Scenes with My Son – Robert Hubbard

Scenes with My Son: Love and Grief in the Wake of Suicide by Robert Hubbard, Nicholas Wolterstorff
Published by Eerdmans on October 31, 2023
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Parenting
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A celebration and an elegy, Scenes with My Son sensitively renders the terrible privilege of grief in the wake of suicide.

After years of battling clinical depression exacerbated by autism, Auggie Hubbard died by suicide at the age of 19. In this poignant tribute to his son, Robert Hubbard—a theatre scholar and actor—stages Auggie’s life in a series of vivid and tender scenes: Auggie’s insatiable hunger for Accelerated Reader points. His tireless lightsaber practice in the local park. His sonorous tuba practice in the ward of his inpatient program. Through these anecdotes of Auggie’s life and the days following his death, readers journey with a family shaken by mental illness and share in their hard-won joys in defiance of depression.

Refusing easy answers and clichés about “God’s plan,” Hubbard unflinchingly asks: Does faith matter amid such tragedy? What do you do when awareness isn’t enough? When you’ve tried so hard to keep your child safe, but your efforts fail? His honesty and vulnerability—and his tender portrait of Auggie—are gifts to all who live with their own questions in the wake of a loved one’s death.

I don’t think I’ve sobbed so hard over a book before. Robert Hubbard’s Scenes with My Son is a touching, raw, reflective memoir of the life of Robert’s son, Auggie, who died from suicide at the age of nineteen. This is a not a memoir of death, or a memoir of grief in the aftermath of death—though there are those elements. This is a memoir of life. Hubbard memorializes his son through a series of authentic and captivating vignettes that all build up to where we all know the story is going. Life is story. Every story deserves to be told. And by telling Auggie’s story in this way, Hubbard draws readers into the story and we feel—however faint in comparison—the discombobulating suddenness with which the story finds its conclusion.

Writing can be cathartic. I think that’s probably the number one reason Hubbard wrote Scenes with My Son. When you’re a writer, a storyteller, then how you process life is through stories. By telling the story, you unlock it from within yourself. I can’t even imagine how difficult some parts of this book were to write. Perhaps that is made evident when Hubbard turns to quoting old Facebook posts, made in the aftermath of Auggie’s death, to tell the story. Yet, most of the book must have been a joy. Scenes with My Son is just that: scenes from Auggie’s life that allow the reader to get to know Auggie as a person—a deeply complex person whose passions and struggles, whose idealism and moral center, whose joys and sorrows are strong, unyielding, and unwavering.

You also get the perspective of a loving parent struggling to walk with their child through mental illness, caring for them and loving them even when it is hard. This is Auggie’s story, but Robert’s story about being a parent to an autistic teenager with depressive moods and occasional violent outbursts is compelling as well. Scenes with My Son doesn’t portray Hubbard in an idealistic fashion; nor is it full of Hubbard second-guessing his parenting choices. It’s a vulnerable and honest story of a dad simply trying his best to love his son. As the father—as a father of an autistic son who shares Auggie’s name—this book absolutely broke me.

Scenes with My Son offers solidarity for those that have been there. In a back cover endorsement, Kay Warren—cofounder of Saddleback Church with her husband Rick—writes about how this book made her relive her own son’s struggle with mental illness that ended in suicide. Yet, that reliving is not one that harms, but heals. By telling his story, Hubbard encourages others who have undergone similar losses to remember. And though reliving some of those memories are painful, it also spurs a re-living of the one who has been lost—and the joys outweigh the sadness.

This is a powerful book. I am honored to know Auggie and his story in this small but significant way and I am thankful to Robert Hubbard for sharing his son with all of us. Auggie’s story is one worthy of remembrance. Scenes with My Son is a touching remembrance from a loving father.