Seventeen-year-old Ellery buys a gun and makes a plan. She's going to commit suicide. The guilt she bears for the death of her younger sister is just too heavy to carry. That’s how the story unfolds in Teach Me to Forget (Merit Press, 2016), by Battle-Creek-author Erica Chapman. It’s her debut novel for young adults, a group that's faced a rising suicide rate nationwide.
Chapman explains why she took on such a dark and painful topic.
“I was driven to write it for several reasons. But the main reason I wrote it was because my father committed suicide when I was 16 years old. At the time, I did not really know how that made me feel. I was angry. I didn’t want to forgive him. He took away the time together that we would have had. What I did was bottle that all up and stick it in a compartment and close the door.”
Writing about the fictional character Ellery and how she copes with thoughts of suicide helped Chapman open that door and finally face her bottled-up feelings. She began to understand what her father may have experienced in the days leading up to his death. Chapman says she chose to have her teenaged character struggle with suicidal thoughts rather than her father so she as the author could get a more immediate understanding of the experience.
Chapman says it took her only a week to write the first draft of Teach Me to Forget.
“I wanted answers for what was going on in my father’s head — and why is it that I can’t understand that. Because I’ve been depressed — it’s something I deal with every day, so I know the depths of what it can make you feel. But I didn’t know that level of depression, that far down.”
During the first week writing the novel, Chapman says that she cried, felt the isolation, and the pain she imagines her father felt. And that brought healing. Chapman hopes the story may bring some measure of healing to other young people, whether they're dealing with thoughts about suicide themselves, or their loved ones are. She's committed some profits from the sale of the book to organizations working to prevent teen suicide. She also has links to support groups like Kalamazoo's Gryphon Place on her website.
Chapman says she's by no means an expert on the topic. But she also says communication is vital when loved ones are depressed or troubled.
“Talk to your child. Talk to your father, your mother. Get it out in the open. I know sometimes it can be that pink elephant in the room, and I know it can be uncomfortable to talk about your feelings. I really wish my dad had trusted me enough to talk to me about his feelings.”
Erica Chapman will read from her book in her hometown, Battle Creek, at Battle Creek Books, 51 Michigan Avenue West, on Saturday, December 17, at 2 p.m. It's free and open to the public.
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