The day my son older son Paul died I couldn't even put my underpants on right side out. And in the days that followed I had to talk myself through simple every day steps - get up, go to the bathroom, brush teeth, go into the closet and pick out something to wear. It was as basic as that. I couldn't stay focused. Every few minutes I would feel the waves going through me, the pit in my stomach, and the screams coming from deep in my throat. I was always on the verge of tears. I kept reminding myself that he was really gone - that I would never see him again, talk to him again, and touch him again. I had to face the reality that nothing would ever bring him back. He had suffered with bipolar disorder for seven years, and he put an end to his pain by taking his life in our home in September 1999.
The guilt and grief that followed were all encompassing, but almost immediately I made a decision to come out of this experience alive, whole, and productive. No, I didn't get a divorce, I didn't have a breakdown, I didn't have an affair with a beautiful younger man, and I didn't go into years of therapy. Instead I picked myself up and relearned how to live my life again and find a balance between keeping my son's memory alive, and living - not just participating - through each day.
Though Paul's death has been a horrendous loss, it has left me many wonderful gifts. One was the gift of poetry. Poems came spontaneously right after his death, and I have since honed my skills by participating in classes and workshops. Many of my poems have been published.
Another gift has been a stronger me. I became stronger because I had to be for my surviving son and my husband. I had to show them that I was okay - even at times when I wasn't. I didn't want them worrying that I wasn't having some sort of breakdown too.
I also became physically stronger. Paul's death gave me an almost obsessive need for exercise. At first it was one of the things that kept me sane. Now it keeps me healthy both physically and mentally. And it has paid off. My body is trim, I don't have a stomach, my back is straight except for a little protruding of my right shoulder because of scoliosis, and I don't have a lot of aches and pains - not even from my scoliosis. I can proudly tell people that I'm seventy, and I like seeing their looks of disbelief. I'm still a trim energetic person. The only thing exercise hasn't done for me is make me taller. What started out as an obsession has turned into one of my greatest gifts.
And now I have a terrific bond with my surviving younger son Ben. Just the two of us spend time together. We support each other's work, and I'm even helping him with his scriptwriting. I have so much pleasure from him these days - something, I'm sorry to say, I couldn't have had before.
I also must not forget that as a result of all my regular journaling, poetry writing, and writing workshops, I have completed a memoir about my experiences of living through Paul's bipolar disorder and surviving his suicide. I am thrilled that Lucky Press LLC will release my book, Leaving the Hall Light On, on a most fitting day - Mother's Day 2011. I hope that reading about how my family and I survived will help others going through a similar experience.
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...