By Sue Klebold
On April 20, 1999, Sue Klebold had to face the worst fear of any parent, the death of her child, Dylan, by suicide. However, she also had to face the fact that before he took his own life, he and his friend Eric Harris would take the live of 13 of their fellow students at Columbine High School. As she states in her book, she has lived the rest of her life with the shame and pain of these events.
By all accounts, neither Dylan nor Eric outwardly displayed the traits of mass murderers. They were both raised in middle income homes in the nice suburbs near Denver. The Klebolds, Sue and Tom, and their two sons Byron and Dylan, ate family meals together, attended movies together, and occasionally attended worship services together. With part of the family Jewish and another part Christian, they partook of both the Jewish and Christian traditions, although not steeped in either. Their sons played baseball, took part in school plays, and worked on their cars together. They were a normal suburban family, much like yours and mine.
However, deep in Dylan’s brain was a health issue identified as clinical depression. Unbeknownst to Sue and Tom, Dylan suffered from what would become depressive brain issues that would eventually lead to his role in the Columbine massacre. (Sue refers to depression as a brain health issue, as do many of the health professionals today.) Dylan was adept at covering up the depth of his despair, just as many people are in our society today. As one who has a child that suffers from clinical depression (as opposed to depression caused by events), I can testify that many are skilled at covering up the levels of misery they are experiencing. As one professional described Dylan’s behavior at Columbine, “Dylan wanted to die and didn’t care if he took people with him.”
The book is frightening for parents, educators, and medical professionals alike in that, while the symptoms of severe clinical depression may reveal themselves, we are too often not skilled enough to recognize them for what they are, which allows the depressed person to avoid the treatment that may save them and others. Dylan was in a diversion program for a prior felony arrest, and was released early from the program due to his success at completing the program. About three weeks before the massacre, he was seen by a family doctor who stated that Dylan was in overall good health. The Saturday night before the massacre, Dylan attended prom with a date and experienced a wonderful evening. In other words, Dylan was frighteningly normal behaved.
I encourage everyone to read this book, parents, medical professionals, educators, as it provides immense insight into the world of a troubled young man who on the outside appeared completely normal. For those of us with family members with clinical depression, it provides insight into their behaviors, and encourages us to dig deeper when speaking with them, to let them know that we care about them and wish only to help them. Dylan was successful in keeping the severity of his depression from his parents, and even from his closest friends, who by the way are the ones most likely to know how severely depressed the person is.
If you read this book though, be prepared to amend many of your ideas about depression and its role in people’s’ lives. Sue Klebold wrote this book with the purpose of urging parents, educators, and medical professionals to not accept easy responses and excuses from those we suspect with depression, but to dig for real feelings. She urges us to be inquisitive and to search deeply for what the depressed people are really feeling. It is an easy read, but one which is disturbing as a family deals with the horror of a child who murders and then commits suicide. Oh, and have a box of tissues handy.