crammed lar...