Still here – old memories and feelings of guilt

I received a surprise Facebook private message two mornings ago that brought up a lot of old memories of our deceased son Paul and many old feelings of guilt about what I could have done to save him. Even though he's been gone from our lives for almost eighteen years, those things can come up without warning any time of day or night. The note, I'm sure, didn't intend to promote those old feelings. It was a lovely compliment about my book and how my book will help the writer with her work as a therapist. However, when I read it at four in the morning, I was through sleeping for the rest of the night. Here's the message I received from a young woman who was in Paul's high school class at Crossroads in Santa Monica. I don't remember ever meeting her until she asked me to be her Facebook friend a few weeks ago. "For seven years Leaving the Hall Light On was on my Amazon wish list because I graduated from Crossroads with Paul. When we found out at our reunion that he had died fr … [Read more...]

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Seventeen years ago

Tomorrow it will be seventeen years since our son Paul died by suicide. Tomorrow my husband and I will visit his grave, leave a small stone, as we do every year on his birthday and death day. Today like all days is a time to reflect. I wrote the following poem a few years after he died. It is included in my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. Yes, we have survived all these years, but the grief has never gone away. I’ll Always Remember I’ll always remember he slept without closing his eyes all the way I’ll always remember he walked fast and way ahead of us I’ll always remember he had long, thick, black eyelashes surrounding clear blue eyes I’ll always remember he played the piano, legs crossed at the knees, leaning way down over the keyboard I’ll always remember he liked to wear second-hand clothes and didn’t mind if they were ripped I’ll always remember the way he stood at the pantry … [Read more...]

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Turning grief into art

Chanel Brenner, Alexis Rhone Fancher, and I are reading our poetry tomorrow night at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Tustin, CA. Our theme is turning grief into art. Each of us has lost a son, and each of us have turned to writing as a way to deal with our grief. There is no cure for us, however, writing can be a soothing balm. If you live in the Los Angeles area, please join us tomorrow night in Tustin. … [Read more...]

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Turning grief into art

This past Saturday afternoon I read poetry about the death of my son and its aftermath at Beyond Baroque, a literary arts center in Venice California. Two women, Chanel Brenner, and Alexis Rhone Fancher, who also experienced the death of their sons joined me. We were pleased to read before a packed standing-room-only crowd. We each started our poetry reading with our views about writing as healing. Here's mine. How Writing Helped Me Heal by Madeline Sharples My son Paul died by suicide on September 23, 1999. He was twenty-seven years old. Poems just started coming out during a writing workshop shortly after his death. Poetry seemed to be the only way I could really express my emotions. Writing allows 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. And since there was so much anger and grief in me, I needed a place to put i … [Read more...]

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Burning moments and magical thinking in our memoirs

It turned out that I led the memoir workshop: “Telling Healing Stories – How to Write A Compelling Memoir” on my own at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference last Friday. Thankfully I had the material prepared, so when my workshop mate didn’t show up, I just waded right in. I discussed the four aspects of all good literature: plot, theme, structure, and voice and gave the group a list of universal themes (which I’ll discuss in a future post). I also explained how the plot is made up of a series of events – or as they have been called – burning moments. For example, the disposition of clothes and possessions of a loved one who has died is a huge burning moment. In one of my favorite memoirs, The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion describes in meticulous detail the items in the plastic bag she brings home from the hospital after her husband died. She says, “…I remember combining the cash that had been in his pocket with the cash in my own bag, smoothing the bills, taking spe … [Read more...]

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Poems for Cynthia

I have been holding these poems in very close. They are personal and sad, all about my friend who died at the end of December. I wrote them in response to Robert Lee Brewer’s November 2013 Poem A Day Chapbook Challenge. Here’s the dedication I wrote: This chapbook is dedicated to my cherished friend Cynthia Rayvis Godofsky November 5, 1946 – December 28, 2013 At the outset I decided to write a poem about Cynthia adhering to the daily prompt no matter what it was, hoping that my words might help keep her alive at least until the end of the challenge. Thankfully I was successful in weaving Cynthia into each daily prompt, and she kept rallying throughout the month. As you will see from these poems, she had a lot of love in her life and constant loving care during her last days. I’m sure that love helped keep her alive almost a month after the challenge ended. I thank Cynthia and her family for being my muses for this November 2013 PAD Chapbook Challenge (all poems written from … [Read more...]

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Introducing Chanel Brenner, poet extraordinaire

I met Chanel last May at a poetry workshop led by Richard Jones. I was immediately taken by the poem she wrote during the workshop and that we have something in common - we each have lost a son. Chanel's grief for six and a half-year-old Riley who died from the rare disease Arteriovenous malformations (AVM)* is still new. And her beautiful poetry shares that grief with her readers. Here is Chanel's story, reminiscent of friends of mine who left after my son died. My Friend From Another Life She sits across from me, wearing a purple sundress, her dark hair relaxed around her face.           “You look really great,” she says, her voice thick with surprise, her eyes approving as they scan me from head to coral painted toenails. It’s not what she’s said, but what she’s left out, “compared to a year ago,” the last time we had lunch together at this restaurant, shortly after Riley died.           She scooted away after that, one email at a time. First, “If you ever need to … [Read more...]

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Victoria Noe, writer and advocate

It's not often that I get to meet one of my Facebook friends. But I had the opportunity to meet Victoria Noe last spring when she was in Los Angeles from Chicago - my hometown - and came by to say hello while I was signing books at the LA Times Festival of Books. Since then we have kept in touch on Facebook - especially at the Gutsy Indie Publishers group site. I'm so glad Viki took me up on my request for guest appearances on Choices during my August and September guest - athon. I'm pleased to introduce Viki Noe to you. My Moment of Truth as a Writer by Victoria Noe   This whole journey of becoming a writer has been fascinating and unpredictable. Without the inspiration and support of my friend, Delle Chatman, I never would’ve attempted such a drastic career change. She’s the one who encouraged me and believed in me. I owe her everything. We have friends. They die. We grieve them. But that experience does not always earn the respect it deserves. And again, I have Delle … [Read more...]

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Revisiting some probing questions

Laura Dennis graciously hosted me on her blog, The Adaptable (Adopted Mommy Expat on Fridays, June 14, 21, and 28. She asked me a series of questions about my book, Leaving the Hall Light On, my son Paul's bipolar disorder and suicide, and my grieving and surviving process. I think her probing questions are worth repeating and showcasing here. On Friday June 14, she asked: Are There Early Indicators for Bipolar Disorder? Laura writes, "The death of a child is unfathomable. The suicide of one’s young adult child after his suffering through years of a mental illness? Awful beyond words. … Painful to the point of, How do I get beyond this and not kill my own self? … Devastating, like, I’ll just live on anti-anxiety pills for the rest of my life. Which came first, the bipolar or the stress? Laura– Paul–your eldest son and the one you lost to suicide, was a creative, gifted musician. In trying to make sense of his death, you discuss events that could have indicated he wa … [Read more...]

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Boston Marathon poems and more

Two weeks ago the Boston Marathon bombings racked our world. Ever since I’ve experienced uncontrollable tears and deep sadness whenever I read or hear anything about the dead, the injured, the survivors, the heros, the young men who allegedly did the deed. Times like these bring all the pain of losing my son back. Especially the suddenness of his death. They also remind me how important it is to take care of ourselves in whatever way we can. Writing usually helps me. I’ve been journaling like crazy lately, and I selected three of Robert Lee Brewer’s prompts for the April Poem A Day challenge to write about that unconscionable event in Boston. HUNDREDS OF SNEAKERS FROM FELLOW MARATHONERS HANG ON THE BARRICADES SURROUNDING THE MEMORIAL. PHOTO BY REGINA MOGILEVSKAYA 15. write an infested poem. There are many different infestations–from physical infestations to infestations of the heart and soul. Infested with Violence Guns abound used for mass killings at our schools … [Read more...]

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Diversions still help

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I’ve agreed to take on a consulting job for a few weeks. Actually I signed on because I was told the assignment would be over before Christmas. Yet as soon as I arrived, I found out it goes into January as well. So, I offered a compromise. I’ll work in the last week of December (two weeks beyond my initial commitment) – tomorrow and Friday and during the first week of January, and then I’ll be finished – just in time to get ready for my husband Bob’s hip replacement surgery the following week. It’s not that I don’t like the job. I’m working as a technical writer and advisor to young engineers, helping them write and produce a proposal – something I’ve done in the aerospace business for years. The work is always interesting especially when the engineers are receptive and smart. However, it takes me over an hour each way to get back and forth. In my old work life I never spent more than ten minutes commuting each way because early on, my husband and I … [Read more...]

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Thirteen years

Yesterday it was thirteen years since Paul died. I have a lot of trouble getting my arms around that. We’ve indeed moved on and learned to live without him, but that day when we found his dead body still seems like yesterday. I remember every detail. But, then, how could I forget? A last photo As usual, we went to the cemetery. Grass had grown over his gravestone, so we tore it away to have room to place the little smooth stones each of us brought. But yesterday it was so hot, and the sun so bright, I couldn’t stay long. As has been happening with my sun allergy lately, my back began itching so badly I had to leave. I wrote this little piece yesterday at my writing group meeting. I decided to attend even though this was a day of remembrance. I find I do better with a place to go or something to do. It helps. But, then of course I wrote about Paul and visiting his gravesite. The prompt was: Heat We stood over Paul’s gravestone this morning and left smooth black stones to m … [Read more...]

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WOW blog tour stop No. 11

WOW Women on Writing arranged another wonderful blog tour stop for me today. I'm at Colloquium with Janie Siess who introduces authors and reviews books. She says her goal for her website is "it will be a place where people feel comfortable dropping by, reading about my experiences, observations and opinions, and responding by sharing their own vieewpoints, experiences, and feelings." My post today is: "Using Memoir Writing to Deal with Grief." And on June 27 Janie will post her review of my book. I am so pleased about being the guest of Colloquium. Please go over and check it out. And if you post a comment on June 27th, you'll have a chance to win a signed hardcopy of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. … [Read more...]

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How should we handle our grief?

“Deposits of unfinished grief reside in more American hearts than I ever imagined. Until these pockets are opened and their contents aired openly, they block unimagined amounts of human growth and potential. They can give rise to bizarre and unexplained behavior which causes untold internal stress.” ~ Robert Kavanaugh The Compassionate Friends had this quote on its Facebook page today. It is so in keeping with what I’ve experienced lately. Grief seems to be running rampant. I’ve been in contact with several people through my involvement with The Compassionate Friends who are hurting so badly. And I don’t know how to advise them – except to tell them my experience through my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On http://www.LuckyPress.com/madelinesharples.html. What I did with my grief was pick myself up almost immediately after my son’s death and begin to fill up my time – with work, working out, writing, reading, and participating in any diversion I could find (movies, plays, opera … [Read more...]

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Another message from the universe

I just received a call from one of my first cousins to tell me that his wife, Rhoda, died this morning. What a shock. I saw her a few weeks ago while we were in Chicago -- we celebrated our 70th birthdays together at McCormick and Schmick's at the Old Orchard Mall. Her birthday was four days before mine. And now she is gone. Just like that. Like how my husband and I felt after his brother died last January, this is message from the universe reminding us that we don't have an infinite number of days left. We need to use the ones that remain fully and wisely. And what is more, we need to visit family and friends every chance we have. I am so glad I saw her last month. And, now, I'll be going to her funeral on Friday. At least I can be there for my cousin during this hard time for him. … [Read more...]

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The first day of the eleventh year

We went to the cemetery yesterday to visit Paul’s grave. We couldn’t find it right away, and my mind jumped to the thought that he wasn’t dead after all and of course it wouldn’t be there. But that was just a fleeting thought. It was there – right in front of me. It had ants crawling all over it, and I wondered why they had chosen his gravestone and not the others. Could it be that he was so much younger and more succulent than the other dead people around him who all died in their 80s and 90s. Another silly thought because everyone around him had been reduced to ashes as well. All the succulence burned out of every last one of them. It’s always anticlimactic to go to the cemetery. I worry over it, I think about it for days before, and then once I’m there, I lay down a stone, touch it, brush away a bit of the dust, shed a tear or two, and then we go. We spend maybe five minutes in all, and we drive away. Writing poems about him seems more productive. Here is yesterday's tweet. … [Read more...]

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Lucky me!

I was lucky to have a few minutes to talk to Paul on his last night alive. Bob was angry that he did not. And, in that conversation there was no way to know that it would be my last time with him. Yet, in hindsight there were lots of clues. I went over and over the words we spoke in those few minutes and came upon a million what ifs. But, there was no going back. The next morning I knew I would never have the chance to speak to him again. The Last Night How could I have known it would be the last night? A night like all the others: the low creaking groan of the garage door, tires screeching to maneuver into the narrow place, the roar of the engine before silence. Then slamming the door, my son, sweeps down the long hall, calling out hello in his deep friendly voice. I startle as I hear his heavy strides pass my door, I call out to him. Returning, he enters my room – standing, staring, looking more calm than I’ve ever seen him. His blue eyes like sap … [Read more...]

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My brother died on June 23, 2008

The sibs -- Sheila, Madeline, and Kenny -- August 2007 -- Ken's 70th birthday The Sibs -- Madeline, Sheila, and Kenny -- June 2006 We buried my brother on Wednesday, June 25, 2008. It was 90 degrees out at the cemetery, and we sat there with sweat rolling down under our arms and wet between the legs while we eulogized him and then covered him with one shovel full after another of dirt. It still hasn’t sunk in that he’s gone. I look around his house and don’t see him there. When someone sits at his chair in the breakfast room I want to say get up, that’s his chair. This was a man who will be missed – and very much. He was a wonderful, unassuming guy who was so smart and so cultured – like his wife, Barb, said, a modern Renaissance man. Actually, the service was very short – the Rabbi’s eulogy that was quite good considering that he got the main facts from us just yesterday. Sure a few details were wrong but they really didn’t matter in the scheme of things. Then he called Ben … [Read more...]

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