Reviews

The Suicide Survivors' Club

Reviewed by Ginny Sparrow, AAS Book Review Chairman

August 2016 

There are many books written by survivors of suicide, which is why AAS has so many of the best reviewed on our website. Every book has a specific audience, one size does not fit all, but the ground breaking set of beautiful little books, The Suicide Survivors’ Club, doesn’t fit a mold, and is wonderfully suitable for all audiences. 

A collection of five short, illustrated books make up the grouping, each entitled by its specific author. “Pattie” is the college freshman who after only one month of college is summoned home after her father takes his life. That first traumatic night she sleeps with her mother, but soon discovers she wants to “sort of run away from my family.” In her mother “Becky”’s book, the shattered parent confesses she wanted Pattie to become an adult overnight and help her, but that was not her role. 

The two young sons’ books similarly are autobiographical accounts of their early experience after their dad’s death. Will is only five-years-old, and doesn’t feel like he really lost a dad, instead he lost the chance of knowing him. Aidan is in second grade and discovers some of his classmates have been told by their parents that his father died in a car accident. Aidan tells them the truth. 

The mother’s story is written in two short books, one as Becky, and one as a parent of suicide survivors. Becky wisely has her entire family in therapy shortly after her husband Don’s death, and participates in filial (play) therapy with them. In one touching recount, her five-year-old makes life rafts for each family member out of popsicle sticks. 

The lovely books are filled with watercolor artwork expressing both heaven and hell, gloom and sunnier days. At the end of one book, says daughter Pattie, “It feels like we’re finally through it.” I liked how she said that; not we’re finally over it, just through the storm. A couple of the books express that the second year was a real struggle, a helpful caveat to survivors. 

The best part about these books is that they were written ten years after the family’s horrific loss. While every survivor of suicide has a book to write, a story to tell, it’s often written too soon and with out the hope and healing that comes from time. Specifically, time well spent. These books show you how to do it, and will become a go-to when I recommend books for survivors.

Among the dozens of books that have been written by suicide loss survivors to support other survivors, the collection of small books titled Suicide Survivor’s Club is a very unique example. It is not quite like any other book (or series of books) in this domain, and as such, may well be of help to parents and children in a family where a parent has taken their life. In essence, the five volumes in the Suicide Survivor’s Club are the stories of a wife/mother, and each of her three children (a daughter, 18, and two sons, 7 & 5), as they confronted the suicide of their husband/father. The fifth volume is written by Becky, the wife/mother, about the challenges of parenting her children and holding her broken family together after the suicide of her husband.

Each volume is a very brief, “bare-bones” narrative about one family member and how suicide has impacted and changed their life as an individual, and their lives together as a family – from that individual’s perspective. The author (Laurie Phillips) has based the text of each volume on extensive discussions with each member of the family. The words are simple, searing, and authentic. Each volume is also exquisitely illustrated, and very spare in its prose. The books look and read like a children’s book, and the volumes by the younger children would make fine reading for any children above the age of 5 or 6. But the simplicity of the prose and illustrations should not mislead the reader – each volume of the Suicide Survivor’s Club is a rich glimpse into the inner thoughts and feelings of a given family member. Reading them is almost like sitting next to the person, listening to them relate what their journey has been like for them. The volumes are also rich with ideas about coping, surviving, and even growing stronger after such a tragedy. The volumes offer real hope about healing – they can be of help to any family who want to know how another family like theirs has survived the catastrophe of losing a husband/father to suicide.

John (Jack) Jordan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist who's worked with survivors of suicide and other traumatic losses for more than 35 years. He is the Professional Advisor to the Loss and Healing Council of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). He is Co-Chair of the Survivors of Suicide Loss Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. This Task force has released postvention guidelines titled Responding to Grief, Trauma, and Distress After Suicide: U.S. National Guidelines.

Rebecca and Laurie are available to speak to your group about using art and storytelling to heal from grief surrounding the suicide of a loved one. Please contact Rebecca for information about scheduling a presentation or ordering book sets in volume.