I usually save this space for original essays (using tumblr—karakrauze.tumblr.com—for interesting articles, quotes, and tidbits). But The New York Post, admittedly not my usual go-to paper, recently published a story about Stephanie Madoff that speaks to the legacy of suicide—the grief, anger, hurt, pain, and turmoil that follow the act. The article, by Annie Karni, serves as a welcome follow-up to my post in February about Mark Madoff, “How Madoff the younger became my kin“.
Here’s the link to the story from The Post:
Madoff’s Ultimate Victim
Bernie Madoff swindled investors out of millions, but after the sudden suicide of his elder son, Mark, it’s his daughter-in-law who suffers the most tragic fate of all.
(I also recommend New York Magazine‘s in depth interview with Bernie Madoff, “The Madoff Tapes,” by Steve Fishman. It’s a fascinating look at a complicated man—and speaks to the urge to remember, revise, create and control our own histories, while also examining again the painful circumstances that preceded Mark Madoff’s suicide and the pain his suicide left behind. Here, we are given a glimpse of Bernie Madoff’s humanity, and reminded of Mark’s mother, Ruth Madoff.)
While The Post is right to suggest that Stephanie Madoff, Mark’s widow, is among Bernie Madoff’s biggest victims (along with Ruth Madoff and her younger son, Andrew), it is Mark’s children who will carry this particular burden in especially complicated ways for the rest of their lives. Mark has two older children, from a previous marriage, and a four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son from his marriage to Stephanie. Nancy Rappaport‘s wonderful memoir, In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother’s Suicide, speaks poignantly of the particular grief, self-doubt, and pain of losing a parent to suicide so young. I am reminded here of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, and their son Nicholas Hughes’ suicide two years ago (see “A gulf to fall into: suicide in the house“).
I was lucky, if you can call it luck. I had just turned twenty-three when I lost my father. I have memories, many of them difficult or painful, but I knew my father. Certainly, after his death, I had to question what I knew, much had shifted and could only be viewed, at least for a while, through the lens of his death. And I learned new things, details and stories, of guns, of violent behavior, of hurts he had carried within, some for decades. But I had known him, had experienced the strength of his ire and the bittersweet intensity of his love.
My understanding of depression has grown more nuanced since my father’s death, and my experiences as a parent shape and re-shape how I look at my father’s parenting—the difficulties he faced and his shortcomings—and what he strove for. Even his love, though too often expressed through distrust or anger or stubbornness, has grown more complex with hindsight. Having become a parent myself, I better understand how overwhelming and intense the love of a parent for a child is. (I think here, again, of Ruth’s pain in the aftermath of Mark’s suicide.) I know my father now, more than a decade and a half after he shot himself, in new ways. As adults, even without tragedy, our view on our parents shifts, and shifts again.
Through a trick of technology, of sight and chance and insight, I just clicked on a photo of my father I used in that earlier posting about Mark Madoff, unsure where it would take me. I assumed some dead-end, a url-blockade, the end of the road, that road designed, in part, by me. (Yes, you can see I am learning the technical details and possibilities of blogging and website formulation as I go.) But with that click of the mouse, the photo enlarged, expanding beyond my screen. My father’s eyes commanded the screen—looked out at me—the one eye teasing through his piece of carved onyx, a circle-in-a-square—and he was before me in a way I have not felt in years. Perhaps ever. Our relationship was too fraught, filled, even during my childhood years, with mutual recrimination, with sadness and regret. His struggle with depression, unnamed, but almost omnipresent, had its tentacles wrapped into us both. He fought to stay afloat—something I only partly understood then—and I struggled to keep my distance. His pain was consuming, too much so for him, and for me. It shouldn’t have been. It needn’t have been, so many avenues—therapy, medication—went untraveled. And at such a cost.
Here’s that photo again. Of course, looking into my father’s eyes won’t mean the same things to you as it does for me. But meeting anyone’s gaze, thinking of that person’s life, of all of the lives it touched, offers the chance to look again at our own—and at the others around us, depressed or not.
Thank you for your kind reference to my memoir.
What a startling picture you post of your father. I found also that
we are drawn to the photos of our missing parent in a way as if we might be able to penetrate what they are thinking. I wondered if you have also read Joan Wickersham’s Suicide Index as she lost her father as an adult and was also left trying to reconcile who she thought her father was with how he ended his life. Your blog also made me think too about the “adult attachment interview” which is a series of psychological questions that are part of a research instrument that are very predictive of parents to be (ie when they are pregnant) and what their attachment is to their unborn children. What is amazing is that if a parent is able to give a coherent narrative even if there have been tragic events in their life that is a protective factor for their capacity to connect to their children. That is why I think we revisit the loss of our parents as we become parents ourselves. It is our drive to be close to our own children.
Thank you again for your kind words. Sincerely, Nancy Rappaport
Author of In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother’s Suicide
Thank you for coming by and for your thoughtful comment. You are so right about photos—they become almost mythic texts, passageways through the generations. I’m not familiar with the “adult attachment interview,” but how interesting that successful attachment is connected on a clinical level to narrative cohesion. It certainly makes sense; and, I would say, it makes sense in terms of personal cohesion too. Writers or not, we need stories, a way of explaining what happened (whether bad or good).
I appreciate your bringing up Joan Wickersham’s The Suicide Index. I missed the book when it first came out, but was very taken with it when I read it about a year ago. The brief, category-oriented format works so well for the subject of suicide and grief, and she uses it beautifully. As I recall, she was more shocked by her father’s death than I was by mine. That sounds a bit funny; but while I found my father’s suicide shocking—and surprising—at the same time it was clear pretty much immediately that his death (his decision) had been building for years. Which is not at all to say that it was inevitable. Sigh. And, as you know, reconstructing the life of someone who is gone answers—or begins to answer—many questions, and yet, still, so many questions just can’t be answered. I really appreciate your comments. Thanks again for commenting here, and for your wonderful book.