Friday, July 19, 2019

Book Review | A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy


Rating: 4 Stars

It is really difficult now to remember that there was a time not long ago where the idea of a mass shooting was, while not impossible, at least unlikely. I was a sophomore when Columbine happened and remember with perfect clarity what life was like on that day, and what I was doing when I heard about it. We had just returned to school from a track meet and were walking in the main entrance. One of the televisions in the main hall had been left on and the first image I ever saw of the tragedy was Patrick Ireland flinging himself out of the library window into the waiting arms of SWAT. It is an image that has never left my brain and I will carry it forever.

Imagine, then, being the mother of someone who caused such pain to others. Carrying that knowledge, that guilt with you every single day. The child you gave birth to, that you loved and nurtured and raised, was someone you did not know at all.

When I first found out that Sue Klebold was writing a book, I was kind of put-off to be honest. It seemed strange, wrong, somehow. I admit my first thought was, 'this person is making money off of something so awful that her child did.' But then I found out that she would not actually be making money from the book sales and it would all go to charities that support mental health (after 'reasonable expenses' were covered first).

I did a little research as I was writing this post, to see if she followed through and it appears that is so, which makes me glad to see. I found the following information on the Rocky Mountain PBS website in a report from April of this year. From what I read, Klebold set up a public benefit corporation to help manage the profits. By law then, as a PBC, she is required to generate an annual report that explains how the PBC 'promoted the public benefit'. Those reports must also be made available to the public when requested. Based on the documents, the corporation donated among six charities the sum of $427,200 between 2015 and 2018. It also shows that contractual payments were made to Klebold's agent and co-author, but that there are no reports of payments made to her. I hope I never have to deal with grief on such a massive scale, but I can appreciate that this is her way of trying to make amends for something she didn't do, but feels responsible for. Since Columbine, Klebold has become a fierce ally for mental health awareness and she is trying to do good here. I know there are many unforgiving people who want her to go away, blame her for her son's actions, but that won't help anyone. Getting funding for brain research, therapy, etc is so crucial - now more than ever. If she can contribute to this, she should be allowed to.

This was a very difficult book to read, and probably just as difficult to write. I do believe that Klebold is genuine in her care for the victims, and I understand the need for her to share her truth. There were times when I don't agree with how she went about doing so, though. There was an instance where she discussed the amount of shots that Eric Harris fired, compared to the amount that Dylan did. I truthfully had to wonder if even in all her honesty and raw emotion, was she trying to make Harris out to be a little bit worse than Dylan? I don't know her motives or intentions, that is how it came across to me, but I also can not blame her for wanting to do so. How does a parent honestly look in the mirror and not want to shout to the world, "We did everything we were supposed to! We loved and cared for and nurtured! We set boundaries!" and so on and so on.

Still, I did not feel like Klebold downplayed the tragedy at all, and I did not feel like she was making excuses for what her son did. Could you really blame her if she wanted to, though? I think not, but then we also have to recognize that if that was all she wanted to do, this book would have never been published. Instead, Klebold focuses a lot on mental health issues. She uses the term brain health, which I don't think is accurate, but I understand not wanting that stigma attached. However, that is the very problem our society struggles with. We need to talk about mental health and not label it as anything else. We need for people to be okay talking about not being okay. Dylan was very good at concealing his depression and suicidal thoughts, though I recall a line from the book, and I can't remember what had happened, but Klebold was recalling how she had been furious with Dylan and was in his face about it. He told her that he felt like he was getting really angry and she needed to leave him alone. I do not recall the exact wording now, and I wish I had bookmarked that page. He did not say it in an angry way to her and it's almost like he was pleading with her to save him then, but I think in that moment, if she was ever going to see that something was "wrong" with Dylan, that was it. This could also be my interpretation, and I could be wrong. It also brings to mind a line from Dave Cullen's Columbine when he stated that Eric went into the school to kill, Dylan went in to die. Whatever mental health crisis he was experiencing had reached critical mass. It does not excuse his actions, he wounded and murdered classmates in cold blood, he is a murderer. But, he was also someone's baby, he was a regular kid once, and it is okay I think to recognize that humanity, without excusing his horrific crime.

Klebold takes responsibility for what can be called her failure as a parent, I guess if you want to put it in the bluntest of terms. She discusses missing the warning signs, and admits, after consulting with a variety of mental health experts, that Dylan did display red flags that could have possibly prevented this tragedy. Still, she also put blame on Dylan where it belongs as well. He chose to do this. He chose to walk into his school with his best friend, and he was part of the plan that, had it worked as intended, would have killed pretty much everyone in the cafeteria, and more. It is important to note though, and be cautious here, that the majority of people who are depressed and suicidal do not morph into homicidal maniacs. The parts where she brought those threads together made me a bit hesitant, because most people will never do what Dylan and Eric did. Even so, responsibility must be taken and she handles it about as well as anyone can in this situation. It also must be remembered that in the final video that Dylan and Eric recorded, Dylan talked about how things would be terrible for his family, that they didn't do anything wrong and he was sorry for what they would have to go through because of him.

In the end, yet one more quote stuck with me, and I can not imagine having to think this as a parent. Klebold recounts that day, getting the frantic phone calls from her husband to come home from work, that something was going on at the high school, that Dylan might be involved.

"While every other mother in Littleton was praying that their child was safe, I had to pray that mine would die before he hurt anyone else."

Highly recommended.


  1. This one is lurking somewhere on my ereader along with the Dave Cullen book.

    1. His Columbine bookwas really great - some things I disagreed with, that were proven false elsewhere but on the whole it was really good. I read his Parkland book also, which was completely different and only focused on the survivors and the movement that grew out of the aftermath of this tragedy. When you read this one, let me know so we can gab about it.

  2. That's such a haunting quote at the end of your excellent review. I can't imagine difficult Dylan's legacy must be to deal with for his mother, but it does sound like this book is trying to be as responsible as possible, making amends in this way. It must have been pretty hard for you to read too, especially as you have such vivid memories of that day.

    1. I really feel that way - and hindsight is always 20/20. She said she attributed some of those 'red flags' at the time as typical moody teenage behavior. But, I do wish she had been a little more cautious in her assessment of depressed/suicidal vs homicidal. I don't think she had a malicious intent in spread false information at all, but there needs to be a bit more caution there. It's a good read, and my memories are still so clear, 20 years later.


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