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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The suicide risk is high for ages 10 to 24

Since our son Paul's death by suicide as a result of his bipolar disease in 1999, I have made it my mission to help erase the stigma of mental illness and work hard toward preventing suicide. I applaud Jennifer McGregor's work to help teenagers who are suicidal.  I certainly wish I had had her advice when my son was struggling with his mania and depression. Thank you very much, Jennifer, for writing this piece for Choices. Your words are very helpful. How To Help A Teenager Who Is Suicidal by Jennifer McGregor   Photo via Pixabay by Giesje Death by suicide is a serious problem in America, and it doesn’t affect one particular age group. In fact, young people ages 10-24 are highly at risk, as suicide is the third leading cause of death. The reasons vary, as do the solutions, so it’s important to know what the warning signs are and how to address them. Because the teen years can be so full of emotion and distress – especially where school and friends are concerned – it’s d … [Read more...]

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$.99 sale today through Sunday

My memoir Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide went on sale today through Sunday for $.99 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. We’re doing this promotion in honor of my participating in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s 16-18-mile suicide prevention Out of the Darkness walk in San Francisco on Saturday, May 21, and Mental Health Month. I immediately shared this promotion on my Facebook pages and with a few Facebook suicide survivor sites. Plus many of my friends also shared. As a result I’ve gotten a few kudos from people I didn’t know had read it: “This is a very good book. I encourage every survivor to read it.” “Thank you for writing and sharing your book. It helped me so much. So much of what you wrote felt like I was saying it. Some things you wrote I was even afraid to admit to myself and yet you were strong enough to share. Thinking of all of you this weekend. Thank you.” “A ve … [Read more...]

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I’m getting ready for a big long walk

  I’ve started training in earnest for the May 21 American Foundation of Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness overnight walk in San Francisco for suicide awareness and prevention. I walk in memory of my son Paul who took his life in 1999 at age 27. He was bipolar and severely depressed at the time of his death. The recent data, according to AFSP, about suicide is astounding: Suicide claims more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined. General In 2014 (latest available data), there were 42,773 reported suicide deaths. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 15 and 64 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 12.3 minutes in the United States. Every day, approximately 117 Americans take their own life. Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of … [Read more...]

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Don’t be afraid to submit

Three out of five isn’t bad. In the last couple of months I’ve submitted five pieces to contests and anthologies – mostly at the urging of my recent poetry instructor, Thresha Haefner at The Poetry Salon. And I found out that submitting really pays off. It’s like lottery tickets. If you don’t buy one, you have no chance of winning. In all I submitted three poems, a poetry chapbook, and an excerpt from my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. Two of the three poems were accepted – one is still in review, and the excerpt was accepted to appear in a suicide loss anthology. Unfortunately the chapbook didn’t make it, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up. I’ll submit it again and again to wherever seems suitable. And so as not to keep you in the dark, here are the two poems that will come out soon: “Stop and Go” will appear in Yellow Chair Review’s In the Words of Women anthology, and “Remnants” will appear in the 2016 Porter Gulch Review. Stop and Go On the drive up the coast … [Read more...]

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A special to honor the Out Of Darkness walk

The Boston Out of Darkness overnight walk for suicide prevention and awareness is the night of June 27 – less than two weeks away. And I’ve been very aggressively training for it. I’ll need to walk 16 to 18 miles that night, so I want to be well prepared. Yesterday I walked almost 10 miles, so I think I’m right on track to be able to complete this personal challenge. I'll be posting photos of my team S.O.L.E.S. and me in this hat. In case you’re wondering why the walk is at night, here are my thoughts – it’s to bring the suicide word out of the darkness. We need to speak that word so we can help prevent it. If people will talk about their suicidal thoughts maybe others can help prevent those at risk from acting upon their thoughts. I wish my son had talked to my husband or me. I still think after almost sixteen years that maybe I could have changed his mind had he only told me what he was thinking. Here's one of the S.O.L.E.S. team captains, Deborah Lee Rose, wearing the&n … [Read more...]

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Leaving the Hall Light On has legs!

This month has ended with the 124th five-star review of my book, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. Published four years ago, this makes me  feel my memoir still has long legs, that there are many others who can relate to the story I tell about our son's bipolar disorder and suicide, and of how they affected the lives of my husband, our surviving son, and myself.  The book ends on a high note - the marriage of our surviving son, but don't get me wrong. The grief will never end, I still miss our son desperately, and my memories of him are alive and active, but I've been able to move on and live a full life without him. We all have. Here's what the latest reviewer on Amazon had to say: Amazing story of a mother and her family's journey through the wilderness of suicide grief. This painfully honest memoir, parallels the experience I recently have had with my son's 3 year battle with schizophrenia and hi … [Read more...]

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Let’s stop the suicide epidemic!

Suicide Prevention Includes Caring for the Bereaved I'm so glad Franklin Cook and I found each other. He's an expert on the effects of exposure to suicide on family and friends and has been part of a groundbreaking document he discusses below. I was so deeply affected by my son's suicide I considered suicide myself. Instead I decided to be an advocate for erasing the stigma of mental illness and helping to prevent suicide*. Looking at the effects of suicide on loved ones and working to help assuage their unique kind of grief  is one way to do that. Please help me welcome Franklin Cook, my Choices guest today. He's an expert on grief after suicide. Groundbreaking Guidelines Address Grief, Trauma, Distress of Suicide Loss By Franklin Cook A historic document, Responding to Grief, Trauma, and Distress After a Suicide: U.S. National Guidelines, was announced earlier this month at theAssociation for Death Education and Counseling conference in San Antonio and at theAmerican … [Read more...]

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Academy Awards revisited

I’m a movie junky. I can’t see enough of them. So of course I love the Academy Awards television special. I never miss it. And in preparation I try to see all the movies with nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress. Unfortunately I didn’t quite make that goal for the 2014 movies. I didn’t see “Two Nights, One Night” for which Marion Cotillard had a best actress nomination. That movie is still on my to-see list along with the documentary shorts. I also looked forward to seeing Neil Patrick Harris on this year’s award show. I loved him as Doogie, so I was sure I’d love him Sunday night. And I wasn’t disappointed – at least with his opening joke and opening song and dance number. So sorry Jack Black interrupted it. I did think, however, that he looked a little embarrassed trying to emulate “Birdman’s” undies scene. Anything to spice up the show, right? Doogie’s opening joke in welcoming the audience to 2014’s movies as the best and the whitest seemed to open the … [Read more...]

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Saturday, November 22, is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day

Throughout the  fifteen years since our son took his life, I've met many folks in person and through  groups on Facebook who like me are survivors of suicide loss. So, I thought I'd remind all of us that tomorrow, Saturday, November 22, is International Suicide Survivors Day, an event always falling on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. I did a little research about how this day started and found out that Senator Harry Reid introduced a resolution to the United States Senate which led to the creation of National Survivors of Suicide Day in 1999. Senator Reid is a survivor of his father's suicide. Every year since the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sponsors the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. The AFSP website says: International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is the one day a year when people affected by suicide loss gather around the world at events in their local communities to find comfort and gain understanding as they share stories of healing and hope. On thi … [Read more...]

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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. *** 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 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 … [Read more...]

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Wonderful book club experiences

In the last week I’ve had two opportunities to discuss my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, and most specifically bipolar disorder and surviving suicide at two book club meetings.  One was in the San Diego area, about an hour and a half from my home; the other in Palos Verdes Estates about ten miles south of where I live. Both of the invites came from long-time friends. Even so, I felt very honored to be asked.  And since I feel the intimacy and the openness of a book club discussion is a wonderful way to promote a book and a cause, I don’t mind traveling long distances to attend.  On Friday night I met with ten women. Yesterday eighteen women huddled around me firing questions left and right.  That’s how I like it. Though I might say a few introductory words, I like the discussion to be in the form of questions and answers. That way I can discuss what my audience wants to hear.  And both groups wanted to discuss the subje … [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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I have to brag

Emma, one of the three founders of the blog Book Geeks Unite, posted this review of Leaving the Hall Light On. It's so awesome, I have to share it. "Madeline Sharples’ Leaving the Hall Light On chronicles one woman’s challenges, grief and ultimately her healing as she and her family battle one son’s seven-year struggle with bipolar disorder and his untimely death by suicide. As I was searching for words to describe this book (words usually come easy to me), I could not find them. What to say about this book? Where are my words? Can you say you enjoyed a book about a mother’s grief over her son’s death? Not just his death, his suicide? I cannot say I enjoyed reading about her pain. What I can say is that this book completely engulfed my emotions. There were several times while reading, I realized I was not breathing. I had to remind myself to breathe. I realized that is a sign that I am “in” the book. The author had somehow allowed me in. I realized she had written me in … [Read more...]

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Kudos to celebrities who work to erase stigma

Catherine Zeta-Jones checked into a mental health facility this Monday for bipolar disorder treatment. And I applaud her. She is proactive and committed to periodic care. What’s so important is that this news, so openly provided, helps erase stigma. "It’s not easy,” she says. “I’m not the kind of person who likes to shout out my personal issues from the rooftops, but with my bipolar becoming public, I hope fellow sufferers will know it’s completely controllable. I hope I can help remove any stigma attached to it, and that those who don’t have it under control will seek help with all that is available to treat it." Many other famous people have been afflicted with mental illness. The list is long. Some have managed to control their disease; others have not. I became interested in working to erase stigma after my son’s suicide as a result of his bipolar disorder. I wrote earlier about my conviction that his death might have been avoided had he not been affected by stigma. My b … [Read more...]

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Could writing help the Boston survivors?

  The bombings in Boston have left me in tears. Every time I hear the news, see the photos of those who died or were wounded, I want to curl up and block it all out. It is much the way I felt after my son took his life in 1999. These kinds of tragedies bring all those sad feelings back.   Perhaps this will help. In my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, I told how I survived through writing. It is my belief that those who have experienced such a tragedy – and I suspect that is everyone – need to find a creative outlet. Hopefully the survivors of the Boston tragedy will also find their way.   Here’s how writing a memoir helped me heal: 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 began to write down my feelings daily. I needed to. Writing in my journal became an obsession, a balm, and the only way I could express my feelings. It gave me a way to organize my fears, p … [Read more...]

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The April Poem A Day Challenge is back

I'm participating in Robert Lee Brewer's* month-long Poem A Day Challenge, as I've done each November and April for the last several years. At this point my poems are just drafts, but it's fun just to get something down that I can tinker with once the challenge is over. Robert's prompts are always interesting. Here's a few poems I've written so far, following the days' prompts. 3. Write a tentative poem. The poem could be about a tentative date, a tentative person, a tentative situation. The narrator could be tentative. The subject could be tentative. She once said, I’ll pencil you in. I bristled. In fact, I erased her from my calendar and datebook entirely. I’ve also erased her from my mind. 4. Take the phrase “Hold That (Blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and write the poem. Possible titles include “Hold That Thought,” “Hold That Space,” “Hold That Poem,” or whatever else holds your attention. Hold T … [Read more...]

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A successful library event

Since my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On has been checked out of my local Manhattan Beach Public Library many times, the library director asked me to come there to speak. The date we decided on was last Wednesday evening, March 20. I was asked to supply the library with a jpg of my book cover and a brief description of my topic: 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. And since there was so much sadness, anger, and grief in me, I needed a place to put it. Writing was like repeating a mantra as I kept my fingers moving. And I wouldn’t let anything get in my way. I recommend writing or another creative outlet to those who are looking for ways to heal. After that I was on my own. My instructions were: you have an hour and a half from 7:00 to 8:30 pm to speak. That was it. I was lef … [Read more...]

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My writing life in 2012

Writing became a way to live with my son Paul’s bipolar disorder and to survive his suicide as a result. However, I never dreamed it would become my way of life. I still cannot get through the day without writing something. However, in the last few years it has become more than a balm to ease the pain. It has become a joy and a way to meet and interact with some very wonderful writing friends. Like writing, I can never have enough Buddhas (Richard Stock photo) With that in mind, I thought I write down a few of the highlights of my writing life from 2012, starting with my first publisher’s decision to go out of business. At first I was indeed devastated and then so angry. She closed down with four days warning and cut off our websites even before that. But the devastation and anger were very short lived. I reached out to a few writing friends – especially Keith Alan Hamilton – and got some suggestions about where to query. However, my dear friend and mentor Mark Shelmerdine came thr … [Read more...]

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Still writing to heal

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 … [Read more...]

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