Book review / synopsis
Crossing 13 is an emotionally-driven story about a thirteen year old girl who was unfortunately faced with her father’s self-inflicted death. This story follows the days leading up to the suicide as well as after, demonstrating the turbulent journey that her and her family were faced with. This story is a detailed account of the anger, heartache, self-blame and guilt that surrounds the loss of a parent by suicide.
The author, Carrie Stark Hugus, a former marketing and communications executive, lives in Colorado with her family and dog. She is living proof that a safe, happy and successful life is still possible, even when your life has been completely altered by a devastating family crisis.
What inspired you to write this book?
Crossing 13 began as a personal healing process for me, a place to write down my thoughts and to get clear the event in my mind. After I wrote my coming-of-age story about my father’s self inflicted death, the confusion of finding him and my journey to discovering my “new normal,” I realized my experiences could help others.
Despite the traumatic event you encountered in your adolescence, you have managed to make a successful life for you (both in terms of family and career). Do you think what happened to you played a role?
I believe nothing in our lives happens by accident and you can find a positive side to almost any tragedy. My father’s suicide has gifted me with the ability to have more empathy for others who are suffering and given me the strength to continually look inside myself to learn and grow.
What advice would you like to pass on to youth dealing with the self-inflicted death of a parent?
Be kind and love yourself! Don’t feel guilty about taking care of yourself with rest, eating regularly, drinking water and exercise. In my opinion, self kindness is one of the quickest ways to heal and should be a life-long goal. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help and be patient with your grief process.
Given what happened to you and your family, do you find it imperative to educate your children on mental health and making them aware of the issues that are out there?
I want my children to feel comfortable talking about the subject of suicide. I want them to understand that when a person is contemplating suicide it is only because they are in pain. When researchers asked attempters of suicide if they wanted to die they said no, they only wanted to remove the pain. I try to teach my children that there are other coping skills to help when you feel down, such as taking care of yourself, living a productive and creative life and surrounding yourself with positive and supportive friends. Most importantly never feel embarrassed or afraid to ask others for help.
Was there ever a specific moment in time where you realized that you and your family were going to make it through?
About a year after my father died I began to feel safe again. Routine is very important for children when they are grieving to help them feel secure. We were living in our new home, I was back at school surrounded by my friends and seeing a grief counsellor. I was learning to live life without the presence of my father and working through the process of understanding my feelings as a result of his death.
Do you still have days that you struggle with your father’s passing? If so, how do you deal with those feelings?
I still think of my father on the day of the anniversary of his death. It was an Indian Summer when my father died and if the weather mirrors that on his anniversary it has a bigger impact on me -- the smells and sounds of the magpie’s song can bring on sudden and powerful memories. The pain never completely goes away, but it’s not as penetrating as it was in the early years. Christmas in general can bring emotions of stress and heartache for many and I’m no exception. These feelings are intensified because my father was born on Christmas day. I still think of him every afternoon when we used to celebrate his birthday. I’m extra kind to myself during this time of the year. I say no to the hustle and bustle of life and slow down to help lessen the emotional impact. I only read and watch uplifting stories. Movies are a great escape for me.
In the book you spoke about being ashamed of your father’s suicide. You said you did not want to have to explain what happened to the kids at school because you were embarrassed about what others may think of you. Knowing what you do now about suicide and mental health do you think it would be beneficial for schools to educate their students on suicide (i.e. warning signs, stigma, dealing with the aftermath, etc.)?
ABSOLUTLY! One of the ways to prevent suicide is to talk about it. Don’t be afraid to use the term suicide. It’s not the ‘S’ word. We need to be open and honest with our children and teach them that suicide is not a secret. If their friends share with them they want to die by suicide they must tell an adult.