My dentist, Dr. McBratney, was helping me envision my happily ever after, just days after my children had been kidnapped and taken out of country after I’d arrived for my scheduled check-up. I had just wept a puddle of tears and mascara onto his white jacket.
He had his own relationship with my girls, proudly letting my oldest know she was “an anthropological mutant” when she was a pre-schooler since she was born with too few tooth buds, and warning my youngest at 18 months that he would refer her out if she didn’t stop tantrumming. He coached the girls to charge the tooth fairy more when he heard how little they got for their pulled baby teeth, resulting in me getting a handwritten bill slipped under my pillow from my little one, billing for arrearages. So by the time the girls were abducted, he’d grown to love them, and vice-versa.
It was 1994, and the future looked bleak. Less than half the kids of internationally abducted children were recovered back then.
But Dr. McBratney was nudging me to believe that things would get better. That maybe this story would resolve and become a movie. And he was teasing, letting me know he needed to be a central cast member.
I made a mental note then to include him in the book I planned to write. And we agreed that actor Donald Sutherland made the most sense.
By then, our families were friends. I’d watched him become a father. We’d swapped triumphs and tribulations as parents. Enjoyed a friendship that grew for three decades. My oldest daughter was his cat-sitter once or twice. We made a commercial at his request for his dental office.
When you publish memoir, you’ve granted your characters a sort of immortality. And if they were good to you, or you remembered them fondly, it’s a beautiful thing.
It was a year ago when a movie company in Canada contacted me through my website to ask about optioning my story for television adaptation. The wrangling back and forth took longer than I’d expected, and I was told not to announce it too publicly until we received certain confirmation by mail.
I was at my monthly Writer’s Guild meeting a few weeks ago when I got the call. Doc had an emergency illness at work and passed away shortly afterward. Life is fragile like that.
I checked the mail on the way home that incredibly sad night. And there it was. The confirmation that indeed, Cineflix optioned movie rights.
If he were here today, I’d tell him my vote would be Kiefer Sutherland. Not Donald.
As I prep for a few book events, including a FaceTime conversation with a Florida book group,
The question I get asked the most is always How are the girls now?
And just after that, Do your daughters mind you writing and talking about them?
They’re fair questions with dynamic answers.
At the moment, both my grown daughters live in the same city as me. Neither have married. Neither have children. Neither appear interested in getting married or having children.
My oldest daughter, recently back in Alaska after a year in Mexico, is presently taking seven classes at the local university to finish her degree in psychology. I don’t know what kind of work she’ll go in to, but I’m so proud that she will have options, thanks to her hard work.
Life has been incredibly challenging for her, not simply because she was a child-witness of domestic violence or because she and her sister spent two years living in hiding in Greece. She manages anxiety and significant mental health problems that threaten her quality of life. This has been compounded by losing a shocking number friends to early deaths.
Still, she persists. She has a long-term relationship, adores her pets, and even at times when she’s shut off from other, she remains in close contact with her sister and me.
My youngest daughter finished college some years ago and works in finance. She too has a long-term relationship. She is athletic and busy, volunteering in the community and on a board of directors. She has a thriving dog-walking, pet-sitting business on the side. While her sister’s emotional wounds were deep from being the oldest child who shouldered adult responsibility early, my youngest has had medical leftover concerns.
Some of the resiliency factors after the kidnapping were having stable housing and kind neighbors, good schools, involved family friends, access to community mental health providers, team sports, and knowing they had family-far away-that loved them dearly. And their pets were a healing balm that reduced their stress levels every day.
All things considered, my daughters are doing exceptionally well. Funny and feisty, lovers of hiking and Greek food and good people, and able to incorporate old traumas into their lives while embracing new joys.
I’m sure at times they mind the invasion of privacy of having a mom who’s a writer, but they’ve not said so. I’ve tried to minimize it by not using their names in essays and in local talks.
More often, they sincerely appreciate that people care to ask about how they are.
Bellingham Police Department
At times, something long-expected arrives unexpectedly.
I’d been deliberately scaling back on Facebook in May. Partly to manage my writing time better and largely to reduce anxiety, for a while, I embraced the calm.
And then, I had a sick feeling. I’d not heard from my old friend Ira in a couple of weeks, even after writing him twice about his birthday.
I pulled up his Facebook profile, and there it was.
His death announcement.
It never occurred to me that my dear friend would not be there to speak with me about the death of my dear friend. It never dawned on me that I would find out on social media that his non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma he’d fought for years was finally over.
I met Ira Uhrig when I was 19. He was a young lawyer in the town where I first attended college. A friend set us up on a blind date, and while I wasn’t mature enough then to understand that a loyal, humorous, intelligent, artistic, compassionate, and hard-working person could indeed be the catch of a lifetime, we became instant and lifelong friends. (Not too much later, a lovely mutual friend was smart enough to realize what I didn’t, and wisely scooped him up!)
Ira tried to teach me to drive back then. He failed. Ira tried to teach me guitar back then. Again, failure. Ira then searched for my long-lost father. And that was a huge success.
In June of 1985, I met my father and so many more siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins than I knew existed. What a lifelong game-changer. Ira thanked me for the opportunity, and after every family reunion I have attended since then, he’d been so ecstatic to get my family’s updated photos.
Ira had his own chapter in my memoir in its early drafts. By the time the final edits were complete, he was mentioned in a page, a fact he loved to tease about. He couldn’t have been more supportive, buying copies of Pieces of Me for friends and colleagues alike, asking them if they wanted him to autograph his page.
I will miss getting daily Facebook updates on what happened on this day in history. I will miss Ira’s corny jokes and frequent YouTube forwards of old gospel or country music. I will miss his words of encouragement, his genuine interest in all of the people in his world, hearing stories about his work as a judge, and the updates about his large and talented family.
Last year, after a Seattle book reading/signing event at the University, I took a train to see Ira one last time. It felt like a goodbye. But then he bounced back. It seemed as though he was beginning to make gains on his health concerns.
At times, something long-expected arrives unexpectedly. And the hurt inflicted is both dull and sharp.
Ira’s death is sad for his family, the Whatcom County community, and for all who knew him.
I read that death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.
Thank you, Ira Uhrig, for not only reuniting me with my father, my birth name, and my family, but for decades of memories. I will hold them close, forever.
Dr. Jane Wilson Haworth has been my virtual friend ever since our stories both appeared in this anthology. She eventually gave me I terrific book blurb that I included on the jacket of my memoir Pieces of Me:Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters. She was kind enough to give me a few last edits as well.
I’m really running her post, and please note that the children’s book she mentions below has been published. Wonderful, informational, and perfectly illustrated. You can find this and others on the link below or click A Himalayan Kidnap.
Taking to the road alone is a brave decision. A Girls’ Guide to Travelling Alone is an eye-opening, honest and inspiring on-the-road companion. Richly varied, these witty, inspiring, challenging and sometimes uncomfortable travel stories have been written by women of all ages, nationalities, backgrounds and experiences, each with a compelling tale to tell. Available now on Amazon and iTunes.
One of the best parts of being a contributor to a book like A Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone is connecting with inspirational writers across the globe.
A prostitute’s “uncle” wouldn’t return Khalid’s deposit, and he was irate.
Dr. Wilson-Howarth is also the author of books like A Glimpse of Eternal Snows, Snowfed Waters, and How to Shit Around the World.
Welcome, Dr. Wilson-Howarth.
Q. How did you pick this piece to share it in Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone?
A. I thought I’d share my impressions of sexual repression in Sindh as – years on – when I remember the incident with the shopping bag, I still feel like a Boudicca figure, fighting hopelessly for women everywhere. It still appalling to me that there are women in Pakistan who only ever leave their homes twice – once when they go from their father’s house to their husband’s and the second time when they die.
Q.What led you to doing the work that you do?
A.After I graduated first time (in zoology) I travelled overland to the Himalayas and ended up teaching villagers in a remote valley about wound care. I saw how small interventions can make huge improvements in people’s lives and this first sparked my passion for passing on the information that helps people avoid illness. Then once I was qualified as a physician I just tried to make myself as useful as I could wherever I was. I have a thing about championing the underdog.
Q. A Glimpse of Eternal Snows is your book about decision to live in Nepal with your newborn son despite his serious health challenges while you worked on child survival and health education endeavouring to improve the lot of the profoundly poor
What were your greatest challenges in writing A Glimpse of Eternal Snows?
A.It is an account of what proved to be the most important six years of my life. It was so hard to condense all this experience into one readable book. And I wanted to make it uplifting. I could have written at length about caste, slavery, wildlife, conservation dilemmas, linguistic gaffs and my work. I had enough material for many books on a range of subjects. It was hard not wandering off on tangents.
Q. How did you cobble together a support network of women in a foreign country while going through some of life’s most difficult times?
A. We were in the fortunate position to be able to employ reliable help, including women who were willing to travel with us. I found both my local colleagues and the expatriates I met were often kindred spirits – risk-takers. Most were able to see beyond the trivial and nearly all our friends and acquaintances seemed motivated to make a difference. It was inspiring to spend time with these people. We all supported each other.
Q. I read that it took many years for you to write A Glimpse of Eternal Snows. How did you know when you were finally on the right path to make your book its best?
A. There was a danger that this book from my heart would never be quite perfect, although it physically hurt to write some sections. I seemed doomed to continue writing and rewriting it – until publication stopped me fiddling. It still could be improved.
Q.You’re a doctor. An author. A mother. A humanitarian. Where do you see yourself in the next several years?
A. I’ve been kind of grounded in the UK for the last few years because of our sons’ educational needs. I’ve been contentedly working as a family physician as well as running a travel immunisation clinic. My boys are almost independent now so we’d like to do another big trip before my ability to learn a new language leaves me. I could see us moving to work in another remote corner of Asia soon – for maybe five years…. Then after that… who knows. I’m sure there will be scope for another book or two though.
Q. What’s your next writing project?
A. I’ve been working on a couple of eco-adventures for 8 – 12 year olds. These started as bedtime stories for my youngest son and he now is of an age that he considers them pretty naff. One is set in Nepal and the other in Madagascar. I hope to publish these soon.
Q. What advice would you give to busy women writers who have many other demands on their time?
A. Don’t ever expect to get a regular writing schedule going. Just grab writing time when you can. And always keep notes of choice sayings, snatches of conversation or turns of phrase.
March used to be one of those months for me that held dreadful anniversary dates.
We all have those dates. Whether it’s the dreaded anniversary of a death, or a divorce anniversary, or maybe even a natural disaster like a hurricane, there are the dates that split our lives in two. There was life before the traumatic event, and life after the traumatic event.
I left my husband on March 5, 1990. He abducted our daughters on March 13, 1994.
There was life before the abduction. There was life after the abduction.
This March, I’ve been busy with book events related to my memoir. The events have given me time to think not just about those anniversary dates, but the phenomenal amount of kindness my family was gifted that helped put trauma back in our rear-view mirror.
My coworkers at the battered women’s shelter donated their leave. Friends threw every kind of fundraiser imaginable to help with expenses. My Alaskan lawyers donated their time and resources, and then my Greek friends donated their time and opened their homes to me. People of diverse backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations, and ages worked along one another to help us achieve the impossible. When I look back on that awful period in my life, I am filled with gratitude.
What is it about a disaster that brings out the best in people? And would I have the same experience today, in this age of social media where too often we camp up and talk about each other rather than to each other?
Often, people do show up when help is needed. Think of a car accident with people inside a smoldering vehicle. A human is in peril. In that moment, it’s all that matters.
Alaskans have long had a rich history of helping one another, especially in the 90’s when my daughters were kidnapped. The weather, the location, the physical isolation serve as reminders that we need each other to survive.
After the girls and I returned from Greece in 1996, we resumed living small, quiet lives. And then two decades later, as I began promoting Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters, all the memories came back. Not just the bad memories, but the beautiful memories of all the grace and love we’ve received.
I wish we didn’t need to go through hard times or traumatic events for people to unite for a common goal. But I’m so fortunate to have once been witness to the miracle of unity inside my community, both in the states and overseas. And to have commemorated that period in my book makes me both humbled and proud.
Today marks the 23rd anniversary of my daughters’ kidnapping. A reminder that I am one of the lucky parents whose kids returned.
Next month, my memoir will be published, and just after that, I’ll have my book launch.
It may not seem like much, writing 80,000 words (give or take) and getting them published, but for me, it’s been monumental. And while I went to great effort to thank people in my Acknowledgment section – those who helped me find my kidnapped daughters, the people who later helped me to raise them, and who were above-and-beyond supportive as I wrote my story- it turns out that it doesn’t come close to a complete list.
Four Thank You’s.
Thank you to my family, near and far, from daughters to siblings, aunts, nephews, nieces, and cousins, I’ve been so fortunate to have your support. The book covers my childhood and young adulthood when family dysfunction ruled, when I felt all alone and believed I always would be. Each of your social media shares, every text, email, or contact through my website has positively made the stress of this effort so worth it, and I hope in the end, you’ll be proud.
To my fellow She Writes authors, thank you for connecting daily on our Facebook page. I’ve loved learning from your experiences, getting to know some of you and exchanging our books for blog interviews or reviews, and sharing the journey on our path to publication. It’s become a sisterhood I will always treasure.
Thank you also to the non-profits and other sponsors partnering with me to launch Pieces of Me: Rescuing MyKidnapped Daughters in October:
The University of Alaska, Anchorage’s (UAA) Consortium Library
UAA’s Pre-Law Society, Alaska Book Week, Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC)
Green Dot Anchorage
Victims for Justice Eva Project
Thank you for joining my effort to kick off the launch during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Together, we’ll make a positive impact on our community.
To my friends, old and new, thank you for your excitement about Pieces of Me. It’s contagious. Your shared enthusiasm has resulted in two gift shops asking to consign books, a radio interview, book clubs, and more speaking engagements. Finally, I have confidence in my book.
I was so tickled last week to get a late night message through my website’s Contact button from the Republican Women’s Group in the MatSu Valley, requesting I speak about the late Senator Steven’s efforts to aid me in rescuing my daughters in the mid 90’s.
And then it hit me: I’d completely forgot to thank Senator Stevens in my Acknowledgments section.
Alaska’s Senator Ted Stevens was haunted by my Alaskan support network from 1994-96, especially by my former supervisor and now dear friend, Heather Flynn. At one point, Heather arranged a calling tree to his office. My friends at Faith Daycare and Learning Center took turns ringing his DC number all day long when my case heated up. After my arrest in Greece, he called the American Embassy to make sure the girls and I were safe, reinforcing to the Embassy staff that we were important to Alaska.
I’m sickened by the omission, and will do what I can to get this error corrected in the second printing.
Thank you, always and forever to Senator Stevens and his talented staff.
Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters is available now for pre-orders through your local bookstore, library, or on Amazon. The first launch is on October 5,2016 at the UAA Bookstore upstairs in Anchorage from 5-7PM.
Click here to find out what others are saying about my book.
“You’re so stupid. You’ll never succeed. I can’t believe you thought anyone would be interested in what you have to say.”
When you hear these words, you know what they are, right?
Emotional abuse. Plain and simple.
I know all about emotional abuse. My one and only marriage was riddled with it. Later, I facilitated educational groups for battered women about emotional abuse, and since then, I’ve made it a point to steer clear of people in my life who were emotional abusers. So I should know better.
But for the past many months, as the journey to publication continues, it’s been me bullying me. Telling myself a thousand reasons why this whole book thing was a bad idea. After all, I’m no Hemingway or reality star. Who cares about what I have to say?
And the intensive process itself only added to the isolation. I began saying no to a lot of invitations that would eat up my time due to associated tasks regarding my book. Constant edits. Articles to write for the publicity team. Blurbs to request. This form to approve. A website to revamp. All simply part of what it takes to put a book together. I knew this going in.
I’d imagined the process would be more personal, and that there would be phone conversations and maybe even Face Time so I might really know the team I was working with by the time our work was finished, but in this age of email, the need wasn’t there.
So my world shrank to become mostly me and my negative self-talk, fumbling through a process that for me, was anything but easy. And though I belong to some awesome online forums for writers, I didn’t feel comfortable posting my misery. I’d asked for this journey, begged and prayed for it. How silly would it be to reach out and say what I was ruminating over: I think my writing stinks.Do you ever feel that way? I’m frustrated by X. How’s that been for you? Is anyone worried about disappointing their readers? Memoirists, do you worry about alienating your friends or family you’ve mentioned in your book, or those you haven’t, or who during the process were edited out?
That inner critic, the voice inside us that is harsh and judgmental, kept getting louder and louder until I began losing sleep. And the more time I spent alone entertaining the inner critic–without friends or family around me to counterbalance the negative messages, and without opening myself to the new peer group, the more I bought in to those messages.
It wasn’t until later that I read about this normal phenomenon, called the Author Freak-out Zone, mentioned in Green Light Your Book (page 121) by Brooke Warner.
In it, she cites an author who listed her feelings about her book online: This is awesome. This is tricky. This is shit. I am shit. This might be okay. This is awesome.
But Green Light Your Book hadn’t been released yet, so I looked at blog posts on the topic of the inner critic, listened to podcasts, and kept plugging along until my final draft was sent in. Occasionally, I interacted with a writer here or there to interview for my blog.
And then I received an email through my website’s Contact button. Someone acknowledging my upcoming book release and asking if I could use some extra links for my Resources page. I was curious to see if it was a scammer (Not nice, I know, but I had to check! ) The person and I emailed back and forth for a bit and I verified that indeed, this smart young woman at a university in Florida spoke with her friend who’d read my book When Push Comes to Shove and told her I had a memoir being published, a detail referenced in the back of that book. She found me online and reached out.
Wow! Wow! Wow!
And best of all were her parting words.
“Don’t doubt what you’re doing Lizbeth, because what you’re doing is great! Even if your story helps only one person, I would think it’d be worth it, ya know?”
I do know. I just lost sight of that for a while.
I am proud to say that my debut memoir will be released soon. Pieces of Me:Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters is available for pre-order at Amazon now. ISBN 978-1631528347
For more information on self -care and silencing your inner critic: