When I first saw the book, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold, I was both eager to read and dreading it at the same time. Sue Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the teenagers who entered Columbine High School and killed 13 students and faculty. To read the very words of one whose life and name had become synonymous with the Columbine High School shooting massacre of 1999, felt overwhelming and too dark.
However, I truly appreciate a book showing the human spirit’s ability to rise above tragedy. And one of my librarians gave me her compelling review, so I decided to take the plunge and read the book.
Sue Klebold recounts her memories of her son and gives the reader an inside look at Dylan. As she talks, you see Dylan not as his life ended but as he was to her. She explores the role that he played in the family and the closeness that they shared as a family of four. And she faces the horrible knowledge that she as Dylan’s mom had not realized how troubled he was.
The morning of the April 20, 1999, she is at work when she receives the news that there had been a shooting and that Dylan is involved somehow. The drive home is agonizing as she tries desperately to make sense of the snippets of information she is hearing. As a parent, I was gripped by her description of that car ride. You almost feel like you are in that moment, struggling to breathe, wishing you could turn back time a few hours.
As the book continues, she shares the events chronologically allowing the reader to experience the horror of the slow drip, drip of information. Each piece of news seeming worse than the last, placing you right in the midst of the awful tragedy. She, her husband and older son are left facing the horror of the events that Dylan set into motion. They are all key players in that moment in history and yet victims themselves.
Sue Klebold goes through the days and weeks following April 20th, 1999. She discusses the great loss she experiences and the shame she faces as Dylan’s mom. Later, she takes a step back and covers the tragedy of Columbine as a member of the community.
A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy is an excellent book. It is well-written and flows easily, keeping the story moving. You feel the tragedy of her life without drowning yourself in the events.
She strikes the balance between acknowledging the awful killings that happen and sharing the great loss she experienced as a mother. Before I read the book, I wondered how she would handle this. She does so beautifully. She never excuses what Dylan did nor does she cut ties with him.
Sue is hard to not like. Her whole focus in the book is her family and that definitely comes through as you read. She shares some lessons she learned from what happened to her family. However if you are like me, where you were expecting some bombshell revelation about how this occurred, you may be disappointed. This was not a son who was full of rebellion. Mom and dad were not emotionally unavailable, blissfully living their own lives. Instead, you will find an ordinary mom just trying to do her best to be there for her family.
The lessons she shares are just much more subtle than one may suspect. Parents who have raised teens can probably all relate. The question she seems to pose is, “How well are we truly listening to our children?”
Most parents want desperately for their children to be happy. We long for that assurance that our teens are doing well. That may look a little different to every parent but at the heart of it I think we all have a common burden. We want to see our children grow up and be emotionally whole.
It is exhilarating and anxiety producing when we come to the realization that our children are now young adults. They are facing their own struggles, living their lives along side ours but experiencing their own unique set of successes and failures.
What do we do when our teen begins to express some strong emotion whether it be anxiety, fear, depression, suicidal thoughts, bitterness, loneliness or anger. What if they are are struggling with mental illness? Do we back away and try to tell them its not that bad? Do we freak out and try to micro-manage everything? Or are we able to truly listen, standing with them in their pain?
At the root of this book, that seems to be the question.
Sue Klebold reflects on ways that we may miss how deeply troubled our teen is feeling. We may not mean to ignore those feeling and warning signs. We may have all the best intentions in the world. But is takes bravery to look difficult circumstances in the face. And realizing that our once carefree child may be struggling as they become an adult is knee shaking to the strongest of parents.
It takes true courage to listen and stand in the pain. We have to constantly be growing ourselves and looking at out own flaws. We need to make space it our lives for the time it takes to build relationships where our teens feel safe to talk. As you become realistic about your own flaws, listening to your own needs, you are better prepared to walk with your teen as they examine their struggles and insecurities.
A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold is a fascinating read. The book offers a unique view of a pivotal point in American history. Those who love history will appreciate the perspective that Klebold brings to the subject. As a person who loves to learn, I was challenged by some of the Klebold’s reflection and thoughts. As we interact with our loved ones there is often no easy answers. Yet, we don’t want to miss the importance of simply making time to ask, “How are you really doing today?”