A Mother’s Reckoning, by Sue Klebold

In this tragic memoir, Sue Klebold tells about her grief journey in the aftermath of her son shooting teens in the Columbine school shooting. It’s not an apology – and it shouldn’t be. It’s a recognition that she’s a mother too, that she lost her son, too. But when I say it like that, it makes it sound like she’s begging you to recognize that. She’s not. She’s just trying to explain that perhaps if she had been aware of suicide risks, she may have prevented her son’s involvement in the shooting, but that she (like many moms of suicidal teens) was blindsided by inexperience. This book is a plea for other moms to recognize the signs and help their kids.

Spoilers abound below.

These questions are adapted from Susan Bauer’s Well-Educated Mind, Chapter 6.

✏️Who was the author? (Woman or man or other? Race and ethnicity? Important occupation?)

Sue Klebold considered herself as a mother – a “normal” mother in extraordinary circumstances. She is white, and middle class.

✏️What are the central events?

The most important event is when her son, Dylan Klebold, joined Eric Harris in slaughtering teenagers, and a teacher, at Columbine High School. Everything else was explanation of how she was a normal mother with what appeared to be a normal son (before), and she was a normal mother recovering from a heartbreaking tragedy afterwards.

✏️Who is the most important person, or people, in the writer’s life?

The three most important people in Sue Klebold’s life during the scope of this story were her husband Thomas and her sons Dylan and Byron.

✏️What is the theme that ties the narrative together?

The overarching theme is one of recovery from a tragedy. However, there are a few underlying themes. The most important is that depression can impact anyone’s child, and that care should be taken to watch for the signs and be empathetic to their needs to help prevent suicide or other tragedy.

✏️Where is the life’s turning point?

I would say the obvious turning point is when the Columbine shooting occurs. But there was a second, more subtle turn when Sue realized that Dylan didn’t just shoot a bunch of kids – he committed suicide and didn’t care if he killed others while doing it. (As opposed to Eric, who seems to have murdered kids, but didn’t care if he died doing it.) Until she realized Dylan’s was foremost a suicide (which she read in a scholarly article about the shooting), she was viewing it simply as murder and couldn’t reconcile the son she knew with the son that killed so many.

✏️For what does the writer apologize? In apologizing, how does the writer justify?

Well, the major thing to apologize for is obvious – her son killed a bunch of teenagers . In the story, Sue Klebold talks about writing a sort of apology/sympathy card to the victims and their families, but I don’t think the purpose of this book was to apologize. She did sound apologetic at times, but the purpose was to talk about tragedy and recovery and suicide awareness.

As for justification, I’m not sure she mentioned one, except for “he seemed perfectly normal, I didn’t allow guns in the house, and I gave him love.”

✏️What is the model – the ideal – for the author’s life?

I’m not sure. Perhaps the ideal would have been if she’d had suicide awareness before these events, perhaps her son’s involvement in the shooting could have been prevented.

✏️What is the end of life (the place where the writer has arrived, found closure, discovered rest)?

The end of this chapter of Sue Klebold’s life is that she now understands that it’s not her fault, and that, with the information she had, she shouldn’t blame herself for not seeing signs of depression in Dylan. But she wants other mothers to be aware of the signs of suicide.

✏️Is the author writing for herself or a group? What parts of the writer’s experience does she assume to be universal? Which does she view as unique to herself? Am I part of the group that would be expected to closely identify with the author’s story? Does it ring true for me? What parts of the story resonate and which do not?

I guess you could say Sue Klebold was representing herself only when she wrote, since the situation she was describing was pretty unique to only a very small number of people (thankfully). Though I think at some level she’s also writing as a mother to a mother. She assumes that her love of her son and the desire for him to be successful and happy is pretty universal. What she views as unique about her situation is rather obvious – not very many moms see their kids turn into murderers.

Yes, I am a mother, and the story of love and forgiveness she gives her son definitely resonates with me.

✏️What are the three moments or timeframes of the story? (When it happened, when it was written, when it was read.) What was the author’s reason for writing? Was the writer at a high or low point at the time of writing? How has the biography changed in the years since its publication?

The Columbine shooting was April 20, 1999, and her book was published 17 years later in 2016. I read it in 2023. I don’t believe there’s been much change between 2023 and 2016, but between 1999 and 2016, many school shootings have occurred. Americans have grown tired of the shootings and would like a fresh source of opinions on how to stop the alarming trend.

The author chose then to write the book because she had reached a step in her grieving process when she felt it would be helpful to reach out to other mothers and make sure they are aware of the risks of depression. I believe she was at a high point in her grief.

✏️Where does the author’s judgement lie? What, or whom, does the author judge? Is this criticism valid? Who do I deem responsible for successes and failures of the author?

I don’t recall the author judging anyone, even her son. Not even the people who judged her harshly.

✏️What have I brought away from this story? What did I hope to get?

I got exactly what I wanted out of this book. I learned a little of what it felt like to be judged by so many people for a tragedy that wasn’t her fault.

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