Book from death of children brings bereaved mothers comfort
A famous author once said that the greatest writing comes from the greatest pain. Beverly Burton and her dozen friends know this.
Together, these women have endured every parent's deepest nightmare: the death of a child. Beverly's pain was especially wrenching, because she lost her two sons in a car accident in 2002.
Through what was to be a single writing workshop, these writers have been together for 10 years. In July, the group published a book, "Farther Along: The Writing Journey of Thirteen Bereaved Mothers."
They hope it will serve as a template for others who want to address their grief in the same way.
Beverly grew up near Cooleemee, married Blaine just after college, and lived in Winston-Salem their entire married life. After her husband was displaced at Wells Fargo, the couple moved to China Grove when Blaine took a job in Charlotte.
In 2004, they adopted a baby girl from China. They named her Hope.
"We felt like we didn't get to finish being a family," says Beverly, now 54.
Hope, who just turned 7, was a happy, easy baby, her mother says. "She was very good-natured. She's been very hardy. She's a strong child."
The Burtons' sons, Wes and Andy, 16 and 14, respectively, when they died, never gave their parents a moment's trouble. If you think the accident couldn't have been worse, it was: the young men were in the car with their best friends, Ryan and Wesley Shoaf. Wesley, the driver, was the only survivor.
About six months after the accident, Beverly saw a notice for a writing workshop, "The Healing Power of the Written Word." It was sponsored by three groups: Salem College, Home Moravian Church and Hospice of Winston-Salem.
Beverly decided to go.
"I've always loved writing," she says. "I was desperately searching for legal ways to ease my pain."
Kathy Shoaf, Ryan and Wesley's mother, attended as well - at Beverly's behest.
"We were best friends," Beverly says. "We lived on the same street when the boys were little. They grew up together and were best buddies. It happened to be the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong decision."
Kathy writes in the book, "I am not a writer and it was only six months after the accident. But I was still so guilt-ridden I would have done ANYTHING that Beverly asked of me."
Beverly had made a choice that she didn't want to lose her best friend."Blaine and I talked and decided we could not go down that ugly, bitter route. It would have killed us all."
Writing and being a part of this group, she says, "has been a very big part of my healing. It's cathartic. It puts the pain on paper."
Beverly also remembers that the day of the writing workshop, there was no heat in the room. Carol gave prompts - as she continues to this day - and encouraged the women to write down "just the facts" about their children's deaths.
That's how the book opens, with an introduction to each writer and stories about their lost children.
"People say that's the hardest thing to read in the book," Beverly says. But then Carol goes on to provide step-by-step account - a road map, if you will - of how the group progressed. It's written in a way that others can follow.
As she has said, Beverly loves to write. "I just felt like the words just flowed out of me, just poured out of me. I wrote a lot."
Of Beverly, Carol says, "For many years Beverly seemed to focus on helping others cope with her tragedy. Eventually she began to focus more on her own needs, though she never stopped reaching out to others. Her strong faith has sustained her. And she is wickedly funny."
The women are now in their mid-30s to mid-70s.
"We know each other so well," Beverly says. "My writing has evolved so much in the last 10 years. I now like to write about the happy things in life."
After that first workshop, the women decided to continue meeting. They gathered twice a year for writing workshops, sometimes at the beach, sometimes in the mountains. For their 10th anniversary together, they traveled to France in September and stayed in a chateau for a week.
The women are also working together to publicize their book. They were buoyed when 400 people showed up for their book launch in August. They are individually asked to speak at churches and for other community organizations, and they've participated in panel discussions for various hospices, too.
On Sunday, "Farther Along" will be for sale at the Voices of Hope concert at Spencer's Library Park.
As Carol writes in the book, "It is our group's deepest hope that this book will help people, especially those who have lost children."
Beverly is one of those women who always looks "pulled together" - hair and makeup just right, a fabulous purse, darling accessories.
"I try to make it look easy but it's not easy," she notes. "I miss my boys every single day. I feel I've chosen joy."
For more information, visit the blog writingtowardwholeness.wordpress.com.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.