How to Survive the Death of A Child

Many subjects are taboo, even though commonsense tells us that talking about them should help us to cope. As a writer, educator and mother, I believe we must speak about the unspeakable for it is by sharing our pain and sorrow that we heal.  

Today, I have the honor of sharing the thoughts and advice of Madeline Sharples, a talented poet and memoirist who began writing as a means to find comfort and understanding after the diagnosis of her eldest son’s bipolar disorder. Later, in 1999 after his death, she turned once again writing as a means of healing and comfort.

Her book, Leaving the Light On is a touching memoir of Madeline’s journey with Paul. She candidly and honestly shares the strain of living with mental illness, as well as the grief and guilt experienced by survivors of suicide.

Leaving the Light On is a testament to healing after the death of a child as well as the strength it takes to move forward.

I remember seeing the back of my mother’s head in the window as we, the last of the mourners to leave after my father’s funeral, drove away from her house. She was sitting in the corner of her couch, and for the next twenty-seven years until she died at ninety-four she spent a lot of time in that spot. I could have opted to live out the rest of my life that way. Instead, I began to pick up the pieces almost immediately.

The morning after Paul’s funeral, after everyone was gone, the house cleaned up, the leftover food given to a local homeless shelter; I threw away the flowers. I couldn’t stand their smell of death. Then, I opened the windows and let in some fresh air.

Next, we had a heart-to-heart talk with our son Ben, in his mid-twenties and in his third year of grad school. Ben felt uneasy about going back so soon. He wanted to stay home and grieve a while longer. But, my husband Bob and I, a united front, told him if he didn’t go back right away, he would find reasons to never go back. He was in his last year. He couldn’t throw away all the work of the previous two.

Soon after Paul’s death, Bob and I joined a Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services Survivors After Suicide support group of ten survivors, two facilitators, and one licensed therapist. I came away from these sessions with the feeling that my story, as horrible as it is, could always be worse.

More important are the three ways that helped me find peace after my son’s death.

I Wrote. 

Even before Paul died, I started writing about him and his bipolar disorder. Journaling got out the frustrations of dealing with his episodes, hospitalizations, and erratic behavior, and I continued my journaling after he died. I also took classes through UCLA Extension’s writing program, a private instructor in Los Angeles, and at workshops at my healing place, Esalen in Big Sur, CA. This material and my new-found passion for writing poetry became grist for my memoir. Writing helped me recover, and it enabled me to keep Paul’s memory alive.

I Worked. 

I rehired into the company I had retired from in the mid-1990s. My job as a proposal manager was challenging, meaningful, and very stressful. Having to meet stringent deadlines, kept my mind on the job rather than on my feelings. Work helped get me through the hardest of times.

I Sought Out Diversions. 

Through all these years, I’ve learned to fill up my time with diversions. I read. I watch movies. My husband and I go to the theater and opera. We travel. In addition, I pamper myself – workouts at the gym, long walks on the beach, Pilates, Yoga, facials, Botox, anti-aging creams, manicures, pedicures, massages. It feels good, helps me look good, and boosts my mood. Taking care of myself has become tantamount to my survival.

Learn more about Madeline Sharples on her blog: Choices , her website and at The Red Room

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wenwolf said…
Thanks for sharing. I am of the same mind that one _must_ share in order to heal.
maryAnn Kasper said…
Madeline's courage and her families choices to continue to live was also a decision out of respect for their
son. It is God's gift for the remaining ones here on this earth to continue our journey here even if its without our loved ones. May you continue to live a life of fulfillment and joy. Peace, MaryAnn
Thank you both for coming by today. I appreciate you reading my post. I totally agree that we must get our pain out somehow or we will never heal.

And of course we must as Mary Ann says, continue our journey - as hard as it is - without our loved ones. And throughout this journey since my son died, I've found so many others on the same path.

With love and peace, Madeline
Thank you, Linda, for being my host today. Words from the Heart is a beautiful place.
Linda said…
Thank you, Wendy and MaryAnn for your thought-filled words.

Thank YOU, Madeline for being my guest. It has been an honor. I pray that those who most need to read your book find it in their hands.

Blessings of Light and Love!

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