Book Review: “15 years after my son took his own life”
Reviewed by: Tamara Hill, MS, NCC, LPC-BE
Author: E Martin Ramsey
What would be your response after your own flesh and blood decides to take his or her own life? What would be some of your first thoughts and emotions? For many parents, suicide is one of the most frightening tragedies that can occur and many would rather push the idea of their own child taking their own life, out of their mind. For parents who have spent years building their lives and instilling values, hopes, and dreams into their children, suicide seems like the only thing that can end a parents hope for the future. Parents often hope to see their children surpass great milestones such as
- 21st birthday
- Moving out
- 1st job
- 1st paycheck (or real paycheck)
- Becoming a grandparent
But when a child decides to end it all, a parent is left to figure out why it happened and why they have lost what so many parents hope to witness.
About 7.7 million adults suffer from severe mental illness according the National Institute of Mental Health. Poor mental health is a public health concern. It’s something that families must learn to cope with and treat appropriately. But in some situations it seems almost impossible to cope with the mental health challenges of a loved one. Internalized anger, depressed mood, high levels of anxiety, and verbal and physical aggression often make it difficult to live a peaceful and safe life with a loved one exhibiting these behaviors. This is exactly what E. Martin Ramsey experienced with his sons Joe and Arthur.
Ramsey makes it very clear that life is complex; often too complex for logic alone. Despite a desire for greater happiness, a child’s mental health challenges force parents to take, what feels like, 20 thousand steps backward in their lives. With Joe’s suicide, it is easy to understand that the family felt they had lost everything. Arthur, one of Ramsey’s sons, was quite aggressive toward his family at home, primary when his father was absent. His mother often shied away from confrontations for fear of waking “the sleeping giant” and creating a storm of emotional chaos and conflict. As with many households like this, the best and only route parents know to take is the easy route which involves backing down. Ramsey becomes extremely vulnerable to his readers as he shares, in journal style, his innermost thoughts and emotions throughout his journey as a parent to two boys who rarely got along (i.e., Joe and Arthur). The author provides vivid examples of Joe and Arthur’s interpersonal challenges and the multiple emotional mountains the family had to climb during and after each conflict. The physical aggression, the verbal aggression, the emotional pain, and the psychological stress all affected this family – wife and children – in extraordinary ways.
Ramsey shares, as a father, his realization of his son’s disregard for parental authority. He acknowledges that the pain of this reality outweighed the physical and emotional pain sustained from a very intense physical altercation between Ramsey and Arthur. The psychological conflict and emotional chaos that a father must endure when he recognizes that he is ultimately losing his child characterizes the majority of this book. The book is written by a father to a father, although the book can also be read by anyone struggling with a child exhibiting mental health problems. The final chapter of the book on Self-help is a wonderful chapter written from the heart of a broken father to the heart of other broken parents. This chapter encourages families to seek the support they need to move on with strength.
One of the most significant parts of this story for me was Ramsey’s obvious need for spiritual enlightenment through an unexpected tragedy (i.e., the suicide of his son Joe). No other explanation could be given for Joe’s untimely suicide. No explanation could explain why Joe had considered such a fatal act. For many of us who experience tragedy and trauma, the only comfort available is that of a Higher Power. For Ramsey, the only appropriate and logical explanation for his son’s death was that given by a Higher Power. A passage of scripture from Proverbs 3:5-6 sums up Ramsey’s understanding of his son’s suicide: “Trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God and He will direct your paths.” It appears that Ramsey’s path has indeed been directed.
If you are a father struggling with a son who has mental or behavioral health challenges, this book is for you. It’s a good book to add to your bookshelf. I encourage you to pick it up.