Author Margaret Thomson prefaces her book with the following Gloria Vanderbilt quote: “I have heard it said that the greatest grief a human being can experience is the loss of a child. This is true. It doesn’t just change you. It demolishes you. The rest of your life is spent on another level.”
Thomson takes the reader on the painfully sad journey she experienced upon the suicide of her 22-year-old son Kieran in 2010.
Kieran was in his first year in the Army, a few months from being deployed to Afghanistan. He had a wife and a new infant daughter. For the first time in a long time, his parents felt a sense of pride that Kieran had completed something he’d started. Yet, their pride was tempered with apprehension.
Kieran had been diagnosed early on with a condition called Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD). Several IQ tests revealed that Kieran had scored exceptionally high on the intellectual (verbal) level but scored poorly in the performance area. This made it difficult for him to stay on task, and school was always an issue dating back to preschool. He’d attended several schools, trying to accommodate his special needs and often odd mannerisms. Thomson said that the NLD caused Kieran to “struggle with practically everything, except for tasks involving strictly verbal skills.”
Thomson effectively provides the backstory leading up to Kieran’s suicide. She does this by gradually building up details about this young man’s life, from a mother’s perspective and offered with reflective insight. Thomson takes the reader on an emotional ride, as we deal with her inconsolable grief and sorrow.
Ironically, the outside physical world is in sharp contrast to the inner turmoil churning within Thomson. “Since Kieran’s death there’ve been almost three weeks of continuous sunshine. On more than one occasion, the weather strikes me as an act of gratuitous cruelty perpetuated either by God or nature or both.”
Nothing could have prepared her for the grueling emotional toll of profound guilt Thomson candidly reveals. She early on questions why she or her husband did not put a stop to Kieran joining the Army in the first place. Or if they had at least interceded to convince the Army that Kieran was not who they perceived him as.
Thomson takes us through her personal phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and a quasi-state of acceptance. She craftily takes us into the center of her heart with her emotional story of losing her son. One only wishes it wasn’t true.
By the end of the book, the reader knows Kieran as intimately as a family member; as such, one grieves his loss along with Thomson.
The World Looks Different Now is Thomson’s personable, heartrending, poignant story, and would make an excellent source of reference for the topic of “grief,” something we all inevitably must contend with.