The loss of a sibling can be a life-altering experience. Not only will the event bring up questions regarding an individual’s mortality, but depending on the circumstances, the death can be preemptive to spiritual awakenings, deeper personal awareness, or dramatic life changes. When the death is one by suicide, though, the effect can come in waves over years. Such is the case with Kelley Clink’s experience as described in her memoir A Different Kind of Same. Add to that her own personal struggles with depression, and Clink’s memoir is a melting pot of emotion, insight, and vivid reality.
The memoir opens with a phone conversation between Kelley Clink and her brother, Matt. There is nothing of importance to the words exchanged between the siblings; the importance lies in the reality that this is the last conversation Kelley will have her brother. She goes on to describe how she found out about her brother’s death, his successful suicide. Her reaction is not one of shock or dismay; rather, Kelley seems to have been expecting this even though she is overwhelmed in her grief.
The Kelley children were not strangers to mental illness and suicide attempts. As she explains in her memoir, Kelley was diagnosed with depression as a young teenager, and Matt was diagnosed a few years later with bipolar disorder. The two struggled continuously with their separate diagnoses, riding the endless roller coaster that mental illness brings with it: doctors, hospitals, medications. Each of them attempted suicide and were sent to institutions to be evaluated and treated for their conditions.
Matt’s suicide is the catalyst to many experiences in Kelley’s life. The author describes her obsession with his suicide. She wanted to see where he committed suicide. She knew that it took place at his apartment, but she needed to see the exact spot. When she sees the nails that appear randomly placed above a doorway, she knows in her core that is the spot. Kelley ultimately finds herself reading her brother’s blog, which she did not have access to originally. As she peers into that rabbit hole, she unconsciously allows herself to fall headfirst into her deceased brother’s uncensored and unaltered writings.
At Matt’s funeral, she reconnects with Tim, a childhood friend of Matt’s. Thus begins a codependent relationship between Tim and Kelley. He has his own mental illness that he is battling and Kelley finds herself anxious about his mental health, on the receiving end of disturbing phone calls, and, ultimately, by his bedside after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. It is his suicide attempt that opens her eyes to the reality that she could not save Tim, that no one would be able to save him unless he wanted to make a deep and profound change. In that same moment, she realized that the same applied to Matt. He did not want to be saved; therefore, there was nothing she could have done to save him.
Moments like this epiphany are the true meat of Kelley’s story. The author has a rare clarity and her ability to recount these epiphanies years after the fact are telling of the power of her experiences. While many have heard the mantra that you cannot change other people, not everyone has a personal experience in which they truly learn that lesson. She also recounts the point in her life where she seems to embrace the fact that she has a mental illness. She accepts this truth and accepts, as well, that while she may be on medication for the rest of her life, the medication is not a definition of her self.
Kelley’s narrative is relatable, expressive, and enlightening, all of which make this memoir more approachable for those who have had similar experiences. There are sure to be readers who are looking for a sense of belonging, a sense of having a shared experience. Clink’s memoir fits the specific niche of the crosshairs created by mental illness, suicide, and the loss of a sibling.
A Different Kind of Same: A Memoir
She Writes Press, June 2015
Paperback, 207 pages