On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.
For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?
These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.
Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, A Mother’s Reckoning is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown and Charleston shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent.
All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues. [ synopsis from goodreads ]
Sue Klebold is an amazing woman.
I just wanted to start with that before I get where I'm going with this. I'll probably end with that as well. And I'll tell you why I think so but, before I do, I will first warn you that parts of this may turn into a rant and if you don't want to see that, you probably shouldn't read any further.
If you do, well, at least I warned you.
I was about eight years old when Columbine happened. And I didn't understand what was going on. I was still at that tender young age when staying up late with my parents to watch the news was fun. And that night, for whatever reason, they let me stay up. I remember seeing the news story and not really understanding what it meant-- just that my parents were scared.
I grew up in Canon City, Colorado which, honestly, isn't too far from Columbine. To my eight year old self, it might as well have been Oz. To my parents, it might as well have been next door. They did, however, send me to school the next day so apparently they weren't that scared.
It wasn't until I was older that I began to realize what Columbine had meant and research it for myself. I studying Columbine heavily in high school and researched it for my senior thesis. It was then that I began to form my own strong opinions about that tragedy. I won't go into many of them here. (I may or may not have spoken about them in my review of Dave Cullen's Columbine but that's been too long ago for me to remember for sure.) But I will tell you the one that applies best here:
You cannot blame parents for the actions of their adult children.
I remember reading the media outlast against the Klebold and Harris families and feeling absolutely sick about how they were treated. They didn't do this. And they didn't deserve the blame for it. Since then, I have always, always, ALWAYS placed blame where it truly lies. And have always been completely and totally fire-eyed about people who don't. (Literally NOTHING makes me madder than reading media stories from the days directly after Columbine.)
Therefore, this book was hard for me. There were times when I threw it down in frustration because I just FELT for Ms Klebold so much. I will never, ever condone what Dylan and Eric did but I sure felt for their families and the mess they left behind. The Klebolds and Harrises lost children too. And we should never have felt it was okay to shut down their right to grieve just because we didn't understand it. I am not a parent but, still, I could not understand how other parents could not recognize the need to grieve for a child. It still sickens me. It probably always will.
So, anyway, I found this book insightful. It was written wonderfully with the voice of a mother who has come along way. I really felt that I connected with Ms Klebold and it was more like talking to a friend. It is written with that kind of voice. And there were few things I didn't agree with in this book. It taught me a lot about brain health and what it truly means to need help and even what it could mean if it's never received. I started my college career as a psychology major and there were things in this book that I didn't even know. So it is a wonderful resource in that aspect.
It also taught me a lot about Dylan. Before, I'd seen him through the eyes of the media and through his own eyes in his journals and (the transcripts of) The Basement Tapes. It was most interesting to see him through his mother's eyes. It almost makes the whole tragedy an even greater mystery. (I've have my own theories about why the tragedy occurred but I won't go into them here.)
When I was a child, my grandmother used to say "the worst place you can send your child is school." Now this was one of her many tactics to try to convince my mother to homeschool me (something I'm eternally glad my mother didn't do) but now that I've been through public school, I can see the truth in these words. It seems no matter where you go, school is one of the most toxic and damaging environments. Because it doesn't matter how you raise your own child, what you can't do is control other people's kids. And I think Columbine was one of the #1 offenders of this problem. Again, not condoning the massacre. But I do think the school culture had a lot to do with it. And, as is mentioned in this book, I'm really surprised that school shootings don't happen every day. This has become the world we live in.
I think so much of it has to do with peer pressure. In high school, that was the one subject you couldn't get me away from. Peer pressure was my #1 topic. Because it is the most fascinating. For twelve years, we spend more time with the kids at school than we do with our families at home. Of course we're going to pick up their values and begin creating our own. Of course we're going to change our personalities to mirror our friends or, more accurately, the people we wish were our friends. And of course we hide these things from our parents. Point me to a single person who has never, ever hidden something from their parents. I would say point me to five but I'm willing to bet you couldn't dig up even one.
And for this reason, again, I say: You cannot blame parents for the actions of their adult children.
Because once children grow to a certain age, they become their own person and they are responsible for their own choices and their own actions. And sometimes, right even under their parents noses, they become a person that even their own families cannot recognize.
I can tell you this with complete confidence because this is what happened to me.
It also happened to Dylan Klebold. The proof is in these pages. And I would love to see anyone try to deny that these hold any secrets beyond those of a grieving mother. This book is a collection of hard learned conclusions and memories of a son who became a person who was unknowable even to his parents. Whose mind was warped an illness that went unchecked and eventually consumed him so much, he took any way out he could find: even though it meant taking others with him.
Columbine is a tragedy not only because of the thirteen lives who were lost that day to two shooters but because of the two lives who were lost at their own hand. Ms Klebold is absolutely correct when she says that murder-suicide is a symptom of suicide. It comes from wanting to die and being so diluted that you believe it's okay to take others with you. And that, I believe, is the reason why murder-suicides continue to happen. And Columbine, especially, is a tragedy because it could've been presented. If only we would stop seeing brain health problems as shameful and start seeing them as a treatable problem. I think we could prevent many future Columbines.
You know, I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. And while I believe that this tragedy could have been prevented, because it did happen, I believe it was for two reasons: so we would learn to recognize the signs of brain illness and so we would learn how to place blame.
I recently finished PR/advertising school and in one of my PR classes we studying Columbine as the biggest media fiasco in history. It is the most poorly handled tragedy I have ever seen. Grasping at straws for causing and placing blame everywhere that it wasn't supposed to go. I was appalled and sicked on those days while Columbine's media coverage was discussed and hoped desperately that we have finally learned from our mistakes and will not ever cover anything the same way Columbine was covered.
I also hope, so desperately, that we will finally learn how to blame. It was said that because Dylan and Eric took their own lives, they couldn't be blamed and because of that, people turned to tangible sources to blame such as their parents. I believe that is an excuse. Why do you have to blame someone living? Why do you have to ruin the lives of those whose lives were already ruined by the loss of sons it was learned they never truly knew? So, please, this is the one and only shot I will have to ask this: don't blame parents for the mistakes of their children. Children become their own people and they make their own mistakes.
Sue Klebold endured a lot of pain and suffering, much of which she did not deserve. This is often a terrible world full of people brimming with hate. By lashing out with our own hate (and sending death threats to the parents of killers? HOW IS THAT EVEN REMOTELY OKAY? I'LL TELL YOU NOW. IT'S NOT.) what makes us any different from the murders? It is, after all, that hate that lead to this tragedy. And I think it's exactly that kind of hate and toxicity that leads to the tragedies in the world today. But Sue Klebold came out on the other side a little worse for the way but still enduring and even working to help others (and mostly to help us) understand and look for the signs.
So I'll say it again; one more time for the people in the back.
Sue Klebold is an amazing woman.
review originally posted on goodreads