Books for Loss Survivors, My Forever Son

Loss Survivors

A Note About Terminology:

Loss Survivors are also called Survivors of Suicide–a confusing term used to depict those left behind after the suicide of a loved one. Using Loss Survivors as a term clarifies the confusion between the semantics of Survivors of Suicide–who are loss survivors–and Suicide Survivors (those who have attempted suicide and lived). Both terms, Loss Survivors and Survivors of Suicide, are used throughout the book list. Know that they mean the same.

Beth, Dylan’s Mom, My Forever Son

“Why Suicide?”

The “WHY?” of a suicide death can haunt loss survivors. Sometimes for a long time. Sometimes forever. Sometimes until, exhausted by all other means, we realize that all questions of “WHY?” lend themselves to circular reasoning–that there is, in fact, no logic and reason behind a suicide death.

Suicide resides outside the realm of logic, though in having been left with the devastating pain of losing my son to suicide, I continue to search for the “WHY?” behind what seems his senseless death.

Seeking Solace

I’ve sought solace reading. . .

Books about losing a child to suicide.

Books about how to live through-and process-the difficult grief after a suicide.

Additional Books

Because a suicide loss leaves an enormous void where understanding is impossible–

Beth Brown
A Stack of Paperback books with a mug resting on top. Colored leaves, red, yellow, and orange, and an open book are in the background.

Books for Loss Survivors

While no amount of resources would ever be considered comprehensive of each person’s unique experiences in the aftermath of suicide loss, below is a listing of books from which we hope loss survivors will find helpful information and guidance as they navigate their healing journey.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Books for Loss Survivors

Books for Loss Survivors

Books for Loss Survivors

Practical guides for coping with a suicide loss

After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief Jack Jordan, Ph.D., and Bob Baugher, Ph.D., Caring People Press, 2016 (2nd edition).

This excellent handbook is organized chronologically to follow the days, weeks, and months after a suicide loss. It includes straightforward information about psychiatric disorders, when to seek professional help, and practical strategies for coping and healing.

Black Suicide: The Tragic Reality of America’s Deadliest Secret
Alton R. Kirk, Ph.D., Beckham Publications Group, 2009.

A brief exploration of suicide in the African American community, including a chapter dedicated to first-person accounts of black survivors of suicide loss.

Dying to Be Free: A Healing Guide for Families after a Suicide
Beverly Cobain and Jean Larch, Hazelden Foundation, 2006.

Co-authored by a crisis intervention specialist and a cousin of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the band Nirvana who took his life in 1994, this book combines personal accounts from loss survivors with practical guidance for coping with suicide loss.

The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide
Brandy Lidbeck, Gift Pub, 2016.

The Gift of Second by therapist and suicide loss survivor Lidbeck offers hope and advice to guide survivors through the desperate time after a suicide loss.  Wise and compassionate, this valuable book explores the nature of grief and trauma, helps loss survivors let go of their burden of guilt and shame, and sets them on a healthy path to healing.

Healing after the Suicide of a Loved One
Ann Smolin and John Guinan, Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Many survivors struggle with the questions “why?” and “what if?”  This book shares case studies and offers advice to help survivors begin to heal.

Lay My Burden Down: Unraveling Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African-Americans
Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D., and Amy Alexander, Beacon Press, 2001.

One of only a few books addressing suicide and mental health problems within the African American community.

Reaching Out after Suicide: What’s Helpful and What’s Not
Linda H. Kilburn, M.S.W., 2008.
Available from KP Associates, LLC (kpamass@aol.com).

A clinical hospice social worker and survivor of her daughter’s suicide, Kilburn offers practical advice for well-meaning friends and family who want to reach out and be supportive after a suicide, but aren’t sure what to do or say.

Rocky Roads: The Journeys of Families through Suicide Grief
Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D., Chellehead Works, 2010.

Written by a survivor who lost a sibling, this guide explores the effects of suicide and grief on family relationships. Linn-Gust addresses the reasons some families work through their suicide loss and become stronger than before, while others struggle with coming back together as a family unit.

Silent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide
Christopher Lukas and Henry M. Seiden, Ph.D., Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007 (revised edition).

As they explore common experiences of bereavement, grief reactions, and various ways of coping, the authors emphasize the importance of sharing one’s experience of “survival” with others. They encourage loss survivors to overcome the stigma or shame associated with suicide and to seek outside support.

Suicide of a Child
Adina Wrobleski, Centering Corp., 2002.

A basic guide for early bereavement after your child’s suicide that offers comforting, compassionate, easy-to-read observations and personal messages.

Suicide Survivors’ Handbook
Trudy Carlson, Benline Press, 2000 (expanded edition).

Providing specific suggestions and practical advice from other survivors, the author addresses the following questions: Why? What about shame and guilt? How long does the pain last? What helps? How do you deal with others?

Survivors of Suicide
Rita Robinson and Phyllis Hart, New Page Books, 2001.

A compilation of advice and loss survivor stories.

Touched by Suicide: Hope and Healing after Loss
Michael F. Myers, M.D., and Carla Fine, Gotham Books, 2006.

Co-authored by a psychiatrist and a loss survivor, this book offers detailed steps, practical suggestions, and compassionate advice on coping with all aspects of suicide.

Unfinished Conversation: Healing from Suicide and Loss — A Guided Journey
Robert E. Lesoine and Marilynne Chopel, Parallax Press, 2013.

Based on a journal Lesoine kept following the loss of his best friend, this book also offers tools and techniques which provide survivors with effective new means to face their own experience. After each brief chapter of the author’s story, revealing a particular stage or action in the aftermath of a suicide, readers are invited through a series of related questions to reflect on their own experiences and memories in order to facilitate a transformative healing process.

Voices of Healing and Hope: Conversations on Grief after Suicide
Iris Bolton, Bolton Press Atlanta, 2017.Includes DVD of interviews.

Through an informal survey of family members impacted by suicide, Iris Bolton, author of My Son…My Son: A Guide to Healing after Death, Loss, or Suicide, identified eight issues that were among the most difficult for suicide loss survivors to cope with: why, guilt, shame, anger, pain, fear, depression, and faith. This poignant book includes the stories of more than twenty-five loss survivors as they relate to these challenges.

Why Suicide? Questions and Answers about Suicide, Suicide Prevention, and Coping with the Suicide of Someone You Know
Eric Marcus, HarperOne, 2010 (revised edition).

Eric Marcus, who lost both his father and sister-in-law to suicide, addresses the myriad questions with which loss survivors are inevitably left in the wake of a loved one’s suicide.  The Q&A format is accessible, informative, and reassuring.

The Wilderness of Suicide Grief: Finding Your Way
Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. Companion Press, 2010.

Using the metaphor of grief as a wilderness, this guidebook, written by a grief counselor, offers ten wisdom teachings, including being open to the presence of loss, misconceptions about suicide and grief, and reaching out for help. The author also offers an expanded version titled Understanding Your Grief: Ten Touchstones of Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart, and the companion workbook, The Understanding Your Suicide Grief Journal.

An open hardback book on a brown, caramel colored throw, light brown mug of tea

Loss survivor stories

A Force Unfamiliar to Me: A Cautionary Tale
Jane Butler, Hamlet Books, 1998.

A mother’s personal account of her son’s depression and suicide, this book explores some of the familiar challenges survivor families face, such as how to handle the holidays and the grief struggles between the parents of a child lost to suicide.

All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found
Philip Connors, W. W. Norton, 2015.

All the Wrong Places is an affecting and wryly funny memoir that details the author’s complex relationship with his brother and his struggle to cope with his brother’s death by suicide.

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy
Sue Klebold, Crown, 2016.

Written by the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters in the Columbine High School tragedy of 1999, this powerful book chronicles Sue Klebold’s journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. Klebold shares her experience and the insights and understanding she has gained in the hope that they may help other families recognize when a child is in distress. The Times (London) calls the book “required reading for all parents of adolescents… soul-piercingly honest, written with bravery and intelligence… A book of nobility and importance.”

An Empty Chair: Living in the Wake of a Sibling’s Suicide
Sara Swan Miller, iUniverse, 2000.

This book combines interviews with more than thirty sibling survivors all over the U.S. with the author’s own account of losing a sister to suicide.

A Special Scar: The Experience of People Bereaved by Suicide
Alison Wertheimer, Routledge, 2001.

The author, who lost her sister to suicide, presents interviews with fifty survivors that cover a wide range of issues, such as the press, stigma, guilt, anger, and rejection.

Before Their Time: Adult Children’s Experiences of Parental Suicide
Mary and Maureen Stimming, Temple University Press, 1999.

Survivor accounts of loss, grief, and resolution following a parent’s suicide by adult children. Separate sections offer perspectives on the deaths of mothers and fathers. Includes the reflections of four siblings on the shared loss of their mother.

Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival
Christopher Lukas, Doubleday, 2008.

As a young boy, Christopher (Kit) Lukas, co-author of Silent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide, survived the suicide of his mother. Neither he nor his brother were told how she died, and both went on to confront their own struggles with depression, a disease that ran in their family. In 1997, Kit’s brother Tony, a Pulitzer-prize winning author, took his own life. Blue Genes is Kit’s exploration of his family history, his personal journey, and his determination to find strength and hope.

History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life
Jill Bialosky, Atria Books, 2011.

Writer Jill Bialosky was pregnant with her first child in 1990 when her 21-year-old half-sister, Kim, took her life. Just a few months later, Bialosky’s grief was compounded by the loss of her baby. In this memoir, written nearly twenty years later, she offers a deeply personal investigation into her family’s complicated history, and into Kim’s struggle with depression and addiction. This book is recommended for survivors who are further along in their grief. Newly bereaved survivors may find it overwhelming.

In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother’s Suicide
Nancy Rappaport, Basic Books, 2009.

Child psychiatrist Nancy Rappaport lost her mother to suicide at age four. Encouraged by her own children’s curiosity about their grandmother and fortified by her professional training in psychiatry, she began to look into her mother’s life and death. Drawing on court papers, newspaper clippings, her mother’s unpublished novel, and interviews with family and friends, Rappaport explores the impact of her mother’s suicide from the perspective of a daughter, psychiatrist, wife, and mother herself.

I’ll Write Your Name on Every Beach: A Mother’s Quest for Comfort, Courage and Clarity after Suicide Loss
Susan Auerbach, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2017.

This intimate memoir tells the story of a mother’s grief journey in the wake of her son’s suicide.  In the words of Dr. Jack Jordan, an international authority on suicide loss, the book is also “helpfully organized around themes and issues that survivors will inevitably encounter, such as the bodily impact of suicide loss and guilt and responsibility. Who should read this book? Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide; … anyone who wishes to support a suicide loss survivor; and above all, any and every mother who has lost a child to suicide.”

Letters to Mitch: The Healing Power of Grief, Love & Truth
Marshall Dunn, Montego Creative Inc., 2016.

A memoir in the form of a series of raw, heartfelt letters, this account of the author’s grief and spiritual journey in the wake of the suicide death of his elder brother, Mitch, encourages readers to embrace change and honor the life with which they have been gifted.  This book is recommended only for longer-term loss survivors; the blunt, unvarnished nature of some of the writing may be upsetting to people who lost someone to suicide more recently.

My Son… My Son: A Guide to Healing after Death, Loss or Suicide
Iris Bolton and Curtis Mitchell, Bolton Press Atlanta, 1983.

Author Iris Bolton recounts the loss of her twenty-year-old son to suicide and provides advice for others who have experienced a similarly devastating loss. She explores the stigma of suicide loss, feelings of having failed as a parent, and ways to heal.

Never Regret the Pain: Loving and Losing a Bipolar Spouse
Sel Erder Yackley, Helm Publishing, 2008.

In this memoir, a mother of three provides an intimate glimpse into her family’s struggle to understand, cope with, and grieve the bipolar disorder and ultimate suicide of her husband, a well-respected judge.

The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War
Yochi Dreazen, Crown Publishing, 2014.

Major General Mark Graham was a decorated officer who inspired his sons, Jeff and Kevin, to pursue military careers of their own. When Kevin and Jeff die within nine months of each other—Kevin dies by suicide and Jeff is killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq—their parents are astonished by the drastically different responses their sons’ deaths receive from the Army. While Jeff is lauded as a hero, Kevin’s death is met with silence, evidence of the stigma that surrounds suicide and mental illness in the military. Convinced that their sons died fighting different battles, Jeff and Kevin’s parents dedicate themselves to transforming the institution that is the cornerstone of their lives.

Hope after Suicide: One Woman’s Journey from Darkness to Light
Wendy Parmley, Cedarfort Publishing, 2014.

After losing her mother to suicide when she was twelve years old, Parmley learned firsthand the anguish, despair, and loneliness of survivors of suicide loss. Hope after Suicide shares her story of sorrow and healing, and of how she learned to open her once-shattered heart years after her mother’s suicide, giving hope and comfort to those affected by such tragedy.

No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One
Carla Fine, Broadway Books, 1999.

Drawing on the experience of losing her husband to suicide and subsequent interviews with scores of suicide loss survivors, as well as the expertise of counselors and mental health professionals, Carla Fine provides invaluable guidance to the families and friends who are left behind in the aftermath of a suicide.

Remembering Garrett: One Family’s Battle with a Child’s Depression
Gordon H. Smith, Caroll & Graf, 2006.

A personal account by the U.S. Senator from Oregon, whose 21-year-old son took his own life, and whose speech on the Senate floor led to overwhelming bipartisan support for the passage of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which increased federal funding to prevent youth suicide.

Sanity & Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival, and Strength
Judy Collins, Tarcher/Penguin, 2003.

A celebrity and grieving mother shares her story about the loss of her son to suicide, and her own struggle with mental illness.

Suicide Survivors’ Club: A Family’s Journey through the Death of Their Loved One
Rebecca Anderson (author/suicide loss survivor), Laurie Phillips (artist/storyteller), 2016.

This beautifully illustrated five-book set depicts the aftermath of a husband/father’s suicide through the eyes and in the words of his wife and children (ages 19, 7, and 5). The brief books “Becky,” “Pattie,” “Aidan,” and “Will” explore the feelings of suicide loss survivors of any age and the healing power of art.  The fifth book, “Parenting the Suicide Survivors’ Club,” is a short memoir by mom Rebecca that reflects the challenges of holding a family together as the sole remaining parent.

Surviving Suicide: Searching for “Normal” with Heartache & Humor
Deena Baxter, Mascot Books, 2014.

This is the story of how a stepmother—an unusual perspective in loss memoirs—deals with the suicide death of her stepson while trying to maintain some sense of normalcy. Baxter combines humor with serious self-reflection to create a beautifully written book about the impact mental illness has on a person, and about the ways in which the author coped shortly after her loss.  The memoir is emotional, yet also very matter-of-fact on the subjects of suicide and mental illness.  Recommended for people who are several years removed from their loss.

The Empty Chair: The Journey of Grief after Suicide
Beryl Glover, In Sight Books, 2000.

The grief process, as experienced by people dealing with varying emotions following the suicide of a family member.

The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah
Josh Rivedal

In his memoir, actor and playwright Josh Rivedal copes with his father’s and grandfather’s suicides, his own clinical depression and suicidal thoughts, and his recovery. The Gospel According to Josh is based in part on Rivedal’s acclaimed one-man show.

The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order
Joan Wickersham, Mariner Books, 2009.

Joan Wickersham’s artful memoir traces her search to understand her father’s suicide through interactions with friends, doctors, and other loss survivors. An unflinching and moving exploration of the complexity of losing a loved one to suicide and the necessary search for why.

Where to Find Books About Helping Children, Adolescents, and Teenagers

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By Beth Brown

Rememberer of dreams. Whisperer of gardens green.
At the whim of "Most Beloved" and a hot cup of tea.
I live life between, straddled here now and then,
My continuity through writing--
Pen dripping ink, mind swirling confused,
Love lingering still, and Most Beloved's purring soothes.

Blogger at "Gardens at Effingham" (where cats do the talking) and "My Forever Son" (where a mother's heart runs deep after losing her son to suicide)
Musician. Writer. Literary Connoisseur.
At the whim of a calico cat and a strong cup of tea.

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