Writing a memoir – a mixed bag

There are so many lessons for all of us in Joan Rough’s story about her relationship with her mother. My mother was always difficult and got much more so after my father died and as she aged. I never thought of her critical treatment of me as abuse, but surely it was, and I, like Joan, need to find forgiveness and move on. Thank you Joan for being my guest here on Choices today and for relating your thoughts on writing your memoir – indeed, writing a memoir is a mixed bag because it stirs so much up. I can’t wait for ME, MYSELF, AND MOM: A Journey through Love, Hate, and Healing to come out so I can read it.

Down and Up, Writing Memoir

By Joan Z. Rough

Writing memoir can a mixed bag. It can fill us with laughter or bring tears of sadness.  It can remind us of joyful times, or the anger and terror we have forgotten about ¦ sometimes on purpose.  For me, it was a revisitation of those moments when I felt helpless, hopeless and alone.

Joan's motherWhen I began writing ME, MYSELF, AND MOM: A Journey through Love, Hate, and Healing,  I had no idea that the simple act of remembering would change me forever.  I knew that if I wanted to share the story that I hoped would be the most helpful to others who are taking care of their aging parents, and /or might also be struggling with the likes of PTSD, I needed to allow myself to remember the most difficult of times.  The rage.  The guilt.  The abuse, both of my parents, but especially my mother, brought to my life.

Though many of us come from a past filled with love, acceptance, and unconditional love, others may not be so fortunate.  Biography and memoir have always been my favorite reads. They have shown me how other people deal with loss, abuse, and the dregs of everyday life. I’ve always wanted to know what makes people happy and what makes them sad,  anxious, or depressed. Most of all, I’ve wanted to know how those who have been through extreme adversity, get themselves out of bed in the morning, and move forward into happy and successful lives,  leaving anger and hatred behind.

When I began writing about the twists and turns of my own life, I set a schedule in which I would write three to four hours a day.  Soon however, I found myself making excuses to stop after only one or two hours. Some days, thirty minutes spent going back into the past, was more than I could take. I was exhausted, felt anxious, and at times depressed.

I knew the writing was the cause of these ailments, and knew I had to slow down. The material I was working through was still very toxic for me. I reduced my writing schedule when I needed to, and often let my writing go undone for a week or two.

Reliving the past not only made me tired and moody, it also caused tightness and soreness in my body. My massage therapist knew when I was writing about something painful. She could see it in the way I carried myself as I entered her office. On the table, when my neck and shoulder muscles were as hard as concrete, she’d ask me to tell her what I was writing about.  As I told her and let go of my memories, her magic fingers reworked my clenched body, relaxing it, making me more flexible.

Sometimes I thought about quitting the writing altogether. It was such a huge task and so painful at times. Though my mother was gone, there were others whom I felt might cause problems if I mentioned them in my book.  I didn’t want to be sued or cause them distress, but I had made a commitment to see this book through and to tell the truth. As my memories continued to rise to the surface, I began to notice that the further I got through the story, the better I began to feel. By the time I finished the first draft, I had worked through most of my pain and grief.  I smiled, had fun,  and tore my cape of victimhood to shreds.

As I continue to polish my words into a publishable form, I know I have put the scattered puzzle pieces of my life back together. I’m whole, and live a life filled with joy and blessings.

The following is an excerpt from my memoir:

Bereft, anxious, and confused, I’m sitting on the bed beside my mother. Her eyes are closed and she is no longer breathing. Her skin is an ashy gray. When I touch her arm, it is stone cold.  The only sound and movement in the room is the still inflating and deflating wrap that was placed around her swollen leg yesterday afternoon, to keep blood clots from forming. It’s as if she is still breathing somewhere beyond my understanding.

Sorting through my thoughts, I feel only a touch of sadness. There are no tears, only deep relief that this moment has finally come. I’m sure she is relieved as well.

I talk to her about how difficult this last passage has been, apologizing for my misunderstanding of her and our painful conflicts over the last years. We’ve been arch enemies. I still feel the stinging pain of our battles.  I say, I’m sorry. But I’m very aware that I am grateful that she is gone and can longer control my life.


Book Synopsis

ME, MYSELF, AND MOM: A Journey through Love, Hate, and Healing by Joan Z. Rough is a memoir in three parts.

Joan says, It is the story of my mother’s last seven years of life, during which I become her caretaker. It’s about our grief and pain as we struggle to maintain our independence and privacy as we live together. Repressed memories of the abuse I lived with as a child rise to the surface. My deep longing to bring us together crumbles as she nears death and becomes impossible to deal with. In the end I am left with feelings of deep bitterness and a bag of her ashes. Five years and four different Letting-Go rituals later, I find forgiveness for her and myself, while picking up the broken pieces of my life and become whole. This story is for adult children left with emptiness from investing themselves in a loving yet hateful relationship with an aging parent and the challenge of renewal when their loved one is gone. It’s filled with themes of love, guilt, condemnation, heroism, hatred, dedication, perseverance, loneliness, regrets, PTSD, substance abuse, forgiveness, and healing.

About the Author

Joan and dogJoan Rough is an artist, poet, and writer of nonfiction.  Her poems have been published in a variety of journals, and are included in the anthology, Some Say Tomato, by Mariflo Stephens. Her first book, AUSTRALIAN LOCKER HOOKING: A New Approach to a Traditional Craft, was published in 1980. She is currently at work on her upcoming memoir, ME, MYSELF AND MOM, A Journey Through Love, Hate, and Healing.

You can follow Joan’s blog on her website at http://joanzrough.com
https:// twitter.com/JoanZRough,
Personal page: www.facebook.com/joanz.rough
Author page: www.facebook.com/JoanZRough.Author

Thank you so much, Joan, for being here today. Let’s get together again after your book is launched.


  1. Madeline, Thank you so much for having me as your guest today. I so appreciate your spreading the word about my upcoming memoir. Joan

  2. Joan – Indeed, this is what it’s all about:

    “…I have put the scattered puzzle pieces of my life back together. I’m whole, and live a life filled with joy and blessings.”

    I’m looking forward to reading your memoir!

  3. Joan, I really look forward to reading your memoir. It sounds like a courageous act of love.

  4. Dear Joan, the only way to the other side of all the pain is through it and you have shown us all how that’s done with grace and skill. Even though I was a beta reader, I can tell you that I am looking forward to your finished product. I have no doubt , it will be a winner. It’s a powerful and brave story with strong universal appeal. Your excellent post captures the essence of why writing a memoir is a healing process. Thank you both , Joan and Madeline, for this.

    • Madeline Sharples says:

      Thanks, Kathy,
      I’m looking forward to reading Joan’s memoir as well. Now I know for sure it will be a winner. Best, Madeline

    • Kathy, I couldn’t do it without you cheering me on! You, my dear, are a sweetheart, and know as well as I do how healing writing through the darkness and hard stuff can heal!

  5. Gail Livingston says:

    I am a regular Joan follower since she began this memoir-writing journey . I am on the journey, too, but not as far along. This excerpt is beautifully rendered — one I had not read before. Joan’s book will be well worth reading. She is a writer, an artist, and a wonderful person.

  6. I am glad you found writing a memoir helpful. I also found that the process at times was difficult but was well worth it because you go through so much healing be reliving and hopefully learning from your past. Congratulations on finishing : D.

    • Madeline Sharples says:

      You are so right, Sebastian. Writing has always been healing for me. Congratulations on your wonderful memoir, Please Save Me from Myself. It’s very well worth the read.

    • Thank you, Sebastian. It is well worth the pain to be able to awaken to seeing the world in a new light.

      • Amen, Sister! This is what we often fail to appreciate. We can talk about how painful it is to revisit our past, but the new, unburdened outlook on life that going through, and not around, the pain can give you.

        Great discussion.

  7. The most vivid phrase to me in this piece is when you tore “your cape of victimhood to shreds.” I have been told to write the most difficult part of my memoir first and so I have begun last week. Clenched muscles are part of my experience right now. I look forward to the feelings of freedom and healing you describe.

    Thank you for showing vulnerability, courage and resilience through your writing.

  8. Dear Joan,

    I begin by thanking Madeleine for revealing or (what is more proper?) you to us. Gosh, I can’t wait. I hope I find the strength in your book to reach out to my father.

    Thank you too Joan for completing the memoir after all

    • Marie, Thank you. Dealing with our aging parents is difficult and I hope my book will inspire you and those who are in throws of traveling down that road.

    • Dear Marie, I’m glad Joan’s book and the writing of her memoir is so inspiring to you. I know how strong you are already. I’m sure Joan’s book will give the extra push to reach out to your father. All best.


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