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In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother's Suicide Paperback – September 1, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0465014507 ISBN-10: 046501450X Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046501450X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465014507
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (120 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,212,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In a fearless memoir of loss and grief, this Harvard Medical School assistant prof, veering between being a detective and... a realist, delves into a complex family history haunted by the 1963 death of her mother, a Boston socialite, from an overdose when the author was only four. Using her mother's words from newspaper clippings, notes and a novel she was writing at the time of her death, Rappaport, the youngest of six children, reconstructs a vivacious and deeply troubled wife and mother. Didn't she know that she would leave all these shattered children wondering if it was their fault? son Jerry laments 44 years later. Yet in pushing through her parents' turbulent marriage and troubled family history, Rappaport weaves a stunning narrative of perspective, profound sadness and unrelenting hope: I keep trying to follow in her wake, moving in and out of my grief buoyed by the voyage of exploring her dark reality as a way of helping myself to understand her.... She has also mapped an inspiring course for anyone to dissect family dynamics and mental illness, hoping to understand and, finally, accept. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Publishers Weekly (starred review) 
“…a fearless memoir of loss and grief…”

“...Rappaport weaves a stunning narrative of perspective, profound sadness and unrelenting hope… She has also mapped an inspiring course for anyone to dissect family dynamics and mental illness, hoping to understand and, finally, accept.”

Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; author of An Unquiet Mind and Nothing Was the Same
“A powerful and eloquent book about loss and incomprehension, and a unique journey of learning and reconciliation.”

Lenore Terr, M.D., author of Magical Moments of Change and Too Scared to Cry
“If you looked at the trauma of a suicide as a rock thrown into a family pool, you’d see circular ripples differently affecting each part of that little body of water….In Her Wake reads like a mystery, yet it leaves us with much, much more…an almost firsthand knowledge of the power of psychic trauma.”

Pete Earley, author of Crazy 
“Extraordinary….The constant in Rappaport’s prose is her steadfast refusal to sugarcoat and her fierce determination to find answers to uncomfortable questions. A well-told story that is a testament to the power of love tempered by heartache.”

Marya Hornbacher, author of Wasted and Madness
“A touching and insightful story of love, loss, and healing.”

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Emily Hargroves Fisher Professor of Education, Harvard University; author of Balm in Gilead and The Third Chapter
“With the eyes of a probing detective, the wisdom and empathy of a clinician, and the yearning and love of a devoted daughter, Rappaport traces the roots and remnants of her mother’s suicide. Blending honesty and delicacy, passion and restraint, In Her Wake is riveting and revelatory reading.”

Susanna Moore, author of In the Cut and The Big Girls
“Rappaport writes of that mysterious and powerful force, the mother, and the impossibility of fully knowing the truth about her….She knows that the discovery of the past is never the end, but the beginning of thought.”

Linda T. Sanford, LICSW, author of Strong at the Broken Places, co-author of Women and Self-Esteem
"Beautifully written, In Her Wake should be required reading for all of us in the helping professions."

Christopher Lukas, author of Blue Genes and Silent Grief
“Rappaport looks back at her mother’s suicide in order to find a resting place for herself and her family; so they can go on, into the future, with courage. I recognize her pain, and I salute her achievement.”

Michael Jellinek, Chief, Child Psychiatry Service, Massachusetts General Hospital
In Her Wake is as engaging as a well written novel, with truths and insights that are meaningful to every family.”

Alvin F. Poussaint, MD, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Judge Baker Children’s Center; author of Lay My Burden Down
“This inspiring book reaffirms the strength and resiliency of the human spirit.”

Perri Klass, author of The Mercy Rule
In Her Wake is a moving story of mother and daughter, and the intimate echoes of family complications across the generations; as Nancy learns more about the mother she never knew, she also tells the story of her own journey and the story of a troubled but fascinating family, and helps the reader understand the twists and turns that love and loss can take.”

Carla Fine, author of No Time to Say Goodbye and Touched by Suicide
In Her Wake speaks to all of us who have lost a loved one to suicide and offers new and healing insights to a survivor’s journey. She helps us better navigate the maze that suicide leaves as its legacy and comforts us with the knowledge that we are not alone in our confusion and grief.”

More About the Author

Nancy Rappaport is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She is an attending child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard teaching affiliate, where she is also Director of School-Based programs with a focus on servicing youths, families and staff in public schools.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Very insightful analysis on the author's own experiences with suicide.
Reader
Nancy Rappaport combines her knowledge of mental illnesses with her own very personal emotions to give us all a better understanding of mental illnesses and suicide.
S. Abderholden NAMI MN
It is with great courage, love and honesty that Dr. Nancy Rappaport reconstructs, and so revisits, the painful legacy of her mother's suicide.
Jean A

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jen H on August 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
In Her Wake is a terrific book - I highly recommend it.

I had a hard time putting it down - and that says a lot! (Though I am a former high school English teacher, I often start books and if they don't grab me within 30 pages I have a hard time completing them.)

In Her Wake grabbed me on multiple levels - the drama of the large and complex family, the author/narrator's search for all she could learn about her mother who committed suicide when the author was 4, the impact of divorce and custody battles on individuals and a family and a psychiatric look at suicide. It was a great mix of a personal narrative coupled with psychiatric facts and anecdotes from the child psychiatrist/author's experiences with kids and families.

Though you might worry that a book that centers on a mother's suicide would be depressing, quite the opposite is true. In Her Wake is actually uplifting - demonstrating the power of family (in all of its forms) to recreate itself in support of its members, and the power of people to persevere and thrive through tough experiences. Rappaport does a great job of bringing you with her on her search for her mother, and the growth that that search allows for her and for others. It is a profoundly personal view into a family - and it leaves us all wiser and more understanding for having read it.

THIS IS AN ENGROSSING BOOK - GO BUY IT AND TRY IT FOR YOURSELF.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Lynette R. Fleming on October 20, 2009
Format: Paperback
So many parallels ... like the author, Nancy Rappaport, I grew up in the sixties (about 9 years before her), and went with my family to Expo `67 in Montreal. Like Nancy's mother, my mother had children (but only three not six) and worked outside of the home at a time when that was not the thing to do. Like Nancy's, the home I grew up in was filled with marital tension, one day escalating to the point that my dad threw a flower pot at my mom. Like Nancy's dad, my dad had a bit of a temper. One day when her three children were 5, 4, and 2, despondent over her marriage and the family's money problems, my mom decided to end her life. She parked her car on the railroad tracks, waiting for a train to end her misery. Unlike Nancy, I was lucky ... my mom did not follow through with her impulse. As the train barreled down the tracks toward her car, a vision of our faces appeared to her and she drove off the tracks with just a few minutes to spare.

Perhaps because of my own childhood, I couldn't put this book down until I had turned to the very last page. Memories of the past swished by me like yard ornaments in a hurricane ... events and feelings I had forgotten in the haste of everyday living. Having never been to a psychiatrist or psychologist, I benefitted from the therapy indirectly provided by this prominent psychiatrist. I now understand my repetitive childhood nightmares, my own adolescent depression, and why my parents' marriage had to end, which it did just a few months after I grew up and moved away.

This story of a woman's quest to find out why her mother ended her life is more intriguing than any best-selling paperback novel. Although I had never heard much about the family, I imagine my father-in-law (now deceased) ...
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Heather Bull on December 14, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This unabashed account of a daughter's lifetime of coping with the reality of losing her mother by suicide at a tender age is rendered with the tenderness of a true healer and the precision of a modern doctor. It runs unapologetically through a kaleidescope of emotional and practical responses of a survivor struggling to understand why and how a beloved family member could be driven to take her own life.
Anyone who has suffered the loss of a family member, through suicide or other means, will be brought from tears to laughter, you'll find yourself smiling cynically at painful truths and celebrating life. The true gift in this book, though, is to the surviving family members of those who have committed suicide. To have this level of transparency and honesty shared poignantly by an obviously gifted writer and doctor is an offer not to be refused. Rappaort's decades of experience piecing together emotionally shattered children shines through every page, and you'll close the book a different person than the one who opened it.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 31, 2009
Format: Paperback
In this remarkable book, Nancy Rappaport calls on her extensive training and experience as a child psychiatrist as she combs through secret journals, public records and painful memories to understand her own mother's suicide, which occurred when she was only four years old. She shares the stories of five generations of her prominent Boston family, as well as anecdotes from her many patients and scenes from her own therapy, to demonstrate how people cope with and understand mental illness and loss. Rappaport's thoughtful, eloquent book shows that while it is unbearably difficult to survive the loss of a loved one to suicide and to try to understand it, it is possible to nonetheless live a happy, productive and meaningful life. It inspires us to find meaning in the tragedy of loss and illness and carry it with us, but not allow it to define our lives.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Z. Ritvo on November 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are many reasons to read this book. One can read it for it's graceful and cogent writing and the unfolding chapters each with a different focal person. It can be read as a family saga across generations and multiple marriages, births, and divorces seen through the lens of a tragic event, the suicide of the author's mother. It can be read as a window back into Boston of the 1950',60's and 70's. It affords a view into the history of psychiatric illness and treatment and changing social mores regarding emotional trauma. It can also be read as a very empathic window into the world of families who have lost a loved one to suicide.

Each family member is respectfully, yet vividly, drawn from interviews close to the present time while the writer delves back to the memories of forty plus years past. Thus, it is also a book about memory.

Suicide is a scary subject. For many people suicide is unspeakable. Nancy Rappaport eloquently demonstrates that we can safely put words to the confusuon,the pain and the irreconcilable contradictions suicide raises for all whom it touches. This is not a scary book, it is human and comforting, a very satisfying book to read.
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