A Better Place: A Memoir of Peace in the Face of Tragedy by Pati Navalta Poblete.
Nothing But the Truth, LLC, San Francisco, California.
Memoir, 255 pages.
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book. See review for more details.
The story of one mother’s life after her son was a victim of gun violence.
When I get interested in a topic, one of the things I like to do is to read a variety of books that talk about the same subject from different angles. This past winter I wanted to look at incarceration, gun violence, and forgiveness (as well as several other topics that aren’t related). Among the books I’d purchased or put on hold at the library there were several friends gave to me or recommended.
However, this was mailed to me and I originally thought my prison volunteer friend sent it, but it came with a mug and he knew nothing about it. Looking back through my emails I didn’t find any that mentioned this book either, so if I’ve accidentally deleted or missed one then my apologies!
I took some time before reading, since it seemed pretty intense emotionally. Indeed, this title walks you through Poblete’s experiences, starting at the joyous moment when she and her fiance of several years finally booked a venue for their wedding… only to receive the call her son was murdered.
Reading this book, it was clear that Poblete was not only a grieving mother, but also a journalist at heart because she narrates some of the most painful events clearly and frequently quotes from or excerpts sources related to what she’s saying. Early on in the book there were some unnecessary repetitions but that clears up as the book progresses.
Poblete experiences intense grief and then PTSD after her son is murdered. There are some surprise twists throughout the book, which mostly follows her own life and experiences after the murder, although there are also many references back to Robby’s life. Her anguish at moving through the first holidays without him, the changed family dynamic, and the vivid PTSD flashbacks triggered by seemingly insignificant events are all detailed.
Religion plays a role throughout. Poblete is a Catholic, but her son was studying world religions, and she takes up some of his practices, visiting a Hindu temple and studying meditation in a Buddhist monastery.
Over time, some healing comes, although in fits and starts. She turns her grief into a drive to experience and create in her son’s memory. She seeks help from mental health professionals, and perseveres when her first attempt at therapy is not a good match. The family reconnects in a new and different way.
A portion that resonated with me is her struggle to watch television. Anything with guns or car chases was instantly out. The parent-child relationship, themes of death or loss, a graduation scene, all brought back memories of Robbie. Even if she found a program she could watch, the commercials were likely to include unexpected triggers. So she started watching the Golden State Warriors, and found solace in their basketball games.
Where Poblete shines is in these little golden moments of explanation. I have never experienced the sudden murder of a child as she did, but I do have experience with grief and PTSD and my mind is boggled by how clearly she was still able to outline her experiences. Not everyone will want to follow her on this journey, but grieving parents and other family may find it even too close to home.
We typically hear about PTSD as affecting rape victims, or the survivors of traumatic events. What is less known, and therefore less written about, is that PTSD can also affect those who didn’t even necessarily experience violence themselves. Social workers, therapists, and caretakers can have this form of PTSD. Because people are less aware of it, it can go undiagnosed especially among family members who are not educated and prepared for this profession.
My only real complaint with this book was that initially the flow between past scenes and the main narrative was not always clear. However I quickly picked up the difference – Robbie is in the past scenes. The ending also felt a bit uncertain. While the criminal and legal proceedings are not the focus of this book, Poblete does follow them, and I suspect she was waiting for a certain point to occur before publishing this, which it does not. However, that is the sad reality for many families – in a novel this would have been brought to artificial closure, but in real life the endings don’t work that way.
This is definitely a book for adults or maybe older teens (especially those who might have had a similar loss). Although the writing is peaceful, it doesn’t shy away from difficulty.