Why I became a writer

When my son Paul died in 1999 at age twenty-seven, I took the advice of several people to see a therapist. The one I chose to see led a survivors of suicide support group sponsored by the Didi Hirsch Mental Health center. The group met once a week for six weeks and consisted of people who had lost friends, loved ones, and acquaintances to suicide. There was one other mother in the group who also lost a son – she found his body hanging from their second floor stair well. She hated the group as much as I did and was brave enough to quit after two or three sessions. I lasted the whole six weeks. But after I went to a private session with the leader – who finally admitted to me that she didn’t lose anyone one she loved to suicide, I quit her too. I made up my mind not to see anyone who had not experienced the kind of loss I was going through. That’s when I turned to writing. Four months after Paul died I began going to Jack Grapes’ writing class. I went every Wednesday morning and … [Read more...]

Twenty-three years

To commemorate the twenty-third anniversary of my son Paul's suicide death, I'd like to tell you a bit about the memoir I wrote in his memory. It took eighteen years to write it and get it published, but it was all worth it. When it first came out, I thought if it helps just one person it will have been worth it. And from the comments and reviews the book has received it has helped way more people than that. The death of a child is the hardest thing a parent can ever go through, so knowing there are others out there with the same experience is a big help. Also I just heard from my publisher, Dream of Things, that in the last two years, my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, has sold more than seventy-one hundred copies. So it is still applicable and worth reading even after all this time. A few of its early accolades: "A moving read of tragedy, trying to prevent it, and coping with life … [Read more...]

On sale during Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and in its honor, my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, is on sale for $0.99 until May 31. SHOP HERE My memoir has been lauded as a mental health resource. Here are excepts from a few reviews: Leaving the Hall Light On has undoubtedly assisted those affected by mental illness and suicide in one way or another to feel less alone.   Many thanks to Sharples for sharing such a tragic story of love and loss and also for offering resources for guidance and help at the end of her book. I applaud her courage and honesty, and believe her story will help those who may be going through similar experiences.   I bought Leaving the Hall LIght On about 2 weeks ago. I read it voraciously. Why? Because I am a mother who lost her son to suicide in Nov. 2021. He was Bi-polar. I could've written parts of this book as well. Madeline Sharples as a grieving mother is very honest about her pain, her son's pain, husband's pain and the periphery … [Read more...]

Remembering Paul – again!

Paul's birthday was yesterday - New Years Eve. And yesterday he would have been fifty years old. To me that seems like yesterday though I'm probably no different from other mothers who remember the births of their children in vivid detail no matter how long ago they were born. Paul was only twenty-seven when he died in 1999. Here are some wonderful photos to share. … [Read more...]

Does a new year mean a new life?

This is a little bit of a tough time for me. It is just past the Jewish High Holidays and, on September 23 it will be twenty-two years since my son Paul took his life. And that my husband Bob died in this past year doesn't help. There was not a lot of praying I could do to help make things better. I'll just have to go on living my life as it is. I recently finished the book, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, which brought to mind a lot memories about how I've lived my life and the choices I made along the way. In the book, the main character, Nora Seed, decides to end her young life, but she ends up at a half-way  point - the midnight library - where she gets a chance to experience other lives she could have lived instead. The goal was for her to pick one and therefore choose to keep living. It turns out she wakes up in a hospital and goes on living the life she had before her suicide attempt, but with a more positive outlook about what she can do personally and for work. … [Read more...]

Mental illness and suicide go hand in hand

This year for my May 20 birthday I’ve asked my Facebook friends to donate to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in memory of our son Paul Sharples who took his life on September 23, 1999 after a seven-year battle with bipolar disorder. The point here is that we need to erase the stigma of mental illness to save people from suicide. The two go hand in hand. Here are my thoughts on  erasing the stigma.   My family is rampant with mental illness. But as far back as I can remember not a one of my relatives used those words. My mother told me my grandmother had a “nervous breakdown” after her oldest daughter, my mother’s sister, died of uterine cancer. She was hospitalized and given electric shock treatments and then she seemed fine. Also two of my uncles had to be hospitalized for “depression.” In good times one uncle spoke five languages, remembered stories of his childhood in Lithuania and Russia, and told the corniest jokes to anyone who would listen; but … [Read more...]

Stop the stigma

Today CBS television presented an hour show about the need to stop the stigma of mental illness. This is a subject very near and dear to me. As I state in the piece I've posted below, I truly believe that had my son been open about his bipolar disorder and got the help he needed from family, friends, and doctors he could still be alive today.  Click here for access to the CBS show. And here are my thoughts: How Do We Stop the Stigma of Mental Illness? My family is rampant with mental illness. But as far back as I can remember not a one of my relatives used those words. My mother told me my grandmother had a “nervous breakdown” after her oldest daughter, my mother’s sister, died of uterine cancer. She was hospitalized and given electric shock treatments and then she seemed fine. Also two of my uncles had to be hospitalized for “depression.” In good times one uncle spoke five languages, remembered stories of his childhood in Lithuania and Russia, and told the corniest … [Read more...]

Let’s erase the stigma of mental illness

In the aftermath of the mass killings and injuries in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio this past weekend, I've been thinking a lot about the role people with mental illness play in such events. Mental illness runs in my family. My son suffered with bipolar disorder and as a result killed himself almost twenty years ago. But none of the mentally ill people I know (or knew) are violent. My son was a gentle person - so were  my relatives - unless you characterize suicide as a violent act. I don't. I agree with his doctor who said my son had to release the pain he was in and that's why he took his own life. I'm also on the side of a study done in 2017 by MentalHealth.gov. They say: "It is a myth that people with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable." The Fact Is: "The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed … [Read more...]

Yes, journaling has therapeutic powers

I have journaled every day since 1993, and I've definitely experienced its therapeutic powers. It has also been very healing during my son's manic episodes and after his suicide. Mari McCarthy certainly validates my thoughts about the benefits of journaling all these years. Please welcome her to Choices while she's on her WOW! Women on Writing virtual book tour and take a look at her new book, Heal Your Self with Journaling Power.   Mari has also shared her thoughts about the roles of our inner critic and inner coach as we travel through our lives. My inner critic has always been very loud in my head. It's good to know we can learn to hush it up. Here's Mari McCarthy. Conversations with Your Inner Critic and Inner Coach by Mari McCarthy You have two voices competing for attention in your head: your inner critic and your inner coach. Your inner critic brings up all of your insecurities and misgivings. They doubt your abilities, judge your actions and … [Read more...]

Writing a memoir? Stick to it!

Yesterday I participated as a panel member discussing "How to Develop Your Memoir with Appeal to the Widest Possible Audience" at the Genre-LA Creative Writing Conference. Unfortunately the room was not full, but the four of us on the podium spoke from our experience writing, editing, and marketing memoirs to get an interested and inspired response from those who did attend. I think the most important point we made was in answer to this question: Defining a memoir’s theme or focus can be overwhelming – how can aspiring memoirists choose which events, memories, or moments to include, and which to leave out? My answer to that would be: Don’t write a complete autobiography. Pick a subject that’s timely and universal. For example, my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, is about our son’s mental illness and suicide and how our family survived it. And right now mental illness and suicide are in the forefront. Suicide of young men especially is an epidemic though women are more … [Read more...]

Writing through chaos

I've been writing small stones again. As the group admin says: Write just your thoughts and ideas and have fun. Post small poems and thoughts; please share and enjoy each others talents. Everyone is individual and that makes this page brilliant. I took a long break from this writing, but started back at it last month when the group page was called Mayday Mayflower. This month we're June Jubilation. Here's a few small stone thoughts from May: I’m almost finished with Revision Ten of my novel. And when I’m finished I will declare victory. Ten revisions are really quite enough. I’m sad about the death of Tom Wolfe. He was a brilliant journalist and author. Anybody not read The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities? I’m in the edit poem mode, getting ready to submit. They say if we haven’t gotten 100 rejections in a year, we haven’t submitted enough. LOL  [note: I'm still not submitting enough!] I forgot to say the dinner I spent so much time on two days ago was a … [Read more...]

Two new reviews worth bragging about

Pat Seitz and I attend a monthly Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC) writing group where we discuss our published books and books in progress plus hear a lot of good information about what resources out there for us struggling authors. I was pleasantly surprised at one meeting when Pat said she wanted to buy and read my book. Since I carry a box of books in the trunk of my car, I was ready to accommodate her immediately, and I happily signed a first edition hardback copy for her. I also gave her a discounted price, something I always do for other authors when we're at meetings and writers conferences. And Pat graciously wrote a fabulous review of Leaving the Hall Light On - unfortunately Amazon wouldn't publish it since she didn't buy it from the Amazon site. Here's Pat: Madeline Sharples' painful, powerful story, Leaving the Hall Light On, is phenomenal. Her fascinating story has turned the light on the darkness in my family's disconnect and … [Read more...]

Yes, I have to weigh in on the most recent celebrity suicides

I’ve been grappling with the two suicide deaths by famous people last week – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Both successful and productive. Both seemingly having no reasons to end their lives. So what made them do it? I’ve heard that Spade was suffering from depression and was getting help. I've recently learned that Bourdain also had bouts of depression, and that in his early days he had drug and alcohol problems. Needless to say, they both had their demons. However, they say it isn’t only mental illness – it could be what’s going on in our world, including poverty, homelessness and unemployment or stress on the job – that trigger suicide. In a recent "New Yorker" article, Andrew Solomon states: "There is another factor that should not be underestimated. On a national stage, we’ve seen an embrace of prejudice and intolerance, and that affects the mood of all citizens. My psychoanalyst said that he had never before had every one of his patients discuss national politics … [Read more...]

Writing to heal in times of grief

Wendy Brown-Baez and I are soul mates. We're both advocates and beneficiaries of writing to heal and survivors of a loved one's suicide. Please welcome Wendy today as she stops by Choices on her WOW! Women on Writing book tour. Her literary fiction book, Catch a Dream, is described below. Here are her words about experiencing loss and grief and the benefits of writing to heal that experience. Writing for Healing by Wendy Brown-Baez, author of Catch a Dream My healing story begins not with my own healing but with seeking solutions for my companion’s depression. Sometimes Michael was unable to get out of bed for days at a time. Other times, he was energetic, gregarious, spending money wildly, followed by aggression. With a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, the puzzle pieces fell into place. I was involved in two writing groups at the time, a writing support group called Write Action and a women’s poetry group. Michael became more and more mentally unstable and finally killed … [Read more...]

May is mental health month

I've written extensively about mental health and my mission to erase its stigma in blog posts and essays for my own and other websites. I'm also written about my son's mental illness that ended in his suicide in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. Today I'd like to leave you with a list of some agencies that provide mental health and suicide prevention services. I've also pulled a passage out of my memoir to share with you - a scene with our son at a restaurant in New York City where my husband and I observed his clearly irrational behavior. We were so distressed at what we saw we plotted to get him into the hospital to be diagnosed and treated for the first (of many) times. I urge anyone who has a similar experience to get help as fast as possible. Some Helpful Agencies American Foundation for Suicide Prevention bringchange2mind Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services … [Read more...]

How I created my book and got it published

I belong to a writing organization called  Independent Writers of Southern California. We meet locally in a  small satellite group once a month, and this last month our leader asked me to speak about how I got my memoir published. Here are my notes from that talk. Even though writing is a lonely business, a village of resources helped and nurtured me from the time I started writing my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On. I started with journaling, at first sporadically and later, after reading and doing the exercises in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Putnam’s Sons, 1992), I kept my fingers moving across the pages of my journal every day. I still do. After amassing about three years’ worth of journal entries I began to think about turning them into a book – a book very much different from the one that was eventually published. But, I was not a creative writer. My writing experience consisted of writing, editing, and training engineers to produce reports and proposals in the … [Read more...]

A journey out of the darkness and into the light

I was very interested in having Sebastian Slovin appear here today. He has a story to tell about what he learned from his father's suicide, just as I had a story to tell about what I learned from my son's suicide. We are definitely kindred spirits even though our experiences were quite different. However, one thing is certain. Suicide is a death different from all others, and it leaves the survivors broken, guilty, and always searching for answers to "why?" Mr. Slovin appears here courtesy of the WOW! Women on Writing virtual book tour of his memoir Ashes in the Ocean, published in March 2018 by Nature Unplugged. About Ashes in the Ocean Vernon Slovin was a legend. He was one of the best swimmers in his home country of South Africa, and for a time in the world. He prided himself on being the best. The best in sports, business, and life. He had it all, a big home, athletic prestige, fancy clothes and cars, and a beautiful wife and family. Everything was going his way … [Read more...]

My memoir still has legs

Three Things: My memoir got its 223rd review on Amazon today. On Saturday 10 am I'll be on a memoir-writing panel called Thanks for the Memories at the Genre-LA writers conference at the Los Angeles Valley College. Sunday I'll be online all day at We Love Memoirs Sunday Spotlight. I actually thought I'd be done with book marketing a year after the memoir was published. Was I wrong! It seems that this book keeps re-emerging and providing inspiration for would-be memoir writers or the right words of encouragement for those also affected by mental illness and suicide. I feel so grateful for that. Here is its latest five-star review from Lindsay De Felix: on Amazon for Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. This is a very hard book for me to write a review on. It is about a subject which I have no knowledge of – a bipolar son who commits suicide. I don’t know anyone well who suffers from … [Read more...]

A room of my own – revisited

This morning I talked to a man I recently met at my gym while we both worked out on the elliptical. That’s a new one for me. I usually plug in my ear buds, listen to music, read my New Yorker, and hardly say a word to anyone while I exercise. And he was very inquisitive – he asked about my back ground, my religion, my home town, my current home town, how long married, where I’ve traveled, and of course the dreaded question – number of children. That question always stops me in my tracks – even now, over 18 years since my son Paul left us. And I told him truthfully that Paul took his own life because he had bipolar disorder. As a result I resurrected a piece I wrote for the now defunct Red Room site in 2013 – about the room I’m in right now – my private writing space. Even my husband knows not to bother me in here when my door is closed. In rereading this piece today, I can honestly say, not a lot has changed. He’s still in my room with me. My Private Island - A Room of My … [Read more...]

Review number 220 is a true gift

Thank you, Janine Ward, for this sensitive and insightful review of Leaving the Hall Light On.  I won't say more. The review speaks for itself. Inspirational. For anyone who has known untouchable, unimaginable grief that no one deserves and on one survives without lifetime scars, Madeline Sharples' Leaving the Hall Light On is a must read. It is a book that will shine light into the broken crevices of the soul, and if you are healing, if you feel you are alone, Madeline's book is the perfect company. It is her transformative story about accepting the grief of unanswerable questions, parenting into the unknown territories of mental illness, losing everything and deciding to live anyway. Along the way she describes it in detail, the intersections she crossed and why she turned the way she turned, proving that anyone can survive anything if we put our minds into it and one foot forward, one day at a time. Joy can return, it will never be the same but the capacity to accept what it … [Read more...]