Keeping It Real: A Mother’s Reckoning

If you read A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold looking for a checklist of how to spot a mass murderer, you will be very disappointed in this book. Seventeen years after the tragedy in Columbine, it’s still unclear what caused Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris (or any school shooter for that matter) to kill their classmates and a teacher before turning the guns on themselves.

Since Columbine, there have been 50 school shootings and millions of news stories connecting murder to mental illness. Many of these shootings have been committed by people with mental illness, but by trying to create causal relationship between the the two, the media has done much more harm than good. It’s just so much more complicated.

Sue is the first to tell you that she doesn’t have the answers. Instead, she offers some brilliant and heartwarming lessons about grief, suicide loss, and mental illness. Here are some bright spots in what is otherwise a pretty sad book.

You Can Hate the Crime and Still Love the Person

In one of the saddest and truest parts of the book Sue writes, “I know the world would be a better place if my son had not been born, but my life would not have been.” While not really a universal feeling-- most of us who have lost loved ones believe the world would be a better place with them-- it can be easy to lose sight of your own loss. Even when death makes sense at the end of a long illness, you still have a right to grieve for the person you lost.  

Don’t Let the “What Ifs” Ruin You

Sure, we’d all like to get through life without regrets, but when you’ve lost someone to suicide (or worse, murder-suicide), you’ll always imagine yourself saving them. Throughout the book, Sue details many moments when she realizes now she should have done XYZ. She says she is envious of families who fought for treatment for their loved ones even if they ultimately lost that battle. Despite her regrets, she allowed herself to move on.

Tragedy Can Remake Your Life

As tempting as it may have been to crawl under her bed and never emerge, Sue found a community among other people who had lost a child or family member by suicide. She learned everything she could about depression (which Dylan clearly had) and now helps parents recognize the signs she didn’t.