Because Where Was Goodbye? is a story about navigating grief, loss, and the search for answers about suicide, Janice Lynn Mather provides a trigger warning at the beginning of her novel. Although suicide is central to Mather’s writing, Where Was Goodbye? also indicates the importance of support systems, coping mechanisms, friendship, and unconditional love.

Having an eye for color and creation, Karmen Wallace is a maker of soft things. Despite her ability to knit, her family is broken, and Karmen is struggling to make sense of the tragic loss of her brother Julian who takes his life by suicide. Although Karmen’s best friend, Layla, is doing her best to help Karmen heal, Karmen can’t contain her grief and searches for answers. With Julian’s birthday approaching, Karmen gives herself a task: To answer by then questions that will help her understand him. “That would be a gift” (25).

Working like a journalist, Karmen seeks to know where Julian went, when he began feeling like life was too much, and why he felt like he didn’t have a choice or didn’t say anything about his pain. She believes that if only she had known more, done more, asked more, and looked more, her brother would be alive. So, she begins wearing Julian’s clothes, riding his skateboard, and searching for any link in something important to learn. What she comes to realize is that in this process, she risks losing herself. As her own therapist reveals: “Being the one left behind is a tremendous weight. . . . When someone dies by suicide, it’s sudden, it’s traumatic, and it’s complicated” (103).

As questions surface and swirl, Karmen begins to doubt her own relationship with her brother, even blame herself: “I thought we were close. . . . Did he ever trust me? What was the point of being in his life, if he couldn’t talk to me in the end? Before there was an end?” (115).

Although this is a difficult book to read, I imagine it was an even more difficult to write. Mather captures the rage, the ever-present tears, the confusion, and the trauma so acutely. She also provides a list of resources for any reader who may be struggling with depression or wrestling with thoughts of self-harm. Through Ms. Rhonda, Karmen’s therapist, Mather admits: “Sometimes you can’t get an answer—it doesn’t make the loss any less meaningful or painful. If anything, it complicates it. It compounds it. There are the things we sometimes have to carry with us, Karmen. And it’s heartbreaking and hard and it’s heavy. It’s so heavy” (271).

Perhaps the most valuable lesson comes in understanding that sometimes we can’t fix what’s broken. Sometimes we can’t get the answers we need. As we take steps into our own darkness, we confront the realization that a lot of people are hurting, and despite our efforts to help, we don’t always succeed.

  • Posted by Donna

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