Overview of The Weight of Him
The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan is a story about a family navigating loss when a member of the family dies from suicide. In reaction, the father Billy starts a campaign to raise awareness about the prevalence of suicide in ireland, which pits him against his family.
Billy and his wife Tricia are lonely but cannot find solace in each other. They are individually trying to come to terms with the death of their oldest son, Michael, during his last year or high school. Each of them is lost in their own individual grief, pain and unhappiness. There is blame and distrust between then and Billy is obsessed with finding out why Michael killed himself. He wants an explanation so that he can know what role he played. Tricia is more interested in facing what is and protecting what remains of her family. Meanwhile, their three children are also struggling with their brother’s death. Their parents’ frequent fights with each other adds additional stress to their life.
When we meet Billy, he is struggling to find purpose and meaning to his life. He decides that his purpose is to raise awareness for suicide prevention. He sets the goal of losing 200 pounds, half of his current weight, to raise funds for the cause, He also organizes a walk to raise awareness.
A pivotal moment in Billy’s journey occurs when he makes a friend at work who becomes his weight loss sponsor. Dennis tries to encourage Billy to join Overeaters Anonymous instead, so he could get proper help, but Billy is too self-conscious. He resists this suggestion because he doesn’t want to be the biggest guy in the room, the person that other people compare themselves to in order to make themselves feel better.
An Alternate World
Billy wants a chance to undo some of his past mistakes and creates a world using the damaged toys from the factory where he works. In this world, although his family is not perfect, it is intact and happy. Billy spends more and more time playing with the miniature universe until the real world seeps in and hijacks the story.
Billy Gains Notoriety
When Billy has trouble getting pledges and only gets tens of participants for his walk, he is very disappointed. He feels like a failure, especially since his family refuses to participate. This changes when a popular radio talk show invites him onto the show. After that show airs, a popular television show invites him for an on-air interview. This raises his profile and be gets recognized often. He also begins to raise more pledges online and in person for his weight loss challenge.
As part of his plan, Billy decided to make a documentary for even greater reach. He finds Adam, a videographer, to make the documentary with him to bring awareness to suicide and its impact. Others affected by suicide reach out to him to participate.Through this storyline, we see Billy’s empathy and strength when he distances himself from the pushy, inconsiderate, sensationalist Adam. Here too, we see how important Dennis is in helping Billy redefine himself.
At the beginning of the story, Billy stands alone from all the other members of his family and he and his wife are constantly fighting. His parents do not approve of the public attention that he is garnering. Only his sister shows any support for his decision. The fact that Billy is morbidly obese makes it difficult for him to be in the public where people might judge him or treat him poorly.
As the book goes on, Billy gains some understanding from his family members and is able to start repairing his relationship with them. When his make believe world turns on him, he can no longer escape to the garage and his other world. He starts swimming with one son, and the oldest one starts calling him dad again. His parents make a donation towards his cause and he and his wife provide touch and comfort to each other for the first time in a long time. As Billy sheds his weight, he also starts to shed some of his fears and forgive himself for his son’s suicide. As he allows himself to grieve, he gains greater confidence in all areas of his life and experiences more freedom to connect with his family.
I did not love this book. I had to make myself keep reading it. It has important themes of suicide prevention, grief, self-discovery, and emotional connection. Perhaps the issue is that I found the story to be generally predictable. The formula is of a dramatic change inspired by loss, with a chance for redemption. I can handle a formulaic story handled well, but those story seemed a bit too far-fetched and I didn’t find it believable.