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In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother's Suicide
Reviewed by J. John Mann, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2010;167:872-873. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.10010067
View Author and Article Information
New York, N.Y.

The author reports receiving grant support from GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis.

Accepted January , 2010.

Copyright © American Psychiatric Association

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Nancy Rappaport is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Director of School-Based Programs in Child Psychiatry at the Cambridge Health Alliance, and she wrote this book as a mother of three. Her mother died by suicide when Rappaport was four years old and the youngest of six children. In this book she recounts the process of exploration and discovery she undertook as an adult in an effort to know her mother better and in that context to understand her suicide. It is not a book written from the perspective of a trained psychiatrist, where content might be dominated by framing her mother's suicide in terms of what we know of the causes of suicide. It is not full of discussions of genes and neurotransmitters or of elaborate psychodynamic formulations. Rather it is the filling in and fleshing out the picture of key members of her family in the process of learning more about her mother.

Rappaport's father, who had left the children's home in the wake of a divorce prior to her mother's suicide, emerges as he reveals more about his feelings and view of the events. At the time, he was a public figure as a successful attorney, and the press made much of the divorce. This press coverage revealed much to the author as she explored this shocking and painful event in the life of this family of talented and creative individuals. Much like a watercolor painting, the family comes to life in this book as details are learned and feelings expressed. In the process, her relationship to her long-deceased mother becomes more complete and richer. There is much to appreciate here in terms of grief and loss and the value of knowing about one's family. At the same time, we are reminded about the devastation caused by suicide in families and the need for "postvention" and prevention.

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