Even before my son Paul died, I started writing about him and his bipolar disorder. I kept a journal to get out the frustrations of dealing with his episodes and hospitalizations and erratic behavior, and I took several classes and workshops at the University of California at Los Angeles Extension writing program, Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA, and at a private class in Los Angeles. Thankfully, all my classmates were willing to hear me read my dark, raw pieces about my grief for years. At first I thought I would write a memoir about Paul’s illness and how he recovered from it.

That is not as it turned out. My memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, describes how I’ve worked to survive after his death by suicide as a result of his illness.

This loss, considered the worst that can befall a family, felt like the fabric of my life was ripped in two. However, through writing, I was able to explore who I am now and what I needed to do to repair my changed world. I was even able to discover the gift this horrendous and profound loss gave me – that I became a much stronger me.

Writing about the unhappiness and tragedy in my life transfers the pain from my body onto the page. Writing is like an addiction to me; I get itchy if I don’t do it. So writing became my therapy. Writing helped me find a balance between keeping Paul’s memory alive and moving on with the rest of my life.

I wrote for many years just to ease my pain and record my memories about my son. When I finally I had enough journal entries, pieces from my writing classes and workshops, and poetry (that I began to write poetry was another gift), I began to form a memoir about my family’s experience. I felt: if my memoir inspires just one family in the same situation to survive, it would be a success.

My office, where I write, is like magic to me. I could spend all day in there and never feel confined. I see the outside garden and the fountain from my writing table. The fountain attracts the most beautiful orange and yellow birds. Some have red heads, some take little dips in the pool, some surf on the leaves that hang over the fountain, some just hover over the water too wary to wade in. The time I spend writing in my office makes me feel so good. Writing leaves me no time for grieving.

Madeline Sharples 2012

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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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