A former editor and literary agent tells the story of how her mother’s unexpected death forced her to come to terms with a tragic family past.
When Edelstein’s healthy 68-year-old mother suddenly drowned while snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, her world upended. Not only did she have to confront the conflicting feelings she had long harbored toward her emotionally distant parent; she also had to process unresolved grief for a brother, Danny, who had committed an especially violent act of suicide 15 years earlier. The author’s mother had been a woman for whom order meant everything and whose love came with a “debilitating web of anxiety” that entangled those who were close to her. No one could speak the truth of what they were feeling; “everyone had to act like our world was perfectly okay.” It was her sweet, funny brother who helped Edelstein navigate the treacherous field around her mother. But as he grew older, his gentle manner gave way to meanness and irresponsibility, which she later recognized as symptoms of the illness that caused Danny to kill himself at age 22. Over time, the author learned that both her mother’s and brother’s behaviors came from an inherited tendency toward depression and bipolar disorder that had affected her mother’s father, who committed suicide at age 50 after multiple failed attempts; and her mother’s brother, who also committed midlife suicide. By revisiting her family’s past, Edelstein gradually began to understand that her mother’s maddening rigidity came from being “surrounded by suicide on all sides.” Determined not to let her emotional burdens drown her or destroy her marriage and family, she began the courageous task of breaking the silence around her family’s past to her own children. Touching and honest, Edelstein’s book offers keen analysis of the mother-daughter relationship while probing the perennial question of what makes humans choose life or death.
A poignantly candid memoir about navigating the often rocky shores of family.