“My Gutsy Story” by Madeline Sharples


When my older son Paul died by suicide in 1999 after a seven-year battle with bipolar disorder, I knew I had to find ways to keep myself busy and productive or else I would wallow away in my grief. At the time of his death I was writing grant proposals for a homeless shelter, but I found too many reminders working from my home office. The solution, I thought, was to work outside my home.

After two false starts at part-time jobs outside – writing grant proposals for our local free clinic and managing capital campaigns as a fundraising consultant – I decided the way for me to live with the death of my older son was to get rehired by the aerospace company I retired from in the mid-1990s where I had worked off and on since the mid 1960s. When a job opening came up in January 2003, I jumped at it and was hired.

My job was to help my company produce proposals, a huge document or set of documents, meant to persuade the government to hire us to do their needed work. The job was challenging, meaningful, and very stressful – all necessary to keeping my mind so occupied with other things I would have no time to grieve. Each proposal project had a defined beginning, middle, and end so it gave me the opportunity to work with ever-changing proposal teams. I thrived on that socialization, the respect others had for my work, and the challenges of training engineers how to write in English.

Meeting stringent deadlines made me stronger, and keeping my mind on the job stopped me from dwelling on my loss. Plus, I gained skills in setting goals, organizing work and the people I worked with, and managing to a deadline – all skills necessary to my writing career now.

But I kept feeling the draw of creative writing. I had studied journalism in high school and college, I had taken many writing classes and workshops, and by 2009, I was already shopping a memoir I had written (in my “spare” time) about the death of our son and how our family survived. So I started to think about retiring from my day job again. Except I kept hesitating. I was afraid to take that step. I was afraid I would fall apart without my full-time job crutch.

Even though I asked myself: why was I doing my company’s work – of taking men and women back to the moon? Why should I do this work instead of working on my own writing projects? Why was I sabotaging my creativity and healing? I rationalized that I needed the structure, the socialization, and the money. I rationalized that I wouldn’t do well working from home again – alone. But it was none of those. I just plain refused to find out if I could live and survive on my own and as the full-time writer I so longed to be.

Well, I finally did retire, but it took me until April 2010, to do it. When I look back at all those years of indecision, I realize I just couldn’t make the final decision until I was good and ready. Until I felt comfortable enough with myself. Until I stopped carrying around the grief and sorrow.

And the timing was perfect.

Two months after I retired I got a publishing contract for my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide that I had been pitching for over two years. Almost immediately I was knee-deep in revising my book and getting it ready for publication and getting more and more involved with the social networking necessary to publicize my book. Best of all, after my book was published, I was able to move on to the career I’ve wanted to have since I was a teenager: as a journalist and creative writer.

I like to think that Paul’s death gave me the gift of this new career and a new mission in life. I created a book with the goal of helping others who have experienced a loss like mine; I am working as a web journalist for several online sites that deal with survival, healthy living, and being a vibrant over 60-year old; I’m busy writing a novel, and I discovered my most important work of all: helping to erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide with the hope of saving lives. If my writing helps attain that mission, it will all be worth it.

Madeline Sharples Bio:

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.

Released in hardback in 2011, her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, will be available through Dream of Things in paperback and eBook editions in July.

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 also appear regularly in the Huffington PostNaturally SavvyPsychAlive, and Open to Hope. 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.

You can purchase her memoir at Red Room or Amazon.



Become a Facebook fan of Madeline Sharples (for book news and writing tidbits)

Her two blogs are: http://madeline40.blogspot.com/ and http://www.redroom.com/member/madeline40

Visit her website, and Tweet her@madeline40


Sonia Marsh Says: Madeline, I don’t know where to begin with my praise for you, your courage and your determination. The way you chose to handle your grief by immersing yourself in your work, is probably the best way to handle such a tragic loss as that of a child.

On a lighter note, I’m envious of the skills you have:

“Plus, I gained skills in setting goals, organizing work and the people I worked with, and managing to a deadline – all skills necessary to my writing career now.”

I’m finding it so difficult to keep organized, and almost wish I had help to handle the paperwork and filing, so I could keep up with what I enjoy most: meeting people, networking  and connecting. Any advice would be appreciated.


 Do you have a “My Gutsy Story” you’d like to share?

To submit your own, “My Gutsy Story” you can find all the information, and our sponsors on the “My Gutsy Story” contest page. (VIDEO) Submission guidelines here.


The next VOTING for your favorite June  “My Gutsy Story” starts on Thursday June 28th, until July 11th.  The winner will be announced on July 12th. Winner gets to pick their prize from our 14 sponsors.

Please share these wonderful “My Gutsy Story” series with others on Twitter and other links below, if you care to spread their work.

Thank you.


Comments (35)

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  1. Doreen Cox says:

    YAY! Tropical Storm Debbie’s feeder bands have not caused our power to flip off. As I went thru the night feeling the strong winds and battering rain, listening for signs of a tornado (we’re still under a watch), I kept thinking, wait until I read Madeline’s MY GUTSY STORY post! I know, I’ve read your memoir..still pick it up and savor favorite sections whenever I fing myself in a pocket of grief..I read your blog..we tweet and Facebook. Plus, I’ve met you, dear friend, face to face! Sometimes no words can explain the deep threads of friendly connection that one feels for another. You teach me, honor me, bless my life with a rich kind of friendship that has no demands, no expectations. Thank you, Madeline, for writing LEAVING THE HALL LIGHT ON. The gut-level honesty of emotions and thoughts enriches me to this day. xoxoxoxo

    • Dear Doreen, I never have the words to thank you enough for your support, your kudos, your wonderful humor, and just for being my friend. You are so dear to me. I feel so blessed to have you in my life. xoxoxoxo

  2. Kelli says:

    Thank for you sharing your story… you are truly an inspiration to all moms.
    Kelli recently posted..Visitors from the west….My Profile

  3. Thanks so much, Sonia, for posting my story this morning. And I don’t think you’re unorganized at all. You promised to post this on June 25, and voila, it’s June 25 and here it is. I love your site, and I hope to get all my “friends” and “followers” over here.

    I’d like to also mention for my readers: My first publisher, Lucky Press, went out of business on April 30, and I’m happy to say Mike O’Mary of Dream of Things and I are now in a publishing relationship. He will publish paperback and eBook editions of Leaving the Hall Light On by the end of July. I feel so fortunate to have found him. Please check out his website: http://dreamofthings.com/. It’s dreamy.

    • Sonia Marsh says:


      Glad to hear that you connected with Mike O’Mary and if you wish to have me add something to your post about this, please let me know. All the best, and I know you’ll be with Marla Maples shortly. Please let me know time and place of your panel. I hope I remember correctly.

      • Thanks so much for offering, Sonia. Perhaps change this wording:
        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 by Lucky Press LLC in 2011

        to read:
        Released in hardback in 2011, her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, will be available through Dream of Things in paperback and eBook editions in July.

  4. Thank for you sharing your story… you inspired me.

  5. carol says:

    Thanks so much for your testimony, and wanting to share and help.
    I know at least one person in my family who needs help and I’ll remember your true words.
    We need people like you around.
    All the very best for the future.

  6. Oh Marilyn: Thank you for such honesty. Your gift of this article has given me courage and a longing to tell it like it is… We just can’t do it without an example.May your words help others as much as you have helped me,
    Write on!
    Mary Rose Betten

    • Dear Mary Rose, Thanks so much for coming over here and reading my article. I’m glad it was inspiring to you. I know you as a wonderful writer, and I’m sure you will continue writing in your own true and wonderful voice. Write On to you as well. Hugs, Madeline

  7. Ann says:

    I read all of Madeline’ s work and of course recommend Leaving the Hall Light On for anyone who has had a suicide in their circle of family and friends. Also, Madeline’s book sheds light on survival for those going through other forms of family stress and tragedy.

  8. MuMuGB says:

    Dear Madeline, thank you for this post. It hit home because my dad is a bipolar. He tried to commit suicide a few times and, even now, when people ask me what he is suffering from, I tend to hide the fact that he is suffering from a mental illness. He is OK-ish now, but I simply don’t know what the future holds for him.
    As for me, I decided a long time ago to live my life to the full, and my dad’s illness has given me resilience and determination. I am happy.

    Sonia, the only advice that I can give you is: have you tried google docs? I store all my docs there and it is easy to look for anything when I need it. I can share files with whoever I want and I am not going paperless. Worth a try!
    MuMuGB recently posted..40blogSpot: The Interview…In Arabic!My Profile

    • Sonia Marsh says:

      To Muriel,

      Not to take away from your comment to Madeline, I just wanted to thank you for that information. I have not tried Google docs. I thought that was for sharing docs with others, rather than a filing system.

    • Dear Muriel,
      You are a perfect example of not succumbing to the effects of mental illness. It would have been so easy for your dad’s illness to get you down. Hopefully you’ll be more open about it as you are here. That way you can help erase the stigma.
      All best, Madeline
      PS. Thanks for the info on Google docs. I’ve been storing on Dropbox. Do you think Google docs is better?

  9. Shirley says:

    Madeline, I so admire your resilience and persistence. You told this story well, and you’ve turned the energy of grief into work that can help others. Glad to know you have a room of your own and expect to see many more good things.

    Sonia, have you considered getting a part-time virtual assistant? If you find the right person, he or she might be able to come in and organize for you in a few days what takes you weeks to do.
    Shirley recently posted..Derek Halpern and the Perfect Blog Post: A Short MemoirMy Profile

  10. Thanks so much for coming by, Shirley. I always welcome your wisdom as well. I very much related to your post about your room. Having our space is so important to our work. All best.

  11. Dear Madeline,

    You have survived a parent’s worst nightmare with grace. I am so touched by your strength and resilience in the face of such an unbearable loss. You give us all hope. I am thrilled you have found your own space and are fulfilling your lifelong dream of writing. To be able to see the gifts in your loss is truly amazing. Your words will touch many aching hearts and help them to heal. Thank you for sharing your truly gutsy story.

    Blessings on your journey.
    Kathleen Pooler recently posted..Why Memoir Writers are Like SculptorsMy Profile

  12. Thank you Kathleen, Of course that is my mission – to show others from my example that it is possible to survive such a tragedy. At first I never thought I could, but with writing and with all the support from people like you, I able to go on and share my story. And, it also helps keep my son’s memory alive. I very much appreciate your kind and caring words. All best, Madeline

  13. Kathleen K says:

    Miss Madeline —
    As a mom who has to love her oldest son from my earthly confines as well, I love what you wrote. I am glad you are willing to share your story to inspire others. Sadly, we are not alone, but as I have been able to stay strong knowing I am not the only mother to have gone through this thing called out-living our beauties I appreciate your story and your willingness to inspire others. Many hugs to you.

  14. Thank you so much, Kathleen. My heart goes out to you as well. Yes, it’s so true that we’re not alone, and I do draw comfort in that. I also feel staying strong is tantamount in keeping our “beauties” memories alive. I hope you’ll share my story with others you may know, and please vote for it.
    Hugs to you.

  15. Kathleen K says:

    I am willing to share my story… Just need a bit of directional assistance knowing where to post. Can you assist in that Miss Madeline. And thanks for the hug. I think you know it is coming back to you right now as well. — Kathleen
    Kathleen K recently posted..Gaining Permission to Smile AgainMy Profile

  16. Dear Kathleen, You can get information about the Gutsy Story contest here: http://soniamarsh.com/my-gutsy-story-contest and email Sonia with your submission here: Sonia@soniamarsh.com.

    I look forward to reading yours soon.
    Hugs back at you. Please keep in touch. xoxo

  17. […] Madeline Sharples View Results  Loading … Polls ArchiveCategories Select Category Belize Blogging-Social Media Expat Life Inspirational My Gutsy Story Parenting & Family People Travel & Adventure Writing & Work /* 0 ) { location.href = "http://soniamarsh.com/?cat="+dropdown.options%5Bdropdown.selectedIndex%5D.value; } } dropdown.onchange = onCatChange; /* ]]> */ Past Gutsy Articles Select Month July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 Search […]

  18. What follows is my review of Madeline’s book…. Madeline is a world class human being and I am blessed to call her one of my dearest friends. As far as I am concerned the word gutsy only touches on how magnificent Madeline truly is….. ~Keith Alan Hamilton~

    review is from: Leaving the Hall Light On (Hardcover)
    This memoir with poems by Madeline Sharples, I hope will have a positive effect on the reader’s intellect and values beyond the awareness of a mother’s tremendous courage as a human being to cope with and talk about the loss of her son. Way beyond her gifted abilities to write so openly and poetically about her son’s life experience, his all-out struggle with a condition not fully understood and still felt as not normal by others. Way, way beyond the heart wrenching trauma underwent by a family who had a beloved member commit the ill thought of and unspeakable act, the taking of his own life. Madeline’s forthright and insightful words, whether intentional or not, will present an introspective opportunity to the reader. Where the reader is unexpectedly provided the chance to self-reflect and wrestle with their own preconceived biases and inhibitions on this matter. Those socially embedded judgments, which sadly cause a state of dis-ease, a lack of discernment concerning two separate but often associated components within the trials and tribulations of day-to-day living. Publically chosen and accepted labels, shadowed by the stigma of disease, mental illness and defect, called bipolar disorder and suicide.

    In Leaving the Hall Light On, Madeline Sharples has graciously given forth the experience of her son’s journey through life as a precious gift. Her son’s life and how he lived it, holds out tremendous value to those who care to listen. Beneath the pain and stigma, is a cherished life, no matter if perceived as being tragically cut short, in the end was well worth every moment it was humanly lived. A life of a son, portrayed honestly without embarrassment or regret by the loving words of his mother. The writing of this memoir with poems by Madeline Sharples may have been at times hard for her to say or bear; and yet, her heartfelt words keep alive the spirit of purpose and positive effect her son’s life experience will have on others, even after he choose to walk into the release of death. Her son’s life and death offers us all the opportunity to learn and then personally grow as a human being ourselves.

    Thank you Madeline Sharples for helping to let the memory, the spirit and the value of Paul’s life, get the chance to breathe fully within the beat of time.


  19. Dear Keith, Your words make me cry. I couldn’t ask for a dearer and more supportive friend. I hope we’ll meet in person again soon, so I can give you a huge thank you hug. In the meantime, please know how dear I hold you in my heart. xoxo

  20. Zen Daddy T says:

    What you wrote about Madeline’s book was keen, insightful and loving. I hope you will perform my eulogy when the time comes (and it won’t come soon enough for my liking!). I, too, have dealt with Bipolar Disorder for the past 30 years. I have attempted, half-heartedly and seriously, suicide more times than I care to remember. I have had friends commit suicide, on-purpose and accidentally. It is very painful to all those that love the person, or even just had casual contact with them. It is a void that cannot be filled. I actually received a call from Madeline today, who offered some very sage advice to me, while i am going through a very rough period in my life. Madeline IS a great writer, courageous, and honest. I am proud to know you both.

  21. Thank you, Andrew, for your kind words. I hope you begin to thrive, hopefully from the suggestions I gave you. Live for your art. You are very talented. And please take good care of yourself.

  22. […] my good friend Madeline Sharples, author of  wrote a “My Gutsy Story” drove from Manhattan Beach to Orange County in the rain with her husband Bob. After reading her […]

  23. […] am thrilled that My Gutsy Story won first place for the month of June. I heartfully thank Sonia Marsh for accepting my story […]