History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life

By Jill Bialosky

Reviewed by Michael Appollionio

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After reading History of a Suicide, written by Jill Bialosky, I was moved by the way the author not only shared her story of her sister’s suicide, but also how committed she was to researching suicide while dealing with her own pain.

Jill Bialosky tells the story of her sister Kim Bialosky’s suicide. She shares events of Kim’s life, Kim’s diary entries and conversations she had with her sister before she took her own life. As the author is telling the story of her sister’s suicide, she also takes the reader along a journey to find answers on what leads some people to take their own lives. The book starts out with the author telling the reader how her younger sister took her own life.

On April 13, 1990, Jill Bialosky’s younger sister, Kim called to wish her a happy birthday. Two days later, after a night out with her girlfriends, Kim took her own life, asphyxiating herself with carbon monoxide in her mother’s garage. A local boy who took care of her mother’s yard found her body.

Aching to understand why and how her sister lost the will to live, Bialosky interweaves family history, literature (Shakespeare, Dante, Melville, and Plath appear frequently), medical writings, and Kim’s own journals. The very nature of suicide, the author notes, is as elusive as the great whale Moby Dick, and her writing reflects that slipperiness, circling in and out of memories and emotions.

The portrait Bialosky presents of Kim is a vivid one: a sweet little girl surrounded by adoring older sisters, a sensitive teenager longing for her absentee father, and finally, a broken young woman who, as she wrote in her devastating suicide note, got ”tired of being lonely.” There are times when Bialosky’s pain is almost unbearable (shortly after Kim’s death, she lost two babies), but she’s never maudlin. She writes so gracefully and bravely that what you’re left with in the end is an overwhelming sense of love.

Jill Bialosky also tells of her sister’s use of alcohol and drugs and an abusive boyfriend. (Five years later the boyfriend committed suicide as well). As Kim strove to find answers to a happy life, she was also struggling to help her mother cope with depression and loneliness. Jill and her other sisters repeatedly attempted to counsel Kim to leave their hometown and change her life for the better. However, Kim never managed to escape and only dug herself deeper into emotional pain.

As Bialosky researches suicide, she provides feedback from several professionals, statistics from psychiatric journals and facts about suicide attempts. The author’s purpose here is to let the reader know that not only is she sharing her and her family’s personal experience, but also trying to give the reader information from various publications. Jill Bialosky studies family genetics (her mother’s depression), environmental factors (absent father), and emotional support (Kim not seeking professional help). With all the information that Bialosky includes in her memoir, I was fascinated by some of the connections she makes with her sister’s suicide. Would Kim have taken her own life if she saw more of her father, if her mother had not suffered from depression, and if she had sought help? It is hard to say; however, the author makes some very convincing arguments.

One of the ways Jill Bialosky chose to cope was to attend different bereavement groups. She shares other people’s personal experiences with dealing with a loved one who commits suicide. She is very detailed about the surroundings in the meeting rooms, stories shared by others and what her conclusions are from attending these meetings. It is simple: “There are no answers,” she says. “We only say we are sorry. Sometimes it is all we can do. But it is something. It is not nothing.” (Bialosky, pg. 234)

Throughout this book I feel like Kim is speaking directly to me. With her stories, personal diary entries and the conversations with her sisters, the author convinces the readers that no matter how others feel about suicide, we must understand that when a loved one takes his or her own life, they should be forgiven and their memories should be cherished. We can always look for clues or watch for warning signs coming from someone who is contemplating suicide and take action. However, when someone has decided to take his or her life, one can only hope that they have the tools to cope at that moment.

From personal experiences, I can understand those moments when someone might decide that they can no longer cope with personal emotional pain. However, with strong emotional support a person can seek help at those low moments in their lives.

I found this book to be educational, thought-provoking and very emotionally deep. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to understand human nature.

History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life
By Jill Bialosky
Atria Books: February 15, 2011
Hardcover, 272 pages
$24

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APA Reference
Appollionio, M. (2011). History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/history-of-a-suicide-my-sisters-unfinished-life-2/0007048
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