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Remembering Tom: Coping with Youth Suicide

Distributed by Fanlight Productions, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Daryl K. Davis for the National Film Board of Canada
Directed by Daryl K. Davis
VHS, color, 24 min.
High School - Adult
Health Sciences, Psychology

Reviewed by Charles J. Greenberg, Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   

The phenomenon of youth suicide is an invisible and persistent crisis in modern society. The American Psychiatric Association lists suicide as the third leading cause of death among youth under the age of 24. The stigma associated with suicide in some religious beliefs, as well as the inevitable guilt felt by close survivors, reinforces a natural silence on meaningful discussion of the burden faced by surviving family members. Remembering Tom is therefore a timely contribution to much-needed discussion and support, a tightly focused documentary on a surviving family that must come to both individual and interpersonal family understanding and acceptance when a teenager takes his own life.

Despite the hindsight hints of behavioral factors that might have predicted Tomís suicidal tendency, the film avoids dwelling on Tomís death and instead maintains focus on the human revolution of the living, both their own honest introspections, and their care for each other. The film also benefits by documenting two years of subsequent action and reflection by the family, following Tomís death, and raw emotions have been superceded by self-realization and the ability to talk openly and comfortably in front of a camera about a painful subject.

The strength of this short and carefully edited documentary is a strong, articulate, and unembarrassed first-person narrative that shifts between different family members. Each family member is allowed to sketch their relationship to Tom and their own encounter with the moment of awful realization and their subsequent stages of grief, sadness, confusion, disbelief, and gradual acceptance of each otherís need to experience bereavement differently. For instance, many immediate facts and circumstantial evidence point toward Tomís suicide, yet it is only when the body is actually recovered five months later that Tomís father begins to admit that no chance exists for his sonís return.

There are certainly a variety of coping styles described by each participant in their bereavement, and the positive intervention of family counseling and family-centered prayer are both described and visualized. Tomís two siblings take advantage of an opportunity to attend a support group for relatives experiencing suicide. One of the admirable aspects of this film is the portrayal of a rather ordinary family unexpectedly thrust into a stressful and incapacitating suffering which they themselves are eventually able to transcend with a long range perspective and hope for the future.

The video production uses a subtle and soft instrumental soundtrack. Each family member speaks calmly and with respect, directly to the camera. Grief has given way to celebration of life that characterizes each family memberís remembrance of Tom and the methods they choose to continually honor his life.

The documentation accompanying the video offers suggested activities either before or after viewing, as well as a caution citing the potential for strong reactions among a viewing audience. Sources of additional information are also included. Recommended for audiences that wish to understand the family bereavement process surrounding suicide, particularly students of health professions, social work, and counseling.

Highly Recommended.