From those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide:
"I recently lost my 23 year old daughter, who was a 3rd year medical student to suicide 4-11-13. No one had any idea of her depression until her suicide note was read. We were left in total desperation and disbelief as to why our brilliant, successful, driven, sweet daughter would ever do such a thing. Once I was able to read again, I searched for books that would help me cope with the horrible feelings a mother is left with after the light of her life felt she could no longer live, a daughter I thought had everything to live for and in fact had told me this herself many times. She always told me how lucky she was and happy. Then this. And so I searched. I have read two books before this solely devoted to people that have had loved ones lost to suicide. None of them helped me. Either they were way too religious based (I am a Christian and am not opposed to seeing this side of things, but I needed more as well....ways to cope, a way to live again, a way to know my feelings were normal in this situation), or they just had no real helpful information at all. This book had it all. Ms. Andersen has lost her own child to suicide, and though his situation was different than my daughter's (there are so many situations that lead to suicide but it all comes down to depression), I found it immensely helpful. Every emotion, every thought, everything I have gone through since my daughter's death, she has talked about in this book. She relays her experience and also offers many stories where others tell their own unique story of their loved one's suicide. Some had a child, a sibling, a grandparent, a friend, etc that told their stories so it's not only for parents. I ordered this book also for my mother who I know it will also help.
I'd like to also say that after reading this book, I have now a measure of peace. No, I'm not healed from this wound, I never will be, no one ever will be, but this book is a great source of hope and vehicle from which you receive so many ways of thinking about things.
I suggest this book to anyone that has lost someone to suicide, no matter what way they were connected to them. For me, I need not read another book on suicide. This one says it all.
Rhonda Sellers Elkins
Thank you a million times to the author for writing this book and to all bookstores who have made it available. I searched for a book that was written by a parent who has also experienced this terrible loss. My 18 year old daughter took her own life six years ago and I have been in a living nightmare ever since, wondering if I am going mad and being unable to talk about some of my darkest thoughts and feelings to anyone else for concern that they wouldn't understand. I didn't want to read a book telling me how to get over it, because this will never happen. This book was originally sent to me by another parent I had met on a bereavement forum and I have since purchased it for a couple of other bereaved parents. As soon as I started reading it, I felt that the author could see inside my mind and feel what I was feeling. I didn't want to read something full of platitudes and instructions on how to get over it - I just wanted someone to be able to identify with what I was going through. It is not only the author's experience that resonated with me, but parts of all the other experiences that were shared in the book. I took something from almost every one and could say, "Yes, that's how I feel". The author offered some helpful coping strategies that I have put into practice to give me the strength to carry on. The author's compassion and understanding to some of those who made her son's life difficult is commendable, together with the fact that she does not blame anyone for her son's suicide. I hope that one day I may be the same, but it is so difficult.
Ingrid Sundqvist, Sweden
Ingrid M Sundqvist at gmail dot com
“After my brother killed himself, I read so many grief and suicide aftermath books and threw most of them in the bin because they did not truly relate to my pain. So much of what Jan expresses in Chasing Death is exactly how I feel and her writing has evoked powerful emotions and images that make me want to return to the book many times. As a grieving parent herself, Jan has insight into the terrifying and overwhelming anguish that affects surviving families. Jan has written the book in such a way that people, both young and old from all walks of life, can read it. She also covers all the areas that we think about but don’t want to discuss.
When I was reading Chasing Death, it I felt my brother Fergal was communicating through the book and also that I was reading the book for him. Jan has written a wonderful book and although parts are very disturbing they are just different versions of the nightmare we all went through, and have to live with. The end is the same. I could not put the book down; it was like I was compelled to read it. All the pages are so well written and, of course, from experience Jan has only written the facts. I hope some of so called psychologists etc. read this book. A few months ago a very well known businessman in Galway where I am from took his own life. His wife (another business owner) went on TV and spoke about how she tried so hard to get help for his depression but there was no one to help her. I suspect so many people seek help and never get it. Unfortunately the money is spent on wars.
Jan’s son Kristian did not die in vain as his death has brought his mother into so many lives and helped them with their bereavement and also hopefully helped those who turn to drugs try for a better life.”
Anne-Marie, University Lecturer, US
“As a professional psychologist, I was still totally unprepared for my son’s suicide. I spent so much time trying to analyse why he ended his life and reading the type of literature that I could have written myself prior to his death. Sadly, I had to experience the devastation of suicide firsthand to realise how useless many of these books were. The way that Jan synthesises through words all the aspects of the unbearable and complicated grief that follows the suicide of a child is truly amazing. She helps to break down the barriers of shame, helplessness and secrecy and I found the chapter on Handling Insensitivity from Others invaluable.”
Veronica, Psychologist, Australia
“I feel grateful and immensely privileged to have been allowed a sneak preview of, what I am certain will be, a bestseller. I hope that it will be, because it will allow others a glimpse into the ‘secret club’ to which all suicide survivors belong. The secrecy means only feeling able to share our innermost feelings with those who have endured a similar bereavement. At the same time, we want people to know what we are truly feeling, because not only will it help them to have a better understanding of our grief, but should a similar tragedy ever befall their family, they will at least have a greater awareness of the devastation that follows. After I lost my granddaughter to suicide, I started reading many other books, but never got further than the first couple of chapters. Chasing Death was one of those books that had me transfixed from the first page and I did not want to stop reading, even for the briefest of moments. Although, as Jan said, there are no words strong enough to describe the pain and complicated grief that follows the loss of a loved one to suicide, she has captured these thoughts and emotions outstandingly within the confines of the English language.” Aileen, UK
This is the most realistic book I have read on the highly sensitive and painful topic of losing someone dear to suicide. The author has an incredible ability to put words to her own and other people's pain; something that many bereaved people find impossible to do. The author not only chronicles her own journey, but those of other bereaved people from a wide range of family set ups to ensure that every aspect is covered. I read the hard copy initially, but then decided that the ebook option was ideal for carrying around with me at all times, since I refer to it often, particularly on difficult days.
The book is totally compelling, extremely poignant, candid and touching. It serves not only to connect to the thoughts, feelings and pain of those who have lost someone to suicide, but is a gripping and educational read for anyone and will certainly help to reassess some people's blinkered views about suicide and mental illness.
No one can criticise this book for being upsetting, because how can it not be when it tackles such a devastating topic? It is also clear from the synopsis that it is heartbreaking, but there are also enormously helpful chapters that throw a positive light into the darkness. We are all victims of circumstance, although I have huge admiration for the author who, despite everything that has happened, is never bitter and shows great understanding to those who behaved in a less than acceptable manner towards her and her son.
I was particularly drawn in by the chapters on life after death, handling insensitivity from others and coping strategies, which certainly help to give hope and strength to anyone who has suffered such a monumental and seemingly senseless loss.
Harry Douglas-Hamilton, UK
From those who haven’t lost a child:
“I was curious to read this book as suicide is very much a taboo subject and yet it seems everyday we read about someone tragically taking their own life, whether it be revealed within a wee snippet in the corner of the local journals, or worldwide on televised news bulletins informing us of the latest celebrity to depart our world. Death is never easy to accept at whatever age and I can only imagine the horror of losing a child. As a mother myself it would be inconceivable.
Harshly, in life many do survive with this painful scenario and I hope will seek out this book for some comfort knowing that they are not isolated with their discontented feelings of the massive void.
As soon as I picked up this book, I couldn't put it down. This book is written in the manner of a bestseller novel. It is eloquently written but without being too complex and with such raw honesty. Without revealing too much, I can only admire how the author has the courage to reveal the background leading up to her own son's death. Being emotionally fuelled and sympathising with the author, I found at times I just could not prevent the tears from flowing down my cheeks but being an important measure in the process of the book; revealing the brutal honesty of dealing or not wanting to deal with the grief.
I also would say that the author does break away with compassionate integrity sharing other people's stories interconnecting with her own experiences of how to deal with the death of a child, albeit through suicide or by any other diagnosis.
This heart-to-heart book will be identified by the many who need no verification of the pain they have already endured but also to invoke to the ways of staying in touch spiritually. Through this book many people will find great comfort and the recognition for the loss of their own special child.”
On November 1, 2002, Jan Andersen heard the news all parents dread: her son Kristian was dead at age 19, the victim of suicide from a heroin overdose. In her own words, Ms. Andersen states, “To many, suicide is a dirty word…What I discovered was that the stigma and lack of understanding surrounding suicide confined many grieving families to a world of silent, relentless torture.” Thus began her journey into not only grief but also her memoir/self-help book, “Chasing Death: Losing A Child To Suicide,” hoping to dispel some of those myths while, at the same time, offering comfort to similarly situated parents.
Cathartic as she claims it was to write, Ms. Andersen’s painfully poignant book is surely to be healing to other parents who have experienced the loss of a child in such a way. While many books about loss and grief tend to be overly clinical, this book is a refreshing exception in that it leaves no emotional stone unturned in its realistic albeit brutal honesty.
The book starts with the story of Kristian from his birth to his death, and the author’s sharing of her beautiful maternal feelings begins her myth-dispelling by reminding readers of how very much loved suicide victims usually are. In her words, “When a child completes suicide, there is inevitably a sense of failure on the part of those who have been left behind, not least of all the parents. They will always reproach themselves for past words and actions, but no parent is perfect.” This kind of validation is sure to be soothing to those whose lives have been upended by their child’s sudden self-inflicted death.
From there, Ms. Andersen boldly and unabashedly rips the reader’s heart out with detailed observations of dead bodies, morgue visits, funeral home duties, and police inquests. Quotes from other grieving parents are peppered throughout the book in support of the author’s various opinions and feelings.
In writing her book, the author’s most fervent wishes appear to lie in the hope that A.) her son did not die in vain; that his life stood for something, and B.) victims of suicide are not always selfish for taking their lives because, based on her interview of other parents whose children left behind notes to survivors, many do so with the misguided yet eerily noble hope of alleviating other people’s suffering, not just their own.
Ms. Andersen lays bare her deepest thoughts and feelings, no matter how foreign they may seem to those who have never walked in her shoes, and by doing so, she teaches us all a lesson in compassion. The book stops short of telling the reader exactly what friends can effectively say to a suicide victim’s parent that would be welcoming to their grieving ears. Instead, the author dutifully cuts to the chase and reminds her audience of the worst of our good-intentioned oral blunders both at the funeral and after. Knowing what NOT to say is itself helpful to any reader.
Of interest is the author’s personal take on spirituality, which gives the reader hope that a belief in a Higher Power of some sort is indeed helpful to many who grieve.
Ms. Andersen states, “Grief cannot be quantified. It doesn’t fit neatly into a pre-defined package of (sic) organised emotions experienced at set times. It will very often be a lifelong process, but should not prevent us from re-investing in life.” Although she reminds us that her grief will always be a part of her, Ms. Andersen encourages and uplifts readers who may be searching for a reprieve from grief’s sting by telling them that “these (grief-related) thoughts no longer occupy every waking minute. Some days are worse than others, but the gaps between the awful days when I feel as though I am drowning are becoming longer.”
Indeed, the message in her last few chapters is clear: coping with loss is all about learning to manage grief so it doesn’t interfere with your present life’s happiness. Wise words from a wise soul who has taken a tragedy in her life and turned it into a triumph for her readers.
Copyright 2010 Julie Donner Andersen. All rights for this review are reserved. Reprints only by express written permission of the author.
~Julie Donner Andersen is the author of “PAST: Perfect! PRESENT: Tense! Insights From One Woman’s Journey as the Wife of a Widower”. Her website is http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com.
“I have never lost a child, but I am a mother. I have read numerous triumph over tragedy books, but never has a book touched me with such profoundness as this one. I wept on countless occasions, but found that once I had started reading, I just didn’t want to put the book down. How Jan has managed to channel her grief into something so phenomenal is not only admirable, but shows an incredible strength that I just don’t believe I would ever have if suicide were to strike my own family. I don’t just see a bestselling book here, but a powerful drama or movie. I would certainly be the first at the box office.”
Karin, Solicitor, Sweden
“Jan articulates her conflicting emotions and endless questions so clearly and the quotes are so touching and appropriate. The value in Jan having written the book over such a long period is that it gives hope to recently bereaved people, particularly since she speaks from experience about coping mechanisms.
I had to steel myself to read the book because, like every parent, my worst fear is losing my son and I so nearly did when he was born. He was so tiny (2lb 15oz) and 6 weeks’ premature. Nobody knew how to react when he was born and so his birth was ignored by some people; it felt like I hadn't had a baby. Even now, I find that so hurtful but I guess they just didn't know what to say or do. When he started school I was the first mum to have a mobile and dreaded the phone ringing in case something had happened to him. I can totally relate to Jan’s fear about losing one of her other children and I'm finding it so hard to conquer because I know that I have to give my son space, but as he's my only child I know I wouldn't be able to carry on without him. It's not the same as Jan’s situation but it shows how much we love our children.”
“Chasing Death: Losing a child to suicide is a raw, heart-wrenching, inspirational account of the effects of suicide on the families of those left behind, particularly when the individual who has been lost was a young child; a son, daughter, brother, sister etc. In writing her very personal account, spanning 7 years of feeling an indescribable loss, Jan crosses the bridge on taboo subjects surrounding what the experts say you should or shouldn’t do and feel in grief. This book reaches the reader on many levels, brings an infinite web of support for those who have experienced similar tragedies and brings questions of the soul to the surface for everyone, including those who have not been touched by the effects of suicide. Jan stares pain, death and grief in the face and demands answers from them whilst at the same time bringing humour, hope and faith through her words to the reader.”
"How does a parent ever cope with losing a child, let alone to something as unthinkable as suicide? On 1 November 2002, Jan Andersen discovered the answer to that question firsthand when her eldest son Kristian ended his life. However, instead of giving up on life as so many would, she began to channel her grief into what I can only describe as an incredible piece of writing.
I have two children and one of my biggest fears has always been losing one of them, a fear with which I am certain all parents can identify. I am not certain that I would be able to carry on if something ever happened to one of them, so I have even more respect for the author in having pulled herself from the depths of her grief to produce something so positive, so helpful and so touching.
Not only has the author tackled an immensely difficult and highly emotional topic, but she has articulated her thoughts, feelings and experiences in such a way that the reader can vividly picture the scene and almost feel her suffering. Despite the author’s own admission about the repetition of certain “trauma” words, she has successfully managed to assimilate these limited words outstandingly to convey a powerful picture of grief and love that I am certain will touch the hearts of all who read the book.
The first chapter tells her son Kristian’s life story, beginning at the point where she is sitting with him at the hospital following his suicide, then tracing his life from his birth through to the time when she last saw him alive and concluding with the scene in the hospital where the chapter began. The following chapters continue from the trauma of the immediate aftermath of the suicide through to the funeral, the inquest and the years ahead.
The author hasn’t just covered the suicide of her own son, but has included a plethora of experiences from families around the world, all in different family set-ups. She has included experiences from grandparents, siblings, stepparents and so on, so that no one within the extended family has been forgotten.
Chasing Death is a heartbreaking, but outstandingly-written book that I had difficulty in putting down."
Sarah Ingram, UK