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Notes from:

Behind a Glass Wall - The Anatomy of a Suicide



These notes are from this book about a mother who wrote a book after her daugher killed herself.. Dorothy is mother, Zoey is daughter.

They remind me of the book written by another mother - Saving Jessie, which I re-named, Poisoning Jessie


Mother doesn't really know her daughter

p.4. Dorothy goes through Zoe’s boxes filled with journals, letters, papers, photos, etc. She says, “I had no idea that you’d kept this stuff; you were such a private person.”

Notice how she calls her a "private person". But she doesn't understand why her daughter stopped sharing the truth with her. I say "stopped" because children naturally want to share things with their parents. They only stop when they are afraid of telling the truth, for one reason or another. They could be afraid of punishment, judgment, disapproval, rejection, not being understood, being invalidated, or hurting their parents, for example.

Letter from her father

Confusing cause and effect or "The chicken and egg problem"

From a letter the mother wrote to one of Zoe's friends

In her heart ZoŽ hates herself. She turns her hate outward to her parents and family.

Compare this to what Zoe herself says

I hate myself because I profoundly loathe my parents


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Mother lays guilt trips

She says of her daughter’s suicide:

“It is murder and I remain enough of a Jew to remind you of the commandment which says, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ even if murderer and victim is the same person. How could that happen? How could you kill anyone – even yourself?”

Daughter has learned to be a good actress

...outwardly you seemed happy and successful, inwardly you were grappling with demons

Mother trying to evade responsibility

The mother says, speaking to dead Zoe,

...in so much of what you wrote in your twenties, when outwardly you seemed happy and successful, inwardly you were grappling with demons. You gave them human faces; they resemble people you knew including your parents.”

It is unclear what the mother actually thinks the "demons" are but she does an admirable job of poetically evading any responsibility and painful truth.

Here is an excerpt the mother offers us from the mother's journal where she is wondering who or what is to blame for her daughter's prpblems:

How much of this rage was due to the family she grew up in; inevitable mistakes parents make; how much due to faulty chemical firing messages in her brain that shook her out of reasoned behavior?

Notice the "inevitable mistakes parents make" part. But is abuse, let's say sexual abuse, part of those "inevitable mistakess parents make"? This would be like a father saying that him having sex with his own daugther was just one of those "inevitable mistakes parents make." So if sexual abuse is not considered one of those "inevitable mistakes parents make," then what about extreme emotional abuse and neglect?

The argument that all parents make mistakes and this is simply "inevitable," so therefore we shouldn't try to ever either

a) train and educate them or

b) hold them accountable

is the kind of ting that Nigel Latta, a TV psychologist in New Zealand woud have us believe. He says things like "All parents screw up their kids. Tha's our jobs..."

Suicide and Investigations

This book makes me think about a video I recently saw about hypothermia. A young man in New Zealand died because of hypothermia on a hiking trip with his friends. There was an official investigation, including a courtroom case, but no one was found guilty of anything. His friends did things they regretted later, and made what turned out to be unintentional but fatal mistakes. But no one was found guilty of his murder or even being an accessory to it.

Obviously when there is an actual murder trial, people are looking for the guilty party. Yet when there is a suicide there is rarely, if ever, any such legal investigation, and no one is typically found guilty of anything.

In this book we see that the mother had access to a lot of relevant information. But no third parties were involved, except perhaps those who suggested she not publish the "hurtful" things she found. We don't know what she didn't publish. We do know, though, that she threw away at least one thing which was too painful for her - the pictures which her daughter had cut. Why these were so painful to the mother, one can only guess, but the mother admits that they were too much for her to bear, so she got rid of them. What if there were other notes and bits of evidence that she also found too painful to bear? What if they would help us understand the reasons for Zoey's suicide?

An immediate problem I see is that if we tried to apply the typical, punitive, adversarial legal system to a youth suicide, the parents would obviously be afraid of being found guilty and prosected and punished. They would have more incentive to destroy any potentially incriminating evidence before the police or investigators got to it. As I have asked before, would they they be guilty of obstruction of justice similar to destroying evidence in a criminal trial?

Rather than create these legal complications and incentive to destroy evidence and lie, it would be much better to encourage the parents to come forward with the truth. I am not sure yet how this could be done, but one thing which would clearly help is to remove the threat of punishment. On one hand, a caring parent who loses a son or daughter to sucide will feel enough pain. On the other hand, if a parent knew that they could be accused of emotional abuse or emotional neglect contributing to a suicide, perhaps they would be more motivated to get outside help in time to prevent a loss of life. (See Parental Liability in Suicide)


More associated notes..

Guilt creates pain. Too much pain leads to suicide. For some guilt and guilt trips is "effective" - ie getting desired behavior. But for others it is "debilitating" or damaging, weakening, painful. Person feels unworthy. Feels bad about themselves. Too much feeling bad leads to self-hatred. Person could believe others are better off without them - ie they just cause pain, problems.

Confusiong, not understanding is painful. For some, understanding is more important. Probably for the more intelligent "breeds" of people, like different breeds of dogs - ie malamutes.

The mother calls herself a Jew. She believes people should obey the ten commandments. But it would be understandable if Zoey saw the inconsistency or hypocrisy between saying "Thou shalt not kill" and seeing how the Israelis kill the Palestinians on a regular basis. Or how parents were instructed in the Old Testament to stone their own children to death. Deuteronomy 13:6-11 and Deuteronomy 18:21 (See below) It would be understandable then if this kind of thing was one of the undoubtedly many things which cause her painful confusion.

Zoe’s mother, Dorothy, tells the story of her daughter’s life, who killed herself by jumping in front of a train (when she was about 27 I think)

p.4. Dorothy goes through Zoe’s boxes filled with journals, letters, papers, photos, etc. She says, “I had no idea that you’d kept this stuff; you were such a private person.”

“Out of many entries that read, ‘chatted with Mum,’ I can’t recall whether the chats were fruitful
and loving or whether we argued.”

p5. She guesses that maybe the papers Zoe left behind were both a present and rebuke.

“From a young age, you had a wickedly sharp way of slicing through pretension. A least one person, amongst those few to whom I’ve shown some of your writing, has said, “don’t print what she wrote, it’s too hurtful.” And in so much of what you wrote in your twenties, when outwardly you seemed happy and successful, inwardly you were grappling with demons. You gave them human faces; they resemble people you knew including your parents.”

“After your death, well-meaning people trotted out clichťs: that we had given you a happy
childhood; that we had done the best we could; that you knew we loved you and so on.”

She says of her daughter’s suicide:

“It is murder and I remain enough of a Jew to remind you of the commandment which says, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ even if murderer and victim is the same person. How could that happen? How could you kill anyone – even yourself?”

notice the guilt trip

She goes through all of Zoe’s papers, looking for clues as to why she killed herself.

“In the boxes, amongst the photographs are several pictures of horses and ponies. The top half of the rider has been cut out; you were the rider. It looks odd and nasty – the silhouette of a horse with only your lower leg. Why did you do that? The photos frightened me; I tore them up.”

“The anger that you must have felt against yourself, us, the world, is mirrored in the anger we feel against you, ourselves, the world.”

“Having read and reread your papers, I have learned aspects of your nature that I never guessed when you were alive”. She repeats several times throughout the book that Zoe hid her feelings (especially of fear) and she only learned about them after her death when reading her journals.

P.5-6. She wonders about the cause of Z’s unhappiness:
“Brain malfunction, hereditary weakness, bad childhood experiences, inadequate parenting - all of these or simply none – bad luck alone, a star-crossed fate?”

P.6. Dorothy says that searching through the letters and journals is her way of acceptance. Says she wants to publish the book to help others suffering from “the same illness” as well as parents.

“Draining inadequacy” – she and her husband’s feelings about Z’s suicide

“Writing down blunders and mistakes or efforts doesn’t erase them. But I want and need to tell
this story – for you [Zoe] , for me and for the others.”

She tells the story of Zoe’s life from the beginning, including extracts from her letters and journals at different stages of her life.

Z was born in india.

P.11.“Parvati, the ayah, treated ZoŽ as if she were her own child. I was too occupied with parties, horse riding and buying silks to wonder whether ZoŽ believed that Parvati was her real mother. Years later we read about that experiment in which baby chimps were given milk from wire framed models of mothers but cuddled by soft cloth imitation mothers. The baby chimps grew to prefer the cuddling mothers to the milk-giving ones. I never related any of that to how ZoŽ was treated. I fed her but Parvati cuddled her.”

“Parvati the ayah would say how much she longed for a daughter and fair-haired Baby-ji [Zoe] seemed a harmless fantasy substitute. I would breastfeed the baby with Parvati hovering at my side ready to whisk her away for changing nappies, love and cuddles. Baby-ji adored her and would stretch out her arms to be carried off.”

“Walter didn’t like our children being waited on but I said that it would make them self-confident
like Edwardian aristocrats.”

“Certainly as a baby ZoŽ had every whim catered for and was never left to cry.”

We moved to France when ZoŽ was almost two. For the first few months she cried a great deal,
unlike the smiley baby photos taken on the pile of red cushions on the veranda in New Delhi. It never occurred to us to wonder whether separating from the ayah had traumatised her.

Once we had moved to Vaugenlieu, she had grown out of the difficulties she’d had when she was two. She had learnt the lesson that no one was exclusively available for her.

P.14. When The Guardian sent Wal back to London after nine years in France, she never complained at losing her friends and leaving her dog behind. We only learnt years later that ZoŽ felt let down because we had sold her childhood home.

p.15 We learned many years later that her first months in England were miserable with
homesickness for France; she never told us.

MylŤne, one of her long time best friends said at Z’s funeral: “You were looking for perfection and for a world which does not exist. Of course, this impossible quest made you angry and rebellious…”

p.16 D said of her daughter: “Her manner of seeing through pretension became and remained one of her most appealing qualities. No one could bullshit ZoŽ.”

Her judgements could be harsh… We found a scrap of paper in one of ZoŽ’s boxes, written after a weekend spent with hergrandparents. She was fourteen. I don’t come out of it too well either.”

Z writes: “[grandmother’s] superior airs were ridiculous because she couldn't carry them through. When she spoke she spoke in what she thought was a grand tone and very slowly to give importance to her words. She had gone into a fantasy life because her own world was and had been boring for years. All her stories were of self-glory, self-love and self-adoration. Never we but I. My own mother has inherited quite a few of her mother’s mannerisms, which always annoys me. And often she bears that same silly expression of self-importance that she can’t even look people in the eye.”

Z says “at fourteen I could see through them. Like transparent children they sat before me.”

Z says (of her grandfather and grandmother) “He had let himself be dominated. You couldn’t speak to him without her butting in and answering instead of him.”

D said “That ZoŽ was more reserved than the rest of us was accepted, rarely discussed.
We were noisy, argumentative and full of ourselves.”

P116. “It was true that I have never responded much to children’s petty complaints and tears. If they cried I told them to shut up. I encouraged them NOT to cry.”

P79. D attempts to analyse Z’s writing. The ‘swing’ refers to her mood swings, as she is diagnosed as being ‘manic depressive’:

“Then the swing rises so high that ZoŽ loses her ability to think straight and she blames those she loves”

Yet does she love her parents? In her own words, Zoe says “Sometimes, I wish I’d never been born. I am so angry. I hate myself because I profoundly loathe my parents.”


Letter From Her Father

My dear ZoŽ,

I am deeply sorry that you arrived home on Friday apparently gay and
bubbly and that an
incessant inquisition from a disapproving family reduced you to misery
humiliation, fury and finally to a precipitate departure. Could we not
have been more charitable, less heavy as you put it to accept you on
your own terms?

We are heavy no doubt, as seen by a brilliant 20 year-old growing up
in a faster more dangerous and unpredictable world. None of us could
make head or tail of your accounts of your life. One can make loving
efforts to understand and help a daughter living in a way one might
disapprove of, but first you need to know what’s going on and it took
until late Saturday night before we felt we had even a glimmer.

Even that wasn’t the real problem, which is this: the dominant
impression left by your visit was that we weren’t getting the real
ZoŽ. The real ZoŽ is beautiful, full of affection, fun and
laughter,sensitive, loving animals and children and music, bright but
with no pretence of being free from any problems like your work blocks
or the anxieties that go with growing up in an imperfect world.

That ZoŽ has been ill, depressed and then over-the-top and perhaps
never getting the balance
right as yet. That same ZoŽ well or ill, successful or not, thin or
fat, happy or miserable has the love and sympathy of a family and a
wide circle beyond.

What we got this weekend was a stranger, an impersonation. It was
phoney; a hard-faced, calculating stranger presenting a vulgar front
of money, sex and cynicism with a hint of violence and desperation.

We all felt that you have come to hate yourself and we want to help
you and if possible prevent
emotional decisions in the spirit of self-hatred. In the immediate
future is the question of you resigning.

If you do resign we’ll do anything we can to help you but are you
really sure? The alternatives strike me as harder as and more
problematic than staying on as you are and attempting a radical

We all love you and so does Zac. It was grief at seeing the wrong
phoney Zoe instead of the
real one that made him unreasonable. He was trying to punish you for
not showing him the ZoŽ he
knows and adores… Love, Dad

How much do you think she felt loved and understood when she read this?

Then the mother writes

What efforts Walter made - not easy for him - not a person who likes
talking about his family to outsiders. But like me, he persisted in
believing that rational persuasion would work eventually. After ZoŽ’s
disastrous December visit, he wrote to Dr Baloch, the chief
psychiatrist in Colchester. A copy of this letter turned up in ZoŽ’s
hospital notes.

Personally, I am not too impressed with the father's "efforts".

Next the mother shows us the letter dad wrote to the doc....

Dear Dr Baloch,

Dorothy and I are frightened and anxious about what the future holds
for our daughter …..

(The mother adds that her husband "recounted ZoŽ’s fantasies of being rich and successful." This suggests to me that neither of them took her seriously, a pattern I am sure was repeated innumerable times during Zoe's life.)

In reality she is penniless, has run up debts and borrowed money on
every occasion. She tells us that she is ‘happy’.

We suggested that she move back home and offered to buy her a caravan
for more privacy.
She refused saying that she wants to live in Bristol. The story
changes, sometimes she will be kept by a ‘boy friend and ‘modelling’
in other versions she is to live on the dole.
….We want to pay for private psychotherapy and have given ZoŽ the name
of a practitioner in Bristol.
So far she has not taken this up.
We fear two possibilities: either a relapse into depression, or yet
more extravagant behaviour
resulting perhaps in drugs, AIDS venereal disease or crime….
We do not know what to do. ZoŽ appears to respect yourself and Dr Fu.
She is of course an
adult and we have no authority. I have written this letter because she
is persuasive enough to tell you that nothing very much is wrong, that
she left her studies because she had changed her mind about them, that
she is quite happy about her future plans, etc…..

In the hospital notes, there is no record of any reply from Dr Baloch.

None of this helped. Zoe came home at the end of term. That was a
dreadful Christmas. She arrived,
presenting a vulgar image in leather skirt and bondage-type jewellery,
and told us stories, elaborated in detail, of her working in a
brothel. Her very expression had changed, becoming hard and glittery.
The family were stunned.

I gave her an ultimatum, either give up the idea of living as a tart
in Bristol or leave Greenacres.

She said that she would leave.

The day after she left, I wrote in my journal.


I don’t know how to pitch this. I’m so tired I can’t think. It 2.30 am.
I told ZoŽ on Sunday morning either you give up the idea of being a
tart in Bristol, stay here and go to Israel or else you are not
welcome at home. So she went.

She said if love was conditional on my sharing the same values as her
– it wasn’t love. Love must be unconditional.

She never contacted us all Sunday or Monday and I have been torturing
myself at the harshness of giving an ultimatum to a sick young woman.

I don’t understand the dynamics of what she is doing. Last night spent
from 1-3am puzzling over her behaviour and our behaviour.
…an overwhelming sadness and a rage, how can this have happened to us?

[Extracts from a letter the mother wrote to a Kelly, a friend of Zoe's at the time]

…you appear to have accepted her decline from a promising student into one of society’s
outcasts. Why did you not warn us of these friends of ZoŽ’s? Don’t you realise that to fuck for money is degrading to both sides…? Prostitution is a no-win situation. Would YOU do the things Zo claims to have done? If you wouldn’t – why did you accept her behaviour, condone it and thereby tacitly encourage her? Is this a friend?

In her heart ZoŽ hates herself. She turns her hate outward to her parents and family. She feels
that you and Sarah support her. I have begged ZoŽ to remain at home and then go to Israel; she tells me she hates Jews and Arabs although she is one herself. Is it herself she hates?


Acceptance and Bible

Here is something from our Encyclopedia of EQI.org topics

Not long ago someone brought something to my attention which helps us understand the deep-seated insecurity in our modern, Western world. It was a passage from the Bible that said if your children don’t believe in your god, then you should kill them. The actual quote is

If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again. Deuteronomy 13:6-11

This, obviously, is about as far as you can get from accepting and approving of your children.
Another section, by the way, instructs parents to kill disobedient children:
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard." 21 Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid. Deuteronomy 18:21
Of course, nowadays killing your own children is totally socially unacceptable and even illegal. Yet being aware of these historical writings helps us understand our current social problems in terms of our general fears and insecurities.
If children had to live in such fear of their own parents, they could only grow up to be insecure as adults. And it was not only the parents which people had to fear in those days, but there was always the fear of judgment by other adults and death by stoning. These fears and insecurities must have certainly been passed down from one generation to the next. Although we have progressed in many ways socially, there is still a tremendous amount of judgment, punishment, and intolerance.
Acceptance begins in the family and schools. A helpful question then, which parents and counselors can ask children and teens is “How accepted do you feel from 0-10?” The answer and explanation will provide valuable feedback when taken seriously.



other quotes

And then ZoŽ becomes full of fear and turns the fear to anger.


I’m scared to be happy because I’ve been unhappy. Don’t know if I believe in happiness. Fuck God.
Fuck Florence. Fuck it all. Because innocents suffer and it’s just pain, pain, pain. I’m sick to death of these roller coaster emotions. It’s all so amazing and such a crap design in some ways. Fuck it. Sometimes, I wish I’d never been born. I am so angry. I hate myself because I profoundly loathe my parents. OR at least I profoundly loathe the parts of them that I fear are evil. I hate all of us for being so perverted by mum and dad’s sexuality that there were times when I thought it was ‘normal’ to be a prostitute, when Habie thinks it was normal to sleep with men who used her and when Tanya is even considering trying to fall in love with a fat sweaty boring man. It makes me sick to the pit of my stomach.

We have been robbed and nobody is doing anything about it. I want compensation. And I will never get it because of the need to protect Zac and the risk of us just getting more hurt by bringing this stuff up with mum and Dad and fucking Ben. I HATE BEN I HATE HIM I HATE HIM AND I HATE HIS WIFE I HATE BOTH OF THEM I hate so much I could die. I am completely poisoned and I continue to poison myself with drugs. I hate dad mum Ben and Habie and Fredy so profoundly for the pain they have inflicted on me. And I hate or am afraid of anyone who reminds me of them or of how they make me feel.

I am beginning to understand links of emotional behaviour and why I relate to some people the
way I do. It explains a lot about why we like and don’t like people. I guess we like people who remind of us those we like and things we like and dislike, etc.
I could explode.
…Why shouldn’t I have to prove myself? I guess I’m scared of growing up because mum has
rammed down our throats all our lives that she sees herself as a failure. That’s why we can’t stand it when she moans. Stupid fucking bitch.
Self-importance is a lack of self worth. When you have to puff yourself up. Mum has horrible
parts, which are self-important. That is weakness. Which is not the same as fragility. Like a leaf which is beautiful. There are parts of mum that are horrible and detestable. And there are parts of mum – or even of a monster – which are lovely. There are parts of me, which are detestable. And parts of me which are lovely. I am in a position of privilege and self-awareness to make the detestable parts of me lovely. I must stop being influenced by mum. Mum is not me. Mum has free will. I have free will. And I want to change and grow up. I am safe. I can’t be hurt if I don’t allow it. I can condition my mind. I am still young enough. And I believe that I have enough self-awareness, experience and support to grow into a beautiful person.


How much of this rage was due to the family she grew up in; the inevitable mistakes parents
make; how much due to faulty chemical firing messages in her brain that shook her out of reasoned
behaviour? I wish that she could have used her brilliance to see how fragmented her thinking was. I wish that she could have asked for help. She used sex as a tool to clear her mind of demons. She wanted to be promiscuous and celibate both at once.