Maxwell (Eighteen Roses Red, 2006, etc.) revisits her son’s suicide and her subsequent grieving process.
When her 35-year-old son, Bill, committed suicide in 1989, Maxwell was shocked. Bill was seemingly happy and healthy. Married to a woman he loved, the father of two small children and engaged in a promising career, he was someone whom Maxwell felt had “found his place in life.” Maxwell recalls the days and weeks after Bill’s death with a mixture of palpable grief, journalistic detail and wisdom gained from the passage of time. As she carries on in the face of this almost unbearable loss, and as her family participates in the rituals associated with saying goodbye, Maxwell scours Bill’s life for signs of suffering that the family may have overlooked. She catches glimpses of Bill’s distress, including the haunting detail that an 8-year-old Bill told his younger brother he wanted to kill himself. One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is in how Bill’s wife, Laura, his children and his siblings navigate how to preserve and honor his memory. In the final chapters, Maxwell explores depression and suicide directly, drawing from extensive readings and her family’s experience. She concludes that societal attitudes toward suicide—described as “moralistic” and “superstitious”—are not only wrong but damaging. Her final advice to grieving readers: “Be willing to live with the unanswered questions and with your grief.” Time has provided Maxwell with the clarity to assess her grieving, but this memoir will be most comforting to those recently unmoored by a loss.
This unusually thoughtful, considered memoir will be valuable and inspirational to readers who have lost a loved one to suicide.