The most important book I read this year

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer

I listen to audiobooks when I walk, and I recently heard Sue Klebold read her book “A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy”.

In my opinion, this is a book every adult should read. For me, it’s a book I needed to listen to. It was important for me to hear this mother read her own words about her son.

Some of my friends–because they were physically close to the events she writes about–have said they cannot read it. They may not be able to read this, either, and I respect that. Tragedy leaves scars.

When she introduces herself as a speaker at conferences, Sue Klebold says, “My son Dylan died by suicide. He was one of the shooters at Columbine.” As I listened to her tell the story of her family and her son, I found myself thinking one phrase over and over again.

She is describing the kind of family life I always wanted.

This book was written in part, she says, because a father of one of the students challenged her to. What lessons could she share with other parents about the things she had missed, the mistakes she had made, the things she should have done differently so that a tragedy like Columbine could be avoided in the future? How could she help people recognize self-destructive signs in their loved ones so suicides and murder-suicides could be prevented?

Oh my gosh, what a burden.

Yet, she needed to be relentless in seeking these answers for herself. She writes intelligently, relying on her journals, on interviews with health care professionals, with researchers and scientists. She discusses brain health, including her own, and she does so with candor. As the mother of a notorious school shooter, she was also a victim. Columbine was at the beginning of the 24hour news cycle, and for awhile, she felt she was the most hated woman in the world.

She is also, though, what many of us are–a Left-Behind. She is a survivor of a loved one’s successful suicide. She has healed enough be be an advocate for other Left-Behinds. It is a particularly horrible kind of grief we deal with.

For Sue Klebold, however, there will always be another gut-broiling layer of pain and to be honest, I’m not sure if I could survive it. I’m not sure I’d want to. There was Dylan. And there were all the people he and his partner had killed, injured, or psychologically damaged.

She writes when she realized that Dylan’s participation in the massacre was not a “moment of madness.” Walking by the river, I had to sit on a bench as I listened. She is the narrator of her story. I did not get the feeling she was acting for sympathy, nor remained unaffected. She did her job as narrator, but the knowledge of her role affected me deeply.

Six months after Columbine, she first viewed the videos her son and his friend had made while they were planning the attack on their school. She describes her shock at the very different Dylan on film, at his posturing, at their violent words and ideas. She had never met that Dylan. Her grieving began anew.

This is a courageous book. Necessary details of the story are told, in a way that seems honest and unflinching.

Were there signs the Klebold family could have paid attention to? She says yes.

And given the same circumstances, I suspect many of us would have dismissed them too.

From her website:

Today I am an advocate for mental health awareness, research and suicide prevention. By writing A Mother’s Reckoning, I hope to shine a light on these important issues.  Through my Colorado public benefit corporation (PBC), Vention Resources, Inc., PBC, all author profits that I or my PBC would have ordinarily received from the publication of this book, after reasonable expenses, will be used to fund charitable organizations who share my goals and strive to address these concerns, including Mental Health America (MHA), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), American Association of Suicidology (AAS) and Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.




18 thoughts on “The most important book I read this year

  1. This is a really interesting take on the subject and I am drawn to get her book. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to go through the things she went through. Thanks for sharing someone I might not have noticed. I’m going to go and buy her book.

  2. Thank you, Crystal for your thoughtful review and also for your compassion for this woman.

    So often when we are hurt or confused, our pain shows itself not as mourning, but as anger. You are not angry. You are seeking to understand, to grow. I need to do the same. Because I work with students Dylan’s age (and younger), this is a book I need to read. I had heard about it, but I would never have had the guts to buy it if not for you.

    1. Dylan’s choices were not hers–but she was an easy target for anger. Suicide is never uncomplicated–and this case is more complicated than most. Brain health issues can be sly, and while not every person with brain health issues seeks murder and/or suicide as a final act, some do. Her son did. My heart goes out to her. Please do read it, Laura. Let me know what you think.

  3. I can’t imagine anything tougher to face than this. I’m all for suicide prevention programs, and mental health programs, and providing safe spaces for young males to get help. And for gun control, too. I applaud this woman. And you for this piece that made me want to get the book, and learn more.

    1. This case apparently changed some of the protocols for schools–and yet there are still so many problems that we are in danger of becoming apathetic. I applaud her too. I’d be interested in what you think.

  4. Oh, Crystal. I’m not a Left-Behind, but I’m someone related to several beautiful souls who suffer from varying degrees of depression, who battle self-doubt and/or thoughts of suicide. My own son is named Dylan, and I gasped as I realized her Dylan had taken his life, and taken many others before his own, creating a village of Left-Behinds. Her pain must be so great. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    1. “a village of Left-Behinds”–what an accurate picture. Yes, it would strike you differently to have a son with the same name, just as it struck me to have a nephew in such desperate mental space.

  5. What a difficult book for her to write and narrate, and how tough it must have been for you to read/listen to parts. I cannot imagine the pain she feels (because I’m certain she still feels it). It is difficult to grieve publicly, especially when you are grieving the person so many people hate.

    Thank you for making me aware of the book, and for your thoughtful take on it.

    1. It was hard to listen sometimes. I think I, like many others, rather crucified her at the time. “What must have happened in that home… etc.etc.” I don’t think it was that different than what happens in many people’s homes. She had teenagers. She thought they were going through teenaged angst. Young people die every day with teenaged angst. Her son had the ability to hide his brain health issues, and many people are able to do that–or we wouldn’t have so many fall-through-the-crack cases. My nephew was on a waiting list for a long time, and never actually got in. This is complex, to be sure.

  6. Crystal,

    Being married to someone who has attempted suicide, and being mother to a son who’s made the same attempt, I think I would like to read that book.

    Once Mike and I were talking and he shared that it felt like a dark hole he could not get out of.

    1. The more I learn, the more I realize suicide is an attempt to be released from pain–and for whatever reason, the route to release that pain makes sense to the person making the attempt. It doesn’t make sense to the rest of us though, because we are in better brain health.

  7. I have struggled mightily over whether or not this is a book I should or would even want to read. I didn’t know anyone directly impacted by the events at Columbine, but I remember the shock, anger, sorrow, and incredulity very well. I remember sitting on the patio of a local restaurant, celebrating a colleague’s recent promotion. All of a sudden several people, parents we later assumed, ran out of the restaurant, meals uneaten, cash left piled in the middle of the table. We didn’t know what was going on until we got back to the office and heard the reports on the radio. I have resisted following much of the forensic discussion concerning the events of Columbine, partially because of a non-disclosure agreement with my employer at the time, and partially because I didn’t want to revisit that pain again. I wonder, though, if now might be the time to go back to Columbine.

    Thank you for your thoughts, Crystal. I’m not sure if I want to read Sue Klebold’s book or not, but I thank you for reminding me there is always more than one story to be told, regardless of perspective.

    1. Your perspective as someone whose life was consumed by the media circus around Columbine is absolutely valid. There is no question what happened at that high-school on that day was horrible. No one, including Sue Klebold denies that. Many people were affected by this one event, and I cannot imagine what it was like for someone to live in the area–anymore than I can imagine what it is like to be her. Follow your reconciliation-seeking heart.

  8. I so appreciate the careful, yet honest way you approach this subject, both here and during the conversations you and I have had. I do believe this is an important book. I am glad she had the courage to write it. But I do not know if I can read it. I have so many friends who were affected by Columbine, and it affected my life so deeply that I hesitate to delve into it again. Which sounds silly and weak now that I’ve written it. But it’s the truth. I’ve got it on my Goodreads list, for now.

    1. There is nothing silly and weak about that, Amy. There is strength in knowing what is healthy for you right now. Each of us avoids the things that hurt us most until we’re ready to deal with it, and you have more reason than many of us to not want to go there.

  9. I can’t imagine the grief this mother must feel. I applaud her for putting her emotional energy into something so positive, and you for sharing this. Your sensitivity and approach, as always, allows readers to see things from different lenses. Thank you for that, Crystal.

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