My mother and father produced a family grown from an intoxicating promise of love. Each of us carries the patterns of our family, malleable in some ways. But there is also a constellation of forces, of unwritten rules and rituals, that makes it distinct. A scaffolding that may create unbearable pain or offer a retreat to comfort. A family is not only what you say it is. from In Her Wake, by Nancy Rappaport
Although I’ve never lost a family to member to suicide, I have two friends who have experienced that horrible tragedy. One friend lost her husband, after more than 30 years of marriage; another both her father and her son, a pain I cannot even begin to fathom. Though years have passed for each of them, I still sense a desperate longing within them to understand those deaths, to comprehend why life became so unbearable for these persons they loved.
Nancy Rappaport, author of In Her Wake, shares that longing. Although she was only four years old when her mother, socialite and community activist Barbara Rappaport, deliberately took a lethal dose of barbituates, Nancy’s sense of loss and bewilderment has haunted her throughout her entire life. So much so that she spent years analyzing legal records and her mother’s private papers, talking with family members and friends (alienating some of them in the process), and using her own background as a psychiatrist to explore the mystery that led her mother to choose death over what appeared to be a full and invigorating life.
“When you have your own children, the shadow of your relationship with your own parents is evoked,” Rappaport says in an interview. “With the loss of my mother when I was four years old, I thought I had a unique vantage point as a daughter, mother, wife and child psychiatrist, to ask tough questions and be a tour guide in the darkness. I wrote to come to some resolution and acceptance. All of us have things that happen in our life that we may choose to examine closely as a way of illuminating who we want to become, and I hope this is a balance of unrelenting curiosity, sadness and ultimately hope.”
The book is an honest look not just at the author’s mother, but at the entire Rappaport family – father Jerry, Nancy’s five older siblings, and the step and half siblings who came later. Growing up in a blended family of 11 children gave the author several filters through which to see her parents at different stages of their lives.
Although obviously well founded in psychiatric theory, Rappaport’s writing is accessible and interesting. Her ability to relate her own clinical experiences and her emotional feelings as a mother of three children gives the book an added and important dimension. The reader feels privileged to take this journey of discovery with her, and gratified at the sense of resolution she achieves by the end.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book.
~~~~~~~~In Her Wake~~~~~~~
A Child Psychiatrist Explore the Mystery of Her Mother’s Suicide
by Nancy Rappaport
published by Basic Books, 2009
293 pages, with annotations
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