103 five-star reviews – oh my!

I’m so honored to have received a five-star review of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, especially, from Linda Appleman Shapiro who is a professional Psychotherapist/Addictions Counselor (M.S., A.S.A.C.) She is also certified in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Ericksonian Hypnosis/ Named Best Blogger in the field of Mental Health by WELLsphere and finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards for FOUR ROOMS,UPSTAIRS: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental Illness.  Thank you so much, Linda. I am proud to publish your review verbatim here.

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Linda Appleman Shapiro’s Review of:

LEAVING THE HALL LIGHT ON: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with

Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide

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We live in an age where telling one’s personal story is nearly epidemic. There are those who gain fame from revealing salacious facts about their lives, appearing on television talk shows and then writing memoirs because audiences embrace their narcissism, gain vicarious enjoyment, and want to know more. There are the rich and famous who write memoirs knowing that people will buy anything that reveals personal revelations never shared before; and then there are – what I consider to be the most noteworthy memoirists – non-famous survivors of a variety of personal and/or world events – who do, indeed, have a story to tell that’s worthy of sharing.

Such memoirs often tell us as much about ourselves and the time in which we live as they tell us about the person authoring the memoir. From where I sit, both as a psychotherapist and memoirist, that is its most compelling contribution.

In Madeline Sharples, “Leaving the Hall Light On,” her subtitle tells us from the start what her book is going to be about: “A Mother’s Memoir of Living with her son’s Bi-polar Disorder and Surviving his Suicide.” What distinguishes her memoir is how she shares the particular and often shocking details of how she, her husband and younger son had to accept living with a family member who had been an extraordinarily loving and talented musician for nearly 21 years and then became a frightening stranger, almost without any warning.

I say almost because no one (not even a trained professional) is ready to see suspicious behavioral changes in loved ones. Parents write such changes off to “just a stage he’s going through” or blame themselves and feel that they’re simply over-reacting to what others would accept as normal . . . until it’s too late.

In more recent years, psychiatry and a plethora of new medications have improved and added to our understanding of what makes the brain of a seemingly normal young person become twisted and unhinged in his/her late teens or twenties. However, the financial assistance from our government and/or private sources has still not come close to offering sufficient care for those who are mentally ill.

Whether there is a diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder or others, we are losing too many of our young people to suicide or murder despite the efforts of wonderful parents, loving friends, teachers, and social workers. This is a 20th and 21st century tragedy that is impacting too many families and society in general.

Mothers such as Madeline Sharples and others have made it their mission to share with us how the illness of one family member affects all family members. Too often, the disease is not even talked about since it is a source of shame for many. It should also be a cause for alarm.

Sharples states early on that she started to write about her son Paul because she wanted to remember everything about him, not just the frustrating years of trying to get him proper help, his non-compliance with medications, and his ultimately horrific suicide. She wanted us to see how our medical system continues to fail so many, so often, and how a marriage and family can still survive such devastation.

She shows us the many stages of guilt, grief, anger, disappointment and depression as they shape the days of all who loved Paul and were, in the end, unable to save him from himself. That’s what mental illness does at its worst.

That Madeline’s grandmother. mother. two uncles and a cousin suffered from “mood swings,” is something that she later came to believe was the “family curse” that attacked her dear, sweet son. Yet, though there is often a genetic component to all illnesses and it is totally understandable why Sharples and others would feel such guilt, it is equally true that her younger son Ben was spared.

Although Paul was diagnosed and treated in the 90’s, it is also true that he was in and out of various hospitals and had himself released too soon, since he was of age to do so.

Even today, patients with documented psychiatric histories are discharged when it can’t be proven that they might be of harm to themselves or others. Despite the fact that they admit to hearing voices or are unable to care for their personal hygiene or eat enough food to sustain their well-being, they are often allowed to sign themselves out and, in so doing, self-destruct.

As is typical for such patients, when Paul was not hospitalized and was enjoying the manic highs of his disease, he was non-compliant with taking his medication. Then, once depression took hold, he chose to end his life in order to put an end to his suffering.

In so doing, Madeline, her husband and Ben were left without their son and brother.

Yet, with the resiliency of the human spirit, they have moved on and survived to enjoy life beyond suicide, beyond the unthinkable and never to be resolved agony of such a death.

In a combination of prose and poetry, Sharples asks what is perhaps of the most difficult questions to answer in her poem Leaving the Hall Light On:

“Why do people refer to death as loss?
Maybe just to encourage
people like me.
Maybe just to keep me looking for him.
Maybe so I can pretend that he’s still out there.”

At the outset she states:

“I didn’t lose my son, Paul
Paul is dead.
Death is forever.
There’s not a chance of finding him.”

However, what she has found is a mother’s honorable way to memorialize a son, to make certain that he is not forgotten, to embrace his life with brutal honesty in writing that in its clarity and simplicity of style make it possible for all readers to gain whatever insight is possible to gain from another’s experience with a loved one’s demons from a mental illness.

Kudos to this mother’s ability to live on after her son’s suicide and in so doing to give dignity and purpose to his life and courage to others – some who perhaps share similar pain and others who can all identify with hers.

Linda Appleman Shapiro, M.S., A.S.A.C.

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