THE WRITE PLACE…

…to build a community. Share Patti Hall's journey …


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Runaway Writer Found on Beach, Heart Broken, but Alive!

For those of you who were not able to make it to the contest, here’s 2nd place winner, “My Gutsy Story,” for those of you who are sick of reading about this: sorry, one last time and I will put it to bed:>)

Runaway Writer Found on Beach, Heart Broken, but Alive!

One of the best moves I’ve ever made was to run away from home when I was almost fifty-one years-old. Once I made the move, my life changed. I did meet a small new circle of friends, but the biggest change was in my writing life.

It had been over 10 years since I was actively writing online. Back then I was writing for online magazines, a weekly column on the now defunct “She’s Got” network, and I ran a site for young writers. I wrote children’s stories, poetry, and a novel, while plotting my moves to publish them all. Then life took another swing at me and my writing life was back to just me and my journal, which satisfied me for a time.

In 2008 a personal tragedy brought writing back into my life; I wrote online updates to friends and family about my husband’s fight with leukemia. I wrote from Paul’s hospital bedside and from the desk at our temporary housing near the hospital and clinic. I wrote about our thoughts and feelings, about the latest medicines, and their cruel side effects. I tried to keep positive and I tried to make our weird humor an ingredient of my updates. Amazingly to me, I kept getting comments on my updates like, “I hope you’re saving this for a book,” and “This is going in the book isn’t it,” and “You have to write a book to help others through what you and Paul have been through.”

Patti Hall and Paul

Patti Hall and Paul

Almost a year from the day he was diagnosed, Paul passed away at home in our bed. Even stunned by his death though, I missed writing those updates, and the connections that they brought. A few weeks later I began an email journal of my painful progress through nightmare estate issues and my stunted grief process. My email journal went out (and still does) to our same circle from the leukemia updates, with pictures, poetry, and reader comments. My audience continues to laugh, cry and cheer for me.

It was six months after Paul’s death that I ran away from home. Our home was home no more; it was a torn shell that had once been the comfortable shelter of our love. Home was now held hostage in a gripping tug-of-war between lawyers and heirs. All I could focus on during those first six months was Paul and my driving need to be near the ocean; a need that pulled me like the moon tugs at the tides. Some of our most fun and soothing times had been spent walking sandy shores.

During those six months before I ran away, I thought of other times that I had found sanctuary on the beach. As a young divorced mother, I had often bundled up my nursing son and my toddler-daughter and made excursions to a friend’s beach cottage, or to the sands of Ocean Shores Washington. I recalled treasured memories of Huntington Beach California, with my beautiful red-headed sister and our young families.

As beach memories crowded my thoughts, automatic pilot (that self-protective part of me) managed the details of the next episode of my life. Without that autopilot, I could never have abandoned our home; that sacred place of “us.” Autopilot shielded me from sinking into fear and served up a pair of wings for my flight to the beach.

Maggie’s as safe as the closet that our dog, Jake, snuggled into during fireworks or storms (and she’s not much bigger than that closet!). Maggie is a travel trailer who beats her chest with happiness when salty winds batter her metal skin. She sings along with the chimes I hang, and apologizes unceasingly when her plumbing proves imperfect. Maggie is home, and only a short walk to the beach.

Once settled into my new life, the addiction began. I dug out old work. I produced new work. I started writing under my maiden name, which I had not used since 1977. The solitary writer’s life I led now had little resemblance to any of the former lives I’d led the past 36 years, so a new (old) name made perfect sense to me.

I polished a children’s book written for my children when they were young, and then I wrote a 4000-word story based on my granddaughters. I pulled out a series of poem-stories that I wrote years ago; I had drawn little booklet covers and attached the poem-stories to whimsical creatures that my girlfriend made for sale.

I spent hours researching and educating myself on writing and publishing in this new modern world. I joined a local writer’s class in the arts center and an online memoir class. I began attending a local writing group at my library. There, I presented a new story I was writing based on the superhero flights of fancy of one of my grandsons, but written for all three of them.

More research. I followed a course online on building a writer’s platform. I made my website to blog my future readers. I joined Twitter and Facebook. I passed the initiation and became a member of several online writing groups. I was writing new material every day and blogging most of it. The feedback was encouraging, more than encouraging, as several professional and/or published writers were insisting I publish my work. I was on a roll.

I’m still on that roll. I’ve had two other very close deaths recently that almost stopped me in my tracks again. The grief is overwhelming, but what I can do is write. I can write of the cold dark hours and long, never-ending days of my grief. I can even write and photograph the joyful minutes that I allow myself to see and feel the miracles of nature; the raging waves reaching for the shore, the dancing birds on the sand who rejoice in flight, the moss-covered shack I capture being swallowed by vegetation. I’m at my beach and I’m writing a memoir. I’m alive and I’m hopeful.


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Writer’s Journal; Synopsis and Chapter Titles for Memoir

Here’s the short synopsis and chapter titles that I promised you. Whew! Just in time for tomorrow’s start of Camp NaNoWriMo.

My Virtual Camp NaNoWriMo

My Virtual Camp NaNoWriMo

Draft of short SYNOPSIS for The Patient Patient Advocate

Memoir series, Souvenirs from My Heart, centers on debut author, Patti Hall’s, year long battle for her husband’s life. She chronicles Paul’s brave and humble struggle through Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a bone marrow (stem cell) transplant, and Graft Vs Host Disease. The first book in the series, The Patient Patient Advocate, bridges the topics of love and loss, from the other two books in the memoir series. This book offers sage advice for those who find themselves in the role of caregiver/advocate for someone they love. It is the story that the author and her husband worked on while he was hospitalized; the story Paul wanted her to finish. From diagnoses to hope to hospice, Hall grabs the reader by the hand and heart. She takes them with her along the couple’s unforgettable journey through the often frustrating healthcare system, with humor and heart wrenching honesty.

Draft of CHAPTER TITLES for The Patient Patient Advocate

*Our Story: Pre-diagnosis to Hospice

*The Bad News First…Hey, Where’s the Good News?

*Hospital Staff; Nothing Uniform About Them

*Patient Care: Body, Mind and Heart

*Camping Out In Hospitals; No S’mores Allowed

*Tools of the Trade; When A Hammer’s Not Enough

*Paperwork Jungle; Before, During and After

*What We Did For Love; A Closet Full of Hats

Okay, everyone, there it is. This is my pet project for the next 30 days in the virtual writing Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). One of my virtual buddies, Marie Bailey is a cabin mate, and our friend, Ellespeth (Liz) is signing up to be in our cabin too. Looks like the other roomies are four teen authors-to-be. Marie will have to be our leader, because she has done this before:>) Don’t tell her I said so. Wink Wink.

Notice that both items above are DRAFTS. That means I’m still open to community input, comments, questions and critiques. Jump in and tell me what you think.

Wish me luck,

Patti


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New! Book Review Page and Reflections For The Memoir

“Widow Stories” by Michelle Latiolais is my first book review; under the new heading at the top of my blog site. On the techy phones, my daughter says that the new pages that I’ve added at the top are in a drop-down called “Menus.” Below is an essay I wrote for the memoir after reading this book and writing the review.

In “Widow Stories” by Michelle Latiolais, I found these words comforting: “She doesn’t want them anywhere near how shattered she is.”  The comfort I feel is from reading words that reflect my own feelings. After my husband’s death I was unable to articulate this feeling in spoken or written words. After the recent death (MUST I SAY THAT WORD; CONNECT IT TO THIS SWEET CHILD?) of my grandson I wrote these similar words in a poem: “Not fit for the nurture of others; their sympathy shatters the broken pieces of my heart…”  On most days, one sympathetic word or gesture sends me into meltdown, which then makes me want to protect my loved ones from how “shattered” I am.

In another story Michelle talks about “…the mythology which the human animal makes sense of pain.”  This speaks volumes about my choosing to believe our lost ones are “up there,” in my recently posted letter to Paul, as well as the ghostly visitors in my poem, “Visions On The Beach.”  It is obvious that, like other writers, Michelle and I are using our writing to help make sense of the pain. No matter how many times I experience it, it always amazes me how my heart swells with the comfort of knowing that someone else feels as I do.

Michelle contends that, “You will be alone now, but never alone again from the company of loss.”  I have to agree, because, even as you begin to heal and join the world, that loss will always be with you. However, when you set the table for guilt, change the sheets and place fresh flowers out for guilt, you also build your house on a foundation in the company of loss. With each death I have carried away a suitcase filled with guilt. I do know that pretty much everyone associated with the death of someone close feels some degree of guilt. I know that. I just don’t know how they “manage” it; how they get up and shower and carry on with their normal life. I haven’t given up trying to send my guilt packing, but it may take some time.

People try to comfort me, and offer variables of  “At least you had that great love.”  I now have Michelle Latiolais’ perfect answer: “One wants what one has loved, not the idea of love.” I know that it is Paul I want, not some idea of the love we shared. “Yes, but I want my Paul,” has become my mantra since his death.  However unreasonable it may be (and I do realize it IS unreasonable), I want the actual person, not the idea. Maybe the most comforting words would be, “I wish I could bring him back to you.” My mom simply says, “I know, honey,” and that usually calms me down.

Michelle Latiolais’ little book of stories has helped me acknowledge and explore some of my own pain from the loss of loved ones.

I would love to hear your thoughts, please leave me a note in “Leave a comment” which is located to the left of the title.


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What I Would Tell You Now

Look, Paul, the reality is that I have no idea what you do or do not know about what’s been going on around here, and maybe just for me, I need to catch you up. For all I know you could simply be ashes buried deep; away from this well-lit world I walk in. For all I know you are “up there” bitchin’ about the fancy food and wondering when Earl’s gonna be on. So, that’s the place I’m going to imagine you while I write this little note. I mean, how can I think of you as just gone? Just buried ashes? At the same time, you know I haven’t let the bliss of religion take me over; we’ll just settle for “up there.”

In the place I keep you in my mind, you have all the sweet company of lost pets, your parents, and your former wife, Janet. We talked about it before you left, and I know where the balance of your love lies; Janet was the love before ours, I was the love of your present and future (huh! Some future!). You guys can hang out until I get there and then we’ll all be friends. We’ll probably ditch you and go antiquing anyway.

I’m sure my sis, Michaela, has found you by now. She’s the one cracking up, putting on fancy parties and trying to take care of everybody else. Our family friend Tommy is probably with her and you two are going to get along great—you both have that little sparkle in your eyes that I never did figure out. It does my heart good to think of the three of you having fun together, and you pulling them into your own family circle up there. You’ll probably sit around watching Johnny Carson with my grandma and ogling pretty women during the commercials with my Uncle Eddie.

There’s a precious little 3-year-old blond boy up there too now. He’s Jon’s son, Tiven, born just a few months after you left. That birth was an amazing event, and one of the only things that could get me out of the house. You’ll probably find him snuggled up with my sis, since she’s always been an awesome mommy. He needs one. And Tiven actually knows you, his papa, from all the pictures he’s seen and from all the stories we tell about you. You were so good with Nola and Cora, and I know you’ll just love our Tiven as much.

Anyway, honey, I miss you more than you can imagine, and I hope you are dealing with this better than me. I’m trying and I’m finally back to writing, so don’t nag about that. Just like we talked about, my hope is that our memoir will help others travel that rocky road of love, illness and death with better ease than we did. Well, I better get back to it.

Love you always,

Your Patti

Oh, and I know it’s you sending Tiven to wake me with his little kisses. Send more.

 


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New! Dedicated Memoir Page and Sneak Peek of Prologue

I’ve gathered all my memoir-associated blog posts, notes, poems, essays and excerpts into one page that you can find at the top of the main “Home” page. Anything I do online having to do with the memoir, will be placed in “MEMOIR” for safe keeping and easy reference. Here’s a sneak peek at the prologue of my book-in-progress.

PROLOGUE

In 2008 my late husband (we were not married until later) was diagnosed with leukemia; after the initial shock became almost bearable, I began an online patient journal to update our friends and family of Paul’s condition.  At first the online journal was written on a laptop that my cousin loaned us, and then Paul bought us one. I wrote the patient journal at Paul’s bedside, or next to him in our temporary housing; that journal went on for a year. Paul listened to the entries before I posted them and would occasionally have me add a message for a specific person, or his peers at the fire department. He especially loved hearing me read the sometimes funny, always supportive, comments.

A few weeks after his death I began an email journal of my painful progress through the nightmare estate issues and my stunted grief process. The email journal went out to our incredible circle of family and friends and continues today.  Along with my journal entries are pictures, poetry, and incredibly supportive reader comments.

Six months after Paul’s death, I ran away from home; to the beach. Our home was home no more; it was a raped and pillaged shell that had once been the comfortable shelter of our love. Home was now held hostage in a gripping tug-of-war between lawyers and adult step-children, and then more lawyers and new insults from the same adult step-children.

Grief was made to sit along the sidelines, impatiently waiting to have its turn at me. For 6 months, the punitive damage against my very being, the onslaught of accusations and my own impotent defenses beat me down. Every single day for six months, I was ruled by the next-shoe-drop theory.

It was down to flight or fight, and I had no armor for fighting. I could barely attempt even a weak defense against those enemies beating at the gates. The demanding, insensitive treatment that I received sent me running for cover: to the imagined imprint of my husband’s body in our bed.

During those retreats to our bed my world became a string of flashbacks; two memories ran like film loops behind my swollen eyes. In Seattle, when allowed freedom from the hospital and the clinic, we aimed my little Nissan Frontier straight for a tiny strip of beach near by. It had been a Eureka! moment when we found that secret beach on one of our escapes.

We walked that little beach for as long as Paul could bear to be upright. We collected beach treasures to aahh over back at our temporary apartment. A lonely dog showed up once in awhile and chased the rocks that Paul threw into the waves. Other times he just followed Paul’s slow meander down the shoreline. Sometimes Paul insisted that we go to the beach; I silently wondered how he could even manage the long steps to the truck, let alone the challenging walk along the sand. His determination made me keep my worries to myself.

The other flashback was from a fun day on an ocean beach. On one of our few escapes back home, I unloaded the truck, grabbed the camera, and then we headed back outside with provisions for the day. We climbed into Paul’s 50th anniversary black T-bird, I tied a luscious silk scarf to my head, added big shades, and we became cosmopolitan tourists for the day.

Minding the clinic rules to stay away from people, we window-gazed the ubiquitous souvenir shops and scanned seafood menus on restaurant doors and windows. We picnicked on his “safe” food, and then silently walked the beach, allowing the colored rays of sunset to sooth our troubled minds.  Although we missed ducking into the shops and tasting the local clam chowder, we came to understand that there’s much to be said for souvenirs held only in your heart.

These are the flashback scenes that surrounded me in my bedroom retreat during those first 6 months. Those memories led to thoughts of other times that I had found sanctuary on the beach. Many times during single-motherhood, I bundled up my nursing son and my toddler-daughter and made excursions to a friend’s beach cottage on Puget Sound, or to the sands of Ocean Shores. I recalled treasured memories of Huntington Beach, California, with my beautiful red-headed sister and our young families.

As beach memories crowded my thoughts after Paul’s death, it was automatic pilot that managed the details of the next episode of my life. Without that autopilot, I could never have abandoned our home; that sacred (albeit de-sanctified) place of “us.” As some have suggested the opposite, there was no bravery involved at all. Autopilot shielded me from sinking into fear, thus absolved me from carrying the tag of bravery on my weary shoulders. Autopilot also served up a pair of wings for my flight to the beach.

Maggie is less than 300 square feet of all mine. She’s as safe as the bedroom closet that our dog, Jake, snuggled into during fireworks and storms (and not much bigger!). We’ve been together for over 3 years and I know that Maggie holds no secret shadows. She’s a travel trailer who beats her chest with happiness when salty winds batter her metal skin. She sings along with the chimes I hang, and apologizes unceasingly when her plumbing proves imperfect. Maggie is home… and only a short walk to the beach.


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What Happens In A Bed

Eight days before her 50th birthday they were married in their cozy new pajamas, holding hands on his bed in the hospital. The pastor and witnesses wore protective hospital gowns and gloves; the patient was in isolation once again. A special dispensation from the head doctor allowed the bride to wed without protection. (Pun intended).

The bride’s aunt and the couple’s neighbor came the day before on a ring and pajama-driven mission. On the big day the pastor and his wife brought more pre-owned wedding rings to choose from. No flowers were allowed. No rice-tossing, no wedding music or little flower girl. No wedding dress or tux. No wedding cake either, although a nurse brought them cake on their 1-month anniversary. Frankly, they wouldn’t have chosen a big-event kind of wedding anyway. But a garden wedding might have been nice; by this time of year, their neglected back yard was surely exploding in blooms.

The pastor and his wife (a witness) were dear friends who had traveled 6 hours across the mountains with only 3 days notice. The other witness was from the bride’s new circle of caregivers who lived in the hospital with their stricken family members. This witness had a 20-year-old son who was having life-threatening challenges while waiting for a heart transplant. Later she would lead the pastor to her son’s room for a blessing.

The bride simply had to marry the guy after his sweet middle-of-the-night proposal, on knees that were so swollen that they could barely bend; they laughed and cried as he grabbed her waist and she helped him up off the floor, back onto his hospital bed.

This scene reminded both of them of a night in their own bed several years before, where they got to laughing so hard that they both ended up on the floor.  Humor was a big part of who they were as individuals and defined them as a couple.

wedding hands

After their friends left, after the certificate was signed, he was set up with the postponed blood transfusion, as the new wife slipped back into her protective garb. Later that night she unfolded her cot and moved it next to his bed; they slept in wedded bliss holding hands between the beds.

Her birthday began just past midnight 8 days after the storybook wedding. She woke to him singing “Happy Birthday” in his whispery-raspy voice, and ending in the words, “…and many more with ME!”

His optimistic song and the effort he made to sing it were her best gifts ever. Her birthday passed by at the bottom of a long list of medical priorities that day, but her thoughts kept drifting back to his gift. If she closes her eyes and allows herself, she can still hear it today.

Seven weeks later, 11 days before his birthday, the new bride became a widow. Preparing him for the next step on his journey, eyes filled with tears, she lovingly bathed and dressed his body on their own bed at home. He had been Captain of the volunteer fire department and 2 of his men helped her. Later, the new widow’s mother sat in a chair next to the bed, humming soothing words and watching her daughter frantically cover up his body as it cooled.

The pastor and his wife would be heading back across the mountains soon.

 


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Visions On The Beach

I walked along the beach today, and there I saw them all;

including the latest lost: little Tiven, Tommy, Michaela & my Paul.

 

Grandma painted at her easel, set upon the dune.

Uncle Eddie bent in half, laughing like a loon,

 

Oliver growled and chased birds, still thinking he’s a dog,

Tiven gathered sand dollars, arranged them on a log.

 

Michaela watched a mermaid hit the waves with a fancy spin,

Tommy just looked on with his I-have-a-secret grin.

 

Paul gathered his beach finds in a pile to take home,

I walked along, bulging pockets, trying to memorize this poem.

 

I see that look in your eyes. You really think I’m crazy now–I know you do,

but if you walk the beach or woods you’ll have a chance to see them too.

 

copyright 2013 Patti Hall