Lecturer Caley Cook to premiere “Four Sisters” documentary in Seattle

Four Sisters poster Seattle

“The first three to six months you feel like you are going to die of grief,” said Caley Cook, lecturer at the UW Department of Communication. “It’s terrible. It’s like nothing that anyone can ever imagine; it’s like drowning.”

Cook recalls the months after she lost her brother to suicide in December 2007. It was after those six months that she knew she had the strength to help others in her situation.

“And so I thought, there’s got to be some way to let others know that it does get easier,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like it – for a very long time if feels like it’s impossible that it could possibly get easier, but it does.”

With some slight hinting from her husband and frequent collaborator, Cook realized she had a project on her hands. She began contacting Survivor of Suicide (SOS) groups around the country and conducted 85 interviews in 30 states in a span of three months.

“I started honing in on this sibling thing,” she said. “Yes, it was my experience, but it was also becoming really apparent that we have all these products and support services and interventions for people who lost children, parents, or spouses to suicide, but very little for siblings.”

website header Four Sisters cover

The Four Sisters: Lauren, Maria, Laurie, and Laura. Photos by Caley Cook.

After the interviews, Cook couldn’t get four specific women from Texas out of her mind – four sisters of men that took their own lives.

“They lived less than eight miles from each other and had never met, and were experiencing the exact same thing,” Cook said. “They felt like they were alone, which was so absurd to me in so many ways that we didn’t have a way to connect these women.”

Cook pulled together the funding and lugged 200 pounds of equipment by herself to Texas for two weeks. She purposely chose to film alone, instead of bringing a crew, to encourage an intimate conversational vibe that didn’t feel artificial in any way.

“The film is not structured as a traditional narrative; it’s structured as a conversation,” Cook said. “It’s as though you’re having a conversation with these four women as you move along and that was really important to me – that this would serve as a conversation piece for someone that has lost someone, in a way that was journalistic as much as possible.”

Cook’s journalism background helped with the skills-based knowledge and finding the story, but challenged her in other ways.

“You can’t approach this in a way where you remove yourself from these women’s experience, and I certainly can’t because I’ve lost someone too,” she said. “It’s my first ‘activism’ journalism project, which is scary in so many ways because I was taught through years of journalism school that there’s a certain amount of objectivity that I can obtain by being neutral, and it’s just not possible in this case.”

Cook premiered the film in Austin earlier this month, will have a screening in San Diego on April 28, and will debut “Four Sisters” in Seattle on May 5. She teamed up with Forefront, an organization committed to suicide prevention that started on the UW campus and involves other UW Communication faculty.

“We’re excited about partnering with Caley for this Seattle premiere,” said Forefront communication coordinator Sue Lockett John. “It’s a great way for our Forefront Cares program to reach out to people who have lost loved ones and create space for them to connect and build community. Caley plays an important role in our collaboration with Communication, and we’re looking forward to showcasing her work.”

Cook understands the hesitancy that some may have about coming to the screening, but reassures that it is a safe place to cry, laugh, and learn.

“People get to see their lives and their lost loved ones’ lives in a different light,” she said. “Yeah, it might be scary thinking about going to this, but it can definitely leave you different in a way that you might really enjoy.”

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