Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Mother's Reckoning

On April 20, 1999, the day of the massacre at Columbine High School, we were stationed in Colorado Springs.  Luke had just been born in February, and Nathan was a few months away from turning 2.  I remember being in the car and turning on the classical music station.  When the piece was finished, the announcer said in a somber voice, that the Requiem had been played "in honor of the victims at Columbine", and I had absolutely no clue what he was talking about.  Since I never watched TV, it took a few days of reading newspapers to really grasp what had happened there.  I, like most people, was fascinated in a horrified way, and so I read whatever I could to see how such a diabolical plot could ever come to fruition.  I assumed the parents were the detached kind, busy with their own jobs and lives, leaving their kids to plot and plan, while they overlooked obvious signs of psychopathy.  Eventually I didn't really think of Columbine at all, except when other mass school shootings occurred, like the one at VA Tech (which happened while Bob was taking some online classes there).

In February of 2016 I read a thread on the Well Trained Mind forums about a book called A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters.  I immediately felt very sorry for this lady--what a hell to have to live with, knowing your son had killed 13 people before committing suicide--but I thought I would never read the book, because I tend to feel emotions very strongly when reading, and I was afraid it would be a book that was way to difficult to read.

On Friday, I had to stop by the library to pick up some requested items that were in, and I saw that book on the shelf where they put newly-arrived books.  I looked at it, debated a bit, and then took it home.  I started it that afternoon--and could hardly put it down until I finished it today (Sunday).  Contrary to what I had thought, it was not difficult to read.  She does not graphically describe what happened inside Columbine, and the first part of the book is her reeling in shock as the events unfold, and eventually (a few months later) coming to the full understanding of what had transpired, and how completely she had been deceived. At first she had clung to the hope that her son had been coerced, or on drugs, or hypnotized, or whatever, but after viewing videos he and Eric had made before the attack, she realized he really had decided to commit these awful atrocities, and she really had to grieve again.  She shares portions of the diary she kept (all through her life, not just after Columbine) to give even more insight into her thoughts.  It was definitely heartbreaking.

The second half of her book deals with warning signs she and her husband, school officials, juvenile officials, and others failed to recognize or to connect together.  She also goes into great detail on warning signs of suicide.  She came to realize that Dylan had already decided he wanted to commit suicide months earlier, but he lacked an impetus to do so.  Eric came along, and he was the one who influenced Dylan that committing suicide in this grand, evil way would be a good way to go.  She said something like (can't find the exact quote), "Eric wanted to kill people and didn't care if he died; Dylan wanted to die, and didn't care if he killed people too."

The book is absolutely filled with her powerfully deep despair and regret.  It literally jumps off every page.  I think writing this book was a very brave thing to do, and I also think it is a book that every parent should read.  It will definitely chip away the attitude of "that sort of thing would never happen to me".  As any parent of teens will tell you, it is very difficult to navigate the waters of normal teen moodiness, crankiness, laziness, being uncooperative, etc.  You don't want to push them away, but you want to stay involved.  And when you possibly have teens who tend towards more introverted personalities anyway, it gets even harder.  She quotes a lot of different experts throughout the book, and I really learned a lot.  For one thing, I hadn't realized that depression tends to be expressed differently especially in teenage boys, than in adults. They tend to "withdraw and show increased irritability, self-criticism, frustration, and anger.  Unexplained pains, whininess, sleep disorder, and clinginess are common symptoms of depression among younger children."  This is obviously a lot different from the "sad and lethargic" picture I know I have of depression.

She is very driven to help people recognize signs of depression and possible suicidal behavior, since she thinks if she had done so, this tragedy might have been averted.  Our county in VA has had 2 high school suicides in this past year.  One of the kids had been being seen by a school counselor, but neither that person, nor anyone else in the school administration, let the parents know what was happening, which is an atrocity in itself.  The parents are suing the school system to try to get some answers and accountability.  We live in a notoriously high-pressure area, especially for teens.  I highly recommend that every parent, or person who works with teens, read this book.  The one thing we can't do is glibly assume that we would recognize "evil" if we saw it, or that bad parenting is what always causes it.

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