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.
Causes Madeline Sharples Supports
Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center, Culver City, CA
Vistamar School, El Segundo, CA
Crossroads School, Santa Monica, CA (Endowment in...