Writing to heal and survive

This is a repost (with changes) from one I wrote last year at this time – near the time of our son Paul’s December 31st birthday. 

Poster of Paul worn at Didi 5K

Poster of Paul worn at Didi 5K

I’ve written about writing to heal, I’ve talked about it in front of groups, and I must say, I’m still doing it. I journal, I write pieces for other websites and here about writing to heal from our tragedies, and I’m still reaping its benefits. I suggest, even if you’ve never written a word in your life, start journaling. You don’t have to show what you write to anyone, so you’re free to write down anything you want any way you want. And then you may be surprised. You may want to go public with your writing. Sharing our stories can be very healing to others.

Writing has been part of my life since I was in grade school. However, when my son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and after his suicide I needed to write down my feelings daily. Writing in my journal became an obsession and a balm. It gave me a way to organize my fears, pain, and thoughts. I had used journaling during an earlier stressful period of my life to rant. So I felt that writing would help me again during what turned out to be the most stressful time of my life.

Early on during my son’s illness I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992), and her suggestion to write morning pages resonated with me. Because I was employed full-time then, my writing didn’t always take place in the morning, but I always finished my three pages before the end of the day.

Right after Paul died I received a gift of Anne Brener’s book, Mourning & Mitzvah A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993). It was the only self-help book I even opened, and I was compelled to write an answer to every prompt in the book.

Writing was healing because it helped me put my pain on the page. Instead of carrying it with me every moment of the day and night, I found a place where I could have a little relief. There was so much I couldn’t say out loud to anyone. My husband worried I was having a breakdown even if I cried too much. And since there was so much anger and grief in me, I needed a place to put it. Writing in those days was like repeating a mantra. I just kept moving my pen across the page. And I wouldn’t let anything get in my way. I recommend writing or another creative outlets to anyone who is looking for ways to heal. However, everyone needs to express their grief and take time to heal in their own way and own time.

Other ways I found to heal also helped:

I Work. In 2003 I rehired into the company I had retired from in the mid-1990s. My job as a proposal manager was challenging, meaningful, and very stressful. Having to meet stringent deadlines kept my mind on the job rather than on my feelings. Work helped get me through the hardest of times. Then I retired again in 2010 and now I work from home as a full-time writer. It’s the most rewarding and healing job I’ve ever had.

I Seek Out Diversions. And through all these years I’ve learned to fill up my time with diversions. I read. I watch movies. My husband and I go to the theater and opera. We travel. And I pamper myself workouts at the gym, long walks on the beach, Pilates, Yoga, healthy eating. It feels good, helps me look good, and boosts my mood. Taking care of myself has become tantamount to my survival.

full-halllightThe best result has been the publication of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide.When people tell me they’ve recommended it to someone who recently lost a loved one to suicide, I know it was worth the effort. Though the book is in memory of my son Paul who died on September 23, 1999, it is dedicated to all our millions of loved ones afflicted with mental illness and victims of suicide.

Paul would have been 42 this December 31..



  1. Dear Madeline, I never tire of hearing of your healing journey through insurmountable pain and loss. You stand as a symbol of hope through your brave and generous sharing. I echo your sentiments about the power of the written word via journaling, memoir and writing to lead to healing pathways. It all reminds me of the importance of sharing our stories. In doing so, we not only heal ourselves but we touch others in lasting and meaningful ways as you have done with courage and compassion. Blessings and Hugs from one of your biggest fans!

  2. Madeline Sharples says:

    Dear Kathy, Thank you for being here again. I think, as you do, that sharing our stories can be the most important aspect of our writing. It’s like being in a group therapy session – There is always some tidbit of value for us to be gleaned from others’ stories.
    And thanks for being one of my biggest fans. The feeling is indeed mutual.
    Sending you love and best wishes for a happy and healthy 2014.

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