In I Keep Trying to Catch His Eye (Hachette, Oct.), sports journalist Maisel shares his experiences dealing with his son Max’s suicide.
How long had you thought about writing this book?
That’s how I grieved—by opening my laptop and vomiting into it. I needed to wait until I had perspective, which was only going to come with time. I had to be in a place where I could look rationally at things as best as I could. I could only get to that place by learning how to carry the grief. You don’t get over it, you don’t get through it—you just learn to carry it around with you.
Why open with the phone call from the police telling you that Max was missing?
The opening may seem abrupt to some people, but that’s what happened, and I don’t want to sugarcoat it—it wasn’t sugarcoated for me.
What do you want people to know about Max?
Max had a terrific dry wit, and he had deep empathy for suffering—perhaps because he did so much of it himself. He was a good guy, but things became really hard for him as he got older. I certainly didn’t understand how difficult it had become. I wish he’d had the capacity to get in somebody’s face and explain how dire his circumstances were, but the people he did tell couldn’t help him, and we lost him.
What advice would you give those trying to support someone in mourning?
American culture is mortified by dealing with death. I’m Example A. I was terrible at it. If I said one thing to a person grieving, I’d think, “Okay, I’ve checked that box, and now I don’t have to talk about it anymore, and they probably wouldn’t want me to.” All of that is so wrongheaded. I learned, in the worst way possible, how to deal with people who grieve. We do want your sympathy, we do want to talk about the person. I wouldn’t recommend saying, “If you need something, call me.” [People who are grieving] have enough things to do. Bring them food, call, and check in. “How are you?” isn’t the right question. Instead, ask, “How are you today?” or, “How are you right now?” Just keep checking on them. You have to be emotionally brave to support them, but it takes a lot less than what the person grieving has to do. It’s not about you—it’s about them.