Ingrid Blaufarb Hughes is the author of the new book Losing Aaron. It focuses on her son's life and death, and his struggles with mental illness. She taught English at the City University of New York, and she lives in New Paltz, New York.
Q: What are some of the reasons that you decided to write about your son’s life?
A: It seemed to me that schizophrenia is still very poorly understood and as a result, feared. I certainly didn't know anything about it until I had to deal with it myself. I thought putting a face on mental illness might help people understand better what living with schizophrenia is like and how the illness impacts the family.
Also I want readers to know Aaron. He was such a remarkable person, and then he was hit by this devastating illness. People like to say that they live with a mental illness, but they are not the illness. More power to those people. But for Aaron that wasn't true. The illness took over and altered him and his life entirely, and finally drove him to end it.
In addition, writing is how I deal with the world and how I deal with myself. So it was natural to write Aaron's story. That doesn't mean it was easy.
Q: You say that writing the book “dug up a lot of grief.” How were you able to continue writing despite the sadness?
A: Sometimes I had to take a break. I would go to the library and read, or go to a movie. But I'm 71 now. It had taken a long time for me to be able to deal with the story—nine years from the time of Aaron's death.
I was in my 60s as I was writing. I was losing friends to cancer. So I felt like I didn't have time to put the story aside. And I was determined that I would finish the book and get it out into the world. So even when it was painful, I kept going.
I should also say that during the nine years following his death when I couldn't write about Aaron, I did try a couple of times to start. I would look at my folder of notes and be so upset I just put it away again.
It was the birth of my granddaughter that gave me the strength to write. Not in any conscious way. But it can't have been a coincidence that within a couple of months of her birth I began to pull together the materials I needed for the book.
Q: How have your family members reacted to the book?
Q: Aaron's father, Arthur Hughes, has supported me all along, read an early draft, proofread the book at a later stage, and contributed his wonderful photographs of Aaron.
My husband, Jay Klokker, has always supported me and read the book in various drafts. My daughter has supported me, but doesn't want to read it, nor do Aaron's closest friends. For them it's just too painful.
Other family members haven't said anything, except for my sister, who wrote a paragraph about the book and posted it on Goodreads. She also commented that it helped her understand better what I went through.
It's still a very new book, so I may have more reactions in the next months from family members. Or not.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I would like them to feel less scared of people with mental illness. To feel compassion instead of fear—both for the person living with the illness and for the family members living with that person.
There are a lot of good memoirs out there that can help people understand others living with mental illness. I hope people read more on the topic.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm putting together a collection of short pieces dealing with other parts of my history: most importantly with my father, with whom I had a fraught relationship. I've tried to write about him a number of times. So it's try, try again.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: We all know people with mental illness. If you think you don't, it's because people keep it secret for fear that telling will change their relationships, or cost them their job.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb