By Grace Foo
(650 words, 3-minute read)
Not many people can endure the traumatic experience of losing a child to suicide, let alone be of sound mind to write about it in a painfully self-aware manner. In Loss Adjustment, Linda Collins weaves together the late Victoria’s journal with her own journey as a grieving mother into a heart-wrenching memoir.
This book is raw and compelling yet gentle and sensitive. I applaud Linda for achieving this, a feat that’s both unimaginable and admirable – honouring Victoria, her late daughter, by helping others who are also struggling. I’m certain this read has helped shed light on the taboo topic of suicide, allowing more people to be aware of the little signs and potentially save those who are in desperate need of saving.
Perhaps most touching in this book is Linda’s pain, returning back to work and trying to pick up the broken pieces of a light forever snuffed out in her life. Collins expresses the perversity of life and the world carrying on, “…returning to work symbolises picking up the reins of continuity. It trivialises Victoria’s death. How can resuming work and paying the bills be more important than mourning the loss of one’s own child?”
Perhaps, like an earthquake, the loss of a child shakes your whole world upside down, toppling everything, leaving you to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of a loss so traumatising. The destruction of Linda’s New Zealand house to an earthquake leaves her with an arduous battle of settling insurance matters and fighting for compensation, a battle so great but incomparable to the battle of living life without her beloved daughter. Her experiences leave readers wondering what changes a compassionate society should make to accommodate those who are having such a tough time.
The responses from Victoria’s school, from the nation and Linda’s workplace made me realise how important these institutions are in facilitating an environment for bereaved families to grieve openly and freely. The book is as persuasive as it is descriptive, pushing for change on larger, more pressing issues that need to be addressed on a national, institutional level. Linda’s intimate love for Victoria in the land of loss and grief also becomes one of the driving forces behind positive shifts in our society.
A rather melancholic read, Loss Adjustment sits comfortably with darker thoughts, feelings and events that one might associate with suicide and death, such as evil spiritual forces, paranormal sightings, or a series of strange occurrences leading up to the suicide. The death of a Taoist neighbour, an infestation of termites in the apartment, and the strange disappearance of flight MH370—all contribute to sombre undertones that suggest that something evil could be taking hold, resulting in the manifestation of these unsettling events. The reader may need to wrestle with this possibility, and perhaps find their own preconceived ideas and religious beliefs challenged by Linda’s very personal spiritual experiences.
This brilliant work of creative non-fiction reminds me of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play about profound grief that isn’t afraid to investigate the living’s relationship with the dead, after Hamlet starts encountering the ghost of his father. In kingfisher sightings, voices, visions and dreams, Linda continues to understand and connect with Victoria. Whether it is all happening inside her head is up to the readers’ interpretation, but it does definitely bring up questions about the afterlife, mother-daughter relationships and spiritual, invisible forces, which could be more intertwined with our lives than we realise.
There are so many possibilities and Linda’s journey of questioning does force me to re-examine my own Christian beliefs with regards to the afterlife, quite uncomfortably. There are also many instances when I was simply in deep thought, as expected from a book dealing with such heavy subject matter. It was still overall an endearing and tender read that holds space for difficult conversations – conversations that can save lives and honour those who have departed as well as those that remain.
Grace graduated from Macquarie University with a degree in Bachelor of Arts majoring in Media Studies, and also Singapore Polytechnic with a diploma in Visual Communications and Media Design. An avid Harry Potter and Disney fan, she is a dreamer that loves to read classics, Shakespeare, memoirs, and other non-fiction titles. She writes from a place of empathy and compassion, and occasionally shares her reviews on #bookstagram @gracefulquills. She is no stranger to the smell of books, freshly brewed coffee, and the lingering tranquility of the night air.
This review was written as part of ArtsEquator’s 5-week Introduction to Reviewing Books course taught by Kathy Rowland. It was organised by ArtsEquator and supported by the National Arts Council.