Tag: suicide

Turning Grief into Art By Madeline Sharples

Turning Grief into Art By Madeline Sharples

Madeline Sharples suffered an unthinkable loss, but her grief was not the end of the story. Not by a long shot.

TURNING GRIEF INTO ART

by Madeline Sharples

Grief

I was 59 years old when my son, suffering with bipolar disorder, took his own life. Following an aftermath filled with guilt and grief, I made the decision to come out of that experience alive, whole, and productive. Instead of doing the expected: getting a divorce, having a breakdown or an affair with a beautiful younger man, becoming an alcoholic, or going into years of therapy, I chose to live and take care of myself as a woman, writer, wife, and mother.

The Essential Truth I Discovered

The truth is I was able to survive this tragedy. Even though the effects of my son’s death have never left my heart and thoughts, this tragic event provided some wonderful gifts.

  • Paul left a little black suitcase filled with the music he composed, played, and recorded. Listening to Paul’s music is like having him playing here at home. And even though it still makes me well up, it provides an inspiration for my writing work.
  • I became much stronger by sheer will. I met and interacted with people who had been through similar experiences; I was obsessively persistent in dealing with my grief and becoming a productive person again.
  • I also became physically stronger. Exercise keeps me sane and healthy physically and mentally. And the payoffs have been terrific. My body is trim, I have an athlete’s heart rate, I have a lot of energy, I don’t have aches and pains, and I don’t have osteoporosis.
  • My marriage survived by a combination of my drive to deal with the pain, suffering, and loss, and my husband, 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. A big plus is we don’t worry about the small stuff anymore. A loss as great as ours put what’s important into perspective. Most important, we are still very much in love and best friends. I can see that love in Bob’s face. His eyes and whole face soften when he looks at me, exuding love from every pore. This love has been the glue that has kept us together—glue stronger than the trauma of Paul’s death. We’re together in it for the long haul—richer, poorer, sickness, health, and a son’s death. We celebrated forty-six years last May.
  • I created a wonderful relationship with our surviving son and his wife. I now have a terrific bond with Ben. We spend time together. We support each other’s work—I’m even helping him with his scriptwriting. And that he and Marissa chose 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 supplant the bad memories of the past years.
  • Of course none of these gifts can replace what my family and I have lost—our beloved son Paul. However, discovering the gifts that followed such a tragedy has enabled me to move on and still keep Paul’s memory alive in my heart.
griefWhat Led to My Discovery of These Truths 

First, I went back to work. I wrote grant proposals and led capital campaigns for non profits for awhile, and then I went back to the full-time job I had retired from several years earlier—as a technical writer and editor and proposal manager for a large aerospace company. This job provided the routine and socialization I needed—getting up at the same time every morning, dragging myself to the gym first thing, dressing in business attire, putting on make-up and doing my hair, and interacting with groups of people on the job every day. I thought about my work almost twenty-four/seven, leaving me no energy or time to wallow.

However, I still had enough time to hone my creative-writing skills. Instead of taking creative detours into drawing and painting, sewing, quilting, and needlepoint as I had done in the past, I went back to writing, a love I discovered in high school and college.

How These Truths Unfolded

I took writing classes and workshops, I got into the journaling habit, and I began writing poetry to keep my son’s memory alive. I created a memoir about living with my son’s illness and surviving his suicide, called Leaving the Hall Light OnThrough this process I found that writing became my therapy and a way of healing.

In a writing workshop just four months after Paul died I found that poems came spontaneously out of my pen. Since then I’ve honed my skills by participating in workshops and poetry groups, resulting in many of my poems being published.

Both poetry and journaling are still my companions and my saviors—things I can turn to any time, any place. I can put my grief and tears on the page. After a loss such as mine, writing has become a healing balm.

I also moved on to a career I’ve always wanted to have. Paul’s death has given me the gift of a new career and mission in life. I created a book with the goal of helping others who have experienced a loss like mine, I have a new writing career as a web journalist, I’m busy writing a novel, and I discovered my mission for the rest of my life: to work to erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide. If my writing helps attain that mission, it will all be worth it.


Madeline Sharples’ Bio 

During her 30-year professional career, Madeline Sharples worked as a technical writer/editor and proposal manager in the aerospace business and wrote grant proposals in the nonprofit arena. She started to fulfill her dream to work as a creative writer in the last few years. Her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicidewas released in a hardback edition in 2011 and re-released in paperback and eBook editions by Dream of Things in 2012.

She also co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994), co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1, 2, and 3, and wrote the poems for two photography books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer). Her poems appear online and in print magazines, recently in the Story Circle Network True Words series, the 2016 Porter Gulch Review, and the Yellow Chair Review’s 2016 ITWOW (In the Words of Womyn) anthology.

Madeline’s articles appear regularly at the Naturally Savvy website. She also posts at her blog, Choices and is currently writing a novel. In addition, she produced a CD of her son’s music called Paul Sharples at the Piano, as a fundraiser to help erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide. It was released on the fifthteenth anniversary of his death in September 2014. 

Madeline studied journalism in high school, wrote for the high school newspaper, studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin, and received a B.A. degree in English from the University of California at Los Angeles.

 

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I STILL Honor You Robin Williams – July 21, 1951 to August 11, 2014

I STILL Honor You Robin Williams – July 21, 1951 to August 11, 2014

Robin WilliamsToo little has been said about Robin Wiliams’ suicide. Too little has been done to honor his life. I sense a world uncertain and confused about how to respond to his suicide, or how they “should” feel, and so they remain silent. Still caught in the archaic notion that depression and suicide are choices we make, sympathy, compassion and understanding are lacking. We are too often a heartless society, unable to rise above our baser instincts, our judgments, our egos.

Robin William’s death could have been a launch pad for vitally important and valuable conversations about mental health, depression, suicide, medically induced suicide, the emotional and mental aspects of illnesses such as  Parkinson’s and Dementia, how we allow advertising and drug companies to determine what is best for us, how doctor’s too often do the same. His death could have been an addition to his legacy, not an embarrassing post-script.

I was stunned by the lack of honor paid to this talented man and his incredible body of work at this year’s awards ceremonies.  When it came to the segment honoring those lost during the year, his picture seemed to be thrown in at the end, like an afterthought,  as if they were debating right up to show time whether or not to include him.  The fact that he died at his own hand seemed to somehow tarnish his legacy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the reasons behind his suicide were thrashed about as hotly on the internet as Donald Trump’s current insult to our collective intelligence are now? I didn’t see it, and I’m present here every day more than I often would like to be.  A few spoke up at the time of his death, like Dean Burnett’s article in The Guardian, Robin Williams’s death: a reminder that suicide and depression are not selfish, otherwise the topic was dropped quickly; a lack of consensus perhaps, or a lack of understanding.

Robin Williams’ death was ruled a suicide. That is the black and white of medical science. It’s not the whole story. It never is. News reporting didn’t seem to want to go the distance. US Today reported:

The official cause of Williams death, released Friday by the Marin County coroner, was ruled a suicide by hanging, with no evidence of alcohol or illegal drugs in his system and only therapeutic concentrations of prescribed medications.

 

Williams had long battled alcoholism, drug addiction and depression, but in November 2013 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, according to his widow, after noticing a tremor in his left arm and difficulty moving on his left side as early as 2011.

 

Now a redacted pathology report from the autopsy on Williams’ body has been made public and it mentions Lewy body disease, a newly recognized disorder similar to Parkinson’s.

My mother-in-law who died a little over two years ago, and who was born on August 11th, the  same day on which Robin Williams life ended, was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s. She was given powerful doses of medication that created a vast array of difficult side affects, including anxiety, depression, and hallucinations. Several years into treatment the doctor said, “Oh, sorry, my mistake. You don’t have Parkinson’s.”

We need to question our medical practitioners with increasing frequency and regularity about the drugs they are prescribing, too often without respect for the consequences.  We must continue to be pro-active in our health care, questioning, reading, researching and evaluating in addition to seeking the advice of a professional. We need to stop being so agreeable and willing to accept whatever the multi-billion dollar drug industry prescribes for us, because the drug companies, more often than not, are dictating what doctor’s are prescribing and/or inducing us to ask for them.  They convince us with their expensive advertising that we need their product, much like McDonald’s, and the ill effects may be just as inauspicious.

DoubtfireIn addition, we need to continue to look harder at the underlying causes of mental illness. It is not always a difficult childhood, a trauma, a confused identity alone that leads to depression and suicide. These things may only be the precipitating factor behind a biological imbalance, or vice versa; a biological imbalance that may be corrected by diet, supplements, or remedies other than the chemicals prescribed by drug companies.

Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications have served their purpose and continue to do so for many, during a time in history when they were the best option available to us. Now, however, research is reaching further every day into the body/mind connection. Let’s start listening to their findings and following common sense at least as often as we follow big business and advertising.

Lewy Body Dementia, the disease Robin Williams actually had, causes hhallucinations, visuospatial abnormalities, and other psychiatric disturbances. As mentioned above, Parkinson’s medications can cause these types of problems as well. Should he not have been monitored more carefully?

Robin Williams’ life was a gift. I hope one day I will be able to watch Mrs. Doubtfire without a deep sadness lurking behind each laugh; or Hook without wishing this vibrant life was still dancing across the screen. I don’t think I will ever force myself to decide which of his movies I love the best. Each expressed a piece of him.  How rich a life he lived; how very much of himself he gave in the process. We should all live so boldly. In light of such a life,  does the end really matter? I honor you Robin Williams.

 

Living with Mental Illness and Surviving Suicide – One Mother’s Story

Living with Mental Illness and Surviving Suicide – One Mother’s Story

Leaving the Hall Light On  A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide is the powerful, heart wrenching story of one women’s journey through 17 years of heartbreak and struggle. It is a story of strength and courage, creative genius and despair. Madeline shares her confusion and anger, her hope and disappointment as she recounts the events that led to her son’s ultimate suicide, and along the way the reader has an up close and personal introduction to this debilitating disease and its effect on a family. I came away from this book with a new depth of understanding and compassion for all who are and have been touched by serious mental illness. It’s message has lingered long after the initial reading. It will broaden your perspective and awareness and for that reason alone, this is an important book.

In addition, Madeline is our peer. A woman of our generation and experience who tells her story, not only as a part of her healing journey but, to inform and support others who are struggling with a similar challenge. Whether or not you have someone in your life who suffers from mental illness, there is not a one of us who has not witnessed its destruction, most recently in the shocking and unexpected death of Robin Williams.  We long for understanding. We search for hope. Perhaps together, by raising awareness, we can find a cure, a satisfactory treatment, or at the very least, an opening of our hearts in support of one another.

Madeline Sharples

Although Madeline Sharples worked for most of her professional life as a technical writer and editor, grant writer, and proposal manager, she fell in love with poetry and creative writing in grade school. She pursued her writing interests in high school while studying journalism and writing for the high school newspaper, and she studied journalism in college. However, she only began to fulfill her dream to be a professional writer later in life.

In addition to Leaving the Hall Light On, Madeline co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994) a book about women in nontraditional professions and co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1 (Muse Media, 2004) and 2 (2010). Her poetry accompanies the work of photographer Paul Blieden in two books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy as well as appearing in print and online on many occasions.

Madeline is now a full-time writer and is working on her next book, a novel, based in the 1920s. She and Bob, her husband of 40+ years, live in Manhattan Beach, California, a small beach community south of Los Angeles.

Connect with Madeline online: 

Visit her website: http://madelinesharples.com/

On Facebook: Madeline Sharples

On Twitter: @madeline40

On G+