I did it. Seventeen miles in eight hours and still here.

A few thoughts about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention AFSP San Francisco Out of the Darkness suicide awareness and prevention walk this past Saturday night: Last year in Boston we felt the pain walking in the cold and rain; this year we felt the pain trudging up hill after hill. Those were just small reminders of the pain our loved ones felt and had to release when they took their lives. It was fitting for us to feel that pain, but we will never know an nth of it. I also felt so blessed to walk with Team S.O.L.E.S. Everyone took such good care of each other, worrying where the laggers were and waiting so we could all be in the mile-marker photos. And once we were finished at 3:26 am we all held hands, walking along side the luminaria and under the I-did-it-arch. Thank you Keith Alan Hamilton, Deborah Lee Rose, Debi Hoyles-Girardi and your friend Jen, Joanne Marrazzo Fry, Aaron D. Schwartz, Christy Heitger-Ewing and your husband Eric. You all made my night worth … [Read more...]

Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk – recap

Just wanted to share a few photos and tell you a bit about the AFSP suicide prevention and awareness Out of the Darkness walk Saturday night June 27. After a moving presentation - about the epidemic-like statistics of suicide and the numbers  of people struggling to stay alive - outside Boston's City Hall, we began walking at just past 7:30 pm. It was thrilling and inspiring with so many folks cheering us on along the way - thanking us and even offering free hugs. At first we walked slowly in a pack. Then after the numbers of walkers thinned out, the pouring rain and cold slowed us down. However, I'm not a quitter and neither was my walk companion, Keith Alan Hamilton, a fellow poet, very dear friend, and my newly adopted son. I loved getting hugs from his girlfriend Dee who was out to root us on as well. I knew I had to continue no matter what - I wanted to do my 44 supporters proud. They helped me raise a grand total of $3617, making me the top … [Read more...]

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 … [Read more...]

My Gutsy Story contest – redux

I take it all back. So many people came through for me and voted that I have no complaints at all. Please forgive my last rant. As of today with just over two days to go I am leading by fifty-one votes. Though I don't want to rest on my laurels, and I know how easy it is to surge ahead like I did with your support, I'm feeling very good about my chances now. I'd also like to share My Gutsy Story here. I hope piece about what I did to survive my son's death will help others going through their own tragedies. Some of the material here is also in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. Sonia Marsh - Founder of The Gutsy Story contest My Gutsy Story When my older son Paul died by suicide in 1999 after a seven-year battle with bipolar disorder, I knew I had to find ways to keep myself busy and productive or else I would wallow away in my grief. At the time of his death I was writing grant proposals for a homeless shelter, but I found too many reminders working from my home … [Read more...]

A new and fabulous review by Fran Edstrom

The American Association of Suicidology's Recent Reviews column posted such a sensitive and insightful review of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, that I have to share it verbatim. Reviewed by: Fran Edstrom, Editor at Winona Post in Winona, MN.   At 321 pages, Madeline Sharples' memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, is very readable and well-written.  Sharples is a 70-year-old married mother of two whose oldest son died of suicide at age 27. Her memoir recounts her son's battle with Bipolar Disorder, the effect of his illness on the family and on his relationships with his friends. This is not a dispassionate account of mental illness leading to suicide. Sharples makes several references in the narrative to her forays into poetry and prose writing after her son's death. She had a mentor who urged her to use her deep voice, and she does. There is a liberal sprinkling of her poetry throughout the book, which some readers may find enlightening. I imagine … [Read more...]

Happy Birthday

This is the thirteenth year we are celebrating Paul's birthday without him. He would have been forty years old today. So as I've done in past years, I'm sharing some of my memories of him. It's amazing how clearly these things continue to stay in my mind and continue to beget even more memories of our boy, Paul. Happy Birthday, Paul, always with love. · 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 door munching almonds · I'll always remember he liked to climb trees, rocks, up the highest diving boards · I'll always remember he was meticulous … [Read more...]

Learning to compartmentalize

Someone on Twitter recently asked me what the hardest thing I had to do while writing my memoir. And I responded keeping the tears from smearing the words on the page. Then, I had to concentrate on the writing and now on the marketing, leaving any emotions I have about Paul's death outside the scope of my work. So, I have become a master of compartmentalization. Now besides being a mother whose son died by suicide, I'm a survivor. I'm a strong woman. I'm an advocate for erasing the stigma of mental illness, of putting a face on suicide, of telling my story so others can know it's possible to heal after the death of a child. Next Tuesday I have another radio interview where I'll be asked to discuss Paul's and my story how can I get through that on the radio? The other parts of the interview won't be as hard. But going through what we went through especially during his years with bipolar disorder will be gut wrenching. I hope I won't fall apart. And next Saturday I'll be … [Read more...]

Finding healing support and hugs on Facebook

The ocean's mellowing effect I recently joined a couple of groups on Facebook. One is called Grieving Mothers (there is a Grieving Fathers as well, started by the spouse of the woman who started the mother's group), and Loss of an Adult or Young Adult Child. After joining both groups, my first question was: where were these groups when I needed them in September 1999? People post on them all day and night to share a story about their child who died, tell about the terrible time they are having just doing their daily lives, and ask questions about how others are coping or what medications help them or how do they keep the memory of their children alive. They console each other, they give hugs (((((hugs)))), or they just rant. They also use the word angel for their lost child and call a new child conceived after the death of a child, a rainbow baby (the rainbow after the storm concept). I love that term and I only wish I had been young enough to have one after Paul died. Of … [Read more...]

Go to the movies

As Oprah said tonight on the Oscar award show, if you need an escape from the hard stuff that's going on in your life, go to the movies. I call my escapes diversions. My long list of diversions have helped me through my hard times, as I describe in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On http://www.LuckyPress.com/madelinesharples.html. Going to the movies is one of my favorites. I could go every night. I almost don't care what the movie is about. It's an escape from the reality of my life. For a short time I can sit in a darkened theater and experience another's life. People used to tell me to avoid certain movies that are about the death of a child seems like a slew of those came out right after Paul died or maybe I was just more aware of them then but, I didn't listen. I still don't mind going to movies with that kind of subject matter. That means I can see how others suffer through it and learn from them. So be it a happy or sad movie, go. And congratulations to "The King's … [Read more...]

Don’t go there. You don’t need to imagine it.

When people want to know the details about my son's death, I try to avoid specifics; not to protect myself, I already know all the gory details. No, I want to protect the asker, especially if he or she has children. I want to protect imaginations from going to a place where they have no reason or need to be. People can't help asking these questions. They feel their interest is comforting to me, but I find it more of a burden. The tables get turned, and I feel the need to comfort them. It's happened over and over. When they say they just can't imagine losing a child, let alone losing one the way I lost mine, I say, Don't go there. You don't need to imagine it. I love Anne Lamott's books. And she's a great public speaker as well. That's why I decided to use a quote from her book, Operating Instructions (Anchor Books, 1995), to start off my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On http://www.LuckyPress.com/madelinesharples.html. The death of a child is a parent's worst nightmare, and she put … [Read more...]

Using exercise to heal

I've worked out almost all of my life. After my son Paul died I became almost obsessive about. It just seemed to help me get through the pain. Here's another poem that will appear in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On http://www.LuckyPress.com/madelinesharples.html. It was one of the first I wrote in Jack Grapes method writing class.   Making It Hard The bright room is almost full. All four walls of mirrors reflect women and men in baggy shorts and sleek black tights. The music is so loud the woman in front of me stuffs earplugs in her ears. Lisa G says, work from the core; your workout relates to your real life. I want to get on with it. I don't come here at 6 a.m. to listen to a lecture. The neon sign on the wall says sweat, and that's what I want to do. The woman behind me complains. I don't know her name, but here she is every week always in the same spot, always complaining, always in black. Black tights, black sports bra, black thong … [Read more...]

Next steps to book launch

I've finished my final review of my book's design and galleys and sent off my notes to my Lucky Press publisher. Next steps are sending out review copies, getting back comments and hopefully some good blurbs for the back of the dust jacket, and then the book's Mother's Day release. Right after that I have my first scheduled book signing - May 12 at our local Manhattan Beach bookstore, Pages. I'll be sending out invites to that soon. http://www.LuckyPress.com/madelinesharples.html So, in the meantime I'll post a few of the poems that are interspersed throughout. Here's "Leaving the Hall Light On," originally published by The Muddy River Poetry Review under the title, "What Is Loss?" Leaving the Hall Light On I lose my keys or sunglasses and find them in my hand all along. I lose my little boy in the department store and he pops out squealing with laughter from under the clothes display, I lose important papers and find them in the stack of other papers on my desk. I … [Read more...]

Thoughts about Tucson

I've been so down lately. Yesterday it was so bad I actually succumbed to sleeping half the afternoon away. And that is not like me, at least not lately. Perhaps it was because my ankle was hurting such that I could barely walk up and down the stairs imagine me side-stepping my way up and down? And I'm the one who never ever complains about aches and pains. Well this morning the ankle is better. I forced it to be better by working it out at the gym. I think the vibrating power plate helped. But my mood isn't better. And when I looked at the lead photo in today's LA Times I realized why. It's that tragic shooting in Tucson last Saturday. Today was the first funeral for the victims the young girl, nine-year old Christina Green. It breaks my heart. I cry when I think about her and how much her family is grieving. I know what it is like to grieve for a dead child, so I am grieving with them. I cry with them. Every time I think of her death, I start crying. I'm also grieving … [Read more...]

Survivors of Suicide Day

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention today is Survivors of Suicide Day. Another reason to remember Paul -- as if I really need one. What is important about this day for me is that my family and I have survived losing him eleven years ago, and I have a book coming out that will hopefully help others get to the place we are today: Leaving the Hall Light On to be released by Lucky Press LLC next Mother's Day. I am so happy that our story will get out there to those who need it. After spending so much time this week picking out photos for the book, it is fitting to post a couple today. So happy at the piano early on With that little closed mouth smile … [Read more...]

The Compassionate Friends ask the right questions

The Compassionate Friends a non-profit organization for bereaved families and the people who care about them, following the death of a child pose a question a day on its Facebook page regarding how we handle the every day issues involved in grieving and surviving our child's death. Questions in the last few weeks included: Have you been able to find meaning in your life since the death of your child, sibling, or grandchild? As the one year mark since our daughter's death is nearing . . . we become nervous and defiantly not anticipating the date. What does one do on the one year "anniversary"? How well do you feel this saying applies to bereaved families after a child dies? "From the outside looking in you can never understand and from the inside looking out you can never explain." ~ author unknown How have you handled your child's room? What did someone do after your child (sibling, grandchild) died that really touched your heart?   I have responded to a … [Read more...]

The Dreaded Question

This morning The Compassionate Friends, the wonderful organization that supports parents of children who have died, posed the question about what we say when asked how many children we have. That question is a tough one. Right after our son died I would get so emotional when that question came up that I almost couldn't respond. I would do anything to avoid the question so I wouldn't have to answer it. Saying I had a son who died just made it more real. Now, it's easier. I just tell it like it is. Here is the poem I wrote about that dreaded question about two years after he died. It happens again like so many times before. I'm at my sister's house, talking to her neighbor someone I've just met and she asks me the dreaded question one that I'm avoiding by talking about what a great day this has been in Portland and isn't my sister's garden just beautiful and what do you do for a living and where are you from. And there it is, after I've tossed the salad greens put … [Read more...]

Book progress amidst thoughts about suicide

Well, now I really have my work cut out for me. I have several marked up chapters from my editors so I can complete, complete the first four chapters for sure. I also have final suggestions from my First Reader to combine several chapters -- two into one and three into one. And, right now I think I'm okay about doing that. in fact I know how to do it. So at this point I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can actually see finished chapters on the horizon. I was so worried yesterday that making somce of the suggested changes would be too daunting, but after working through one today I know I'll be okay. Plus it is my book. I can take my editor's notes or leave them. That's the advantage of my being the person with the last red pen. I also think of the suicide crisis we're having because of bullying. In the 11 years since my son Paul's suicide death I think the suicide rate has greatly increased (I plan to include the facts about that at the end of my book). However, … [Read more...]

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...]

Ten birthdays

This was the 10th time we've gone to the cemetery to celebrate Paul's birthday, and how I've managed to live through all these years is a miracle. Well, I attribute my survival to how I've chosen to live my life since my son died: working, working out, and openly receiving and using the gift of writing that Paul's death afforded me. And, of course I must also attribute my survival to family and friends who are always here for me. That the grief doesn't go away in evident just by the way I feel today -- gray and wallowing in self pity like the color of the day -- yet I'm living proof that one can live through the most horrific tragedy of all. So we're moving on we had a nice lunch at the Farmstand, we're writing the last of the charity donation checks, and later we'll go to a movie and dinner with Ben and Marissa to ring in the new year. But, before I go, here's a recent poem I wrote for Paul. One I've been saving for today. What I Miss Nine years didn't erase him. He … [Read more...]

Picking up the pieces

So, instead of moving, instead of getting that "fresh" house, we began to renovate. I got rid of the scene of the crime first, then I took his bedroom and closet and turned them into a beautiful office where I'm sitting right now writing this, and we moved boxes and boxes of things we cannot part with into the garage. All the boxes are meticulously labeled and arranged in deference to him. Demolition Bathroom We don't have to look into that room anymore and wonder if spots of blood still remain on the floors and walls. We've demolished the scene of the crime. We will no longer step into that tub and see Paul in his white long sleeved work shirt and khaki pants sitting against the shower door in a bloody puddle. They've taken it all away. The old aqua blue tub the toilet, and sinks. the faux marble counter with burn stains from the tiny firecrackers he set off as a teenager. The god-awful blue and yellow vinyl flooring is gone. Sterile white tiles and … [Read more...]