TW: This review contains mentions of intense grief and suicide. Please read with caution if you struggle with these topics.
When Dan put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, he hoped his life was over. He was so ready to be done, to free his fiancee from being engaged to such a weak, hideous man. What he didn’t know was that his death would be the beginning of something much darker.
Anne, left alone after Dan’s death, will struggle with her own darkness in order to come out the other end of her grief. Letting Go follows her path through unimaginable despair, a world of hallucinations and spirits, and a loneliness that no one can comprehend.
Hopefully Anne can remember this– “Life means hope. You are worth saving. Don’t give up–” before she too pulls the trigger.
I’m used to be a crier. When I was pregnant with my son, I vividly remember crying at the sight of a chipmunk crossing the road because it was, and I quote, “was just so cute.” The first book that made me really CRY– not just shed a tear, but violently sob– was Looking for Alaska by John Green. I can still visualize myself in the car on our way down to the beach. Sobbing. I cry when I’m mad. When I’m upset. When I’m happy. But, more often than not, those emotions have to be really intense. I don’t cry near as much as I use to. Books don’t move me as strongly as they used to.
I say all this to make it abundantly clear– I finished this book with a knot in my throat. I read the author’s note with fat, ugly tears rolling down my face. Yes, this was a powerful, moving, dark, spine-chilling read, but it was also real. That was the final nail in the coffin (“You’re really joking at a time like this?” -Bo Burnham) for me. Those god-awful words “every ‘real’ thing that happens in this story is exactly how I experienced it”– that’s what got me.
Because this books is horrifying. Not boo-scary. I wasn’t wanting to hide under the covers or leave the lights on. No, no. In our book club, I said it was like a car wreck. You really want to look away, but you just can’t. That’s not to say I forced myself to finish the book. Lord, no. My brain wouldn’t have let me stop if I wanted to. I absolutely had to see this through. I was clinging to every single word.
The “real” storyline follows Anne– a tortured soul who is dealing with the unimaginable grief that follows the loss of her husband. People constantly tell her to “just move on, he was only your boyfriend.” They ignore her. Don’t reach out or ask her what she needs. Anne wastes away for months without a single human soul to lean upon.
The “paranormal” storyline follows Dan– who simply cannot forgive himself for leaving Anne in this position and subsequently can’t move on because of his guilt. Dan meets the spirit of Tar (who tries to help him move on) and Rale (who seems to embody despair itself and clings to Anne as she spirals downward). He’s forced to watch helplessly as the woman he loves plans her own death.
I was more attracted to Anne’s storyline.
Because her grief is so REAL. Her experiences are so heartbreaking. The absolutely beautiful prose that is used to paint these horrible emotions that she feels. It’s all…. amazing. I honestly can’t think of another word to describe what I’m talking about. I’m sort of at a loss for words.
Instead, how about I tell you what I learned from this.
- Grief is a spectrum. There are different levels to it, and just because I think I’ve experienced it before doesn’t mean I can understand EVERYONE’S grief. There’s no one-size-fits-all glove that can just be stamped on top of it. No one pill to fix it all.
- I need to stop saying, “I understand what you’re going through” and instead ask, “How can I help you? I’m here for you. Let me help.” Because let’s be honest– I don’t exactly understand. Instead, let’s focus on offering someone a helping hand to lift them out of this. Anne deals with so many people telling her to just get over it. That’s not unrealistic. I mean, I’ve been told that before when dealing with hard times. Why not just try to be there for people, no matter what they’re going through?
- Depression, like grief, is a spectrum. My experience with it isn’t the same as someone elses.
- Dealing with depression, of any level or severity, does not make you weak. “Say it louder for the people in the back, Amy.” DEPRESSION DOESN’T MAKE YOU WEAK! It just means you have to work a little bit harder. That you might have to ask for help. That your brain needs to be managed a bit differently. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with having that diagnosis.
- Suicide, while it might seem like a solution in the moment, never truly is. To quote Lange, “When a person commits suicide, their pain doesn’t end. They just hand it over to the people who love them most.” It’s easy to think, Oh, they’ll forget about me pretty quick or they’ll be better off without me. I’m guilty of that second one. The truth is that they won’t be better off. They won’t forget. Your unanswered questions haunt them. The gaping hole you left will destroy them.
- We need to remove the stigma we’ve given to suicide. Instead of dancing around it and telling everyone that it’s a shameful way to die, let’s teach children and adults how to deal with those shadowy emotions. How do I quiet the intrusive thoughts that tell me I’m not good enough? How do I convince myself that people do care about me and I’m not really alone? Suicide needs to be something we discuss. It’s not shameful. It’s heartbreaking. And it’s so common that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for letting it get this far.
I’ve rambled on long enough. Let’s close with this:
Letting Go by Carrie Lange is an absolutely heartbreaking read that takes you through the all-too-real world of grief and suicide. It’s packed with beautiful prose that will make you feel things, whether you like it or not. It’s definitely not a read for the faint of heart, but anyone who is strong enough– like Anne and Lange– to embark on this journey will most definitely benefit from every moment. I’ve learned so much from reading this book.
I hurt. I raged. I cried.
But then, I smiled with the hope that Anne was going to be okay.
I’ll end with this quote, “Hang on for one more day. Life means hope. You are worth saving. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Please, don’t give up.”
If you or someone who know struggles with suicidal thoughts, help is always available to you. Call (800) 273-8255, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You are not alone.
You may purchase this book on Amazon here. All proceeds go to support the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Help Lange end the stigma.