Posts Tagged ‘recovery’

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.

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.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0984631720/ref=sc_pgp__m_A1M6YBJMM98MZH_1?ie=UTF8&m=A1M6YBJMM98MZH&n=&s=&v=glance

The Look Challenge

October 18, 2012
A panoramic of a snow topped Mt Diablo as take...

A panoramic of a snow topped Mt Diablo as taken from Walnut Creek (Panoramic made from a 14 image stitch) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The premise is simple: find a passage in your manuscript or book that contains the word “look,” post it on your blog, and tag five other blogging writers to do the same. Seems to me like a great way to introduce readers to other writers, so I’m all in.”

I received this invitation/challenge from my friend Madeline Sharples. Madeline’s book, Leaving the Hall Light On, is the tender and harrowing tale of her son Paul’s bipolar disorder and ultimate suicide. But more than that, it is the story of a woman’s courageous fight to not only survive but thrive after a life-shattering loss. To learn more, visit http://madeline40.blogspot.com

To meet the challenge, I randomly opened my book Swimming with Maya to page 210 and found this passage:

“Sprawling over a broad ridge, Oakmont Memorial Park has a direct view of Mt. Diablo. As I kneel above my daughter’s grave, I look at the jagged face of the mountain. It towers above the suburban valleys east of San Francisco, its saw-toothed outline a sharp, cobalt blue. Almost four thousand feet tall, and many miles around, this place was considered sacred by the native peoples who once lived at its base. I regard it with awe. To me, it is a temple of the gods, of doom, of wild horses – a mysterious place that swallowed my daughter in one sudden gulp.”

This passage leads from the narrator kneeling above her daughter’s grave at the cemetery to a fateful meeting with the man who received Maya’s donated heart, his wife, and their two children. Meeting Fernando and his family changed the course of my grief and my life. So in a way, the passage where I describe looking at Mt. Diablo leads to looking in a much larger sense. Looking at and examining the outcome of my decision to donate Maya’s organs and tissues at the moment she was declared brain dead.

I’ve written extensively about this in Swimming with Maya, and more recently in the Creative Nonfiction anthology, At the End of Life: True Stories About How We Die, edited by Lee Gutkind. Organ donation and transplantation are miraculous and complicated. Instinctively, I was using “look” in the descriptive passage as a metaphor for the meeting to come when I would look into the eyes of the man whose chest held my daughter’s beating heart.

When Fernando drew me into an embrace, with my head resting against his chest, I heard the strong whomp. whomp of Maya’s heart. I was looking for my daughter that day. And I found her, but not in a way I could touch directly. Maya’s 19-year-old heart was keeping Fernando alive but as I held him I realized in a new, deeper way that Maya herself was never coming back. It was searing, heartrending, and inspiring. I found what I was looking for but not quite.

Because we are visual beings, we are always looking. But do we really see? In what ways does looking and seeing inform your writing and your life? Post a comment and let me know.

It was a dark and stormy night

April 11, 2010

Standard wisdom for writers is that cliches are always bad. But I’m not so sure. If a cliche revs you up enough to start typing words on a blank screen, is that really a bad thing? I’m in favor of whatever primes the pump. Oops. Cliche. Seriously, it is a dark and stormy night in my adopted city, Oakland, and we chai-latte-sipping-sunshine-loving Northern Californians are outraged by our fickle spring weather. It has dropped below 68 degrees and that is just not supposed to happen in April. The wind is lashing the Mexican weeping bamboo on my deck, and thunderstorms are forecast. Pity the poor hummingbirds who can’t even make it to the feeder yet manage to survive the elements that send we humans cowering in abject terror to our netflix mumbling the Serenity Prayer.

Hey, nothing against netflix. Or the Serenity Prayer. Both are useful – the former for distraction, the latter to bring us face to face with the reality that we control so very little. Except for how we respond to the avalanche of stimuli bearing down upon us. And by those responses we build our worlds – hell or heaven at the flick of a neuron. “The courage to change the things I can…” It takes many hours on my meditation cushion to observe the cacaphony of my inner life. Maybe courage is built that way too, one breath at a time.

Bounded by Lakeshore, Grand, and Mandana Avenues, the neighborhood where I live is known as Grand-Lake. I am a five-minute walk from Lake Merritt, Arizmendi Pizza, Peet’s and Trader Joe’s. From my deck I can see the Oakland Hills dotted with red tile roofs and palm trees interspersed with redwoods. Just below my street is an extension of Lakeshore Avenue with a small park where little kids jump, dig in the sand, and grab toys away from each other. It’s reassuring to hear their hoots and hollers and yelps, background music while I do the dishes or check my e-mail. Life is going on out there, I think, and like my old cat who loves to sit on the deck and watch the world, I am an observer of life. It washes up against me from the vantage point of the hill where I look out, as if from a tree house.


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