A conversation with Jayne Newling
Jayne Newling is a resident of the Blue Mountains and a journalist of some 25 years standing. She lost her son Christopher to suicide 11 years ago. Her book, Missing Christopher, tells an amazing story of a mother and her family's grief and their survival. This book is at times harrowing, insightful, honest, funny and a portrait of enduring love and resilience.
Jayne, your book is very open and honest abut your experiences over the last 11 years. If you had of known it would be published, would you have written it differently or been more guarded?
It's hard to know for sure but I don't think so. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to battle the big ball of grief which was growing inside of me. I had to get it out because I felt I was going insane. The only way to do this was to be honest with myself.
What are you hoping that people gain from reading about your journey?
I hope people gain more of a perspective about the fragile nature of grief. I hope my book will give them a greater understanding of mental illness. Both these conditions are not what we choose for ourselves but everyone, at some stage, will experience one or both. It is important that through honesty and compassion we can help each other through the dark times.
There were several experiences you talked about having over the years which questioned your beliefs regarding death and life after death. What are your beliefs now?
I used to believe only in what I could see, smell, hear or touch. Life was black or white. You are born, you live, you die. Now I know life doesn't end with the last breath.
You wrote the book while undertaking the Faber Writing Academy True Stories course, can you briefly describe the course for us and had you written any part of the book previously or was it all written during the writing course?
I had finished a first draft of the book and hated it. I shoved it in the drawer. When my son Nic, begged me to write about his brother Christopher I decided to give it another shot. I did the Faber course over a six month period and forced myself to finish it in that time. The course was fantastic because it gave me confidence to continue. All the writers in the group were encouraging and for the first time I started to believe what it had to say was worthwhile.
To me the book was a real love letter to your boys and your husband. Is that something that you wanted to express?
It wasn't intentional but I'm glad that came through in the writing. I was worried because I took liberties with their private lives. I could never have written it or survived without their love.
You have had 11 years now of living in the aftermath of Christopher's suicide, is there any advice you would give to other parents who are trying to cope with the grief of their childs death?
Yes, don't feel bad about the way you grieve. Don't feel a responsibility to "get better". Seek out others who have been through loss. Grief is lonely.
As a writer, are there any books you read that you found to be inspiring or helpful to your writing process?
I'm inspired by many writers but not so much in the writing of this book. It was a purge for me.
Gordon Parker from the Black Dog Institute wrote the afterward in the book. What role has the Institute played in your life?
The Blackdog Institute has played an enormous role in our lives. Professor Gordon Parker, the Institute's founder, was the only psychiatrist who was able to diagnose Nic with Bipolar Disorder. He saved Nic's life. He also believed stridently in the book and the message I wanted to deliver. We are hoping the book is used to benefit those suffering but also as an instructional tool for the medical profession.
Has living in the Blue Mountains helped you in being able to write about your life?
The Blue Mountains has saved me in a way. When I first moved here no one knew my circumstances. They treated me normally, not as a mother who couldn't keep her son alive. When they discovered the truth I was embraced. I was shocked I didn't have to fear judgement. Many of us live here because we have scars. We help each other.
Missing Christopher is now available from Megalong Books RRP $29.99