A few weeks ago, I heard about an interview with Susan Klebold in the November 2009 issue of O Magazine. If you read my earlier post on this subject, you’ll know that I had an opinion on this article before I read it. I pointed out that Dylan Klebold is the one who killed the people at Columbine as well as himself. Susan Klebold is not a murderer. She is, however, the family member of someone who had a mental illness. Because it is clear to me that her son was mentally ill. I think we can safely assume that anyone who commits such terrible acts is mentally ill. Depressed for sure, and perhaps other illnesses as well.
I was initially apalled by some of the reactions to this interview. People commenting on the initial AP story showed no mercy, and oftentimes just downright cruelty. And this was before the article was printed!
I’ve read it for myself now. I initially was under the impression that the article was an interview with Susan Klebold, but she actually wrote it herself. I commend her for the courage to do such a thing, given that the comments I saw probably only scratched the surface of what she’s been through. Indeed, in the first part of this article, she talks about this very subject: “I was widely viewed as a perpetrator or at least an accomplice since I was the person who had raised a ‘monster.'”
This comment struck me as a central issue facing families of the mentally ill. It is, perhaps, elevated by the fact that Susan was Dylan’s mother, and parents are viewed as being responsible for their children’s behavior in our society. It is also central to the guilt so common in families of the mentally ill — we often mistakenly believe that we have some sort of control over our loved one’s thoughts or behavior.
Let me make this point clear. We can influence other people. But no one can CONTROL someone else’s THOUGHTS or BEHAVIOR. Anyone hanging around with a toddler can testify that they wish they could. But it is impossible. We are born with free will.
Yet we often hear the same question after any tragedy associated with the mentally ill: “Why didn’t someone DO something about it?”
Let’s stop for a moment and consider what it must be like to be Susan Klebold. How many times must she have been asked this question? How many times must she have asked herself this question? Really, does anyone think that if she KNEW what her son was going to do, that she WOULD NOT have done everything in her power to stop it? That she wouldn’t have disabled his car, searched his room, called the police or followed him to school that day, hanging on his pants legs?
I think any survivor of suicide would agree that they would have done anything to stop the tragedy IF ONLY THEY HAD KNOWN. But they didn’t. Suicidal people don’t send out memos with their planned time and method. The fact that she didn’t know, that she didn’t see the signs is completely believable to me. The fact that a teenage boy did not share his most desperate internal pain with his parents is also completely believable to me.
Yet Susan Klebold does not let herself off that easily. She admits that “I mistrusted everything — especially my own judgment.” Not to mention, “It was impossible to believe that someone I had raised could cause so much suffering.”
Wow. I understand that. How difficult was it for me to believe that my mother could commit suicide with her two teenage children in the same house. Did she not understand the pain she would be bringing into our lives?
No. She did not. It doesn’t take a Columbine-sized tragedy to feel the pain of loving someone who is mentally ill. Susan Klebold, unfortunately, has to deal with it on a national level, given the media attention focused on the tragedy surrounding her son, his friend and their actions. I see many parallels between her experiences and the families of the 33,000 other Americans who commit suicide every year.
More on this subject to come…