Excerpt: 'Sanity and Grace'

In Sanity and Grace, renowned singer/songwriter Judy Collins chronicles her journey from pain to survival following the suicide of her son, and offers comfort to those who lost loved ones in the same way.

Here is an excerpt from the Preface and Chapter One.


I have written Sanity and Grace to shed more light upon the dark taboo of suicide. The suicide of my son was devastating beyond words, yet here I am again, trying to put everything I know or have read or heard or thought about suicide into words, for my own healing as well as that of others.

In writing and thinking about the subject, it has become clear to me that even with the popularity of books and movies about suicide, such as The Hours and Savage God, and the dedicated work of survivors and professionals alike, the taboo is strong and growing. It is my hope that Sanity and Grace may bring hope to those who are in need of solutions for suicide — that is, finally, to all of us.

When my son died, I made the decision that I would live every day as if it were my last — every moment to the hilt. As the years since my son's death have passed, and I have continued to grow and create, the question often arises from friends or acquaintances, "What are you working on at the moment?" Among the records and new songs, the television specials and other gifts that life has offered, seemingly more after my son's awful passing, I answer that I am also working on the subject of suicide — my own experiences, as well as others' — a sort of monograph of tears but also of research on loss, and lessons from other survivors. A gasp often greets this information, then a tone of recognition and perhaps fear. Then, if the talk continues, people remember "their" suicide — the one in the family no one ever mentioned but everyone sensed, the dark, forbidden territory of the psyche, the mother, child, the father, cousin, the sister, the friend. What follows is usually deep and curious, like walking on the moon, and then strangely familiar, like walking in your own living room. I have found that people want and need to explore this subject in their own lives, that the discussion brings needed relief — to all of us. For we all, being human, have some suicide story in our past or our future.

One day, suicide might attain the normality, in a sense, of heart disease or lung ailments, diabetes or cancer. We might be able to say, "Here is the situation medically and psychiatrically, now what can be done to prevent it? To cure it?" And if, as with some diseases, the cure is impossible, then the dignity of respect, the honor of understanding, may be bestowed upon the suicide and his or her family. Otherwise no sacred act is really sacred, when we condemn a sick and suffering soul to secrecy and render them lost, and ourselves sick, from the secret of their passing.

This book is for all of those who are gone, and for all of us as well, those who remember and those who try to forget.

The sacred is always expressed in remembrance.

There was a pause — just long enough for an angel to pass, flying slowly.

journal entry, february 7, 1992

It was as though time stopped, the clocks stopped and I stepped into the gap, walking into it as though it were a mansion with many rooms. It was all right that you were gone, because it was only a minor detail and some bright and sweet and soft angel was saying those details are not important, there is here there, there here; it is all one and the same.

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