Imagine being the daughter of America’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton. The innate writing talent, the lesson skills taught, (see Passing It Along), and the absolute love of words shared. Now, on the other hand, consider growing up as Linda Gray Sexton (Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton, Other works in Bibliography) and being raised by this publicly revered mother who suffered from severe depression, alcoholism, and suicide attempts that required stays in mental institutions. These far too many absences that forced being shifted to live with grandmothers and other relatives, while causing you to wonder — on your mother’s return home — whether she would keep her promise and not leave again.
When Linda Gray Sexton was barely twenty-one, her mother successfully committed suicide and was — at least — physically gone forever. However, in her just released memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide, the author takes readers on her own brutal journey of depression, pain, and overwhelming sense of loss that led her to three suicide attempts. Like her mother, Linda promised her children she would never leave them yet the bond to be with her mother again always proved (not quite) stronger.
From the book’s inside jacket flap:
After the agony of witnessing her mother’s multiple—and ultimately successful—suicide attempts, Linda Gray Sexton, daughter of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton, struggles with an engulfing undertow of depression. Here, with powerful, unsparing prose, Sexton conveys her urgent need to escape the legacy of suicide that consumed her family—a topic rarely explored, even today, in such poignant depth.
Linda Gray Sexton tried multiple times to kill herself—even though as a daughter, sister, wife, and most importantly, a mother, she knew the pain her act would cause. But unlike her mother’s story, Linda’s is ultimately one of triumph. Through the help of family, therapy, and medicine, she confronts deep-seated issues and curbs the haunting cycle of suicide she once seemed destined to inherit.
Also you may read an Excerpt of Half in Love.
According to the author, the title “Half in Love” is taken from the Keat’s epigraph for the memoir which reads: “I have been half in love with easeful death, called him soft names in many a mused rhyme…” And, in relating this to her own experiences, Linda says “…it refers to being half in love with death, and then coming to be fully in love with life.”
In fact as she answered the question, The best age for you? in an interview from The Great Women Series, Linda said: “My fifties. I have come into my own and defeated my depression. I am writing again, conversing with other writers again. I have reclaimed my life.”
Now living with joy rather than pain, wouldn’t one wonder why the author chose to write about her past? Well, in the blog post — Why Write Memoir? — she addresses just that:
“It’s a difficult question. How do you protect the ones you love and still write about a topic you believe needs to be made public and to be discussed?
“In the United States today, someone kills him or herself every seventeen minutes, a million commit suicide worldwide annually, and suicide outranks homicide two to one. You could say that if you are depressed, your own hand is more dangerous than a gun.”
Startling and horrifying statistics, aren’t they? And yet they create the reason to read this book.
As Erica Jong praised: “A vivid and daring exploration of survival from the author of Searching for Mercy Street, Linda Sexton’s beautiful book is a cry for health and sanity.”
Although the subject matter of Linda’s writing is not an easy read, it is fascinating as well as more important than ever. Early in the memoir she notes that during the 50’s, 60’s, and beginning of the 70’s — when her mother struggled with mental illness and lost the battle — it was a disease difficult to diagnose, treat, and medicate properly. Support groups were non-existent and families either tried to ignore or hide a loved one’s severe psychological problem.
However that was then and this is now so The Divining Wand asked why she thought modern medical and therapy strides aren’t making a difference in saving someone from committing suicide every seventeen minutes?
Linda Gray Sexton said: “I think there is still a stigma about mental illness and suicide that makes people reluctant to talk about it. I am getting scads of mail since the book was published from those who feel that someone has at last spoken up for them. I do think that there are strides being made medically in terms of psychoactive drugs, but it takes a long time for these things to penetrate the general population. Who knows what the statistics were a decade ago? And those statistics were undoubtedly colored by the fact that people were reluctant to let others know that their loved ones had died by their own hand. Even today, how many times do you read an obituary that seems extremely vague about the cause of death? We just have to keep plugging away at it, talking about it openly and continuing to support those who live with us, or to whom we are connected, to take their meds and see their psychiatrists. Don’t let depressed people fade out of your life.”
Hopefully the author’s brave and intensely compelling telling of Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide will offer hope and help to others facing a similar situation. For those fortunate enough not having to deal firsthand with mental illness, may it give a better understanding and willingness for support. And to those readers who simply desire a truly brilliant book written — without pity — by a gifted author whose mind conquered all, this memoir is for you!
[On a personal note, I encourage you to take time to visit Linda Gray Sexton's website. It's enchanting, even if you only stop to look inside the writing cottage you'll learn where and how this writer writes.]
Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Linda Gray Sexton’s Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EST with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.