Honoring Bereaved Parents Month

Thank you, Donna McGrew Anderson, administrator of the Facebook group TCF* - Loss to Suicide and fellow bereaved parent, for posting this in honor of Bereaved Parents Month. "Even as I rocked on my knees, howling, I detected soft breathing behind the roaring. I leaned in, listened. It was the murmuring of ten million mothers, backward and forward in time and right now, who had lost children. They were lifting me, holding me. They had woven a net of their broken hearts, and they were keeping me safe there. I realized that one day I would take my rightful place as a link in this web, and I would hold my sister-mothers when their children died. For now my only task was to grieve and be cradled in their love." excerpt from CARAVAN OF NO DESPAIR released by Sounds True. "Although this piece speaks of Mothers, it applies to all parents who have lost their children. They have an overwhelming need to hold another grieving parent. To hug them, sit with them in the darkness, to say you … [Read more...]

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Reading about Corita Kent at {pages}: a bookstore

This past Thursday evening I attended a book reading at my local independent bookstore, {pages}. April Dammann, author of Corita Kent. Art and Soul. The Biography. (Angel City Press), spoke to us about the wonderful artist and teacher of the 1960s formerly known as Sister Mary Corita. I was most interested in attending this event because I have four of Corita’s serigraphs hanging on my family room wall. I fell in love with them in the 1960s when I first heard of this rebellious nun, modern artist, and activist for social justice who combined bright colors, whimsical shapes, and political and/or literary messages in her artwork. And I still enjoy having her work in my house. Her work is relevant. Her messages are universal.   For example, she wrote two messages in the Life piece (upper right): “Life is a complicated business fraught with mystery and some sunshine.” P. Roth “Let the morning time drop all its petals on me. Life I love you. All is groovy.” Simon & … [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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What happened in November

Since returning from our three-week trip to Central America, Raleigh NC, and New York City on November 6, I’ve been intent on getting back into my daily writing routine. Here’s what I did in November to start moving in that direction. Please note that I didn’t spend this month just writing. I think reading and seeing movies, opera, and plays are all grist for the mill and great learning devices. In November I: Wrote a poem every day to fulfill Robert Lee Brewer’s November 2015 PAD challenge – wrote the last one today Wrote a journal entry every day to fulfill my personal writing challenge Wrote a piece for Naturally Savvy – I have a blog there called Savvy Over 60 Wrote a piece about how I got my book published for an Authors Publish anthology - not accepted yet Read: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Marilyn by Gloria Steinem, Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee, and Room (the second time) by Emma Donoghue Started to read: The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr, … [Read more...]

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Please join me in welcoming Eleanor Vincent back to Choices

It’s wonderful to have Eleanor Vincent back on Choices on the last day of her WOW Women on Writing blog tour. I’m delighted to share about her memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story with you. (See my review at Goodreads.) Eleanor’s work hugely inspired me to write my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. Swimming with Maya had been released a few years before, and I felt if she can do it so can I – as hard as writing about the death of a child is. As soon as we met in December 1999 I felt we were soul mates – the deaths of our eldest children bound us together, and we have been friends and writing buddies ever since. Just last weekend my husband and I visited with her in northern California. It was such a treat to meet her two grandchildren for the first time. I wrote a blog piece about how we met earlier this year – you can find it here. About Swimming With Maya; A Mother’s Story Swimm … [Read more...]

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Latest suicide statistics

My son, Paul, died by suicide thirteen years ago. Here are the suicide statistics for the year 2009 (ten years since he died). It's the latest available data though I hear the numbers are even worse now - especially with the rate of one suicide a day in the military. Seems to me we have a lot of work to do to prevent suicide. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 2009 data: Facts and Figures National Statistics General Over 36,000 people in the United States die by suicide every year. In 2009 (latest available data), there were 36,909 reported suicide deaths. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years in the United States. Currently, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. A person dies by suicide about every 15 minutes in the United States. Every day, approximately 101 Americans take their own life. Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric … [Read more...]

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Getting the word out about my memoir day by day

There has been a lot of mentions of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. On Saturday two women wrote they have to read my book in a conversation on the Facebook page called Loss of An Adult or Young Adult Child. Monday I got a call from an old friend of Bob’s who lives in Springfield IL that he just finished my book and how much he thinks it will help others. Yesterday I received an actual letter from a woman I’ve never met. She said “someone” gave her my book and this was “the first time I have found a story about my son Jason…our stories are the same.” Her own son died by suicide ten years ago. She also said – and this is mind blowing – that my Paul was in her home in Redondo Beach. She says she’d like to speak with me and left a phone number. I called and left a message but haven’t heard back. This letter only emphasizes how many stories are out there like my own. I hear words like this mother’s over and over again when I tell them what my book is about. And, I did f … [Read more...]

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Writing in Times of Grief – Join our roundtable tomorrow

I'll be participating in a roundtable discussion tomorrow afternoon with my dear friend, Eleanor Vincent. Sponsored by the National Association of Memoir Writers, we'll discuss Writing in Times of Grief. And we'd love for you to join us by listening in and asking questions as well. In the latest NAMW newsletter, founder and discussion moderator, Linda Joy Myers, wrote: In preparation for our September 8th Roundtable discussion, I have been busy reading the books by our featured authors for the September Roundtable. Eleanor Vincent wrote Swimming with Maya and Madeline Sharples' memoir is Leaving the Hall Light On. Both books are about their beautiful children, how the death of a child leaves a scar that can't be completely healed. Each mother had to find her own path to become re-engaged with life and the rest of the family, and try to heal from such a heart breaking tragedy. Eleanor Vincent lost her daughter in a freak accident with a horse. Madeline Sharples' son suffered … [Read more...]

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My memoir – also an homage to Paul

We had dinner with a group of friends last night and one of them asked me if working on the revisions to my memoir manuscript made me cry. And, of course the answer was yes. But, the crying is well worth it. Now I have a revised manuscript that I've just sent off to my publisher, and I'm that much closer to my book being released for the public. My goal has always been to tell the story of Paul's bipolar disorder, his suicide, and how our family survived in the hopes of helping others going through the same kind of experience. And, now I'm that much closer to reaching that goal. My husband Bob also says he cries every time he reads parts of my book. I just hope the sadness my book evokes won't be a turnoff to getting people to read it. Well I won't worry about that now. I know Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking was a best seller. If I get a fraction of the readership that she did I won't complain. I also want my book to be an homage and a way of remembering my son. I want … [Read more...]

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Another reminder

I am happy to say my writing is going well this week. The laptop set back is over, and, my novel characters seem to be living a life of their own. I must only be their vehicle for getting their words and thoughts down on the page. Amazing! And here's another reminder and a plug for "The Survivor Chronicles": Please read my poems at http://thesurvivorchronicle.wordpress.com/ a small independent magazine that seeks to represent art and writing as therapy and tools for trauma survival. I am pleased to have played a part in the successful launch of this new online zine. … [Read more...]

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Bitter Sweet

Two more days to go. I’ve almost cleared everything out of my office. I took the last pictures to my car and gave away the last of the documents to be saved to the librarian. This office that I’ve worked in for over six years is almost bare. The little cubby, in homage to its previous occupant, Adele, is still filled with a few of her things. But, I’ve taken the things I want to remember her by. And, now that so many of the things of hers and mine are now out of here I feel the bitter sweetness of my departure. After I rejoined the company in 2003 - the year of her death - I asked for her office right away, but it took about a year for anyone to open her door and dare to disturb what she had left in there. Of course while she was still alive she dictated how some of her papers and books would be distributed – she actually had a excel spreadsheet documenting what was on each of her shelves, and she designated whom would get what. However, by the time I got the office – about 6 mont … [Read more...]

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September – the dreaded month

because it was the month that Paul died. Bob and I were listening to Paul's music last night, and Bob started to cry. It became so intense I had to ask him to turn the music off. Sometimes I can listen and sometimes not. Not is probably right for this month. I'll be posting more about Paul this month. I've been thinking about what he's missed -- mostly in technology toys. He was a computer geek as well as a composer and musician. I think he would have liked an iPhone. He probably would have been a champ at texting. Not like Dana Perry who called her son's death, "Boy Interrupted," I call Paul's death, "Life Interrupted." … [Read more...]

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"Boy Interrupted"

Dana Perry produced a documentary called “Boy Interrupted” that appeared on HBO. I didn’t see it from the start last night, but I saw enough – over an hour—to get the gist. Her son, Evan, was depressed from the time he was a small child and actually talked about death and suicide from the age of five. He became so disruptive at school – he threatened to jump from the roof - that first he was hospitalized and then put into a special school for children with problems. There they finally diagnosed him as bipolar and put him on lithium, and he responded well to it. Eventually he returned to a mainstream school, made friends, and received top grades. He was well liked, very handsome, and had a lot of girlsfriends. However, by the time he was 15 he and his mother discussed his going off his medication, and with the advice of his doctor to go off gradually, he did. And as he did he became increasingly depressed again. His last night alive he was agitated, didn’t want to do his homework and … [Read more...]

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I’m passing the purple hat

In keeping with the friends theme, a friend sent the following to me yesterday -- in honor of women's history month and in memory of Erma Bombeck who lost her fight with cancer. IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER - by Erma Bombeck (written after she found out she was dying from cancer). I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren't there for the day. I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage. I would have talked less and listened more. I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, or the sofa faded. I would have eaten the popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace. I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth. I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband. I would never have insisted … [Read more...]

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September 23, 2008 — nine years!

So, you might ask, what did I do today? The answer is: I went to the gym as usual, but while I was there, I listened to some of Paul's favorite music -- Cat Stevens, the guy he loved when he was little, and John Lennon, the guy he wanted to emulate. I went to work, wearing a purple t-shirt, Paul's favorite color -- really it's better to go to work than be sad alone at home. And, then Bob and I went to the cemetery at noontime and each of us left a smooth stone on his grave marker -- now dim and old and it's hard to see all the lettering, and one of these days I'm going to have it replaced. Then we went to lunch and ironically the music playing in the restaurant was jazz -- John Coltrane playing sweet jazz on the piano -- somethig I usually avoid if I can because hearing jazz after Paul died was just too painful. And, then back to work, able to concentrate on nothing, and I'm home now. And, I'm sitting at my computer wondering what all this means and whatever I do to remember Paul, … [Read more...]

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Back to Paul’s country

Paul was thrilled to be accepted at the New School's jazz music program as a college freshman. He had always loved New York -- even as a little boy. He never minded the fast pace, the smells, the sounds. He thrived on them -- until he had his first manic break. After that he was certain people were lurking in doorways out to get him and his girlfriend. But, he couldn't stay away. We'd bring him back to California for hospital treatment and a short spell of quiet and rest, but as soon as he could he'd go back. Back and forth, back and forth, so many times I didn't keep count -- until he came home for good two and a half years before he died. We go back to New York often -- it still attracts us. Maybe because Paul is still there everywhere Another View of New York New York City Union Square, the lower East side Paul’s country. He blossomed there He became a musician there While he learned about the real world Of cold fourth floor walkups, Dealers hustling on street c … [Read more...]

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"Rabbit Hole" redux

We went, at Ben and Marissa's urging, to a great performance of "Rabbit Hole" on Friday night. It is a powerful play about the accidental death of a New York couple’s 4-year old son, their relationship with each other and with her sister and mother afterward, the affects of the hanging death of the young mother's heroin addict brother at age 30, and the remorse and need for connection of the young teenager whose car accidentally hit the little boy as he ran out onto the street after his dog. When I first saw the play two years ago at the Geffen I thought the playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire got the emotions and actions just right – how the couple grieved in different ways, and how the affects of the death of a child never goes away. The grandmother's explanation of the aftermath of her 30-year old son's death is phenomenally on target – she said it was like a brick that one carries around and kind of gets used to, but its weight, its terrible weight, every so often comes into the for … [Read more...]

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