Post #92 – Women’s Memoirs, Author Conversations – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler
Kendra Bonnett and I are pleased to welcome back Madeline Sharples to Women’s Memoirs today. When we last talked with her, she was in the midst of her first blog book tour and looking forward to the growing readership for her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, the story of her son’s life with bi-polar disorder and suicide and how she came to grips with the aftermath.
We appreciated the content she shared with us (and you) and thought that might well be the end of our official connection. Then, her publisher closed its doors and she found herself again looking for a publisher and getting her book again noticed by potential readers. We are delighted that while Madeline is appearing on many new blogs, she has chosen to revisit us and share more of her story in this blog. And for those of you who are members of the Association for Writing Excellent, you’ll receive notification when we have our special Skype conversation with Madeline. In that interview we’ll go deeper into some topics that we know will interest you.
So, welcome Madeline.
Women’s Memoirs: Question 1. You have had to live through a tragedy that is probably the greatest fear that any parent has — the death of a child. I wonder, do you feel your marriage suffer edas a result of your son’s bipolar disorder and suicide?
Madeline Sharples: Thanks for inviting me back. It has been an interesting journey that brings me again to Women’s Memoirs. I certainly am looking forward to our Skype interview so that I can share more with your readers.
Now as to your question. At first my husband and I had a hard time just being together because our grieving methods and coping mechanisms were so different. My husband would keep saying that I needed therapy. To spite him, I wouldn’t go. That is the truth of it. He was afraid I was having a breakdown; I was afraid he was drowning his pain and anger in alcohol.
Yet, I think the main reason we survived Paul’s death at all was because of the strength of our marriage.
According to Bob, our marriage survived by a combination of my persistent drive to deal with the pain, suffering, and loss, and his willingness to wait until I got better. We realized early on that our grieving processes were different, so we were patient with each other about that. We also give each other a lot of space. We respect each other. We both are good at what we do professionally so there’s no competition or jealousy there. We have no reason to put each other down. We don’t get into arguments about the small stuff or let the small stuff get in our way. We’ve lived through too much big stuff to let that happen.
This love has also been the glue that has kept us together—a glue stronger than the trauma of Paul’s death. It was enough to help us in the most trying of times that a couple could ever go through. Plus neither of us has any other place to go. We’re together in it for the long haul—richer, poorer, sickness, health, and a son’s death.
Women’s Memoirs: Question 2. I know that you also have another son. How did your elder son’s illness and suicide affect your thoughts toward your younger son?
Madeline Sharples: It’s all about Ben now. He was my younger son. Now he’s my only son, the person I worry about the most. I think of all the disasters that could happen whenever he travels—by car, by plane, and even on foot. On days when I fear he is in danger, my heart and gut react more than ever. Now I try to hide my worries about him as best I can. After all, he is a grown up and has a wife to worry about him now. But still….
Some time ago I wrote that Ben is the reason I chose to live when I was most despondent after Paul died. That is still true. There is nothing I wouldn’t give him or do for him. Even before Paul died that was so. He and I spent so much time together as he was growing up. I was his first tennis teacher and warm-up partner, and I took him to all the tennis tournaments he competed in from the time he was seven until he graduated from high school. I worked with him on his tennis attitude such that he had a reputation for being the “Iceman” on the courts. I helped him through his losses, his nervousness before a match, his strategizing, and his triumphs.
Now I am the champion of his career. He comes to me for advice and I readily give it. He comes to me for editorial suggestions on the scripts he writes. And even though he doesn’t come to me for monetary help anymore, I would still readily give that to him too.
Women’s Memoirs: Question 3. One of the ways you dealt with your personal tragedy is by writing about it. So many people have found that writing is healing. How did that help you?
Madeline Sharples: 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 turned out to be the most stressful time of my life.
Early on during my son’s illness I read The Artist’s Way Every Day: A Year of Creative Living by Julia Cameron (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992), and her suggestion to write morning pages resonated with me. Because I was employed full-time then, my writing didn’t always take place in the morning, but I always finished my three pages before the end of the day.
Right after Paul died I received a gift of Anne Brener’s book, Mourning & Mitzvah: A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993). It was the only self-help book I even opened, and I was compelled to write an answer to every prompt in the book.
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. My husband worried I was having a breakdown even if I cried too much. And since there was so much anger and grief in me, I needed a place to put it. Writing in those days was like repeating a mantra. I just kept moving my pen across the page or my fingers moving on the keyboard. And I wouldn’t let anything get in my way.
Women’s Memoirs: Question 4.And finally, I’d like to ask a question about the audience for your memoir. Not every book is for every reader. Who do you think should read your book?
Madeline Sharples That’s a hard question for me to answer. Instead, I’m including a few testimonials that speak of the benefits better than I could:
“Anyone who wants to learn how to live with children or adults with bipolar disorder, must read this book.”
“I could imagine that this book might be helpful for those dealing with bipolar disease or suicide in the family, but for those of us fortunate enough not to have yet experienced those problems, it also provides a very real look into how good but human people deal with the cruelty of fate.”
“I am still struggling with the passing of my son, Justin, 34 weeks ago and this book offered me hope that my grief can soften and my life can continue on.”
“As the mother of a suicide I can relate to so many of her comments. I hope her book will become a source for others who are attempting to cope with bipolar disorder and what suicide does to the family left behind….”
“I highly recommend this to anyone who is ready to explore their deepest feelings.”
“The book is incredibly moving and has much to teach anyone grieving the loss of a loved one. Or suffering any kind of loss—what she learns along the way can be applied to so much that people go through.”
Women’s Memoirs: Madeline, thanks for joining us today. As always, we appreciate your openness with us.