Please join me in welcoming author Madeline Sharples as the special guest blogger here today as she makes a stop on her virtual book tour.
Madeline’s latest release is LEAVING THE HALL LIGHT ON: A MOTHER’S MEMOIR OF LIVING WITH HER SON’S BIPOLAR DISORDER AND SURVIVING HIS SUICIDE. Here’s a brief synopsis of it: LEAVING THE HALL LIGHT ON is about living after loss. It's about finding peace and balance and various ways the author, Madeline Sharples, brought herself together after feeling so helpless and out of control during her son Paul's seven-year struggle with bipolar disorder and after his suicide in September 1999. Sharples explains: "I write about the steps I took in living with the loss of my son, including making use of diversions to help ease my grief. LEAVING THE HALL LIGHT ON is also about the milestones I met toward living a full life without him: packing and giving away his clothes, demolishing and redoing the scene of his death, cataloging and packing away all his records and books, copying all of his original music compositions onto CDs, digitizing all of our family photos, and gutting his room and turning it into my office and sanctuary with a bay window that looks out toward a lush garden and a bubbling water fountain."
Dealing with loss of a family member is devastating. It is hard sometimes knowing what to say or how to comfort someone who has lost a loved one. Madeline joins us today to talk about this particular aspect of grieving. Her topic is ‘Not Another Casserole: Comforting a Grieving Parent.’
My greatest comfort after our son’s death came from my next-door neighbor Patty. My husband and I had her family over for dinner when they moved into their house, and we went out to dinner with her and her husband once in a while, but she and I were just a bit more than friendly acquaintances.
Yet she really came through after Paul died. She offered to put up out-of-town relatives, she brought over bagels and cream cheese in the morning, and she supplied the coffee for the open house after the funeral. She was just there in a very quiet nonintrusive way. The word “suicide” didn’t make her back off.
Before the first Thanksgiving after Paul’s death, Patty left a basket on my doorstep. Her note said that she dreaded the holidays after her mother died, so she gathered – “harvested” was the word she used – a few things to ease the holiday season for me. As I read her note and looked through the basket, I cried, not only out of the dread of being without Paul on Thanksgiving, Hanukah, and his New Year’s Eve birthday, but for the generosity and caring of a person I hardly knew. In such a quiet and unassuming way, she showed me real human compassion and understanding. She never asked me a lot of questions, and she didn’t intrude on my privacy. She just let me know she was there for me if I needed her.
Among the items inside – each one separately wrapped – was a poetry book about coping with the loss of a love – she knew I wrote poetry. She also included a journal, a sweet smelling candle, a box of absolutely delicious chocolate covered graham crackers, and a smooth gray stone.
This stone became my biggest comfort. Just large enough to fit in the palm of my hand, it feels the perfect size when I close my hand around it. One edge is round and the other is triangular. One side is plain; the other has the word “son” carved into it. Right after Patty left the basket on my doorstep, my little stone became my nighttime friend.
I got into the habit of going to bed with it. Once settled, I held it on my chest just between my breasts. I liked its coldness on my aching heart. It helped me relax. Holding it in my hand and reading the word with my thumb also helped. I carried it around in my pocket for a while. I wanted to feel it there for me. Then, I began to wonder about my own sanity. Was I trying to exchange my son for a stone?
When I got myself more together and began to feel better, I let go of it and let it rest on another item from that basket – a little, silk-covered, sachet pillow that smells of lavender with butterflies and the word “heal” painted on the silk. These two gifts from Patty are still there on my bedside table after all these years.
Madeline, thanks so much for guest blogging today and for discussing this matter with us. We find ourselves wanting to reach out to friends who are grieving, but don’t know exactly what to do or say. The basket that Patty gave you sounds like a perfect way to show concern and support without being intrusive.
Now let me share a bit of background on Madeline. Although she fell in love with poetry and creative writing in grade school and studied journalism in college, her professional life focused on technical writing. It was not until later in life that Madeline finally pursued her dream of being a professional writer.
Madeline co-authored BLUE-COLLAR WOMEN: TRAILBLAZING WOMEN TAKE ON MEN-ONLY JOBS (New Horizon Press, 1994) and co-edited THE GREAT AMERICAN POETRY SHOW, VOLUMES 1 (Muse Media, 2004) and 2 (August 2010). Her poems have been published in two photography books, THE EMERGING GODDESS and INTIMACY (Paul Blieden, photographer), and a number of magazines. For more about Madeline and her writing, visit her website at www.madelinesharples.com.
Here’s a beautiful book trailer for Madeline’s book.
How do you comfort grieving friends? Has someone shown you care and support during a difficult time in your life? What are your thoughts on this topic?