Nursing Book Club

Stepping Back from the Ledge by Laura Trujillo

A Daughter’s Search for Truth and Renewal

Stepping Back from the Ledge book cover alongside the author sitting crosslegged on the floor.

Stepping Back from the Ledge is a short memoir (only 195 pages) in which author and journalist Laura Trujillo details her personal history of trauma and her mother’s suicide. She tries to connect the dots as she blames herself for the death, but the reality isn’t so simple.

Little by little, Trujillo reveals her own past and its many unexamined questions. She had a great marriage and four wonderful children. She’d just taken a great new job that was a step up for her. However, for the previous 23 years, she’d moved around the country, always living great distances from her family of origin. She later moved again to be closer to her husband’s family. The question she eventually had to ask herself was “Why?” Was all this moving away a result of her childhood yet to be confronted?

We eventually learn that Trujillo had suffered childhood trauma at the hands of her mother’s husband, which had lain unresolved and unexplored for decades — never discussed, never acknowledged. After her latest move, she realized that even with all her successes, she still felt sad all the time.

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With the help of a psychologist, she began to probe her past. Finally, she felt safe enough to discuss what had happened and sent an email to her mother, explaining that she could not keep this secret any longer. She said she still didn’t completely understand her mother’s role, but wanted her mom to know that she didn’t blame her.

Days later, her mother took her own life, and in one of the most dramatic ways imaginable: leaping into the Grand Canyon.

Searching for Signs

In chronicling her search for answers, the author examines suicide through history, how it has been treated and talked about, and how it is only now recognized as the serious public health issue it has become. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., happening once every 11 minutes.

Trujillo learned that many suicides have warning signs, which led her to exhaustively examine her mother’s final days, looking for a clue she missed or some way she could have helped. In the wake of her mother’s death, Trujillo also felt wounded. She kept these feelings to herself and, ultimately, wondered if she was becoming her mom, even having suicidal thoughts of her own.

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In some ways, the #MeToo movement has shown that to be a woman is to have witnessed or suffered trauma. Native American communities talk about living with generational trauma, and some studies have shown a higher percentage of PTSD in the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, raising the possibility of epigenetic inheritance of trauma.

As a writer, I understand the need to examine a problem from every angle in order to understand the complex back story and find resolution. Another person’s suicide, however, is a tough nut to crack, especially in a relationship as complicated as a mother and daughter’s.

Stepping Back from the Ledge brings to light some of the myths about suicide and the availability of help. The author will never have all her questions answered, but in this case, the extensive examination of her mother’s final days was able to provide her with some peace, and even hope.

Stepping Back from the Ledge: A Daughter’s Search for Truth and Renewal by Laura Trujillo (Random House, 2022)

CHRISTINE CONTILLO, RN, BSN, PHN, is a public health nurse with more than 40 years of experience, ranging from infants to geriatrics. She enjoys volunteering for medical missions.

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