Early on in my grieving process, I felt that my house was my safest place, and I couldn’t wait to get back to it after being out in crowds. Other times I wanted to run away because of all the memories. In fact we almost moved to get away from the reminders. Now I’m glad we did not. Memories and reminders of what might have been are everywhere, not just in our home.

Instead I, like Virginia Woolf, created a room of my own in the house where our sons grew up. Six years after our son Paul died, I cleaned out and redid his bedroom and made it my writing room. Paul had already been my muse; he could continue in my new room.

I would finish telling his story there – about his illness and how the medicines didn’t work for him and how hard he fought against taking them, and how he couldn’t live without them. That story became my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On.

I transformed his room slowly. We first installed a huge bay window, side-opening windows, and a long window seat, giving the room more light and space than when Paul lived in it. We replaced the carpet with wood flooring and painted the walls medium taupe. The ceiling, new crown molding, window trim, floor moldings and doors are stark white.

I was excited when the wall of dusty orange closet bookshelves that had held his books and records was demolished. In their place we installed file drawers and shelves for in my books, writing files, and office supplies. A collection of Paul’s writing that I found when we finally moved his things from the closet is also in those drawers.

We next ordered my huge black draftsman’s table, desk chair, orange sofa, lamps, and a tall, narrow shelf unit. The shelf holds photos, a few special books including the book of Matisse cutouts called Jazz: The Text that Paul gave me, and the first Buddha of my collection – a smiley guy with a fat belly and tiny hands and feet in the prayer position. Buddha’s face and focus remind me of Paul.

I write at my large table opposite the bay window. I look out to the garden, at the three palm trees, the smiling outside Buddha, the small cement pond that attracts colorful birds, and the ginger plants behind it. I hear the fountain’s gurgle when the windows are open.

At first I worried about how it would feel taking over his room and making it mine. And now I know. It’s a feeling of cleansing, healing, and of being in a safe and comforting space. Its calm helps my writing. Maybe the reminders of Paul in there help too. His candlesticks are on the top shelf of the bookcase, his photos are on the next two shelves, and a portrait of me when I was pregnant with him hangs on the wall. I also have a photo of a sunset taken on September 22, 1999 – his last night alive – of an orange sun in a deep blue ocean. An assemblage created out of felt-covered wooden mallets originally used to strike the strings of a piano reminds me of Paul, the jazz pianist and composer.

I’ve added many other Buddha statues to my collection throughout the years. Some reside on a small square table under the assemblage. So, in making his room into my own, I haven’t erased Paul. I’ve created my room incorporating reminders of him. He’s there with me, inside me. He continues to be my muse.



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Madeline Sharples

Madeline Sharples studied journalism in high school and college and wrote for the high school newspaper, but only started to fulfill her dream to work as a creative writer and journalist late in life. In the meantime, she worked most of her professional life as a technical writer and editor, grant writer, and proposal manager. She sold real estate for ten years while her boys were growing up, and instead of creative writing, she took creative detours into drawing and painting, sewing, quilting, and needlepoint. Her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, was released in hardback in 2011. Dream of Things publishers has recently released paperback and eBook editions. It tells the steps she took in living with the loss of her oldest son, first and foremost that she chose to live and take care of herself as a woman, wife, mother, and writer. She hopes that her story will inspire others to find ways to survive their own tragic experiences. 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 and 2, and wrote the poems for two photography books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer). Her poems have also appeared online and in print magazines. Madeline’s articles appear regularly in the Huffington Post, Naturally Savvy, PsychAlive, and Aging Bodies. She also posts at her blogs, Choices and at Red Room. She is currently writing an historical fiction book, but her main mission is raising awareness, educating, and erasing the stigma of mental illness and suicide, through her writing and volunteer work, in the hopes of saving lives.

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