A condensed version of the first part of this book appeared
in the Boston Globe Magazine on Father's Day in 2000. The book, entitled
Losing Jonathan, runs about 56,000 words.
It is divided into two groups of short sections: the first series of
sections explore the year before our son Jonathan's death, his battle
against heroin addiction, and the close bond between parent and child.
The second series then traces the curve of parental grief over the next
six years, reflecting on the turbulent struggle of such experience,with
particular emphasis on the difference between the interior journey of
a father and a mother, husband and wife.
In general terms, Losing Jonathan
could be considered within the tradition of memoirs on parental
grief, a tradition which often combines "the story" itself
with considerable reflection and valuable advice. Like other books of
this kind, our book is a record of intense human sorrow: how we experience
it and how we endure it. Like all books of this kind, it is difficult
to read because of the nature of the suffering, but it is finally a
book of hope, demonstrating the strength of the human will to survive.
We hope it will be helpful not only to people who have suffered loss,
but to everyone, especially parents, who care about their loved ones.
offers some unique features within this tradition. The first part wrestles
with the struggle of heroin addiction, ending with Jonathan's death
from a drug overdose. Many books about parental grief discuss the traumatic
battle for the lives of children leading up to the moment of death:
death by car accident, cancer, stillbirth, heart defect--all terrible
tragedies. Yet very few books offer an honest and detailed account of
that struggle in terms of drug addiction, especially when told by ordinary
citizens, a father and mother, from the upper middle class. The second
part also offers some unique characteristics. In particular, the reader
hears two voices, the voice of the father and the voice of the mother
(taken from extensive journal entries), and so the reader senses the
complexity of parental grief within a family context.
Many books in this tradition offer a single story of loss from the perspective
of a mother, or several stories, often gathered by professionals, based
on interviews and case histories. The French writer Genevieve Jurgensen,
for example, recently published a moving book, The Disappearance,
a series of meditative journal entries, reflecting on the death of her
two daughters in a car accident. Doris Lund, a journalist and mother,
has written Eric, a memoir on the death of
her son from leukemia; Elizabeth Mehren, the LA Times writer, has written
a stirring book about the loss of her child as result of a stillbirth.
Judith Bernstein in When the Bough Breaks,
Ann Finkbeiner in After the Death of a Child,
and Barbara Rosoff in The Worst Loss have
traced and commented on the experiences of several families suffering
from the loss of children.
Like our book, these books offer important human patterns
of grief and its consequences, and they make worthwhile suggestions
for parents in need of comfort, as well as for friends who might want
to help. Unlike these books, our book offers a strong male voice wrestling
with deep emotions along with the voice of a mother. It also explores
some of the implications of the drug culture, as well as the meaning
of the father-son bond. In addition, it demonstrates how good literature
and tradition can make a difference in our lives and even help us survive.
Although about 70% of books on parental grief are written by women,
men have also contributed to this tradition. Death Be Not
Proud by John Gunther, the story of his son's heroic battle
with a brain tumor, has become a classic, as has Harold Kushner's When
Bad Things Happen to Good People. From journal entries,
Gordon Livingstone, a medical doctor, has also written an impressive
book, chronicling the family's battle to save his son from brain trauma
and the grief following the tragic loss. In terms of overall structure--one
section addressing the events before death, the other section addressing
the loss itself-- Livingstone's book, Only Spring,
is close to ours. His use of journal entries is different, however,
as is the cause of death and the reflective sensibility.
There are also books written by men from the Christian pastoral tradition:
Lament for a Son by Nicholas
Wolterstorff and Gone but Not Lost
by David Wierbe, for examples. In the last part of our book,
a spiritual dimension emerges, but unlike these two examples, the traditions
and sensibilities we draw on are primarily Jewish and liberal humanistic.
In fact, there is a very strong thread throughout the book suggesting
our belief that literature can redeem us. One other excellent book,
Against the Dying of the Light by
Leonard Fine, creates a Jewish context and sensibility, but his story
is about the loss of his daughter from a defect in her heart, and focuses
primarily on coming to terms with the grief after her death.
Our book fits into the tradition of narratives about parental grief,
although it has unique characteristics. Judging from the variety and
number of letters we received from readers of the Boston Globe article,
the audience interested in this story ranges from fathers who have lost
sons to children concerned about their parents; from any parent with
a son or daughter to addicts of all ages; from professionals concerned
with the war on drugs to students interested in the humanities.
It is also important to note that each year in the United States parents
survive the deaths of 228,000 children and young adults. (This figure
does not include stillbirths or miscarriages.) Using this calculation,
we can assume that approximately 9% of the adult population has experienced
the death of a child and that there are millions of bereaved parents
who could use some help. In addition, recent estimates suggest one out
of every three people in the USA has a relative suffering from substance
abuse. We like to believe that our book could make a difference to these
people and others.