Dear Friends of Reading and Writing,
My friend Lisa Solis DeLong, another member of The Last Sunday Writers, has written a beautiful and courageous memoir of her experiences with first one son being diagnosed with leukemia, having a respite for a while, and dying, and then a second son being diagnosed with leukemia. No one could cope with such terrible disasters easily, and Lisa has struggled as anyone would, but has some hopeful words to offer others in dark valleys in life. Here is her interview with me.
Lisa, do you think it was harder for you to deal with the tragedy of your first son’s death because of your background in nursing, or was it easier?
Do you feel like a standard bearer for parents of kids with leukemia at all?My nursing experience prepared me for the reality that bad things happen to good people. I was not naïve to death when Justin, my first, was diagnosed but and I was able to accept his diagnosis and treatment. Nothing could have prepared me for his death.
You have a great “eye” for details, taking the reader along with you to medical venues and to your house. Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to remember enough details of a place they’ve been only once or twice to recreate it in writing?I do a lot of journaling and have done so for most of my adult life. I was able to recall details after reading my journal entries even though I didn’t always include setting details, reading my entries brought me back to locations and I could then remember surprising details.
When I imagine how it must have been to write this book, it almost makes me cry, yet your writing doesn’t anticipate the negative, doesn’t dwell on pain, doesn’t end up with a message of misery but one of hope and love. Are you basically optimistic or what do you do when it’s almost too much to bear the pain you’ve been given?I definitely am an optimist by nature. In real time, I practice seeing the positive in life but do get worn out by negative responses of people around me. Sometimes I retreat to being alone but can’t do that for too long as I have a healthy 12 year old son who keeps me laughing and that’s good. I have learned from my boys that a day outside of illness and hospitalizations is a very good day—one I refuse to waste. When the weight of grief and life stresses become too much to bear I dance. Seriously, sometimes I’m so down and out that I just want to run away but instead I retreat to a couple of ballroom dance places. Entering the ballroom, seeing aged grey haired folks gliding like youngsters, hearing Michael Buble’s “Feeling Good” and I really do feel good. I dance twice a week, would do more if I could, and do a lot of walking. Hanging out with my kids when we can just relax and watch documentaries about finding Big Foot with Jacob or Adult Swim with my 23 year-old daughter Jess, on TV and laugh is another favorite. Jojo, my 18 year-old basketball player at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon is also a great joy magnet. Seeing my surviving children thriving takes me away.
Recently you posted an anecdote about your second son’s worn out shoes that really summarized for me your approach to life. Would you share that with the blog readers?Oh my goodness, those shoes make me cry! Jacob returned to public school one year ago after being on chemo treatments for three and a half years. He came home from school the other day showed me a hole on the soles of his shoes and said, “Mom, can I get a new pair of shoes?” This is the first time in his 12 years of life that he has worn out a pair of shoes. This may seem strange but he has never been able to be active enough to do so. Jacob has not had this many consecutive months of health in six years. I asked him how he wore them out and he said, “I think it’s from shuffling,” as he slid his feet forward and back to demonstrate. Would it be too weird to bronze them? Frame them? Man, worn out soles—good news!
No, I’d agree they deserve that bronze! Lisa, what has surprised you the most about becoming a book author?I had a woman accost me at a book signing because she was angry that I shared her adult daughter’s story. I was very careful to get permission from the parents of children whose lives I shared but neglected to do so with this woman as her daughter was of age and I wrote only positive things about her. I felt horrible, completely devastated by her in-my-face public display of anger, (she asked me to step outside at the book store). I eventually worked through this and had her daughter’s story edited out for the sake of my own piece of mind. Sure, didn’t see that coming.
Was it pretty much as you expected? There have been more positive experiences than negatives for certain. I’ve found that it is far better for me to share my story with people in the right niche. Today I attended an End of Life Nurse Education Consortium conference and was swarmed by nurses hungry to read my story. Wow! That felt good. I’ve discovered that because of the sensitive and powerful nature of my story, it is important to find the right venue for effective book sales. I have not tapped into online blogs and sites nearly as much as I should but find it difficult to find the time.
What did you do to help people who might need to read your book to discover it? I am a bereavement facilitator and nurse so I tried to get the word out to my contacts directly. This has been the most effective use of my time for sure. I’m not very tech savvy so I get frustrated using sites and programs I can’t navigate easily. I do use Facebook and have had some positive results there.
Has your perspective on yourself changed since your book was published? You know, I hadn’t thought about it much but now that you ask, I must say there are times when I am very proud of my accomplishment and others when I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders to sell it. I swing wide here. I am working on letting go of measuring its success monetarily and enjoying setting it free—kind of like having another child.
I definitely do, which is ironic because when Justin was first diagnosed, being the poster mother for leukemia kids was the last thing I wanted but I learned a long time ago to embrace my story. Sharing it has connected me with “my people”: writers, mothers, medical professional who care about sick kids and fearlessly kind people.
Do you have any writing tips to share with the blog readers?A lot of people ask me how I was able to write about such painful aspects of my life. Journaling has become second nature to me. I need to get my thoughts on paper often or become too fretful. Writing often, even if it is not being share publicly is good therapy and exercise. If you decide to write publicly you can tap into your journals as needed for inspiration and information.
How did you keep going long enough to produce and rewrite a whole book, even though reliving some of these events must have been very painful?I couldn’t give up on Justin, his strength, his story and the same for Jacob. Every time I felt like quitting, I thought, You know, Justin never quit, and neither did Jacob. So what if I cry when I write. Shut up and write. I also took lots of naps as emotional stuff is exhausting to share. I’m a really good napper!
Any other thoughts you’d like to share?The best thing I did for myself is to create a writing community. Mine is centered around The Last Sunday Writers. As you know, we meet once a month to read our work out loud, share information and encourage one another. This group has grounded me. Every time I attend, I feel like a real writer and that is so important as the task of writing is so lonely. Create community! Take classes, attend workshops, begin with whatever you can afford and keep showing up.
Do you have any blogs you’d like to recommend?