Boy – The Story of my Teenage Son’s Suicide

By Kate Shand MF Books/Jacana

I have a son, my son is dead. I had a son. The heartbreaking litany that begins Kate Shand’s memoir of her son’s suicide strikes deep. With unflinching honesty and eloquence she cuts through the platitudes of grief as she looks at her role in his life and how she will move forward and accept his death.  You feel her sense of disbelief over the finality of his death.  There is no last chance to save him and change the course of his future. Kate’s son John was 14 when he hung himself, that vulnerable age when young boys are poised on the verge of selfhood.  He had always been an unusual child, happier in his own company or in nature.  Part of a large, loud and loving family, his unhappiness was not so much unnoticed as misunderstood.  Who can really understand what another is seeing in the world?

You are taken through the emotional detective work Shand and her family undertake to get to the bottom of her son’s seemingly random decision. Shand writes “Grief grabs you by the neck and it feels like it’s going to throttle the life out of you.”  She manages to eloquently find words for so many feelings that usually remain locked inside that grief.

This is an important book because it peels away the layers surrounding a suicide, it exposes the guilt, the trauma, the anger, the deep sorrow.  It’s a hard read and intensely personal – I admire her courage in exposing herself in order to heal this great grief.  I wonder whether her family and children are as comfortable with her revelations, but I can only assume they are on the same path of searching for understanding and healing.

As a parent her honesty will cut you to the quick and any judgments you might make in the beginning are slowly erased through the book as you realise that no one can take responsibility for another’s decision to take their life.  Blame is pointless. All you can do is pay attention.  Look about you – see your children.  Kiss them and hold them tight.   As she writes just after her son’s body is found, “Finally people start leaving. They return to the safety of their homes, where everything’s still in place, where life still makes sense, and when they wake up in the morning they will count their children and they will still be there, safe and sound.”

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