Jayne Newling has used her skills as a journalist to lay bare her family’s suffering in the wake of the death of their 17-year-old son and brother, Christopher.
This is not a happy book. It will be valuable for other families still reeling after a member has suicided and for professionals trying to help those families, but it is not light reading by any means. And for anyone untouched by such tragedy it may even seem rather obsessive.
Putting that aside, the Newling family once seemed to have everything: Three blond, blue-eyed sons, a happy mother and father, and a good life on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.
As the boys entered their teenage years, each started showing signs of mental illness, ranging from depression in the eldest to what was eventually diagnosed as bipolar disorder in the youngest. The middle son, Christopher, also had depression and anxiety, which he exacerbated with drugs and alcohol, self-medicating while under treatment by an eminent psychiatrist.
Newling has not flinched from detailing his death – from a headland at Avalon – and the appearance of his broken body when she visited it in the morgue.
While she and her husband were determined to save their youngest son from also committing suicide, she has taken 11 years to come to terms with Christopher’s death. She sadly relates that one way back was when she realised she loved her two surviving sons more than she hated herself for not saving the third; and another was the birth of a grandson.
Professor Gordon Parker, who had treated Christopher and his younger brother, has written a splendid afterword in which he states that the book will be a classic and provides insight into adolescent suicide.
Read this book and weep.
Published by Allen & Unwin
Reviewed by Jennifer Somerville