Albert Lea native discusses suffering loss, grief and more in bookPublished 9:00am Saturday, May 24, 2014
By Hannah Dillon
Following a horrible tragedy, a former Albert Lea resident wrote a book to help people who were put into the same situation as she was: losing a child to death.
Sullivan grew up on the north side of Albert Lea and lived her childhood out on Hawthorne Street. She went to Hawthorne Elementary School and her family was active at Trinity Lutheran Church.
Her family was involved with music at church and Sullivan sang in the chorus and in madrigals. After Hawthorne elementary she attended Albert Lea junior and senior high schools.
Albert Lea High School was where she met her husband, John Sullivan. She graduated in 1963 and went on to study for a year at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.
After her year at Wartburg she finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota in 1967. She and her husband moved around a lot for his education, but after studying for a bit in Indiana she finished her graduate degree in counseling psychology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
She and her husband have been in St. Paul ever since.
However, in 2001, her 25-year-old daughter Melissa suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. Sullivan worked in the same hospital in the psychology unit, and three hours after her daughter was brought to the emergency room she heard the news.
Sullivan’s daughter went into a coma following her heart attack, and 12 days later she ended up passing away. The heart attack probably came about because of a potassium deficiency in her daughter, who had an undiagnosed eating disorder, Sullivan said.
Sullivan said she started her book with what would end up as Chapter 26.
“My husband and myself had a profound experience of having people in our lives come to us in support,” Sullivan said. She said it was surprising that people continually supported them through their experience.
Sullivan said the main idea of her book is how important that network of supporters is to the grieving parents, and Part 3 of her book focuses primarily on those supporters.
Despite being invaluable, the supporters don’t know what to do, Sullivan said, but do the best they can in the situation. The parents don’t know what to do either.
Sullivan said it is a “tremendous, confusing, stressful time.”
While Sullivan said the supporters in her and her husband’s life were the core of the book, she realized everything would make more sense in context. Over 10 years she wrote her book, focusing on her daughter’s story and the progression of grief over time.
Using an analogy of Humpty Dumpty, Sullivan said that parents of a deceased child are much like the main character of the children’s rhyme: broken and unable to be put back together again. However, “you figure out over time how to put yourself back together,” Sullivan said.
She explained that you don’t know who you are for a while, but support over a long period of time helps with that. Three years after her daughter’s death, she and her husband reached something that she found out was called equilibrium.
Equilibrium, discussed in Part 4 of her book, is when people who have lost someone start to feel like themselves again. Sullivan described it as “the fragmentation I felt within myself began to clear up.”
And while Sullivan said she never intended to write about happy or joyful things when she started her book, the last chapter is titled “Return of Joy.” In the chapter, Sullivan talks about the joy her new grandchildren brought her and how that helped her heal.
Sullivan has received positive feedback on her book. It has a handful of good reviews on Amazon and Good Reads. She had a well-attended book reading at Good Common Books in St. Paul, and Sullivan said she received more praise there.
This is Sullivan’s first book, and while she had a great passion to write this book it took her a long time, and she said that she’d like to write more in the future — but probably not another book.
The biggest takeaway from this book comes back to the supporters, Sullivan said. There is no immediate response and no right word or gesture to make everything right, but it means a lot to the parents.
“Grief is a really really long, drawn out journey,” Sullivan said. “Just being there is helpful.”
Want the book?
Where to buy: Amazon
Price: $4.99 for Kindle
$10.25 for paperback
Also available at other bookstores such as Good Common Reads and Barnes & Noble.