#93 ~ Surviving Ben’s Suicide

August 7, 2008 at 6:00 am | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, Reading | 13 Comments
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Surviving Ben’s Suicide: A Woman’s Journey of Self-Discovery by C. Comfort Shields

When Comfort Shields was a freshman at Sarah Lawrence she met and fell in love with Ben, a former Navy recruit who joined the college as a second year freshman. Their relationship would impact Shields’ life on many levels. While he initially helped her cope with the tragic death of a classmate a year earlier in London, his mental imbalance proved to turn her life upside down. He didn’t return to Sarah Lawrence for sophomore year without telling her and it all kept tumbling out of control after that. When his erratic moods and behavior culminated in his not altogether unexpected suicide, Comfort is without an anchor. Finding little advice that applied to her situation or anywhere else to go, she wrote this book to provide others with what she did not have.

Having survived a suicide within my family 16 years ago this October, I was very much interested in Comfort’s story. Although in my situation it was my paternal uncle and not my lover or spouse, I was interested to read about the author’s experiences and insights. I turned 21 the week before Uncle Randy died. Although I knew that he had been sick for some time, his illness wasn’t something I had to experience very often. What sticks out the most to me when I think back on my relationship with him was how he seemed to become another person overnight. All of my dad’s brothers teased us cousins continuously and Randy was always the edgiest of the bunch; but, about 5 years before this happened, edgy became cruel. I spent many years afterwards being angry at him for how this affected his family, my grandparents, my father, and my brother. It took time and life experience for me to come to understand him. Now I’m just sad that he wasn’t able to get the medical help he needed and never got to meet his beautiful grandchildren.

What hit home the most to me when reading Surviving Ben’s Suicide was the author’s discussion of shame and guilt that is associated with those directly impacted by another person’s suicide. Even though this happened almost 20 years ago, it’s not something I share regularly or talk much about. Just like Shields, I worry about what people I don’t know well might think about me, my family, and – more importantly, my children. My family lived over an hour away from Randy’s and at the time he was his most sick, I was in college. Family wasn’t my highest priority then. I still feel guilty for caring more about my own life when my uncle and his family were suffering. I also know that this wasn’t my fault and, while I’m sure that my aunt and cousins would have appreciated my support, there wasn’t anything I could have done singlehandedly to change what happened.

As much as I could empathize with Comfort Shields, I didn’t find this book particularly insightful. I believe this was due to a combination of the differences in our experiences as well as the way in which the story was told. Had this story been told in a linear fashion, the impact would have been greater. Toward the end of the book she indicates that Ben’s suicide marked the end of his life and a major turning point in hers. Because of the back and forth, I was unable to fully identify how that turning point changed her life. Despite the fact that this was written after she wrote about meeting and marrying her husband and the birth of her two children into the world, there was a disconnect for me. I couldn’t recreate how she got there from where she started. I couldn’t identify what might have been different had Ben not been a part of her life or if he did not commit suicide at all.

Although Surviving Ben’s Suicide was not as meaningful to me as I’d anticipated, I hope that others who have shared similar experiences will read it. I will be passing my copy on to a friend whose brother, also named Ben, committed suicide 6 years ago this month. Books like this and Regina’s Closet are a wonderful way to heal from a suicide as well as create dialog about it. I wish Comfort Shields much success with this book. It is an excellent resource and I’m so thankful that she gave of herself to write it. Perhaps this is something that I should consider myself.


To buy this book, click here.


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  1. Moving review! I really appreciate how you tied it into your own personal experience of death/suicide. To me, knowing where someone is coming from when they speak to the qualities of a particular book, means so much more. My brother also died under circumstances which could have been construed as suicide (although we’ll never know for sure–long story) 17 years ago and it colors how I read/react to/review so many books, especially those involving death of a loved one.

    Thank you! booklady

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I had some of the same feelings as you did about the book.

  3. Thanks for the insightful review. I have been putting off my own review of this book (though I finished it weeks ago) as I just couldn’t say what I really wanted to say for fear of adding hurt to the author. I, too, felt a total disconnect.

    I guess it’s important to say what we really think or risk losing credibility. This particular subject makes honesty more difficult. Though the author does put themselves ‘out there’ by publishing…. See, now I’m over thinking it again!

  4. Just like booklady, I love it when a reviewer is open about their own experiences. I found your review fascinating. I had the opposite feeling about the structure, though, in that for me the very fact that the book was not linear and that it went back and forth in time moved me and spoke to me about the way that we process difficult experiences in our lives and how memories continue to resurface and change the way we look at our present situation. I felt that the author had life-changing insights (particularly after she “saw” herself through the other woman named Comfort) and in learning to give up control and realizing that she had to find a balance between trying to help others and controling their lives. Keep up the amazing reviews Literate Housewife! This makes for a really interesting discussion!

  5. I want to thank everyone for your thoughtful comments to this review. It was difficult to write anything negative about the book because it would be a leap to write about this experience. I had to be true to my feelings, though. I’m glad that I wrote it as I did. I’m especially glad that I recommended the book despite my disconnect from it. Tasha, you’ve really made me think about that differently and I’m so glad that this book was so meaningful to you. Tasses, you suggestion to you is to write what you feel. You really can’t go wrong that way.

  6. Jennifer, like everyone else, I applaud you for being willing to share how this book relates to you personally. It certainly adds a nice dimension to your review, which is very well done considering your feelings about the book itself.


  7. Thanks for the fab discussion. This book meant a great deal to me, when I found it, because it was the only book I have managed to find specifically about surviving a partner’s suicide. I agree with the reviewer about how sometimes going back and forth can take away from a book rather than add to it, although in this case, I felt that it was symbolically important. It reminded me a bit of A River Runs Through It–another book where memories bend with the passing of years.

  8. I got this a while back, and am going to read and review it as well. I try to hold off on other people’s review if it is very close to the time when I will be reviewing…then I don’t have any ideas about the book. I’ll read mine soon though, and I bet your review is fantastic as always! 🙂

    ps I am almost done with MRS. Lieutenant. I will post my review soon, I’ll probably finish it tonight.

  9. I don’t know that I’ll read this novel but I did want to say Thank you for sharing your personal experience with your readers. It’s always difficult to put yourself out there but it added so much to your review of this novel which was so well done.

  10. This was a very touching review. As someone who has been through something similar (only it was me who attempted suicide many, many years ago), I can appreciate the sensitivity of the topic. I also know the fear of self-exposure around this issue. I commend your bravery and thank you for bringing such a sensitive topic to the forefront with such grace.

  11. Shana and Darlene, thank you so much. There are problems I had with the book, but I feel that it really is important to be there. You never know who might need it.
    Henrietta, like I said, this is a really important book. I am happy it was there for you when you needed it. There aren’t a lot of resources readily apparent at a time like that, is there? I wish you peace in your journey.
    Denise, I am so honored that you commented. I can only imagine how difficult talking about this might be for you. We are all in this together. Here’s a hug and a smile from Virginia.

  12. What a thoughtful review! It sounds like we all appreciate your personal connection to the experiences in the book. A reader who has been touched by suicide will probably read the book differently than one who hasn’t. Writing the book must have been somehow healing for the author.

  13. […] wrote two reviews last week as well: The Four Seasons and Surviving Ben’s Suicide. Writing my review for The Four Seasons was difficult because there really wasn’t that much […]

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