We are thirteen mothers who have been writing together since October 2002. You will meet us on this blog as we continue to write. Twice a year, we meet for writing retreats usually in the mountains or at the sea. We cry together, we laugh, we eat, we run or walk or swim. We share soup and solace and the words of our hearts. We write together surrounded by foggy mountain skies and the iambic meter of the ocean.
Among us, we have lost fourteen children. Without their deaths, we probably would not have known each other; our lives were disparate (and maybe desperate too), yet we have found so much help as we have continued to write. We have found some solace in writing about and sharing our journeys.
To celebrate ten years of writing together, we traveled to a château in France—to write. We noted our fifteenth anniversary together with a writing week at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. The book Farther Along:The Writing Journey of Thirteen Bereaved Mothers was published in summer 2012. We share some of our stories in the book and on this blog.
Barbara Clemens Goldsmith is a proud mother of three
children and wife to an incredible husband, Bud. She is a nurse practitioner whose career took a U-turn after William’s death to cancer at the age of 8. She now specializes in palliative care, striving to ensure comfort to those approaching the end of their lives. She is in awe of her daughter Jocelyn, also a mother of three. She is also proud of her son Brian, who was 13 when his brother died. Read posts by Barbara here.
Beth Baldwin’s 26-year-old son died in July 2000 after fighting melanoma for eight months. Branner was a senior in college, had just bought a new house and was looking forward to the rest of a long life. In honor of Branner and his courage, Beth and her husband Sandy devoted nine years to establishing a hospital hospitality house in Winston-Salem, NC. SECU Family House is a beautiful 45-guestroom facility that provides lodging and caring support for families enduring a medical crisis. The inspiration for this comfortable refuge came from the Baldwins’ four-month stay at Family House in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania while Branner was undergoing a cancer protocol. The Baldwin family, including son Charles and daughter Liz, consider SECU Family House to be a very fitting and special tribute that will help other families who are experiencing some of life’s toughest times. Read Beth’s posts here. See more about the SECU Family House that receives proceeds from book sales at familyhousews.org.
Betsy Anderson is a retired school librarian, plays the violin, knits and writes. She has published three books, one of which is a memoir about her daughter, Caroline Elizabeth Anderson. Caroline E. died on February 15, 1995 from meningococcemia. She was sixteen years old. The illness came quite suddenly while she was attending a boarding school one hour from her home in Virginia. Less than twenty-four hours after becoming sick, her parents, Betsy and Rick, were at her side when she died. Her older brother Michael was attending a school in England at the time of her death. Betsy, a spiritual person, still feels Caroline Elizabeth’s presence and influence. In 1998, Kay Windsor read Betsy’s book, Fly On, My Sweet Angel, and contacted her. They became friends, finding that their two daughters were very similar in looks and interests. Kay encouraged Betsy to come to North Carolina to the first writing workshop with Carol Henderson in 2002. It’s a long haul from Virginia to North Carolina, but to Betsy it is worth it to be with other mothers who understand. Betsy is now a grandmother to two grandchildren. Read posts by Betsy here.
Beverly Brown Burton lost both of her sons, Wes (16) and Andy (14) in a car accident with Kathy Shoaf’s son, Ryan (15) on March 29, 2002. Ryan’s older brother, Wesley was the driver and only survivor.
Beverly and her husband, Blaine made a pledge to one another soon after the accident to live their lives to honor the memories of their sons and to glorify God. Beverly claims that even after all these years, it’s still one day at a time, but she is grateful for each day. She loves sharing stories about Wes and Andy with family and friends and shares her faith journey in inspirational presentations to teens and women’s groups.
Less than three years after her sons’ deaths, Beverly and Blaine decided to adopt an infant girl from China. On July 23, 2006, Yang Xi Lu Lu was placed in their arms in Guangzhou, China. Blaine had already come up with a name for their then 9–month–old daughter—Hope. Hope, now a teenager, is full of life; she loves to bake from scratch, play her clarinet, and is on her school’s softball team. She has a keen sense of humor and keeps Beverly and Blaine “young.”
Beverly loves gardening, walking their family dog Dooley, and decorating. She also stays busy doing volunteer work at Hope’s school and at their church. Beverly facilitates GriefShare, a faith-based program for people who are grieving all types of losses. Read posts by Beverly here.
Carol Henderson is a writer, editor, and teacher who leads ongoing nonfiction writing groups and works one-on-one as a writing coach and editor. She has taught around the United States, in Europe, and in the Middle East and has written for many newspapers and magazines. She has edited several memoirs and essay collections. Her memoir, Losing Malcolm: A Mother’s Journey Through Grief was selected as a must-read by USA Today. Her son Malcolm died in 1982. Carol also leads workshops for caregivers and the bereaved. She is currently under contract with Heartland Hospice, training support services staff all over the country to integrate restorative writing into the hospice environment. She started our group in 2002. Read posts by Carol here and visit Carol’s website at carolhenderson.com.
Dottye Law Currin is retired from a long career in medical education and health services research which she began only after resolving to live life more fully and authentically after the January 1994 suicide of her 25-year old son, Alex. For Dottye, it has been extremely comforting to be part of a group of mothers who understands that it really doesn’t matter how your child died, rather it is the same, in so many ways, for all who have experienced that loss. Dottye and her husband Walt have recently downsized, giving up the farm life for a more leisurely life in “Mayberry.” They welcome time anywhere on earth with their three grown children and three grandchildren. Read posts by Dottye here.
Julie Hester and her husband Dan welcomed premature twin boys into the world in 1997. Four days later they said good-bye to Jack, who died from an overwhelming infection. His brother Hank is growing up strong and healthy, and their family includes daughter Lucy, born in 2000. Julie is a Presbyterian minister working primarily with children and their families. She is grateful for a group of mothers with whom to cry and laugh, doubt and believe, and most of all, write. Read posts by Julie here.
Kathy Shoaf and her husband Richard are the proud parents of three children; Wesley, Ryan and Mandy. Their world changed forever on Good Friday, March 29, 2002, when Wesley (16) and Ryan (15) were in an automobile accident with their friends Wes and Andy Burton. Wesley, the driver, was the only survivor of the accident. They credit the grace of God and the love and support of family and friends, in the chaotic years that followed, with helping their family to survive and emerge from this tragedy healthy and whole and with a stronger love and appreciation for one another. Kathy recently retired so they could move closer to their three young grandchildren.This writing group has provided a new family of sisters and a safe place for crying, laughing, writing and comfort. Read posts by Kathy here.
Kay Harper Windsor is a retired teacher of high school journalism and English. She is grandparent to six granddaughters and one grandson and parent of two grown sons and daughter Elizabeth, who died in a car crash at age 15.
After Elizabeth’s death, Kay lobbied for support for the North Carolina graduated drivers license law that took effect in 1997. “Giving Dreams,” a piece about Elizabeth and driving laws, was published in Keeping America’s Promise to North Carolina’s Children. She leads reflective writing sessions for a community group and for a local hospice. Read posts by Kay here.
Kelly Sechrist is a mom to four children, community volunteer, and entrepreneur. She was only 28 years old and pregnant with her third child when she attended the initial writing session that became the Farther along writing group in October 2002. Her daughter, Abigail Faith, had died just ten months earlier of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Although premature, Abby seemed perfectly healthy until Kelly awoke one morning to find her daughter not breathing.
Kelly and her husband David live on the coast of North Carolina.Their three living children are now teenagers who keep the family busy with sports and academic endeavors.They are beginning a new transition stage in life as they sent their first born to college this year. Kelly spends her time serving as a volunteer and board member for local nonprofits, such as the Cape Fear Literacy Council, while running her own company from home. She is passionate about writing, exercise, reading, and helping others.Read posts by Kelly here.
Monica Sleap’s 17-year-old daughter Katie, a senior in high school, was killed on February 22, 2001 in a car crash as she drove to school on icy roads. The community’s outcry about the school system’s failure to close schools as the weather unexpectedly worsened prompted Monica’s husband Rick to write a letter to the community urging them not to blame school officials for their decisions about school closings. After Katie’s death, the school system changed its policy on school closings to one more cautious.
Monica has worked as a hospice nurse during many of the years since Katie’s death, and her practices of painting, writing and sharing healing laughter have brought comfort in her own grief journey and those of others. Her older daughter, son-in-law and their two sons live nearby. Read posts by Monica here.
Peggy Clover’s 18-year old daughter Rebecca was a freshman at Florida State University when she was diagnosed with mononucleosis in November 1996. Rebecca returned home to Raleigh, saw her local physician, and yet died of complications at home in less than two weeks.
Peggy was studying art at Meredith College at the time, and she returned to classes the next semester, finishing her degree the same year Rebecca would have graduated from college. She is a multimedia artist and has found great comfort in being able to express her feelings through her art.
Rebecca was majoring in psychology, hoping to become a Child Life Specialist working with dying children. Peggy wanted desperately do to something in Rebecca’s honor, but it took nine years before she found a spot volunteering at Transitions Life Care of Wake County in the Children’s Bereavement program. She is also a puppeteer in Transition’s Aarvy Aardvark Finds Hope, a show about loss that travels to third grade classes in Wake County Schools. Her husband and three other children have been her greatest support and source of joy. Though she was a reluctant member of this writing group in the beginning, something kept drawing her to return to each gathering until she could no longer imagine life without the love, understanding, support and laughter of each member. Read posts by Peggy here.
Scharme Wigginton Shown was born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky but has been a North Carolinian since 1970. She worked in women’s retail as a buyer and fashion consultant for many years. Scharme is blessed with three wonderful children. Her daughter Leslie lives in Madison, Wisconsin with husband Jon and Scharme’s three grandsons, Finn, Walker, and Lucas, who light up her life. Her son, Marc, an engineer, lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Steve, her youngest son, took his life on August 23, 1999 at the age of 35.
Although his days on earth were short-lived, Steve’s spirit will always remain in her heart. “Today, where I go Steve goes. Together, we will try to spread love and joy to all whom God places in our path, hoping to make someone else’s life a little better each day,” Scharme said. Read Scharme’s posts here.
Summer 2016: Peggy, Barbara, Beth; Scharme, Dottye, Carol, Kathy and Piper, Beverly, Betsy and Kay. Missing were Monica, Kelly, Julie.