After seeing the Sue Klebold TED Talk where Klebold discusses the mass murder her son participated in at Columbine High School, I felt compelled to read her book A Mother’s Reckoning, so I picked it up from the library and finished it in four days. Needless to say, the Columbine shooting shook the entire country, if not the world, and opened our eyes to so many issues that are still a problem today: mental health and illness, the dangers and life-long lingering effects of bullying, gun violence and control, among others. I’ve finished reading the book, and have also spent a decent amount of time reading news articles covering the mass murder at the time, and also Amazon reader reviews, and this is generally what I think.
Sue Klebold is so right in that it’s so easy for us to say as outsiders that it’s easy to blame the parents. If you have never experienced the suicide of a loved one, or a suicide-homicide in her case, it’s easy for you to think that it could never affect your own life or that of someone you love who is close to you. You think to yourself, “if I had a friend/brother/sister/daughter/son/etc. who was going through that, I’d have to know.” No, you don’t have to know. No, you wouldn’t always be able to tell the signs. Sometimes it’s the people closest to us who have the most to hide and are the best actors. All of our lives are busy, and all of us are always going to overlook things that in hindsight, may seem obvious. We are all human beings, after all, and we are prone to error in judgment. We need to accept that we are not infallible. I’ve personally had to accept that every day since Ed’s death.
It’s hard for me to blame Sue Klebold and her husband the way so many readers and outsiders do because at the end of the day, don’t all parents “try their best”? Their best may not be your best or my best, but it’s to the best of their ability, as all of our spheres of knowledge are so different. Of course, the book is written by her, so it’s obvious she would want to portray her and her (now ex-) husband as good parents (which could make a potential reader think she would be an unreliable narrator), but that also seems to be the general consensus of those around them, as well, who knew them. She is also brutally honest in revealing all the “danger signs” that she and Dylan’s dad chose to either ignore or overlook at the time. She’s really using this book as a way to be a warning to all parents even non-parents out there: be aware that you may never fully know your child, but also look out for signs like all these that I failed to see. And I personally think that is so brave of her. It’s even braver of her to put herself out there in the world, volunteering for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, going to conferences around the country to share her story, despite all the hate and death threats that she has received.
One thing she does repeatedly in the book is refer to mental health as “brain health” instead of mental health. She says she does this because “mental health” is not something people can see or grasp, and therefore it is easier to ignore or avoid it; if we refer to it as “brain health,” it’s more visible, and it forces us to see that it’s part of our head. It’s an interesting concept, one that a number of readers have complained about, but I do think it could have some merit. Her argument is correct: it’s hard even for the medical community to take “mental health” seriously. Isn’t that why so many suicide attempts and hospitalizations are treated so poorly and handled in a way that wrongly treats suicide attempts as a conscious and active “choice” rather than a poorly made decision in a medical state of emergency?