Posts Tagged ‘healing’

Ten Quotes

January 2, 2013

My publisher asked me to identify ten quotes from Swimming with Maya for promotional blurbs. OK, I thought to myself, how hard can that be?

But I delayed, blaming it on the demands of the holidays. Finally, on New Year’s Day, I sat down with a hardback copy of my book and began reading.Maya Book Cover

Swimming with Maya is a crisis memoir that plumbs deeply the intense shock, grief, and anger that followed in the wake of my daughter’s accidental death. What I wrote in those pages about events now twenty-years-old continues to move and amaze me.

I read page after page, tears streaming down my cheeks, putting colored paperclips on passages so raw they take me right back to the afternoon Maya died and I made the decision to donate her organs and tissues to people in need.

The last third of the book is about how I healed my grief. Those stories – how I wrote my way, slowly and haltingly, to acceptance, worked out long buried family patterns in therapy, sought out people who inspired me, including the man who received my daughter’s heart – are the light that draws me as a reader.  Of course, I know how the story turns out.  Yet there are moments I’ve forgotten and reading about them makes the experiences alive and fresh again.

Here’s one from Chapter 3: “Maya’s chest rises and falls. The ventilator hisses, the computers beep, fiber optic cable snakes into her skull. I never knew love could be so big, that it could expand to allow even this. I have a premonition of lifelong grief rolling toward me, but I know that, once again, I am being asked to give my daughter her freedom.”


That was the moment I realized I had no right, nor any power, to hold my daughter here. I had to let her go. I gave in to her coma and ultimate death because they were hers not mine, a destiny I could never have imagined. That moment of surrender marked me for life.

This was not an easy book to write, nor is it easy to read.

So why read it? Is there something to be learned in these pages that is valuable enough to offset the pain?

I believe we read to experience life vividly. Good writing puts us inside the mind and heart of the writer, creating a world we can inhabit, a safe space to vicariously experience another’s life.

Swimming with Maya is vital testimony about how losses can be healed. It was worth writing.  I hope you find it worth reading. A paperback and eBook version will be available early in February from Dream of Things press at or you can visit the  Amazon website today at for the hardback version.


The Why Question

December 18, 2012
Question Mark

Question Mark (Photo credit: auntiepauline)

Their smiles kill me.  A six year old’s gap-tooth grin flashes on the TV screen and I sob. As a grieving parent with 20 years of experience – and believe me, grief is a job – I mourn knowing there’s always more in the bank of tears. The mass killing in Newtown deposited a payload.

“Tears are the silent language of grief,” one blogger posted, quoting Voltaire.  At this moment, America is writing an epic of sorrow.

“Just wait for the funerals. Our heartbreak has just begun,” I told a friend who was crying outside the grocery store.

What can anyone possibly say to families in Newtown, Connecticut whose children will not be there to open presents on Christmas morning? For the rest of their lives, at every family gathering, there will always be a missing person.

Will tougher gun control laws or increased access to mental health services – or any of the dozens of other things we might do – bring them comfort? I hope so. But nothing we do or say will bring back their sons and daughters.

My 19-year-old daughter Maya died not because anyone willfully harmed her, thank God, but because of the confluence of bad luck and bad judgment. For years, the question why looped through my brain.  Why did Maya get on a horse bareback? Why did she end up with a devastating brain injury instead of a sprained ankle or broken arm? Why didn’t I teach her to be more careful? Why wasn’t the horse fenced or tethered? The litany is endless.

” Why” is the Big Kahuna in our search for meaning. In the wake of the mass killings in Newtown, the why question will take center stage. Even when we’ve plumbed the motives of the shooter in excruciating detail, we will never know for certain why he went on a murderous rampage aimed at six-year-olds.

After Maya died, a friend gave me this button: “Clinical studies show there are no answers.” Finally, I let go of asking why. But it took years.

“What” is a far better question. What will we do now as a society to protect our children? What can I do to comfort others and myself? What will bring more love and compassion into this world? Searching for those answers might actually lead to change and healing.

Our president asks, “Are we really prepared to say we are powerless in the face of such carnage?”

I hope and pray our answer is “Hell, no!” Let’s channel our energies into finding practical, loving steps forward.

Tears are, indeed, the language of grief. But that language, when we listen with care, can ultimately lead to a commitment to do better by ourselves and our kids.

Gratitude: A Guest Post by Madeline Sharples

November 19, 2012

I first met Madeline Sharples at a writing workshop at Esalen. I was immediately drawn to her calm, empathetic manner, her beauty, and her poems. We quickly learned that we shared some important life experiences – we were both grieving mothers and both of us were writing about our children.

Madeline’s memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, first appeared in hardback in 2010. It was recently reissued as an e-book and paperback by Dream of Things, a small press based near Chicago. Madeline is a tireless online journalist and blogger, and focuses her energies on raising awareness of mental illness and speaking out to prevent suicide. She is currently on a blog tour to promote her book and I am so pleased to host her reflections on gratitude.


by Madeline Sharples

The holiday season has begun and once again I view it as bittersweet. The holidays bring up too many reminders of my son Paul who died just three months shy of his 28th birthday in 1999. Since Paul was born on New Year’s Eve in 1971, the holidays are difficult for our family.

I also view the holiday season with gratitude. Besides my continued good health, the love and support of so many family members and friends, and my ability to live a productive life, that I can even think in terms of being grateful is a miracle. However, as bad as life was after Paul died, and as much as I continue to miss him, I have found out that with such a tragedy come unexpected gifts.

Paul’s death has made me a stronger person, physically and emotionally. It was as if I accomplished getting stronger through brute force. I met and interacted with people who had been through similar experiences; I took writing classes and workshops; I went back to work outside my home with my usual verve to compete on the job and to excel in my work; I embarked on a daily exercise program. I was obsessively persistent in dealing with my grief and becoming a productive person again.

I have reinvented myself as a poet and a creative writer. Four months after Paul died I found that poems just came spontaneously out of my pen. Though I write prose more than poetry, poetry is my love. My poetry writing has become my companion and my savior – something I can turn to at any time, or in any place.

I also wrote my book, Leaving the Hall Light On, with the goal of helping others who have experienced a loss like mine, I have a new writing career as a web journalist, and I’m busy writing a novel. I have been able to fulfill my life-long dream to work as a writer.

My husband and I have a stronger marriage probably because of a combination of my drive to deal with the pain, suffering, and loss, and Bob’s willingness to wait until I got better. We realized early on that our grieving processes were different, so we were patient, we gave each other a lot of space, and we respected each other. We supported each other so that we could grieve in our own ways. Plus, we’ve worked hard to stay healthy so that we can still travel and enjoy many diversions such as movies, theater, and opera and long walks at the beach near our home.

I have a terrific bond with my surviving son Ben and his new wife. Yes, I’m proud to say I’m a new mother-in-law. My son and his wife live close by and we spend quite a bit of time with them. That he and Marissa wanted to have their wedding in our family home meant so much to me. That created a very special bond between us and provided a very happy memory to replace the bad memories of the past years.

I’ve also embarked on a new mission in life – to erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide, in hopes of saving lives through my writing and volunteer work. My next project is to offer the wonderful jazz music our son composed and performed as a CD to raise money for charities that share my mission. In this way, I’ll be able to perpetuate his memory and hopefully save the lives of people who suffer as Paul did.

With patience and hard work, I discovered I could go beyond surviving and actually thrive – and so these bittersweet holidays also fill my heart with gratitude that I have gone on to be a writer, a mother and wife, and a survivor.

In hot water

May 9, 2010

Up to my chin in 105 degree water,  suphur pricked my nostrils as I bobbed in velvety fluid.  I felt as if I had returned to childhood when play and exploration were the focus of my days. My flip flops slapped the wooden deck as I padded from the mineral baths to an Adirondack chair to bask in the sun. Heaven!

Billed as “a sanctuary for the self,” Wilbur Hot Springs is that – and much more. Nestled in a secluded valley of the California Coastal Range on the banks of a sulphur creek, this healing spa has been welcoming visitors since the 1860s. After two days of soaking in the hot mineral pools, hiking in the lush valleys and meadows, and cooking in Wilbur’s amazing communal kitchen I returned to Oakland more relaxed than I could have imagined.

View from the hill above Wilbur Hot Springs

I unplugged completely. No TV, no computer, no cell phone, and no obligations.  Like most humans in the developed world, I spend way too much time in front of screens. I believe this literally narrows my view of the world. Watching the constellations wheel across the night sky, coming face to face with a deer and her fawn, gazing at a hillside studded with brilliant blue lupine, wandering along the creek bed as it wound through the meadow – all this, and hot pools too!

But the kitchen – oh my heavens – a communal mish mash of gourmands and inveterate snackers eddying around admiring each other’s eats. Picture an old farm kitchen with a massive stove and a huge hanging pot rack and every kitchen tool immaginable, except a microwave or a toaster. Now picture it filled with people in bathrobes, sarongs, sweatpants – and even one guy in a kilt – all cooking up a storm. The smells could knock you to your knees. One guy produced a gorgeous plate of tapas and then proceeded to cook pork loin in apple and onions. People were in there roasting chickens and whipping up risotto – it was as far from summer camp as you could get – even though the coreographed chaos was remarkably similar. Miraculously, we danced around each other, but there were no collisions.

I owe this experience to my dear friend Karen Hester who suggested we go and kindly made the reservation. Karen is my “go to” pal for all varieties of fun from ping-pong matches to long hikes to spur of the moment concert tickets. A community organizer and event planner, Karen not only knows how to have a good time, she knows how to relax. I was more than happy to follow in Karen’s wake, although I confess when she went out birdwatching at 8 o’clock on Saturday morning, I opted for tea and toast instead.

This morning was overcast so Karen and I sat in front of the oil heater and played scrabble, filling the board with neat stacks of letters – plenty of the double and tripple score variety. Karen whupped my behind, as usual, while giving me kudos for my best word play – “quieted” being one, since using a Q is a major achievement on a lazy Sunday morning.

Karen and Eleanor at Wilbur Hot Springs

We played and chatted and watched people breakfast on waffles and scrambled eggs. One guy from Calgary – I swear this is true – spent 45 minutes cutting up fruit. He sliced strawberries with slow precision, and then pitted and sliced cherries, topping this ballet of fruit with creamy yogurt and granola. When I commented on his creation he explained that he was from Canada where there was still snow on the ground so fresh fruit was a novelty to be savored.

Mellow and soggy, we bundled into the car at 2:30 this afternoon and began our journey home, singing along to Kate Wolf and Laura Nyro so that the green hillsides whizzed by. Suddenly, we were crossing the Carquinez bridge and the refineries in Richmond came into view. But in my mind’s eye, I could picture the Japanese style gate leading into the hot pools, and my skin still smelled of sulphur. Even at 70 miles per hour, my body clock was set to s-l-o-w.

Gate leading to hot pools

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