Surviving Ben's Suicide

I have just read a very powerful book titled Surviving Ben's Suicide by Mrs. C. Comfort Shields. Her book is about her boyfriend Ben, who took his life. I know this type of book might not be for everyone and that is fine. Mrs. Shields was nice enough to do an interview with me about her book. See both my review and interview.

My review

Fifteen years ago Comfort’s boyfriend, Ben decided to end his life. This may seem like the end but really it is just the beginning for Comfort. Read her story about life, helping people, encouragement, and empowerment in Surviving Ben’s Suicide. When Comfort first met Ben, she thought he was very cute. Ben was in the Navy. As Comfort and Ben’s friendship turned into a relationship, things were going good. They would spend their time together just talking about life as well as how much they liked each other. There was something about Ben that made him unique. He liked to run at night in addition to carrying on deep conversations in the middle of the night. But I think this is what made Ben so special. Even though he was ill, Ben seemed to be so much wiser beyond his years. It was a sad tragedy when Ben took his life.

Surviving Ben’s Suicide was the first book I have read on this subject matter. So I didn’t know what to expect or how I would feel. What I can tell you is that this was a very beautiful, well-written, and heart felt book by Mrs. C. Comfort Shields. I give Mrs. Shields so much credit for going through what she did and coming out of this situation strong. She not only tried to make sense of what happened but she also was able to write this novel so that others may cope as well as know they are not alone. I don’t know what else to say about Surviving Ben’s Suicide other than amazing. This book will touch you in so many ways but in a good way.

Now my interview.

I want to thank Mrs. C. Comfort Shields for doing this interview.

Thank you, Cheryl, for these wonderful and thought-provoking questions.

In the book you share about a boy in your English class you taught in a high school in Connecticut. His name is Antoine. He wrote poetry and liked to draw. Through his poems he could express his feelings. You helped him. I was wondering what happened to him?

A. Yes, it still amazes me just how perceptive people are. Without my having said anything in my classes, my student, Antoine, somehow sensed that I had been through difficult times in my life and felt that he could trust me. I encouraged him to express himself through his writing, and he brought his poetry to show me before school each morning.

By the end of the term, he shared one of his anonymous poems with the class and got a standing ovation. Last I heard, Antoine’s family could not afford the school tuition, and he was going to be changing schools. I do not know where he is now, but I believe that, when he left my class, he was on a new path of believing in himself and knowing that he had a great deal to say.

That experience reaffirmed to me that it is possible to find a balance in one’s life between reaching out to others and making a difference to them and knowing that we cannot completely determine another person’s future.

You mentioned that you wanted to write a book about your experience because back than there were not a lot of books where someone who was in a relationship but not married could read about how to help them cope as well as realize they are not alone. I realize it must have been hard for you to relive something like this. Where do you begin when you decide you want to write a memoir about your experience?

A. When my college boyfriend, Ben, took his life fifteen years ago, I desperately searched for other books on surviving a loved one’s suicide and found next to nothing. I felt alone in my grief, particularly because suicide is such a fraught subject surrounded by painful silence. I promised myself then that I would write a memoir about my experience, so that other people going through similar experiences would not feel so alone. Surviving Ben’s Suicide is the first literary memoir about surviving a partner’s (girlfriend, boyfriend’s or spouse’s) suicide.

It was hard to know where to begin writing about my experience. The first draft of my book, many years ago, wove back and forth between a literary memoir and an academic book about suicide and its survival. I worked for about a year with a literary agent, Jodie Rhodes, who told me that my book was neither fish nor fowl and I really needed to focus on my personal experiences and take out the academic voice. That was difficult for me for two reasons. First of all, I had just finished graduate school, where I had written a long thesis and was still in academic mode. Secondly, forcing myself to stay with my personal story was, as you so rightly said above, a painful endeavor. But I’ve always been a big believer in how the close-up windows into a life can often teach us more than the abstractions. I think that is why I love novels and tend to prefer memoirs over self-help books.

Since the release of Surviving Ben’s Suicide, how has the response been? Is it what you were hoping for?

A. The response has been profoundly moving to me. Even before my book was available, I had emails from people, who were searching for comfort on how to survive the suicide of a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife and came across my website. Since then, many people have written me to say that, in one way or another, my book has meant something to them. Many people had a suicide in their family one or more generations ago, and the secrecy and/or pain surrounding it has made a tremendous impact in their lives. It has been amazing to me just how many people have been directly touched by suicide. Knowing that my memoir has, in some small way, touched others has made the experience of writing and publishing Surviving Ben’s Suicide worthwhile and deeply gratifying.

What do you like to do for fun?

A. Other than reading and writing, walking is one of my favorite activities. Now I love to spend time walking in my gardens and hiking in the countryside with my husband and children. Recently, we moved back to the USA, after living in England for years. The streets of London from Regent’s Park to Hyde Park and all around Marylebone are impermeably imprinted in my memory. I lived in New York City for several years, too, and always favored walking rather than taking the subway, when I could. I truly believe that the places that we live have a profound influence on our psyche. The anthropologist, Keith Basso, had fascinating things to say about the way the Western Apache Native Americans were connected to their landscape.

Your website asks readers to take a walk in your garden. What is growing in your garden?

A. My garden is an arboretum or tree garden. It is modeled after Adrian Bloom’s gardens in Norfolk, England. Bloom is known for his all-season gardens of conifers, heathers, and flowering ornamental trees and shrubs. We have many varieties of rare miniature conifers. They change in color from season to season and, also, seem to have their own personalities. Some look just like giant wooly mammoths. Others reach their arms over paths. The heaths and heathers are one of my favorite plants in the garden, because they have wonderful earthy colors and provide texture and color year round. They remind me of the moors of England.

What is it like being a mom to two beautiful children?

A. Being a mother makes me happier than I ever thought I could be. My children are only eighteen months apart in age. Right now they are two and three. These are challenging ages, as they are learning about their independence. They have their funny rock star diva moments, when they prefer to have things exactly their way and not to share—those moments keep my busy.

Most of the time, though, being a mother to two little people is magical, as I watch my children discover themselves and the world around them. I was looking at their artwork this morning thinking just how wonderful it is that small children are unhindered and haven’t been “programmed” yet or told how they should or shouldn’t express themselves.

Thank you again for doing this interview. I am glad to hear you are happy and doing well in your life.

Thank you, Cheryl. I really enjoyed answering your questions.

Check out her website and blog


Anonymous said…
Great review and interview! What a powerful book!!
naida said…
This sounds like a touching read, wonderful interview as well.
She sounds like a sweet person.

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