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23 February 2024 WHY? A STORY FOR KIDS WHO HAVE LOST A PARENT TO SUICIDE by Melissa Allen Heath, PhD and Frances Ives, ill., American Psychological Association/Magination Press, September 2023, 32p., ISBN: 978-1-4338-4196-5


“I went to rehab in wine country just to keep my options open.”

– Robin Williams


“When your day is long

And the night, the night is yours alone

When you're sure you've had enough

Of this life, well hang on

Don't let yourself go

'Cause everybody cries

Everybody hurts sometimes”

– REM (1992)


“When Oliver asks, ‘Why?’ his mommy cries.

Oliver cries when his mommy cries.

They both cry. His mommy cuddles him very close.

So Oliver asks, ‘Why?’

His mommy hugs him tight, then she tells him why.

‘Daddy had a serious illness called depression. 

Oliver do not worry, you cannot catch depression from another person.’

‘Daddy felt overwhelmed by a deep dark sadness. 

Many people get better with medicine and treatment, but that did not help your daddy.’

‘He said everything felt dark.’

‘He was stuck in that deep dark sadness and thought he would never get unstuck.’”


Oliver’s daddy died by suicide. As we learn, it was not mommy’s fault and it was not Oliver’s fault. Oliver’s daddy made his body stop working so that he could get away from those sad, scary and dark feelings.


Robin Williams was 63.

Marilyn Monroe was 36.

Kurt Cobain was 27.


They were rich, famous, and beloved. Who wouldn’t want to be as funny as Robin Williams, as beautiful as Marilyn Monroe, or as talented and profound as Kurt Cobain? But they were ill and, sadly for us, the living, they found a way to end their sadness that resulted in their leaving our world. Their solution was to stop living.


I remember a middle school English teacher teaching us about the 1897 Edwin Arlington Robinson poem “Richard Cory,” and then playing the Paul Simon song that was inspired by the poem. I think that was my first serious introduction to the topic.


Since then, I have lost family members, friends, classmates, and heroes to suicide. As someone who is so often empathetic to the injustices and ill fortunes faced by others, I nevertheless struggle mightily to grasp how someone could want life to end. 


But that’s because I’ve never suffered from depression. Sure, there are times when life can be pretty tough for the best of us. I shrug and figure there is always tomorrow. But I can do that because, fortunately, I am well.


Through the story of Oliver’s struggles to understand, WHY? the author provides some great strategies for assisting children of suicide victims. The extensive backmatter provides parents, teachers, and caregivers with important tools to assist kids in dealing with grief, accepting the reality of death, and memorializing the lost family member. 


But we need to be prepared to understand the unimaginable. And WHY? is an important resource in that regard. Kudos to the SFPL children’s librarians responsible for purchasing and displaying this one prominently.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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