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by Christopher Lukas and Henry M. Seiden
Jessica Kingsley, 2007
Review by Beth T. Cholette, Ph.D. on Jun 24th 2008

Silent Grief

This slim volume was originally published in 1987, with the long-overdue revised version arriving in 2007.  Authors Lukas and Seiden acknowledge that in the years between the two editions, the subject of suicide has garnered much more of a public forum, particularly with the advent of the internet.  However, they maintain that what hasn't changed is the profound, traumatic effect which suicide has upon those left behind, known here as suicide survivors.  This book focuses on those survivors--how they react, the bargains they make in order to survive, and how they can learn to respond and move past their grief.  Woven into the book are narrative accounts of many different survivors of suicide, including one of the authors, Lukas, who lost not only his mother but also his aunt, uncle, and eventually his brother to suicide as well.

Because silence often abounds after a suicide, the authors strive to break that silence through freely sharing just what happens to the survivor after someone commits suicide.  Common emotions are discussed, including guilt, shame, and denial.  In the second part of the book, the authors describe in detail what they term "bargains" that survivors make with respect to the suicide.  These bargains allow the survivor to go on living, perhaps reducing their emotional pain, but there is a downside to each bargain made.  Examples of bargains include keeping silent, scapegoating, punishing with guilt, cutting off, and the ultimate bargain, committing suicide (estimates suggest that suicide rates for survivors are between 80 and 300 percent higher than those for the general population).  In the final section of the book, however, the authors recommend ways for overcoming these bargains through both getting help from and giving help to others.  They offer suggestions for talking about the suicide in addition to reviewing basic listening techniques.  The book concludes with some useful resources for finding self-help groups as well as suggestions for further reading.

This book is intended specifically neither for suicide survivors nor for professionals, yet it is well-suited to both audiences.  Survivors will definitely find kinship--if not comfort--in the many personal stories featured here; they are also likely to feel less isolated and more accepting of their emotional reactions upon learning that they are not alone.  Similarly, mental health professionals will benefit by gaining greater insight into and compassion for their clients who are suicide survivors.  Overall, a well-done, very readable work for virtually all populations; highly recommended.

© 2008 Beth Cholette

Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students at SUNY Geneseo. She is also a Top 100 Reviewer at Amazon.com and the official yoga media reviewer for iHanuman.com.