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Monday November 2, 2015

Journalist and radio personality Sheila Hamilton kindly participated in an email interview with Mountain Valley Hospice, to reflect on her new book, All the Things We Never Knew, as well as grief in general.

All the Things We Never Knew official synopsis: "Even as a reporter, Sheila Hamilton missed the signs as her husband David's mental illness unfolded before her. By the time she had pieced together the puzzle, it was too late. Her once brilliant and passionate partner was dead within six weeks of a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, leaving his young daughter and wife without so much as a note to explain his actions, a plan to help them recover from their profound grief, or a solution for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt that they would inherit from him.

All the Things We Never Knew takes readers on a breathtaking journey from David and Sheila's romance through the last three months of their life together and into the year after his death. It details their unsettling spiral from ordinary life into the world of mental illness, examines the fragile line between reality and madness, and reveals the true power of love and forgiveness."

Mountain Valley Hospice: With All the Things We Never Knew, what were a few items that you wanted to include – whether helpful advice or medical knowledge – because you weren't finding the info elsewhere?

Sheila Hamilton: I hoped to answer all of the questions I had during my crisis. What is the best kind of mental healthcare? What's working? Where does a family turn for support? What's the history of psychiatry? Why are our outcomes in mental healthcare so miserable? What can be done? I worked for two years to answer these questions for other families in crisis.

MVH: Some people find writing and telling their story therapeutic, while others find it emotionally difficult. Could you describe any emotional challenges you faced while telling yours and David's story, and how you faced those challenges?

SH: I needed to lay bare my own contributions to our family's crisis. It was emotional, grueling and necessary. There are so many questions survivors are left with after suicide: Why? What could I have done differently? Writing helped me explore the origin of David's illness, and the points in our marriage in which I might have actually been able to intervene to demand he get help. I believe shame and stigma made David's illness much worse. I wanted to break open the paradigm of secrecy to stop the bizarre discrimination against people with brain illness.

MVH: During your initial days of grief, what was the one thing you most wanted someone to say to you?

SH: I wanted people to say, "David was a beautiful person." Or "I remember this about David." So many people were stuck on the way in which David died that they offered opinions on suicide, on his illness and method of death. After suicide, we are suffering the trauma, grief and isolation caused by the death of a loved one. Let's be there for one another.

MVH: Wild author Cheryl Strayed praised your book, calling it "a boldly beautiful page-turner about loving and losing someone with mental illness." How did you and Strayed meet?

SH: I'm a radio personality in Portland, Oregon, where I host a show featuring the country's best writers. Cheryl was a guest on my show when she wrote Torch, Tiny Beautiful Things and Wild. I'm proud to say I knew her before she was famous. She's brilliant. Lovely. And exactly the same person I've known for 10 years.

MVH: How have you balanced the professional and private sides of caregiving and grief, as a spouse, parent and journalist/writer? 

SH: I'm offering all of the details of a profoundly difficult part of my life. I choose to keep private the difficult things I'm processing in the moment. The rear view mirror gives us a kind of clarity I trust.

All the Things We Never Knew is now available to purchase on Amazon.com. For more information about Sheila Hamilton, visit her official website.

―Josh Armstrong

Tags: Grief Support