Beach days bookend "One More Day," which former Montgomery Advertiser writer Kym Klass will be signing Sunday at Barnes & Noble, captured moments stretching from contentment, into the darkness of a family nightmare and tracing steps on the journey back to hope.
"It was about two weeks before my sister died," Klass said, of that first beach vignette. "I just felt so good. Every part of my life was in line, financially, spiritually -- faith is very important to me."
But Oct. 31, 2015, when her 29-year-old sister Katie hanged herself, Klass put the blame on God. Why didn't he save her? Why didn't he, in his infinite power, snap that rope? For seven days straight, she didn't pray, except to ask strength performing the eulogy at Katie's funeral. What wasn't mentioned at the ceremony was why Katie died. Feelings were too raw, anguished questions still begging to be answered.
"Why wasn't I nicer? Why didn't I do this, why didn't I do that?," Klass said, in a phone interview. "Did I help her enough when she called me crying? Why didn't I move back home? ...
"Would it have helped?"
Though Klass continued going to church, it was by rote. Her heart wasn't there. It took months before she reconnected with her faith. Recovery took therapy and medication and time. It took growing closer, opening up, trusting more.
And naturally enough for a writer, it took words.
For the Advertiser, Klass wrote about wellness, about mental health, about her sister. In Facebook posts, as the family spokesperson, she wrote the essence of what became the prologue to her book, broaching stigmatized topics. Publisher, editor and writer Tom Brew, a friend of her husband's, contacted Klass, asking: “What is this book project you’re working on, and do you have a publisher yet?”
"But I couldn’t start writing this book until I had some, like, level of hope in my life," she said. "I’m not healed. But I have hope now."
Despite the sunny promise inherent in that earlier day, "everything fell apart" with Katie's death. Nearly three years later, back visiting the beach with her daughter, she experienced an epiphany.
"I was looking out at the waves, and thinking, 'How can people not have hope for one more day?' " she said.
In "One More Day," Klass recounts how her adopted sister struggled with depression for 14 or more years, sunk by the feeling none of the medications or therapists would work. The family felt the depths of her despair in January 2015, when Katie overdosed, ending up in a hospital, though surviving that attempt. She wanted help, Klass said, but at the same time hoped to spare her family. In her journal, Katie had written about how she could mix up a cocktail of drugs, in hopes that her death might appear accidental.
Roughly a year after Katie succeeded in taking her life, Klass finally sought help, experiencing her own suicidal thoughts. She teetered on a high-functioning level of depression, her psychiatrist suggested, following a chain of tragedies including her mother's death from breast cancer, her brother's death in a hiking accident and a sexual assault she'd suffered at knife point while out on a morning run.
"I told them 'I'm done dealing with things. I can't be strong anymore,' " Klass said.
As therapy, anti-depressants, opening up to family and friends, and returning to faith began their work, Klass envisioned how a book could help other suicide survivors understand they're not alone, recognize that some sense of normalcy can return.
"I wanted it to be for anyone who's been through any kind of loss or grief, to let them know that there are calmer days ahead," she said, "at a time when that doesn't seem possible."
Brew, a former journalist as well, encouraged Klass to share as much as she was comfortable with.
"She's just a beautiful writer, and this work was very emotional for me," he said. "I've read a lot of books on suicide and depression, and this was the most emotional, deep and thorough look at what some of that looks like to family members."
Brew's first novel, "The Ties That Bind," dealt with his gambling addiction. His Hilltop30 Publishers has produced works on cancer and caregiving, domestic violence and wrongful arrest.
"What's important for me is to tell stories that matter and publish books that can help somebody," Brew said. He wants "One More Day" to add to the process of stripping away mental illness stigma. "The more we can talk about it, the more we can reach out and get help for people ... and let people know there is help out there."
After her family's difficulty expressing the circumstances of Katie's death, Klass began to recognize the signs in other people's reticence: A family would lose someone, suddenly, unexpectedly, with no public acknowledgement of what happened.
As her advocacy in the newspaper and elsewhere became known, some of those people found a safety net talking with her, opening up about their own suicide survivals.
"Once I came out with it, I couldn't stop talking about it," she said. Now she serves on the National Alliance on Mental Illness Alabama and Montgomery boards, at their request, and speaks out at book appearances and elsewhere.
Sunday, she and Brew will be set up at Barnes & Noble in Midtown Village from noon to 3 p.m. to sign copies and speak with anyone who'd like to know more.
"I did one in Hoover last month, just me and a table with books ..." she said. "I was wondering, 'Who's going to want to pick up a book with suicide on the cover? What do I say when people ask what it's about?'
"But I've been touched by the people who shared with me the things they were going through ... why they were drawn to the table, why they needed to be there. I've been amazed at the people who say, 'I’ve been through this.' "
A reader might point out three or four sentences and say, "That's me."
"It made me feel I was doing the right thing, putting it out there."
For more, see www.hilltop30.com.
Reach Mark Hughes Cobb at email@example.com or 205-722-0201.