Upcoming Events -- email for sign-in links


Jan. 6th (today!): a livestream of the Center for New Americans 30 Days of Poetry! public reading will be aired as the final segment on the program Connecting Point here: https://connectingpoint.nepm.org/ -- after which you can watch the segments, which will be posted separately. If you are looking just for me, I am the second to last poet == but the whole program was great, so I hope you'll enjoy all of it.

Jan. 10th at 1 p.m.: Podcast interview for Beyond Risk and Back, a parenting podcast that can be found here: https://www.mentalhealthnewsradionetwork.com/our-shows/beyond-risk-and-back/

Jan. 19th at 7 p.m.: Straw Dog Writers Conference Author Showcase no longer hybrid, now available only via Zoom. You can read about it and register here: https://www.strawdogwriters.org/post/8th-annual-straw-dog-writers-author-showcase

Thursday, March 11, 2021

My Book is Almost Here: I Need Your Address


Finishing Line Press tells me my debut poetry collection, is going into pre-sales at the end of this month. I am super excited to send everyone a postcard and/or an email with the ordering information as soon as it's available. If you want to know how to order the book early, which I pray you will all do as it helps determine how big a print run there will be, please send me an email at lanettesweeney@gmail.com with your mailing address and I will add you to my list! 

I had said a few weeks ago that I was going to post a blog twice a week, but then I posted a blog and nobody read it (really, it was so weird, after 100 + people read the one before, no one read the last one), so I thought, well, maybe twice a month is too often, so I've gone back to sporadically posting as the spirit moves me. 

Six poems from the collection have been picked up by literary journals in the past couple of months, including a poem by Kyle that he wrote for his sister Jamie. I'm thrilled that this book will also give my son a chance to have his poems out in the world, and it only just occurred to me I could be submitting his work for publication, too, so I will be working on that next. 

I hope I hear from many of you with your addresses. Don't be scared because it's poetry; I promise you will be able to understand the poems. Tell your friends who you think might benefit from a grief-recovery story, as well. And if you're in a book group, maybe you can all choose my book for one of your upcoming reads and invite me to your book group. I'd love that. I can feel Kyle smiling with me at that idea. 

Finally, I feel I have to add that it feels very strange to be excited about this book that came about only because my son is dead. Obviously, I would rather have my son than this book, but since I didn't get to choose, I'm proud to have been able to create this project from my grief, and I know the book is going to be a help and comfort to many people. Thank you all for your encouragement of me through this journey.


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Luckily, sharing our pain helps everyone

Several months after Kyle's death, his grieving sister Jamie made this art
of a poem Kyle wrote her, "Pipeline," which inspired the one I reference
at left, "For Those Who Need Science Before Faith." Or... maybe it makes
more sense to say that I inspired this poem by talking about my belief in
the pipeline with Kyle and Jamie when they were little children . I have
imagined it invisibly connecting us all since I was a child, though I don't
remember anyone sharing the idea with me. I am excited my book features
20 of Kyle's poems, including "Pipeline" as a companion piece for
"For Those Who..." My son's poems appear alongside 60 of my own.

After more than 20 combined rejections, three more of the poems from my book were accepted for publication by online literary journals this past week! I’m thrilled they were accepted in time to be listed on my book's acknowledgments page, and I was especially touched by the notes the editors sent me.

The editor of the online Amethyst Review said she “would be honored” to publish a long rhyming poem that I worked on for more than two years, “For Those Who Need Science Before Faith.” She said all the poems
I’d sent her were “very strong," However, the poem she accepted has been a hard sell: it has one rhyme scheme that carries across four sections and 30 stanzas and examines my and
my family’s evolving thoughts about faith in the midst of loss. The
fact that an editor saw
its value and wants to share it with her readers is just what I dreamed of and deeply moving to me. 

The editor of the online journal Please See Me said he's happy to publish another hard sell, the longest poem in my book, “The Body’s Expression,” as well as the collection’s title poem, which contains the message I am most eager to share with readers: “What I Should Have Said.” 

When I wrote to thank the editor, he wrote back, “Please excuse me for not saying sooner how important your writing is and how much I personally respect your willingness to turn your personal loss and pain into an experience meaningful to others. In the two years we have had [Please See Me] up we have read about too many such losses of young people and not everyone is able to share their stories with the necessary skill that aligns with candor.”

This comment made me think about David Kessler’s book, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Kessler, who survived the nation's first mass shooting and endured his mother dying of cancer when he was a little boy, has worked with the grief-stricken all his adult life. He co-authored with Elizabeth Kubler Ross On Grief and Grieving, the book that introduced the five stages of grief, and On Death and Dying. Then the unthinkable happened, and his own son died of an overdose at the age of 21, just after he’d started writing Finding Meaning. It seemed like a cosmic joke from the universe, leaving him feeling that his life was absolutely bereft of meaning. 

He realized immediately that he’d had no idea how profound the loss of a child was until he experienced it himself. While I’m sure he treated every parent with whom he’d worked through the years with great sensitivity, he said he now wished he could go apologize to every one for his previous lack of true understanding. That he was able to continue to write and publish this book is what gave his loss deeper meaning.  He knew that much as he would wish it otherwise, he was now going to be able to help many more people survive their horrible losses and revive their gladness to be alive because of his horrible new empathy. His book helped me persist in putting together my poetry collection, as getting this book and its message out into the world is how I am finding meaning in my own loss. Kessler continues to find meaning in helping other grievers through his website and Facebook group, created at the start of the pandemic.

Nearly all of us will experience deep grief and pain in our lifetimes, but those who are able to turn that loss into some kind of meaningful project or life's work that honors their lost loved one are best able to go forward with renewed hope. I’m grateful Kessler’s work helped affirm this for me. Writing my book was the beginning of my healing, and getting it out into the world will help me further by allowing me to reach other families who have undergone or are still undergoing the same pain. 

I’ve also received several notes over the four years of my grieving on Facebook and over the past week from readers of this blog telling me that my willingness to share my pain as openly as I have has been a help to them. 

How lucky I am that what is helping me (writing about my pain and sharing that writing) is simultaneously helping others. 


P.S. Thank you John Sibley Williams, for your great video advising poets it’s all a numbers game and encouraging us to submit more of our work. You inspired me to do that, and it’s working!

#poetry #submissions #rejections #grief

Friday, February 5, 2021

I Wish I'd Let Him Know How Proud I Was of Him

My huge grief over having my son die of addiction overshadowed most other thoughts for the first couple of years after his overdose death in 2016. But more recently, I've been reflecting on Kyle's life and what he achieved--and what he didn't live long enough or become brave enough to ever achieve

Jamie and Kyle the year before he died.
He would be so incredibly proud of her.

I often think of how proud Kyle would be of his little sister, who was two years younger than him but is now two years older than he ever lived to be. Jamie fights for justice in every single thing she does: in her work choices, her group memberships, her spending, her gift-giving (she gets me a gift to a bail-fund gift for mothers in prison for Mother's Day every year), her living choices, and her volunteer time. Kyle was always proud of her for all she was achieving. He was proud of both of us, actually, when  we marched for justice, even though I don't think he took part in any marches after the anti-war one I took him to when he was 11. But I remember in 2014 when I posted on Facebook that I was taking part in a march for Ferguson, he was so excited to tell people his mom had gone all the way to Ferguson to stand up for racial justice. (He was definitely disappointed when I explained I was just marching for Ferguson, in Springfield, MA, not in Ferguson.)

Anyway, the point of this post when I started it was to share that I get sad sometimes thinking that Kyle was too caught up in his addiction at the end of his life to participate in any way in politics or activism. I was proud of him at earlier periods of his life when he stood up for social justice; I know he took pride in the work he did for City Year. But sometimes it seemed to me that he'd done nothing but use drugs and try to recover for the last couple of years of his life. 

Then the other day this post he put on Facebook in the last year of his life popped up in my memories. He was in the fourth month of a six-month inpatient rehab program that gradually increased his freedoms until he was supposed to be ready to go out to live on his own. So when he wrote this, he was  in the middle of his longest sober period since his daughter's birth two years earlier. This must have been his first job as he transitioned toward self-sufficiency from that rehab. I might not agree with how he practiced ally-ship here, but I’m proud that he did *something* instead of nothing. This is my "share" of his post, which starts with my recalling how he fought against homophobia as a child: 

Reading through this and the comments that followed made me wish I had expressed more clearly how proud I was of him for standing up for what was right. He was a short guy (under 5'7" I think, though his driver's license claimed 5'8") and he was definitely not a fighter; probably it took a lot of courage for him to say what he did to those guys. And yet, my response was to tell him that I wanted him to think about how he could have done more or done it better. 

Losing a child gives you a lifetime to review one's regrets. I've gotten much better at forgiving myself for the mistakes I made, knowing that every mother makes mistakes -- but that doesn't mean I don't still wish I had done better. So I share this blog in the hopes that if you still have alive children, you can learn from my mistakes. Tell your kids what a great job they're doing. Full Stop. (Jamie, I hope you see  this and know I'm talking to you, too.)

See everyone next week: I'm publishing a post every Tuesday and Friday now. PLEASE subscribe if you haven't already. 

#allyship #anti-racism #grief #regret


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

We Couldn't Do Better Until We Knew Better

I felt guilty after sharing yesterday’s happy news. 

Besides the guilt I always feel when I admit I’m doing well and feeling happy even though my son is still dead, I also felt guilt over how cluelessly spoiled I sounded. 

Kyle worked at Local Burger when
he was in recovery in Amherst. I still
choke up every time I walk in there.

I boasted yesterday about how proud of myself I was for making time to read more books and write more poems and post more blogs. I didn’t mention my underlying anxiety that there is still so much that needs fixing in our country that to take half a day to work on a poem (which I now often do) feels like not just an enormous luxury but possibly a way of burying my head in the sand. 

I did do some things last month to help advance the cause of social justice in my own small way, and though it felt wrong to toot my horn by mentioning these things yesterday, today it feels more wrong that I didn’t mention them. So toot toot, here goes: 

  • My wife and I stood vigil one Saturday for Black Lives Matter, 
  • I paid for and attended a two-hour workshop put on by Still Kickin on how to be more anti-racist in my everyday life, 
  • I follow all the smart people of color I can find on social media to help me make better sense of the world (go, Joy Reid!) 
  • I attended poetry workshops that mostly featured writers of color. I am always doing all I can to expand my perspective. 
  • I am reading several books right now by and about people of color, including 
    • Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, 
    • Trevor Noah’s tragi-comic autobiography, Born a Crime, about growing up mixed-race in a country that imprisoned people for interracial relationships, 
    • and a gorgeously written but dense and long novel A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Mayumba, a story of a girl’s coming of age in Uganda during Idi Amin’s rule

But what is the point of my listing these steps beyond giving you some excellent book recommendations? It’s still not enough, and I know it. 

And yet…

Guilt is not productive, so while I can't help feeling it, I can remind myself none of us has time for wallowing in that mess. I cannot fix everything; I can only affect what is within my reach. 

My goals this year as my book comes out must be laser focused if I am to have any impact. So this year I am focusing on reaching as many parents and addicts and allies as I can with the message I wish I’d heard while my son was still alive: medication-assisted treatment saves lives and should not be stigmatized. 

I feel sickened that as a society we are only reaching this conclusion now that it’s our white children dying in droves. When Black people were addicted to crack or overdosing on heroin, no one showed them any compassion; they were demonized and criminalized. Now that it’s our kids, we white parents are suddenly advocating for more treatment, recognizing addiction as a brain disorder. How convenient. Suddenly we want the whole world to understand that our children are (or were) incredible human beings brimming with potential, so much more than their addictions. 

I wish I had been able to see the humanity in other addicts, whom I viewed as immoral failures, before addiction killed my child. This is a shame I can only live with by turning it  into action. 

Just as I must forgive myself for the terrible misunderstandings I had about addiction when my son was still alive, I also must accept that I failed to recognize how racism was impacting  addiction treatment before my son was an addict. I hope that by seeing me admit this, other white people can think about admitting it, too. 

We were all part of the problem until the problem came for our kids. We couldn't do better 'til we knew better. But now that we do know better, we are morally obligated to act.  

Meanwhile, medical treatment is still what will save lives, so just because we were slow to figure this out doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be fighting now for equitable,life-saving treatment for everyone. I am committed to keep mentioning how poorly we white people behaved when this was someone else’s problem. I wish I could go back in time and fix what we did (and, you know, save my son's life while I’m back there), but since I can’t, I vow to keep my awareness of our history top of mind as I look for ways to move us all forward in this fight. 

Thanks for reading. Please share this with someone if you think it can help open a conversation.  

#grief #guilt #addiction #anti-racism