Welcome to A News Cafe’s Online Book Club: ‘Will’s Choice’ – Come on in, join the conversation below

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Well, as planned, the day has arrived when we can discuss “Will’s Choice” for our online book club. We had a month to read the book, and today I welcome your thoughts about the book, as well as the topic of  suicide.

Click here to read the article where we introduced the topic earlier this month.

This online book is a partnership between A News Café, the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency and the community-based Suicide Prevention Workgroup. It convened in honor of National Suicide Prevention Week, September 4-10.

For those who didn’t read “Will’s Choice,” it’s a true story by Gail Griffith, a mother who chronicled her 17-year-old son’s journey from suicide attempt to recovery.

I’m happy to say that Will lived. He wrote the book’s epilogue, “In Will’s Own Words,” which was actually one of my favorite parts of the book, mainly because he sounded like just another college kid, and I felt an exhale of relief that he’d be OK after all.

One thing I wondered about is how Will would handle his suicide-attempt legacy that’s been set forever in print. I sometimes felt like a voyouer reading letters to and  I don’t know exactly how he feels about it, but Griffith gives insights about her reasons behind writing such a raw and personal book.

For example, at one point Gail Griffith talked about being in a group therapy session with other parents and kids, and a woman in the group – a mother, whom btw, was an emergency room doctor, replied to Gail’s fears that Will would attempt suicide again.

“Well, if someone’s bound and determined to commit suicide, there’s not much you can do about it,” the mother said.

Though Griffith said she stifled the desire to leap from her chair and “grab the woman by the throat” – she had this thought:

The point of writing a memoir as candid and as painful as this one, and the reason I am willing to risk exposing my son, his former girlfriend, myself and my family, is to challenge the wickedly misguided motion that (1) a person suffering from depression ‘wants to die,’ and that (2) there is ‘nothing anyone can do about it.’

I appreciated the facts that Griffith threw in every so often, such as how, in the United States, there are twice as many suicides as homicides. Rather sobering.

And those who didn’t read “Will’s Choice”, what are your thoughts and observations about suicide in general? Have you ever known someone who’s committed suicide? And here’s a question that’s always interested me: What do you think about schools addressing suicide, in light of some educators’ beliefs that talking about suicide will plant the suggestion in kids’ minds.

While you ponder, I’ll repeat a local statistic: More than seven in 10 people in Shasta County know someone who has died by suicide. These are our friends, family and neighbors, and too often, stigma discourages these survivors of suicide loss from talking about their loved one or seeking the help they need.

Readers, OK, it’s your turn. Your thoughts?

Meanwhile, Shasta County Health and Human Services has a lot helpful information on this site, especially with this topic in mind. Click here to check it out.

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain- Greenberg founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com



Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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10 Responses

  1. Avatar Dawn Pittore says:

    I haven't finished the book yet, as I am a slow reader and the book was so popular at the Redding Library that I got the last copy and was only able to keep it for two weeks. I hope to get a copy back soon and finsh the book. It is a good read so far and addresses the many concerns and inner thoughts, and questions I have as a mother of teens. I respect Will and his family and friends for being so open and honest. Take the stigma of suicide out of the closet and treat suicide and depression as they should be, a disease that needs treatment to live with. I'm not much of a reader, but am very glad to have taken part in the on-line book clubs for suicide awareness and mental health awareness.

    • Hi, Dawn! Welcome.

      It's a good-news, bad-news situation about the library's supply: Good news that it was so popular, but too bad that you couldn't keep the book longer. Even so, I'm glad you got the book long enough to gather the upshot of it.

      No apologies for not being a speed reader. That's not the point here. (Besides, you're taking the time to really read each word, not skim, and I'm sure the author appreciates that.)

      You are spot on about taking the stigma of suicide out of the closet. Absolutely. I think we need to ask ourselves why suicide carries such a stigma. Is it about weakness? I really don't know. Readers?

  2. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Hi Doni: I'm one of those who knew a person, a good friend, who commented suicide in Shasta County and regret and morn

    that he couldn't have had an intervention. He had terminal cancer and was in great pain and must have not wanted

    to endure that any longer.

    Sometimes a person thinking of suicide gives signs of whats to come like giving away their belongings or becoming very quiet and reserved.

    Most suicide victoms, because of the stigma, don't talk about it before hand.

    Women are most likely to kill themselves with an overdose of pills while males choose guns.

    Gail Griffin is right when she dispells the notion that there's nothing you can do to prevent a suicide.

    Help is available at several places and Shasta county mental health or Help Inc. are places to start in our area.

    Other cities, I'm sure have suicide crisis intervention services with phone numbers listed in the phone book or online.

    • Thanks, Budd. I think if there's one thing that might deter people from killing themselves it's the thought that their death would cause pain to friends and loved ones, and knowing that the people left behind will be haunted by it and forever torture themselves wondering if there was anything they could have done to prevent it.

      I think that if we suspect someone is suffering suicidal thoughts, it's better to err on the side of caution and actually ask them … than to remain quiet. If they're not feeling suicidal, they'll say so, but if they are, well, then maybe that's the first step toward getting help.

  3. Avatar Michele says:

    Budd, I am so sorry for your loss of a friend. I do think that suicide in the circumstance you describe is somewhat different, though, and would like to offer a couple of thoughts about that.

    I have stage IV cancer, and lost my mother to cancer a few years back. While I am currently doing well, I do think about what the future holds and what the end will look like. I want to maintain as much control as possible over that, and would hope that my friends and family would understand and feel compassion rather than remorse should I decide that suicide was preferable to living in terrible pain. (Of course the key to this is prior communication.)

    Having said that, my experience with my mom was that Hospice did such a remarkable job of pain management that she was a able to take joy in each day until just the last couple of days of her life, when she was barely conscious. I can only hope to be able to leave this earth with the grace and dignity she displayed. She set the bar pretty high.

    I do believe, though, that for many people who suffer terribly in late stage cancer, it is a failure of pain management, and I would urge them, and their friends and loved ones, to get them connected to hospice care as early in their process as possible (generally, as soon as medical treatment switches from fighting the disease to maintaining quality of life.) While this may not be a strategy most people think of as suicide prevention, for me it is the thing that gives me hope that I just might be able to die naturally without undue suffering.

  4. Avatar Dawn Pittore says:

    Great answer Michelle. I finally got another copy of the book and get to complete the journey before I pass it on to a co-worker. It seems that when we are teens the world is according to our point of view and every incident seems magnified. Even though as a teen I would have classified myself as mature with a worldy view, good grades, good family and friends, an I was often the voice of reason and counsel for friends and even my mother, I considered suicide. When those thoughts over shadow reason and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, it is hard to vocalize or ask for help. I got there due to boy trouble. I struggled inside myself between those thoughts and the thoughts that someone like me was not supposed to think those things or feel that way.

  5. Avatar Kerri says:

    I finished this book a few weeks ago, and am kicking myself for failing to jot down notes as I was reading. My overall impression, however, is that Will was exceptionally lucky to have such a wonderful, compassionate parenting team in his corner. His parents and stepparents seemed to do whatever it took to get help for him. The journal entries by Will and his girlfriend were raw, compelling and insightful, and I commend their bravery for being willing to share their darkest times with us, in the hopes of helping someone else through it.

    There are very few of us who haven't been touched by suicide in some way, and I hope this discussion will help our friends, family, neighbors and community members feel like it's OK to ask that very tough question – "Are you considering suicide?" You will NOT put the idea of suicide into someone's head by simply asking the question… but if the idea is already there, you could save that person's life. Please visit http://www.shastasuicideprevention.com for resources, warning signs, training opportunities and ways that you can help coordinate suicide prevention efforts in our community.

    And Doni, my sweet friend – I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your courage and bravery in tackling subjects that others will not – community journalism at its finest.

    • Thanks, everyone, for the comments, by people who'd read the book as well as by those who didn't.

      And Kerri, everyone at anewscafe.com appreciates the Shasta County Health and Human Services folks who partnered with us to discuss yet another important, although sometimes uncomfortable subject.

      Readers, feel free to continue this conversation here for days, weeks, months, however long you wish. I'll check back every so often to see how things are going.

  6. Avatar Anita Joseph says:

    Thank you so much for offering “Will’s Choice” for the book club. It is an insightful book of both help and hope. It’s a book I’ve now recommended to many, including to high school counselors. Chronicling the desperate and frantic fear of Will’s parents, author Gail Griffith took us through their careful search of confusing treatment approaches and options, of finding the right therapist, program, parent inter-dependence, and support. This book can help parents talk to each other, to their friends and to their teens. It gives voice to a teen’s way of thinking. Remember that Will said he hadn’t planned on attempting to take his life? I was stunned by that statement but probably shouldn’t have been. The book also provides useful, concrete preventative action, such as refusing to allow your child to administer his/her own medications. Through this book we see clearly why we cannot accept omission and hesitation when we would prefer to avoid a conversation. Turning the pages of “Will’s Choice” takes us through a confounding maze as it clears a path to understanding.

  7. Avatar Meaghan says:

    I thought Gail wrote very well and made a good case for anti-depressants, but I was also kind of disturbed by her. Clearly she adores her son and wanted what was best for him, but I don't really understand why Will was placed in the residential treatment center. It seemed like it was more for his parents' peace of mind than for him as himself — Gail said he had to go because she would make his life miserable if he didn't, with her fear that he would attempt suicide again.

    As she noted several times in the text, his depression was mostly a chemical one and not caused by problems in his life, and it was a matter of getting the right medication for him. That's something that could have been accomplished at home. Will didn't have any of the behavioral problems or drug addiction that residential treatment centers are designed to handle. I think it's telling that he only spent ten months there, when according to Montana Academy's website the average student spends more like eighteen months.

    She also seemed very dismissive of Will's opinions and feelings. All that commentary on his journal entries about how immature he was. If it was me, and my mother was writing a similar book, I would have been so embarrassed. And I'm well into adulthood.