I kind of felt the same way about reading Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide by writer Linda Gray Sexton. I was a bit reluctant to read a memoir about suicide, because I thought it might depress me (albeit temporarily), make me too somber. The subject matter is something I do not like to think about. But I very quickly realized that the subtitle of the book contains a vital, hopeful clue; I knew the book would be about suicide, but also about surviving the legacy of suicide. I cast my doubts aside and jumped right into this book, hoping to be enlightened, and maybe even inspired. Once I started reading this book, the clear prose drew me in swiftly, and although at times it was difficult to read about the author's misery, and I wished the story were not true, I finished the book in just a few sittings.
Half in Love is a very candid and affecting memoir, written by the daughter of Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Anne Sexton. Growing up, Linda feared that her gifted but mentally ill mother would kill herself. She was aware of her mother’s numerous suicide attempts, which were followed by hospital stays, and she was filled with nearly constant dread. Linda and her family suffered along with Anne, always worrying that she would kill herself.
"When my mother took an overdose, Death came into the room and stood at the head of her bed. When my father, or my Nana, or her best friend, took her to the hospital, Death waited on the threshold and watched for his opportunity. Sometimes Death lived at our house, slithering between the big bottles of her sleeping pills and tranquilizers, twining around the packs of cigarettes and bottles of booze. Death was the itinerant salesman, always knocking on our green front door. My mother never failed to let him in."
~Half in Love, Linda Gray Sexton
While Linda was 21 and studying at Harvard, her mother succeeded in taking her own life. After that horrific ordeal, Linda and her sister, Joy, vowed to never attempt suicide, and Linda later promises her own children that she will never be like her mother in that regard. Very sadly, though, the legacy of suicide and depression gradually becomes too strong for Linda, and she does eventually attempt suicide a few times, before finally getting the help that she needs.
Many aspects of this book are quite remarkable! The honesty of Linda's story is nothing short of incredible. I admire this honesty, although it was difficult for me to read parts of the book. It took great courage on Linda's part to reveal so much about herself and what she went through. She describes in agonizing detail her first attempt at suicide in the bathtub, and also writes about how cutting her skin with sharp objects initially helped alleviate the pain she felt inside. Another thing that struck me was her determination to beat the deep, recurring depression that made her suicidal and kept her bedridden and paralyzed. She strived to be a good wife and mother, and took medication for her depression and mood disorders. Many people mistakenly think that you can "tough out" depression, which is a real and serious illness that is often difficult to treat, and sometimes fatal. As the book points out, a suicide attempt isn't a selfish act, but is rather a response to tremendous, relentless pain; if death is seen as the only way out, then life must be absolutely unbearable.
I was quite relieved that she was able to find the support and nurturing that were absolutely essential to her survival, after being abandoned by several prominent people in her life. After her mother's death, she became friends with Rachael, who was older and understanding, a new, healthier version of a mother for Linda. After her first marriage ended, Linda was devastated, but some years later she meets Brad, who turns out to be a wonderful, accepting mate. Eventually Linda finds a marvelous doctor, Barbara, who not only listens and provides guidance and insight (she suggests the idea of the legacy), but who also nurtures her to an extent. Her children, Gabe and Nathaniel, now adults, are lovingly supportive of her. They knew that Linda had always tried to do her best as a mother, and that she loved them, but that at times she was overpowered by this forceful legacy. Their understanding of their mother brought tears to my eyes.
Linda survives, writes her powerful and personal story, and provides hope and inspiration to individuals and families suffering from the affects of depression and the dark shadow of suicide. I hope it doesn't spoil the book for anyone when I say that this book has a happy ending. Or, in Linda's case, a happy, new beginning.
Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me a copy of this book. For more reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on TLC's Half in Love book tour.