The Suicide Index
Joan Wickersham
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Buy *The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order* by Joan Wickersham online

The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order
Joan Wickersham
336 pages
August 2008
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Wickersham confronts an impossible dilemma in this memoir chronicling the suicide of her beloved father and the following years of anguished examination, a daughterís need to understand a brutal and final act of violence, the annihilation of the self.

Framing an emotionally charged journey within the constraints of rigorous definition, the book opens with the shocking announcement that her father has killed himself in his study, the offending gun clutched in his lifeless hand. It doesnít conclude until many years and psychiatrists later, a long, chronically painful passage that is as honest as it is possible to be.

Obviously her fatherís favorite daughter, Wickersham has a sister, but it is the nature of such a loss that the author is terribly isolated in her grief. It is her relationship with this man that she examines and reexamines: her guilt in not intervening, her overwhelming sadness, if tempered by the immediate need to survive the demands of the ordeal, and the occasional flashes of rage that cannot be tolerated or acknowledged.

The author dissects every aspect of her fatherís life from a childís perspective, his wry humor, his reliability, affection and kindness, as well as his lack of business acumen that she understands better when she is an adult. Yet the facts are incontrovertible: he killed himself and left his family to deal with the consequences.

Sorting through childhood memories, the loosening of parental bonds with marriage and family and the following years of self-doubt, the truly traumatic nature of the act is clear. Trapped in that day, that brutal realization and incomprehensible loss, Wickersham cannot move forward without sorting endlessly through the if-onlys and what-ifs, a patient, supportive husband standing on the sidelines pondering the impact of this event on his family.

What is missing is the rage: ďAll the parents had failed, except for my father.Ē She simply cannot break through that final barrier. I make this step for her; I hate what he has done, regardless of the reason.

And that is the authorís great success - that I am drawn into the emotional minefield, taking sides, defending, challenging. I am free of the love that binds this daughter to arguably the most important male figure in her life, the model for her choices. Long after the funeral, friends and relatives returned to their lives, the author searches for the ever-elusive answer from psychiatrist to psychiatrist, a well-traveled landscape long fallow of new ideas.

The son of a terribly brutal father, this man bore his own internal demons stoically, protecting his family from such knowledge yet scarred by his past. There is family history, the unfathomable expectation of past generations. It is his inclusive, unconditional love that undoes this daughter, impossible for her to translate such an act of violence into a logical frame of reference.

I hope this man appreciated the extraordinary woman he helped create, painstakingly honest and compassionate in an unforgettable memoir of forgiveness.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2008

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