memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

I was 18 when the massacre at Columbine happened, just under a year after having graduated from high school myself. I remember waking up that day and hearing the news and being shocked and horrified, and as the news continued to filter in over the next few weeks, I grieved not just for the victims and their families, but for the families of the perpetrators. What must their parents be feeling at that moment? Not only had they lost their children to suicide, those children had died in the most horrific (for the surviving parents) manner possible- purposefully taking others out with them. My heart ached badly for those parents, and over the years, I wondered how they were doing. A few years ago, I learned that Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan, had written a book, entitled A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy (Crown, 2016). I immediately knew I wanted to read it (though I never formally added it to my TBR). On my last trip to the library, as I was grabbing a different book, her book was right in front of me on the shelf. I took it as a sign and put it into my bag.

Think back to when you were a teenager. How open were you with your parents? Did you inform them of the times you suffered from debilitating depression? Did you let them know about what was going on with your friend groups at all times? How many times did you spill the beans about what went on at those parties you went to? Did they really know the truth about all your friends? Teenagers hide a lot from their parents; it’s mostly developmentally normal, a way that they can begin to separate themselves from their parents and begin to form their full adult selves. And teens get really good at hiding things- I know I was- so much so that even the most attentive parents can miss major things. Such was the case for Sue Klebold and her husband Tom, who had begun to notice Dylan seeming a little distant just before the massacre, and who had plans to sit down and talk to him, but tragedy struck too soon.

In the aftermath of Columbine, Sue struggled greatly, unsure of how to process the fact that this child whom she had loved so very much, who had rarely given them any trouble and who seemed to be looking forward to a future at college, had murdered so many of his fellow classmates before turning the gun on himself. How had she not seen the signs? How could she ever possibly atone for the damage her son had caused the community? In her fog of grief, Sue began speaking with therapists, academics, brain health professionals, people who study violence and mass shootings, trying to find answers. Some, she found; others are questions that will remain unanswered forever.

This is a heavy memoir of the deep-seated grief of a mother who has lost her youngest son in one of the worst ways imaginable. It’s bad enough to lose a child; to lose a child who has killed others before killing himself, shattering everything you thought you knew not only about him but about your family and yourself as a parent, is a source of never-ending trauma. Sue Klebold has poured out her heart, soul, pain, grief, and desperate love for a son who committed heinous acts on these pages. You don’t stop loving your child when they do something terrible, but it takes a lot of mental readjustment to incorporate that into your understanding of that child. This book demonstrates the unthinkable difficulty of how to continue on after a nightmare comes to life, and it does so with grace and dignity.

My heart broke over and over for the Klebolds throughout this book: for their pain, for their loss, for the realization that they misinterpreted the signs that something was wrong, and for their gradual understanding that there’s not always a failproof way to prevent these things (look at how difficult it is to get any kind of mental health help; Ms Klebold mentions that Eric Harris, the other Columbine shooter, had been receiving help). It’s not always or maybe even often about how children are parented- how many families can you think of where one sibling has major problems like drugs or crime and the rest of the siblings live normal lives?

So much grief and guilt on every page of this book. I truly hope that Ms. Klebold has been able to find some modicum of peace. I know she’ll never stop loving and missing her son and questioning why- why him, why her, why their family, but I truly, truly hope she’s been able to find peace after such a terrible, terrible loss and painful aftermath.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

    1. They really are. I’m glad I read it, but woof, I’ll be glad when my TBR calms down a little bit. I’m getting to the dregs of what’s available from my TBR at my local library branch and a lot of it is the heavier stuff I’ve been putting off purely because it’s so heavy. Phew!

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