Diane Hullet: Hi, I am Diane Hullet. Welcome to the Best Life Best Death podcast. Today I’ve got a guest that I wanna introduce first, Sharon Emery. Sharon is a journalist. And an author, and she’s written a book called It’s Hard Being You, A Primer on Being Happy. Anyway, this book was a Michigan notable book award in 2023, and Sharon writes with un flinching honesty about the limits in her life limits as the mother of a child who died having complicated sibling deaths and then a lifelong stutter.
Join me and Sharon as we talk about limits and happiness and so much more. So welcome Sharon. So great to have you here.
Sharon Emery: Well,
thank you for providing me. I know it’s a challenge for listeners. To listen to me. So I, I app appreciate you thinking outside the box and inviting me, so thank you.
Diane Hullet: Absolutely. I think it’s, I think it’s gonna be a super interesting conversation. I loved hearing you last summer in Charlevoix talk about your book, and I think it’s a really powerful read for people.
So, you know, I had the little introduction piece, but just tell us about yourself and how did you come to write this book?
Sharon Emery: All right. Well so I’m someone who, that that’s lived long enough to have experienced the, the good and the bad that that comes with living a full life. And now I’ve reached that point where I real lies, I need.
To be held accountable for the life I’ve lived. So so very briefly, I’m a person who str, str struggles to speak, obviously. But I chose communi. Patience as a career. So I’ve been a journalist, a university instructor, and a PR consultant. I’ve also been, and in fact I am a mother, but I’ve lost a child.
I’ve been a sister, but I’ve lost. Two siblings, but on the o, other side of the equation I’ve also been a good friend including to my husband of almost 50
years. And. I’ve ended up quite, quite, quite happy. S so so I, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not happy every single minute, but enough to know my.
Diane Hullet: Yeah. I love, I mean, the title of your book really kind of says it right, because the title of the book is, it’s Hard Being You A Primer on Being Happy anyway. Mm-hmm. And I think, you know, what I took away from the book was just the, the ways in which you chose to have these difficulties, these misfortunes, these tragedies shape you without breaking you.
And you, you say really clearly that. You know at one point you write in the book limits. The loss of things, conditions, the people we love, they don’t so much define our lives as empower us to shape them. And it seems like that was part of writing this book for you was like, I’m gonna take these difficult experiences and shape them into something that can be shared.
Sharon Emery: Right, right. Yeah. In we’re writing the. Book I was trying to figure out if the losses that I faced and the limits had come to any. Good if there was any value to them. And I came to realize that there was the value. And so essentially it was a process of answering the cool question. Number one,
you lived. So what the, the second question was you lived, who
cares? And so, I knew I needed to specify what the, so what of my life
was. And when I started thinking about that, I. I first thought about the death of my daughter, Jessica, who was five when she suffered and, and epi epileptic seizure and drowned. I. And the second thing I felt I needed to write about what was the death of my sister, who was 46 when she jumped. I think leaving, she could lie fr from a bridge in Taos, New Mexico.
So researchers say that bad ex
experiences have twice the effect of good experiences on us, so we need to consider. The,
these bad experiences affect us. We need to figure out what they’ve meant to the tr tr trajectory of our
life. As for the who cares question, I knew I had to. Make sure my children, I have three other CH children, knew something about the amazing resilience of humans. And I put myself forward as Exhibit A in terms of
Diane Hullet: that. Yeah, I love that you say that so clearly. Like I’m writing this book for my children, right?
So they, they understand the resilience of humans, how these terrible things can happen, and we come through them. You, you mentioned that as you started out writing, you thought you really didn’t need to include your stutter. You thought, well, these, these two traumatic things happen and I’m gonna write about these experiences, and, and you wrote, I initially tried to tell this story without acknowledging the lasting limitation of my own life, my stutter.
I thought I was avoiding self-absorption, but in fact I was being less than brave. I thought that was such a powerful part and you know, we hear this kind of as a. Adage or whatever, like, start with yourself. You know, that’s the, that’s the important thing. What’s your experience? But I think it’s really powerful that you first thought, well, that’s just a thing.
Why do I have to write about that? And it turned out to be central to the story.
Sharon Emery: Right? Right. What I didn’t fully understand at the outset when I first sat down to Right, was that the. Perception that my perception of my life story was not complete, which is a really hard realization when you realize I’m not seeing it all, and and that’s because I excluded the most.
Persistent challenge of my life, and that’s living with a severe stutter because I didn’t wanna want stuttering to define my life. I totally. Ignored it as being a, a, a, a force in my life. And that was a huge
mistake because that’s where I learned to live. So so. To address it. To address my stutter, I had to define my own terms. In my book, I don’t use the word limit, patience. I use the word, the phrase, the limits that I faced, and there’s a subtle but important. Difference between the, those two terms. A limit is imposed on us from the outside.
It’s the furthest they’ll let you you
go. But a, a limit. Patient is internal. It’s a deficiency or a shortcoming that’s implied in that word. So to my thinking, as you noted,
limits don’t. Define our lives so much as I, I power us to sh shape them. We determine the trajectory of the story around the limits we face. So once I was brave enough, To find the right language. I could convey my experience of struggling to speak, and I came to realize that it was a story I absolutely needed to
Diane Hullet: Yeah. Yeah. I, I love what you just said. I think you, you just underscored it so beautifully that the limits shape the trajectory of our lives, but they also, what we do with those is, is not, it’s not a limitation, it’s a limit. It’s a challenge that we face, that we then are responding to. Mm-hmm. Right.
Another, another, oh, go ahead.
Sharon Emery: Yeah, just You know, in some ways you will almost feel kind of sorry for someone that thinks they can do it, do anything because there are no parameters. No, there’s no way to get a sense of proportion for what, what, what you need to. Do so in a way limits really issue and and make achievement in a way that much more, not easier, but, but the road forward might be clearer.
Diane Hullet: Yeah. And something, something almost sweeter about it, I mean, you said that your, your, you know, your career really was in communication and journalism, so the leap to writing a book wasn’t that huge of a leap. Did you just sit down one day and start doing it?
Sharon Emery: I, I did, but it took three years. So it’s n net, like it just poured up.
Out of me. But I knew it, it was kind of like when I chose a career, I knew it would be really a painful choice, but I just had to. Do it. And that’s the way I felt with this book that these are places I don’t
necessarily wanna revisit, but I
Diane Hullet: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You, I think you, you had that kind of classic author experience, right? Where you felt like, at first it was like, I’m writing this for other people. They need to hear this story. And then in the process you were like, oh, lo and behold I needed to hear this story, you know, and, and integrate the pieces and almost like retell it to yourself.
I have a question about the structure of the book is, is kind of really beautiful because you actually. Separated out these pieces of your experience that had to do with dreams and kind of altered experiences, and you let those be their own chapters. And then you had the narrative about kind of what happened and, you know, family history and so on.
That was a, a, the bulk of the story. Right. But tell a little bit if you want, about those kind of dream places because I thought they were really beautiful. Well
Sharon Emery: you know, I. Kept a journal of the, those dreams cause those were the only places where I could still see my daughters, so I desperately wanted to remember them.
And dreams are so easy to, to free. Get, so I wrote them
down and originally in terms of the book, I was just thinking of making an in tired, ch chapter of dreams. But I
noticed that. The dreams, there was no real progression in the dreams. Sometimes they’d be vivid very upbeat, and I was thrilled. And then sometimes I was devastated. And so in looking at them, I thought, well, that’s the way grief is. And grief is inner woven into your life. And so that’s the way I structured the book, that this, this narrative occurred, and then the dream.
And then some more narrative. Gr gr gr grief weaves its way through through your life. And that that’s the way I used the, the, those dreams.
Diane Hullet: Beautiful. That’s that’s so neat. I think it would’ve been almost easy to. Keep those private, you know, to somehow be like, that’s my private dream space. Mm-hmm. And instead you found a way to have them touch the narrative in a way that I think gives the reader insight into you and also these glimpses of your daughter, for example, or just other pieces of how the story and how the grief was moving in you.
Sharon Emery: And. They are for sure a, a huge part of theist Dory and of the trajectory out of grief. So yeah, they were very I important to this, Dory. Yeah.
Diane Hullet: You you received an award for this. Can you tell us about that?
Sharon Emery: Yes. My book has been named a, a 2023 Michigan notable book and it’s been a wonderful thing.
Be. Because it’s expanded the audience for what I have to say, which is an incredible honor. And I feel a profound responsibility to communicate something of value and the limits that stuttering. Puts on me. It takes great energy for me to speak and I know for people to listen. But it means I need to make sure every single word counts because I can’t afford to struggle to say something that that doesn’t mean anything.
And I also feel a responsib ability for expanding our knowledge of
the, the diversity. People like me can struggle to speak. And still be worth listening too. And I need to get that message out.
Diane Hullet: Oh, said so beautifully, Sharon. I just can’t even say I’m, thank you. Hugely grateful for your willingness to. Be on, I started to say be on the radio. I always wanna call this radio, be on a podcast.
And I know you did TV interviews in Michigan and I, I can imagine that that takes an intense amount of God is courage, like too cheesy of a word. It just feels like it would take perseverance, you know, and some kind of, okay, I’m gonna do this. That that’s challenge.
Sharon Emery: So. Right, right. But but y you know We really do need to improve our appreciation for human diversity and and I wanna be a part of that.
So, yeah, very.
Diane Hullet: I just had another podcast conversation with someone about disability at the end of life, and we were talking about the range of what people’s needs are when they come with a disability at the end of life, and how the medical team or the hospice team doesn’t always know what to do and how might there be, you know, some additional training.
And the number one thing she talked about was the importance of communication and if there’s challenges with communication. For a person at the end of life. That’s, that’s, then you have to find other ways to communicate than straightforward what you expect. And so I think about stuttering as being sort of in that category of how do you make space for that?
How do you expand your understanding and like you said, make, make room for diversity of humans. Right,
Sharon Emery: right. Well, so in those. Instances, would the patient be unable to speak? Is that what
Diane Hullet: you need? She was talking partly about situations where people maybe lose communication. Mm-hmm. Or they have less communication and so maybe the medical team that’s used to talking to the patient.
Actually needs to talk to the caregiver who knows how to read the subtle cues. Oh, okay. And so are they ready to pivot in that way? Can they do that? Does the person respond just by blinking? And can the medical team slow down in order to hear what the client slash patient is trying to say? Mm-hmm. In maybe alternative ways.
Sharon Emery: R Right, right. I think another aspect of that is that if a person does lose their ab ability to speak speech is such. An important part of who we are. Words are uniquely hu human form of communication and when that they is. Escape us. It’s, it’s a loss that, that I think we struggle with. I know I’ve struggled with the man who wrote the forward to my books.
Steve Gleason is a former N f l PPL player now living with, with a l s and Steve can’t move, let alone speak, but but when he was first at the DAG
diagnosed in 2011, He started to bank his beach so that computers can learn how he speaks, which is important to each of us. It’s in intricately, woven in into our, I. Identity. So now even though a computer speaks for Steve, it’s with some of Steve’s own voice and inflection, which is incredible. So that is incredible story.
I love that
Diane Hullet: story. That’s a gorgeous story. In fact, that was another quote that I had written down from your book. Speech is tightly woven into identity, and I, I love that you pull out both speech and then also the limits and the loss of things. Mm-hmm. Well, thank you so much, Sharon, for coming on today and sharing your story, telling us about your book.
You can find out more about Sharon and her work at Sharon Emory. That’s E M E R y, Sharon emory.com, and you can find out more about the work I do at Best Life. Best death.com. Thanks again, Sharon.
Sharon Emery: Great. Thank you.
Diane Hullet: You’ve been listening to the Best Life Best Death podcast with Diane Hallett. Talking with Sharon Emery.
Thanks so much for listening.