• Joan Z. Rough
  • How I Came to Write, Scattering Ashes, A Memoir of Letting Go
This blog was featured on 08/27/2016
How I Came to Write, Scattering Ashes, A Memoir of Letting Go
Written by
Joan Z. Rough
January 2016
Written by
Joan Z. Rough
January 2016


As a kid, I spent hours hidden between the pages of books.  I loved to read — especially stories about people and how they got through the tough spots in their lives. One of my favorites was about Toby Tyler, a boy who runs away to join the circus. I also loved a biography of Christopher Columbus, long before we found out about some of the awful things that he did. A bit later I read Kathryn Hulme’s A Nun’s Story, which arrived as part of my parent’s subscription to Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. 

What I loved about those books, is that life wasn’t easy for the characters, whether real or fictitious. They all struggled with adversity of one kind or another.  They took risks. Life was difficult at times, but if they kept climbing over the roadblocks they found in their way, they got to what I imagined as the end of the rainbow, where dreams “really do come true.”  As an abused child, I could relate.

What does it take for a small boy to run away from home and take refuge with a bunch of nutty people, who worked with wild-animals and hung from swings way above an applauding crowd?  What made Columbus want to prove that there was another continent across the ocean, sailing off into unknown seas? And why does a young girl tuck herself away from the rest of the world to serve God? How does she handle her doubts and the casual indifference she sometimes finds within the Catholic church?  

When my mother died in 2010, I emerged from seven long years of being her caregiver.  She spent almost all of that time living with my husband and me. She had been the focus of my life. We had some good times together, but as she grew frailer, I had become her enemy. I asked her to give up her driver’s license. I reminded her doctors that she was an alcoholic and that most of the drugs they prescribed for her pain made her act like a monster. And I refused to let her smoke inside my home while she was hooked up to her oxygen tank. 

Between her narcissistic and drug-driven, abusive episodes, I began losing myself in veiled memories of being abused as a child by both parents, but especially by my mother. She never beat me, but neither would she rescue me when my father wielded his belt or leather horse crop. Her death left me with only intense feelings of bitterness and shame and a bag of her ashes. 

Over the ensuing years I struggled to get my life in order. I was terrified. I wanted to leave my mother’s ghost behind. I sought help from a therapist, was diagnosed with PTSD, and on several occasions found myself wishing to end my own life. But my inclination to begin writing about my experiences and the encouragement I received from those who knew my story, saved my life.  

While reliving my most horrifying moments, I left my victimhood and pain behind. I revisited the places I lived as a child and the church that had labeled me a bastard. I examined a host of common threads that ran between my mother’s life and my own. We were both abused as children. We were both abused by my father as a result of his wartime PTSD. We found comfort in our private spiritual lives despite our struggles with the Catholic church. I learned that forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about understanding, and finding common ground.  

SCATTERING ASHES, A Memoir of Letting Go, is my personal story of caring for my mother while searching for peace within myself and with my abusers.  It is also an important story. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 43.5 million of adult family caregivers care for someone 50+ years of age. The  US Census Bureau reported as of April, 2014, there were 76.4 million baby boomers. Clearly the problem of finding caregivers is growing.  As is the need for family members to find ways of handling their own emotional trauma as they care for those who can no longer care for themselves. It is my hope that my story can be of help to those who are intending to care for their elders and/or those who may already be doing so.


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  • Joan Z. Rough

    Diana,  Yes, there are lots of big questions when it comes to taking care of family members.  While I have seen it done gracefully, I think for most of us it's a very difficult situation and there is no one universal way to handle it.  It sounds like you have covered a lot of this in your novel and I look forward to reading it.  Thanks so much for your kind words.

  • Diana Y. Paul Writing

    Writing can be healing and I thoroughly enjoyed your post.  While my novel, Things Unsaid, is fiction, it deals with the same issues:  

    Are we our parents’ keeper?  Brothers and sisters’ keeper?  These questions are raised as we all get older, face our own mortality, and that of our parents.  What would we say to a dying parent who may not have been the parent we wanted? Or to a brother or sister who needs a financial bailout?er?  This is the tsunami of challenges for the Boomer generation.  Thank you for writing a memoir about this painful issue!

  • Joan Z. Rough

    Pat, You so honor me by wanting to use my book as an example for your students. Thank you so much.  Writing, whether it be in book or journal form has always been my means of getting to the meat of my thoughts and feelings.  Thank you so much. Once the book is out and you are using it in that way, please let me know how it goes.

  • Pat Sabiston

    Dear Joan, you and I share a lot of commonalities with our mothers.  However, she is long gone, and thankfully, I have dealt with my issues with her through therapy ... for me, no more writing is necessary about her.  HOWEVER, I am an adjunct professor at a local college and will use your book as an example of how to use journaling and memoir to capture painful memories and delete them from our lives ... although the pain never goes away, it grows dim with forgiveness.  Pat

  • Joan Z. Rough

    Oh, Christine, Your kind words go deep into my heart.  Stories of daughters caring for their mothers as they both age are always intense and healing is not always easy.  They are all different in many ways but so important to be passed down to those who are planning to become caregivers.  Thank you so much for leaving your beautiful words. I am honored by them.  The book will be available on September 20th.  Best wishes with your writing and sharing your story.

  • Christine Weeber

    Thank you, Joan. I look forward to reading your book. I was on an intense journey with my mom, also 7 years, through her battle-dance with multiple myeloma. So much change and healing happened in "our own way." I am going back through journals and trying to write about it (christineweeber.weebly.com) for others. Your post reminds me of how many of us there are out here doing the same. Yes, our insider's view will help those who have yet to enter these journeys. It's intense. And the opportunity for healing is profound. Deep bows to you for writing your story and sharing it. Honored to be here on this planet with you. Let us know when it is published. Peace.

  • Marcia Mabee Bell

    Congratulations on working this difficult passage through and writing about it too to help others.  A gift. 

  • Joan Z. Rough

    Thank you, Tonya. Writing is one of the best ways to manifest an authentic life. 

  • Tonya Rice

    Joan, thank you for sharing your journey through your book as well as this post. I can sense your strength here. Writing is definitely a healer. I'm looking forward to reading it.

  • Joan Z. Rough

    RYCJ, Your great-grandmother was right.  I hope you'll enjoy reading it when it comes out. 

  • Joan Z. Rough

    Sherry, Though I don't know your whole story, I've felt there must be lots of similarities in what we've had to deal with.  Thanks for your wonderful words.

  • Joan Z. Rough

    Natylie,Thanks for adding my book to your reading list. I hope you'll enjoy it.

  • Joan Z. Rough

    Thanks for your kind words. I can't wait to get it out there for everyone to read.

  • Joan Z. Rough

    Thanks Rhonda. Doing the writing was one of the best things I've done for myself. It's magical the way it helps us let go.

  • Rhonda Talbot

    This is great Joan. A bit similar to my own ongoings. I've also found a lot of healing in writing, particularly about my mother. Congratulations on getting it done...  Look forward to reading.  All best R

  • Jean Rhude

    Thanks Joan.  I look forward to reading your story.  I especially like your confidence in know that this is an important book. 

  • Natylie Baldwin

    Sorry, I meant Joan, not Janet.  :)

  • Natylie Baldwin

    Glad you found some peace, Janet.  I will be adding this to my to-read list!

  • Sherrey Meyer

    Joan, my congratulations to you! Our paths through life have been similar, and I know how difficult it is to attempt finding yourself after you reached adulthood. A great post and, for me, a timely one.

  • RYCJ Revising

    Still remember my great-grandmother's words... "we come into this world having to be care for... in diapers and babbling, and leave this world having to be cared for... in diapers and babbling." Parents experience the same frustrations as caregivers of adults who can no longer care for themselves.

    That said, this memoir in particular sounds very interesting. I've added it to my to-read list. Congratulations, Joan... on writing your memoir!

  • Joan Z. Rough

    Thanks, Janet. I'm very excited!

  • Janet Givens

    This is great, Joan. I'm so happy for you.

  • Joan Z. Rough

    Laurie, Thanks so much for your kind words and support.  

  • Joan - This is one of my favorite BEHIND THE BOOK posts yet. Thank you for sharing.