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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Spotlight on Lisa Wendell and Gabriella Burman

It is an honor to introduce Lisa Wendell and Gabriella Burman as contributors to our upcoming anthology, "Joy, Interrupted."

Lisa W. Wendell

Lisa W. Wendell wrote the piece “Hiatus” and has a blog at http://momslogonly.blogspot.com/ and can be reached at lisawendell2003@yahoo.com

What is your piece about?
Maxx was diagnosed with Hepatosplenic T-Cell Lymphoma on July 11, 2007. He died 16 weeks later on December 6. He was 21. It took two years before I was able to begin writing about what had happened and how losing him had reduced my life to rubble. “Hiatus” is an excerpt from my journal about feeling literally insane with grief, trying to “live” in the real world, pretending to function when inside I was holding on by a thread. I was trying to describe the surreality of appearing to survive when all I really thought about was why I hadn't yet died from the force of this constant heart-rending pain. At that time, I needed to come to terms with the fact that I had to rely upon medication in order to achieve some temporary periods of relief if I intended to stay alive--the validity of which I am still struggling to accept. The whole concept of deserving to live after one's child dies is fraught with minefields. It either takes tremendous fortitude to withstand this mind-crushing new reality, or a primal fear of self-annihilation. Perhaps it is a combination of both that occurs in varying degrees at different times that is the closest we ever come to carving out a place for ourselves. I go back and forth still.

Lisa shares this about herself:
In 1975 after I graduated with a BA in Political Science I went to work as a waitress. Two years later I had earned enough to return full-time to graduate school for an MPA (Master's in Public Administration). I worked in the public sector as an administrative assistant for several years, married my husband in 1977, and had my daughter, Megan in 1981. Then, after a miscarriage in 1985, I became pregnant with Maxx who was born in 1986. My August babies, five years apart. Despite my college degrees and growing work experience, I chose to stay home full-time at the height of the working-mom craze. Though eventually I returned to work when Maxx entered Kindergarten, I never got back on any career track. Having little extended family and growing up an only child in an alcoholic environment, I was unfamiliar and uncomfortable with whatever a family “norm” was considered or supposed to be, but I knew how much I loved my children and I worked hard to build a safe and loving home. In the process I rebuilt myself. Mothering became my skin. Whatever else might be “interesting” about me, I have defined myself, rightly or wrongly, as the mother of my children. Though my daughter is 30 and on the brink of marriage and perhaps starting her own family, I am still defined by my role as a mom. The challenge, the daily fight for me now is how to live and be in this world as the mother of a dead boy.

I am an obsessively private person. I do not share anything about myself easily and find that I am often offended and intimidated by the self-serving nature of a popular culture that is informed by, and in turn determines, personal value on the basis of a “web presence.” I don't feel at home in this milieu and I have never understood the drive to tell everyone everything as if what you have to say is worth hearing. There is a distinct difference between the quality of an offering and the volume of what, by virtue of age, energy, and circumstances, one is able to produce and subsequently discard en masse.

Having said this, I admit that my experience of grief in all its evolving complexity is something I feel the need to discuss--make public as it were. This may be more a function of timing along my own emotional spectrum of this new and distorted reality than a sincere offering, but in this moment I have allowed myself to think that what happened to me, what is still happening to me-- with all the attendant isolation, fear, confusion, and loneliness-- might contain a few nuggets of truth with which the despairing can identify. As important, is my wish to “attend to” the death of my son in a way that keeps the loss of his life at the forefront. Maxx lost everything. And he knew what was happening. Imagine, at 21 knowing you are dying from a cancer caused by medications you were taking to treat a non-fatal illness? Sharing my grief in this way gives form to the catastrophic purposelessness of his death.

Where else have you been published?
I have had several pieces appear over the years in small publications, free-lance feature stories and a column in local newspapers; nothing of note anywhere. On the other hand, I have been a closet writer since I was 10--personal essays and poetry. Apart from knowing that I will continue to write, I'm not certain where I will “go” with my writing, or even that I have to go anywhere. I have a blog on maternal grief and I post entries about once or twice a month. For now, what I can manage feels minimal by comparison to what others are able to accomplish but I do what I can when it is possible.

Lisa shares:
One of my recent favorite quotes is in Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsher, “Something in us dies so the rest of us can live on, but it must not be the heart.” That is where I am in this moment.

I live in the Bay Area with my husband of almost 36 years, Steve, a sales manager in the digital printing industry, and my two dogs, Koda, a Chocolate Lab, and Bruiser, a chihuahua. My daughter, Megan is an attorney in Northern California. I have worked for the last 8 years as a Project Manager in a small private university library.

What inspired your work?
One of the only things I was able to do after Maxx died was to read. Apart from my husband and daughter both of whom were in shock, I had no living family and the few friends I did have were not prepared to offer any consistent support. Reading became a way of comforting myself. I read several books about grief, though none stand out, and many many more novels that have helped me to absorb the psychic irresolvability that is the bedrock of grieving. I read several Civil War and Holocaust stories. I drank up tales about individual survival against hopeless odds, or conversely about why people chose to end their lives or how they came to terms with situations over which they had no control. I read Kay Jamison's,an Unquiet Mind, John Styron's Darkness Visible, The Noonday Demon: an Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon, Man's Search for Meaning (Victor Frankl). I was probably most struck by the stories and writing in The Book Thief, This Side of Brightness (Colum McCann), The Things They Carried (Tim O'Brien), The Widow of the South (Robert Hicks), Sarah's Key,(Tatiana de Rosnay, The Red Tent (Anita Diamant) and Women Who Run with the Wolves (Clarissa Pinkola Estes). Primo Levy, Howard Bahr, Joyce Carol Oates, Marilynne Robinson, and Phillip Roth, are some of my favorite authors, but any literary work (or film) that probes the nuances of sorrow and beyond that, sorrow without any resolution are the stories to which I find myself most drawn. Reading as much as I do has also encouraged me to write with more discipline and commitment. And this in turn led me to explore the possibility of sending what I was writing somewhere. And that led me to the Anthology.

Gabriella Burman

Gabriella Burman contributed the essays “Push Pull” and “Mobility. She can be reached at by email at gnburman@gmail.com, on twitter @gabriellaburman or on the website www.bigtentjobs.com

What are your essays about?
Both essays are from my memoir-in-progress about my time as mother to my oldest daughter, who had cerebral palsy, and the unique grief of special needs parents, following her unexpected and sudden death at age 5.

Where else have you been published?
I have been writing since childhood, have a BA in Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University, and am an award-winning journalist. But I feel my life's purpose has been to be a special needs mother and now an advocate for people with disabilities. I serve on the board of United Cerebral Palsy of Metro Detroit, am communications director at Big Tent Jobs, and coach families whose children have CP. I will be published in the Bear River Review in June 2012. I have contributed to several books.

What inspired you to contribute to our anthology?
A classmate of mine from the Bear River Writers' Conference let me know about the opportunity to submit to Joy Interrupted, and I am so grateful that she did.

I want the world to know my daughter lived. I want to write down her story for my surviving children. I want to keep my daughter alive. I cannot bear that she has passed away.

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