First-Ever Golden Nib Award: Memoir Writer Sharon Mortz Receives Honor

by Matilda Butler on November 5, 2011

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #131 – Women’s Memoirs, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

memoir, memoir writing award, memoir award, memoir writing

Women’s Memoirs Announces New Award

Kendra and I have talked since May about a distinctive Women’s Memoir award for memoir writers. This would be an award for extraordinary stories. We eventually decided to call it the GOLDEN NIB award. We then got our website designer busy creating the award. We had two versions and put them in our “we’ll deal with this later” pile.

Time moves on.

Occasionally, Kendra and I find a few stories that we receive to be of such a high quality that we wish we had our distinctive award to give. Then with Sharon Mortz’s MESSAGES, we felt we had the perfect story to be the first to receive our Golden Nib Award.

Congratulations Sharon.

MESSAGES

By Sharon Mortz,
First Winner of Women’s Memoirs Golden Nib Award

On September 3, 2003, I walked through the door of my apartment grateful the day was behind me. I tossed my coat over the corner of the door to my room, stripped off my office attire, pulled on my well-worn sweats and threw myself on my bed. I tried to ignore the annoying beep my answering machine emitted informing me that I had a message. I never felt like talking after work and today was no different. I stumbled to the kitchen to pour a glass of wine and since the phone was at arm’s length, I punched the answering machine. The machine spat out a one-word message: “Mommy.” The hairs on my arms and back of my neck stood at attention. I listened again. “Mommy.” There was no mistaking the message. I punched the answering machine again. The same message. My limp body fell against the refrigerator and I slid to the floor, huge gulping sobs wracking my body. I had corroboration of our connection.

Jacquie had died on Labor Day, September 3, 2001 two years earlier.

……………………..

memoir, memoir award winner, memoir writingOn Wednesday, August 29, 2001, my 27-year-old daughter, Jacquie, a food/cocktail waitress, came home from work at about 4:00 am. She and her coworkers had stopped for their favorite food – Chinese – after their evening shift.

“Hi Mother Hubbard,” she said as she breezed through the door. I got up as I often did so we could talk a bit before I got ready for work and Jacquie went to sleep. She said her stomach was upset and I noted that she slept fretfully as I prepared for work.

When I called her, she told me that she had been throwing up. I returned home to find Jacquie suffering from stomach flu-like symptoms, including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Jacquie clung to the side of her bed in her attempt to keep her body stationary and control the nausea. She could not eat or drink and her diarrhea forced us to improvise and use towels as diapers. We quickly ran out of her sweats and used mine.

I called Bart, her boyfriend, to request that he spend the night and watch Jacquie the next day. I went to work the following morning confident that Bart’s attention would bring her out of this flu. Bart stayed with us for the next four days.

On Friday, August 31, after two days of symptoms, Bart and I took Jacquie to the St. Francis Emergency Room. Jacquie’s color was gray, her abdomen distended and we discovered at the emergency room that she was dehydrated. The ER hooked her up to an IV and started a fluid drip. She received eight bags of fluid before her release. Like many ERs on holiday weekends, St. Francis Hospital was busy. A drunk had been given a bed in the hallway of the ER and he shouted obscenities every few seconds all night. I was more than annoyed.

During her emergency room stay, Jacquie developed a rash, her blood pressure was low and heart rate was high (125 b.p.m.). The emergency room nurses, following standard procedure, stood her on her feet at about 3:00 a.m.—twelve hours after our arrival— to take her blood pressure in preparation for her release. The movement caused her to throw up green bile again. They admitted her and x-rayed her abdomen.

She was treated with nasogastric decompression (a tube inserted in her nose down the esophagus to her stomach to draw fluid from her abdomen) to alleviate her distended stomach and lessen pain and pressure. She couldn’t stand without considerable pain, so the doctor ordered additional x-rays to determine if she had a bowel blockage.

I went home at 4:00 a.m. relieved that Jacquie was in good hands at the hospital. Bart had left at 1:00 a.m. so he could get some sleep before he had to go to work the next day. I continued to believe Jacquie had contracted a flu or food poisoning.

The next morning at 8:00 a.m., Jacquie called me to say she was much better and wanted to come home. I arrived at the hospital and she said, “I have to take a stand.” Jacquie defiantly pulled the tube out of her nose.
I was happy to find that Jacquie looked much better. Her color was good and she was ambulatory. Dr. Mitchell instructed that if she could eat a soft liquid lunch she could go home. Jacquie did eat a relatively large amount and kept it down. She also went to the bathroom alone. I was convinced that she had begun to recover from a bad flu. The tests revealed nothing conclusive. We were home free and I could nurse her back to health.

If only she had stayed in the hospital.

I took her home on Saturday, September 1, 2001 and Bart and I nursed her all day and night feeding her bits of soup, applesauce and water. She was trying so hard to eat and drink but by Sunday, September 2, it was obvious that she still wasn’t keeping enough food or liquid down. I didn’t want her to become dehydrated again, so we called Dr. Mitchell and told him the circumstances.

“I was reluctant to release her,” he said. Then instructed me to take her back to the emergency room. “I’ll meet you there,” he said. That distressed Jacquie and her fear precipitated tears but she was willing to do whatever was necessary to get better. Jacquie even spoke with Dr. Mitchell about surgery and it was clear that possibility was becoming more appealing to her.

Jacquie was admitted quickly the second time around and an IV was inserted. She was still dehydrated and it took two nurses and five attempts to get a blood sample. Her abdomen film revealed increased distention of the small bowel with air fluid levels. No air in the colon.

She was treated with intravenous hydration and nasogastric decompression again but, instead of improving, her distention worsened. She complained of abdominal pain and her urine output tapered off. There were no more bowel sounds. Dr. Mitchell decided to perform exploratory laparotomy. He feared there was a mechanical obstruction, i.e., torsion of her small bowel.

Amazingly the drunk was back again and the ER was punctuated by his curses and profanity. I felt insulted that we were subjected to his crude language and selfishly felt he didn’t belong there disturbing sick people. He was only intoxicated.

A childhood prophecy popped into my mind as Jacquie was wheeled down to surgery on that Labor Day weekend. I received what I now consider a message when Jacquie was a small girl. I paid little attention to it at the time, though I never forgot it. Jacquie had come home from school one day and told me that a classmate at school had told her that she would not live very long.

“Why would she say that?” I asked.

“She said there’s a little fleck in my eyes,” she replied as she widened her eyes for my examination. I looked in her eye. They looked normal, the way they had always looked but there was a tiny fleck.

“I’ve never heard of that. How old is she?”

“Same as me,” Jacquie said.

“Oh, what does she know?” I retorted. I don’t think Jacquie gave it too much further thought. I know I didn’t.

After the surgery, Dr. Mitchell called Jacquie’s room where Bart and I were lying on the bare linoleum floor to inform us that everything was all right. Jacquie did fine and they had removed two quarts of green fluid from her intestines. There was no blockage but without the surgery, the doctor said her intestines were about to rupture.

I jumped up and down for joy and thanked God that she had come out of surgery okay. Bart and I then went down to recovery to see Jacquie. We told her we loved her and she managed to mumble through her anesthetic fog that she loved us. Though sedated, she knew we were there. It was then that Dr. Mitchell told Bart and me that he was covering several hospitals that Labor Day and was exhausted. The assistant surgeon would look in on her tomorrow. Bart stayed in her room and I went home about 3:00 a.m. so I could relieve him later in the morning.

When I arrived at 10:00 a.m. the next morning, Jacquie was hooked up to morphine and the tube was still inserted through her nose, enabling her stomach to drain. Jacquie said she was getting used to the tube, which was a relief. She no longer fought its insertion. I camouflaged my discomfort at the sight of tubes and needles protruding from my daughter with little jokes and big game-show host smiles.

She was given morphine every hour for pain and a few ice chips to alleviate her thirst. All she wanted was a drink of water. I was there to give her ice chips and I watched over her as she slept fitfully. My eyes were glued to the odometer and the various machines monitoring her vitals.

About 1:00 p.m., twelve hours after surgery, the nurses said that Jacquie should get up and move. This was standard procedure but when the nurse attempted to get her up, she had a hypoxic seizure. Her back arched, her eyes rolled back and her hands trembled.

“She’s going to pass out,” I shouted.

The nurse said, “We’ll try later. Just rest, Jacquie.”

After her attempted move, her breathing was labored and her heart rate rose —163 b.p.m., which lowered later to 131. All these conditions along with low blood pressure were symptoms of pulmonary embolism (I later learned), but her symptoms remained unrecognized by the nurses.
After her seizure, Jacquie breathlessly told me, “I feel like I ran a marathon. I saw stars.”

A respiratory therapist came to give Jacquie a bronchial dilator treatment with albuterol. I noticed that the therapist divided his attention between the TV in Jacquie’s room and Jacquie as he gave her the treatment. He kept looking up at the TV affixed to the wall. I wanted to jump up and switch the TV off or slap him to get his attention but I was afraid to anger anyone because I was dependent upon them for Jacquie’s safety. Lasix was administered but she remained short of breath.

Her breathing continued to be labored but since her heart rate had reduced to 131 b.p.m., I was encouraged. Normal, for a person Jacquie’s age, would be about 70 b.p.m. She was given oxygen.

After everyone left the room, I stood over her and slipped her ice chips under her oxygen mask. I was encouraged because her oxygen rate, as measured by the odometer attached to her fingertip, rose to 96 from 94. I was grasping at anything for encouragement. Then suddenly, her eyes flew open and she said, “I can’t breathe.”

I looked at the odometer hooked to her finger and it read, “ERR.” I ran out and told the staff, “She can’t breathe. Please help her.”

I heard “code blue” announced over the intercom but made no connection between that code and the fact that Jacquie could be in danger. I believed Jacquie was alive. It was inconceivable to me that she had gone. A member of the clergy joined me in prayer. I paced praying, “Please, God, let her be okay.” The priest followed me, held my hand and prayed. Looking back, I am sure he knew that Jacquie was gone.

I asked the nurse to call Bart. She dialed, handed me the phone and all I said to him was, “Come.” He dropped everything at work and returned to the hospital within a few minutes. Bart found me in a waiting room. We paced there, praying and assuring each other that Jacquie was fine. Bart frequently stuck his head out of the room to check on the activity and comings-and-goings to and from Jacquie’s room. I just could not step out. He saw doctors and nurses scurry in and out of Jacquie’s room. He reported that a staff member wheeled in the electric paddles so we knew they were still working on her. She must be all right. My eyes glued to the doorway waiting for good news from the doctors.

Dr. Clark, who had assisted in Jacquie’s surgery, finally stepped into the waiting room doorway and repeated several times, “We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what happened.”

“But she’s alive,” I said.

“No.”

Bart burst into tears and all I could muster was, “Oh my God.” My heart clenched. I was numb with shock. I did not understand.

memoir, memoir award winner, memoir writing, mother-daughter memoirAccording to the medical records, she was noted to have cyanosis in extremities, heart rate lower to 57 and respiratory rate of 28.

A full resuscitation was performed with the standard ACLS protocol but it was too late. The “paddles” were used and a tracheotomy performed and several other procedures. I become dizzy and breathless when I read her autopsy so that is all the detail I can provide. A bilateral pulmonary emboli was the cause of death.

As I look back and review this scene, it is always in slow motion. Could I have moved faster? Though a nurse was in her room in seconds, apparently it was too late.

……………………..

Jacquie had bravely faced the prospect of surgery, tolerated prodding and the discomfort of a tube inserted into her nose and stomach in order to get better. But she did not get better. I could not save Jacquie nor could I give her the only thing she asked for—a drink of water.

I had received a message twenty years ago, which I had ignored. Who knows how many other messages I have missed? I now listen carefully to God and the Universe. I will not miss another message.

More Messages

On my 55th birthday, January 9, 2002, four months after Jacquie’s death, three of her friends, JJ, Donny and Lori, accompanied me to the Church of Spiritualism in the hope of contacting Jacquie.

Though my fervent prayer was to contact Jacquie, I had a healthy respect for the supernatural and was filled with trepidation at the possibility of contacting her. Would the sky open up? Would the earth quake? In San Francisco this is no idle speculation. Jacquie and I had always made a big deal of our birthdays so I cautiously hoped this might be an occasion that she would choose to contact me. If only I had enough mettle to get to the church. For added insurance, I planned on sitting near the door so I could bolt out of the church if necessary.

Buttressed by Jacquie’s friends, I arrived at the church for the healing ceremony of quiet prayer before the medium began offering readings. Mediums receive messages from the spirit world via voices, pictures, symbols and smells from the deceased and pass them on verbally to the recipient attempting to contact their loved one. This is purely drop-in with no registration, no lists, no money or exchange of any information. Since this was my first attendance, I was anonymous.

I was selected second from the congregation of about 40 and after I choked out “Hello” to Marie, the medium, she began: “There is someone here named Jack.” My heart leapt to my throat! I squeezed JJ’s hand so hard I worried that I might fracture it. I had always called Jacquie “Jack.” According to the medium, Jacquie instructed me to stop “spinning my wheels.” She acknowledged that I had been praying for other people and that I had gifts. I was grateful she had heard my prayers, establishing that we had a connection.

At the end of the reading, Jacquie added, “You are beautiful.” I cried, giving thanks for what I considered confirmation she was watching and the previous contact I had experienced was real and not just wishful thinking.

Jacquie was only 27 when she died on 9/03/01 and, as I face life without her, I search for signs and messages from her. I wonder why the world keeps rotating. I seek normalcy. I ask God if this is a punishment or a lesson. I try to quell the panic. I try to honor Jacquie and her artwork. I ask God why. I pray Jacquie is ok and is with God. I ask for forgiveness for anything I have done to precipitate such an event. Why did she go before me? I try to balance my spiritual life and search for God with my secular life and search for peace and purpose.

I question this writing. Does it have value? Is it my purpose? Will it help another parent?

Eight days later, on 9/11/01, I went to stay with my son, hoping to regain sanity enough to sleep. I thought the world was ending.

After her death, Jacquie contacted me the first time via telephone. A couple of weeks after her funeral, my friend Joe, a hypnotist, made a house call to help me deal with my grief. During the session, I turned off the phone ringer and I could hear the click each time the answering machine picked up an in-coming call. I had over 12 calls that night during the one-hour session and only one caller left a message — my friend Mary.

Joe remarked, “Someone sure wants to get in touch with you,” even adding that it could be Jacquie. I didn’t think that was even a remote possibility. After Joe left, I returned Mary’s call and she assured me she had called only once.

Brad, Jacquie’s boyfriend, described an identical scenario. A few days after her death, Brad, a fixture at our house, offered to clean Jacquie’s room while I accompanied my son to the airport to pick up my brothers and sisters who were arriving for Jacquie’s funeral. During the time that I was at the airport, Brad received easily 12 calls and again no one answered. Suspecting it might be Jacquie, he spoke her name into the receiver letting her know he was receptive.

Then on the morning of the funeral, JJ, Jacquie’s best friend, received between 12 and 15 calls. He told me there was no response each time he answered the phone. He whispered into the phone “Jacquie, I love you,” believing it could be her.

When we later compared notes and analyzed the phone calls, we concluded Jacquie had contacted us. She wanted those closest to her to know she was still with us that first week.

On April 14, my mood was melancholy and I implored Jacquie to contact me. I did not want to attend church that morning, but something told me I should. I prepared for church hesitatingly and at the last minute rushed out the door, wet-haired, and while walking up the hill toward church, two young females passed me engaged in conversation and one turned to me and said loud and clear, “Mom, I love you.” I spun my head around, nearly suffering whiplash in an attempt to get a better look at them. I knew it was a message from Jacquie. I contemplated the message the next day and was more convinced and warmed by the knowledge Jacquie had conveyed another message.

Jacquie, age 20 months, and Kyle, age three years

Jacquie, age 20 months, and Kyle, age three years

I wear Jacquie’s heart-shaped silver locket and have inserted pictures of Kyle, my son, and Jacquie inside either half of the heart. I wear it even in the shower. The picture of Kyle has absorbed so much moisture that it is totally obliterated and one cannot tell who is in the picture or even that there is a picture, whereas Jacquie’s picture remains just as clear as the day I put it into the locket. I think this is the ultimate case of sibling rivalry! Jacquie is getting back at Kyle!

On May 31, 2002, JJ called me to tell me he had received a message from Jacquie via a dream. JJ is skeptical regarding afterlife communication but after our visit to the Church of Spiritualism and the many incidents that I have reported to him, he is warming to the concept. He still likes proof.

JJ relayed the dream: “The lamp beside my bed tipped over as if in slow motion.” He explained, “That was Jacquie.” When he woke, he was disappointed to realize it was only a dream. Then he felt as if someone was squeezing him from inside and outside like a hug – again he knew it was Jacquie. I am always elated at a new message no matter how obscure, but that was not the end of it!

Three days later JJ was present for a reading with Natalie, a medium. Natalie, in a message from Jacquie, acknowledged that I had been reading a plethora of books about spiritualism and after-life communication by such authors as John Edward, Sylvia Browne and James Van Praagh and they were on a book shelf by my bed. She correctly identified the authors and the books’ location. She said that I had a bookmark at page 101 in one of the books. After the reading, JJ and I went into my room to search for the book with the bookmark at page 101 (they all had bookmarks – I was reading them all). I looked at four or five books but did not find the one to which she referred. Disappointed, JJ and I went to dinner after which I returned home to continue my search. The first book I picked up Embraced by the Light by Betty J. Eadie had a bookmark at page 101. I freaked, jumping up and down like an atomic explosion. Jacquie was definitely watching and sending a message to JJ and me. I called JJ. That book title was an exact translation of the message that Jacquie had conveyed to him in his dream a few days prior. She had “embraced him by the light.”

This corroboration has convinced JJ of afterlife though he, like me, wants reminders of the power of the spirit world.

On January 10, JJ took me to a dinner/theatre club, the Theatro Zinzanni. I noted a good-looking couple standing in line in front of us while waiting to order drinks. Quite by accident, we ended up sharing a table with them. I felt a connection to the couple, especially Dirk. We chatted between courses and during the show’s intermission and out of the blue, I overheard Dirk say to his girlfriend, “The odds are good but the goods are odd.” My ears perked up and my eyes widened. I looked up, smiled and said, “Thank you, Jacquie.” JJ looked at me quizzically. “That’s the title of my latest short story,” I said.

“I have never heard that phrase,” JJ said. We knew Jacquie was watching so we clinked our wine glasses, “To Jacquie Mortz.” I explained to Dirk the significance of the phrase.

The draft of The Odds are Good but the Goods are Odd sat on my dining room table awaiting edits when I took JJ home to show it to him. I wanted a witness to the validation that Jacquie was watching.

I had to keep writing.

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On January 1, 2010, I went for a morning walk to think and connect with Jacquie. I crossed the street in front of my apartment and a bright piece of broken pottery featuring green and yellow floral design about two inches square caught my eye. I picked it up and found the name “Jacque” was spelled out in black handwriting and on the other side. Spelling from heaven is not easy. I put it in my coat pocket to take home.

May 5, 2011- three days before Mother’s Day

I returned from Reno and was preparing to meet a friend for dinner. I walked from my bedroom to the bathroom to put on makeup and a 16 X 20 matting from one of Jacquie’s paintings that I had framed since her passing fell to the floor right at my feet. This is significant because for years I spent significant amounts of time and money obsessively framing and photographing Jacquie’s art. I created websites, exhibited and featured her art in calendars and greeting cards, book markers and T-shirts.

I retrieved the mat from the floor and searched the hanging paintings to find the one from which the mat had fallen but there was no missing matting. I walked down the hallway to inspect the remaining paintings and found again all the matting securely in place. It was as if the matting had fallen from the sky.

I’m convinced that Jacquie sent me the matting to assure me that she is still watching over me. Sometimes I doubt and need reassurance.

Thanks to these messages, and many more that I haven’t included, some of my emotion has given way to hope and introspection and the conviction that Jacquie and I are connected. We are here on earth to learn lessons and we are inextricably tied to certain souls. My philosophy is still coalescing but I am sure that there is life after death and I believe that my daughter is watching over me. This helps me continue life, has made me realize that the most important lesson is love and souls stay connected into the next life. I know when I go, I’ll see her. Until then, we are connected.

But I still cry.

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