The previous years I had worked at Sportsman’s Valley Guest Ranch, where the owners, Hortense and Preston Beaver, who were Christian Scientists, were . . . talkative, customer oriented, and always full of a bright, positive, Mary Baker Eddy lightness that was contagious.
Sanity and Grace p.25
[Bill Moyer] Suppose, God forbid, someone watching is thinking about suicide. What would you say to them?
[Judy Collins] Get some help. Go see somebody. Talk about it. Talk about it. Reach and find the help.
2003 PBS Interview
Folk legend Judy Collins, known for her critically acclaimed covers of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” and Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!” has been making music since the 1960s. Now, at the age of 77, she is still going strong, and is set to release yet another album, “Silver Skies Blue.” Jeffrey Brown charts Collins’ career from its award-winning heights to its tragic depths.
Son’s suicide prodded Collins to write
Updated 6/18/2007 10:55 PM
In 1992 her only child, Clark Taylor, got into his car in his garage, placed a hose from the exhaust through the car window, started the engine, rolled up the windows and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. He was 33 and married with a 4-year-old daughter. Before his death, Clark had relapsed into alcohol after seven years of sobriety.
Since then, Collins has spoken to hundreds of groups of suicide survivors, mental health organizations and community service groups. Thousands of people have told her their stories about living through devastating losses, including losing loved ones.
“Everybody has a story. When you hear what they have done and how they are doing, there is a kind of alchemy that happens that heals both people,” Collins says from her apartment in New York City.
From her experiences and those of others, she has learned strategies for navigating the stages of grief, which she describes in her new book, The Seven T’s: Finding Hope and Healing in the Wake of Tragedy (Tarcher/Penguin, $14.95).
Collins has written more than 100 songs and nine books, including an autobiography, a novel and songbooks. She has recorded 45 albums and CDs, but she is probably best known for her rendition of Amazing Grace and Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now.Her next CD, Judy Sings Lennon and McCartney, arrives in mid-July
She also performs 50 to 80 shows a year and runs her own record company.
In her books, Collins is open about her personal struggles. She tried to commit suicide when she was 15 by taking 100 tablets of aspirin, she says. She struggled for years with depression and alcoholism. “Alcohol is a depressant, which no one told me at the time,” she says.
She was drinking from her son’s early childhood until he was 19, “a long time to subject him to many imperfect actions, to be a devoted mother but be a shambles at times,” she writes.
She loved Clark. “He was special, lovable, kind, beautiful. At times I loved him more than I thought I could bear. I had wept with worry, with anxiety, in that love.”
Collins tried to do the right thing by her son, but they went through some rocky times. Clark struggled with drugs and alcohol during his adolescence and early adulthood. (Collins and Clark’s father divorced when her son was a child; she has since remarried.)
After his suicide, which was similar to the suicide of Clark’s paternal grandfather, Collins was heartbroken. She writes: “I was beyond devastation. I wanted to die, to pack it in, call it a day, call it quits, stop in my tracks. … Now he was gone. I could not see a way to live beyond that terrible day.”
She says that when you first come out of “the shock of the horrible loss, you think everything is over … and you’ll never have a happy life.”
But singing, writing about the tragedy and talking to others about the catastrophes in their lives helped her cope.
She also drew on her faith: She was raised Methodist and turns to God in prayer: “He can bring us hope when there is despair.” She also meditates and practices yoga. She follows the practice of Self-Realization Fellowship, a Yogananda spiritual path.
At the time of Clark’s death, there weren’t many books that offered guidance on surviving a loved one’s suicide, but now that’s changing.
“Now you can find more about how people have gotten through suicide and traumatic, catastrophic loss,” she says. “With this book, I wanted to fill in the blanks.” She says more research needs to be done on the connection between “alcohol, drug addiction and suicide. I don’t think suicide, alcohol and drug addiction is nearly as well understood as it should be.”