Scottsdale author Patricia L. Brooks was recently interviewed on “The Grammar of Grief,” hosted by grief guide, dream coach, author and speaker Uma Girish. On the program, Girish introduces listeners to those who have turned their pain into purpose.
Brooks’ memoir, “Gifts of Sisterhood: Journey from Grief to Gratitude,” focuses on the younger sister she lost to cancer. Now in its second edition, the book earned the Arizona Authors Association Literary Contest award for nonfiction.
“I just wrote it the way I felt moved to write it,” Brooks said of the process of completing the manuscript. She used quotations from a book her sister had sent her, and many of her reflections came from journals she had kept for more than 25 years. Her journaling days go back to the diary she stuck under the mattress at 12, “the one that had the little key.” The book’s chapters discuss gifts her sister gave her, such as faith, love and friendship. Brooks also included reflection pages, which she said add a self-help aspect to the memoir.
When they were growing up, Brooks admits she didn’t have much time for her sister, who was six years younger. She sometimes had to babysit her, and one of Brooks’ boyfriends would give her quarters to stay in her room and not bother them. However, when they reached their 20s, it turned out that their personalities and the way they viewed life were very much alike.
“Both my younger sister and I realized as life went on that we could talk about anything,” Brooks said. They also shared some common bonds. They were the two in the family who divorced early, and they also both experienced domestic violence.
Brooks found the loss of her sister “devastating.” She first learned of the diagnosis when her pager went off while she was teaching a class. It was her sister calling from the Mayo Clinic to tell her she had lung cancer. Brooks was in shock. “I had lots of physical symptoms,” she said. These included chest pain, numbness in her arms, and waking up in the middle of the night unable to breathe.
The Mayo Clinic removed her sister’s lung. “We prayed. We had faith.” But the cancer came back and moved to her sister’s brain.
“I wasn’t afraid to tell my friends what was going on with me,” Brooks said. When a tennis friend came up to her after a game and shared that she had lost a sister, that helped. “It got me through some of the anger.” Brooks says therapy also helped with her physical problems, and church helped.
At the time, Brooks lived in Arizona, 2,500 miles away from her sister in northern Michigan. Six weeks before her sister died, Brooks went back there to visit her. She had no doubt that would be the last time she would see her. “I knew it in my bones.” Her sister didn’t want her to get on the plane to leave, but Brooks had a job she needed to pay the bills and wasn’t in a financial position to stay in Michigan for a couple of months. So she left. “I regretted it for a long, long time,” she said. “I had to forgive myself.”
However, her sister was not a judgmental person and “never faulted me for anything,” Brooks said. They had spent a lot of time on the phone, and “she knew that I loved her dearly.” Also, her sister wasn’t alone. Her husband and children were there for her, as were her other sisters and her friends.
On the day that her sister died, Brooks went to a small chapel on the Arizona State University campus and talked to the priest there. She called a girlfriend, who fixed her dinner, and they talked for hours. Brooks opted not to attend the funeral. “I couldn’t get on that plane,” she said. “I felt like it was over when it was over.”
Shortly after her sister died, Brooks had an experience that she said comforted her. “I woke up one morning, and I knew my sister was in my room.” She believes she came to say goodbye to her. “I felt her presence as if she was breathing down my neck.” Since publishing her book, Brooks has heard from others who say they’ve had that same thing happen.
Brooks found writing “Gifts of Sisterhood” cathartic and freeing. It allowed her to put her feelings on the page and was a help getting through the grieving process. “It was healing for me.” She also wanted to write the book for her sister’s boys, who were 13 and 15 when she died. “I wanted them to know how much fun she was.”
Though her sister has been gone for 15 years, Brooks said, “I still grieve her,” and she’s not ashamed of that. She noted that every grief journey is different, and added that “there is still a little part of me that will always grieve her.”
On the anniversary of her sister’s death or her birthday or on Mother’s Day, Brooks has no problem talking about her sister and may post a comment on Facebook about missing her. “I think it’s important that people do that,” she said.
After her sister’s death, life opened up in unexpected ways for Brooks. Her sister had encouraged her to marry again, and she met her current husband, Earl Goldmann, almost two years after her sister died. “He’s the person she described,” Brooks said.
When the Arizona smoking ban came on the scene, Brooks jumped on the bandwagon. “This wasn’t planned at all,” she said. She began a “Stop Smoking, Sister” campaign and spoke to civic groups, first doing “a lot of research” because she didn’t want to be stumped by someone in the audience. She’s proud of having been involved in getting the ban passed.
Nine years ago this September, Brooks started the Scottsdale Society of Women Writers, which meets monthly and features professional speakers and critique groups. With her husband, she founded a book-shepherd consulting business known as Brooks Goldmann Publishing Company, LLC. She also speaks to authors about writing, publishing and marketing. And Brooks is currently at work on a second memoir entitled “Captive No More.”
“My whole world has changed,” Brooks said. She had worked in the corporate world and had taught part-time at Arizona State University, but “I wasn’t doing what I loved.” Now she works from home. She gets up at five o’clock and does a little writing. She works a schedule, but she finds time to play tennis, do yoga or go bicycling even if it is 110 degrees outside. “I don’t make demands on myself like I did in the past,” she said, adding that, “I try to do what I love every day.”
If she can make one person smile, she said, then “that’s a good life.”
Listen to the entire interview online.