Bonnie’s Book Bytes

Bonnie Godas

Because of my crazy, busy life, there are only a few times when I can actually relax with a good book Although I am interested in what I am reading, I usually stop many times to do something else, but I could not put down Surviving Ben’s Suicide down.

Surviving Ben’s Suicide is a story about life and losing it. There is a small distance between life and death, and for people in dire emotional straits, the ending of their life becomes a form of escape and freedom because they can’t find a way out of the hell they live in. But the person who takes his or her own life takes with them a part of those close to them in their suicide, leaving them the burden of trying to emotionally survive and understand this tragedy. C. Comfort Shields takes us into a bittersweet chapter of her life where she meets Ben, her first true love, in college. He later commits suicide and the book shows us how she confronts and tries to overcome this horrible experience.

When she first met Ben at age nineteen at Sarah Lawrence College, Shields was already fighting her own demons trying to heal from losing her best friend in a bus accident. With this pain and sadness constantly consuming her, she is introduced to Ben. She had no idea what she would be in for: falling in love with a man that was later learned to have a neurological disease called bipolar affective disorder, also known as manic depression. This psychiatric disorder has been diagnosed quite recently and is explained as going back and forth between high and low episodes or what are considered poles. This is what Ben had and it wasn’t formally diagnosed until it was too late.

Although Ben had tried to get help and had constantly tried to deal with his pain, life was a challenge, making him incapable of coping with his emotions. His problems could have come from many sources, but one source in particular could be the issues he had with his mother, who was also suffering from psychiatric problems that he had seen first hand as a youth. One example was when his mother didn’t come out of her room for days except to go to the bathroom and get the food that Ben had left at her bedroom door.

Despite Ben’s emotional problems, the love that these two young people had was real. It seemed that Ben and the author loved each other very much. But because of his erratic behavior and his incapability of being in a relationship (although desperately wanting one), he would say he loved her one minute, and then the next minute she meant nothing to him. Shields still loved him despite all the problems, but it was very difficult at times to endure.

Before Ben died, there were fleeting disagreements and when he passed, Shields felt guilty and sad that she couldn’t see it coming. But the love she gave him was probably what he needed and for someone to care for him like she did.

Unfortunately, there are many people like Shields who have lost a person to suicide. But sometimes there is nothing you can do to save them. Shields did an honorable and brave thing to write this book and hopefully it will bring peace and closure to those who have experienced such a terrible loss in their life.

Arts Editor’s note: Several people I have gotten to know extremely closely have fallen victim to suicide. October 5-11 is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. Reach out to someone you know with mental illness and let them know you care. If you or someone close to you is thinking about suicide or feels alone, be sure to see a mental health counselor or contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-784-2433 . Because truly, life is too short to go at it alone. -AJ