Title: “Surviving Ben’s Suicide“
Author: C. Comfort Shields
Number of Pages: 260
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc.
Date of Publication: April 23, 2008
5 stars: How do you survive the suicide of a loved one?
“A month after Ben died, days and nights were long. I tried to fill them with early morning walks on the beach and early evenings of painting in the garden. At night, when I could not sleep, my mother and I would sit on my bed for hours talking about life, death, ghosts, and Ben. But every morning I looked at the phone on my bedside table, knew that Ben would never be on the other end, and felt a deep void that I thought would never go away.” (“Surviving Ben’s Suicide” pg 1)
As for what this book is about, the title pretty much explains it all. It opens with a preface from the author. She explains how when Ben died she searched for books on how to deal with losing a significant other to suicide, and came up empty. And when she began to write her own story, how many encouraged her to write it as fiction. I admit that the words flow so well that they seem like they are fiction. I’m drawn into the story, and then have to shake myself as I realize, “Oh wait, all of this really did happen.”
Perhaps my favorite parts of the book are the descriptions. Shields clearly has a way with words as she describes Ben. It is heartbreaking to read in the beginning, as she describes crumbling up a wildflower that Ben had picked and saved, only to moments later try to scrape the dust back into the envelope the flower was originally in.
Since I’ve never been in the same position as Shields, I cannot say whether or not this book would be helpful after the suicide of a loved one. But I thank her for sharing her experience, and I would hope that this book, would be a comfort to those going through the same thing. See below for my interview with C. Comfort Shields, and a details on how to win “Surviving Ben’s Suicide“.
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After reading “Surviving Ben’s Suicide“, the author- C. Comfort Shields, agreed to answer a few questions for me. Hello Comfort and thank you for being with us here today!
Q. Because you use the initial C, I admit to being curious as to what your first name is. Plus I noticed that you are called Comfort throughout the book. So my first question is, what is your first name, and is there a reason you published your book only using the C?
A. That’s a great question. My full name is Caroline Comfort Shields, but I have always been called Comfort. My parents named me Caroline after my great-grandmother. Comfort was the middle name of my parents’ dear friend, Nathan Comfort Starr, who was a poet and an expert on the Arthurian myth. Years later, we learned that we had several ancestors from England named Comfort. It was a popular man’s name during the Middle Ages. My parents wanted me to be called Comfort, but they felt that Caroline Comfort had a better ring to it than Comfort Caroline. Normally, I go by Comfort Shields, but I decided to keep the initial C in my memoir, because it reminds me of my beloved great-grandmother.
Q. Something that I always wonder about when I pick up a book is the cover art. It’s only since I’ve started doing author interviews that I realized I had the power to ask about it. So, my next question is: did you have any input in the cover for your book?
A. I’m fascinated by cover art, too. I chose the photo for the cover of the book. The woman in the photo is not me, but I liked the idea of the cover showing a woman who looked like me, from behind, sitting in a quiet and peaceful place and thinking. The designer decided to make the background black and white and the woman’s figure in color to represent how I was writing in present time, while looking back into the past and re-examining my life and the place that my relationship with Ben had in it. I asked the designer to try to create a meditative and serious mood, while not being overly dark, since the message of the book is positive and life-affirming.
Q. Through your book I believe you have done something remarkable, and that was to immortalize Ben. You’ve shared with us who Ben was, and allowed us to see how special he was. And though your entire book is in itself a message, is there anything you’d like to say to those who are considering picking this up?
A. Thank you, how nice of you to say that I have immortalized Ben. That makes me feel wonderful, because bringing Ben’s character to life was one of my greatest difficulties, while writing the book. Sometimes, I think that it is most difficult to describe or ‘show in words’ the people to whom we are the closest. Putting my feelings about Ben and my memories onto paper was something that I struggled with for years, while working on my memoir. In the end, I felt that dialogue was the most effective way to show who Ben really was, and I have received several emails from people, who have said that their favorite part of the book was the series of phone calls between Ben and me towards the end of the book, because the conversations brought Ben, and my relationship with Ben, to life.
That brings me to your question, which is what I would tell people, who were considering reading my book. I would talk about how strongly I feel about the place of memory in our lives. Of course, the word memoir comes from the French, memoire, which stems from the Latin, memoria or “memory”. A major theme in Surviving Ben’s Suicide is the power and the importance of memories in one’s life. To me, the most tragic thing that can happen, when a person undergoes a serious loss in his or her life is to repress one’s emotions and memories. So often, we are told to ‘move on’ after the death of a loved one. That phrase can be extremely unhelpful to people in the depths of mourning. Everyone grieves in his or her own way on his or her own time. In fact, for most of us, it is impossible to forget those we loved. Trying to do so, can cause us to become full of rage, despair and, eventually, to explode, taking out our feelings on ourselves or others. Perhaps the most critical lesson that I have learned, while writing my memoir, is that our memories of the people we have loved and the events that we have endured become part of who we are. The more we examine and re-examine those memories, the wiser we become and the more able we are to treat ourselves and others better in the future.
Q. On a lighter note, let’s finish with my usual final bookish questions! What kind of books do you like to read? What is your favorite book? Who is your favorite author? Finally, what are you reading now and why?
A. I love to read memoirs and autobiographies. I have always been fascinated by other people’s lives. My favorite author is Anais Nin. Her early diaries opened up a new world for me, when I was in college. They inspired me to be more open about my own life. Since then, I have read all of Nin’s diaries, essays, and novels. I love to re-read the books in my library, because, as I change, I find that my interpretations of my books change. Currently, I am re-reading Remembering Denny by Calvin Trillin. I love Trillin’s voice and find the book to be wonderfully straightforward and poignant. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is another favorite writer of mine. If one had to write the perfect ending of a book, I would recommend getting as close as possible to the end of Love in the Time of Cholera or No One Writes to the Colonel.
ATTENTION: Carrie from Planned Television Arts sent me an extra copy to give away to one lucky commenter. All you have to do is comment on this post telling me why you’d like to win and read this book, AND mention something about my interview with Comfort. (Don’t just say “I want to win this!”) Link to this post and tell me about it for an extra entry. The contest will run from now until July 31rst at 12:00am EST. So lots of time for you to spread the word about it! Good luck 🙂
Thanks to C. Comfort Shields and Carrie Wallick.
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