Sheila Hamilton's memoir, All the Things We Never Knew, is not a feel-good book. In fact, it left me emotionally gutted. But I also read it cover to cover in a one sitting. It's a boldly raw account of the story of Hamilton's late husband, David—who was bipolar and committed suicide in 2006—chronicling their time together from the first meeting through the months after his death. The former TV journalist and current KINK-FM morning-show host's book also doubles as a look into the country's flawed mental health system. WW visited Hamilton in her studio to talk about the book.
WW: Did you have an audience in mind?
Sheila Hamilton: The memoir portion was never intended to be a book; I wrote to save my own life. It was only after I did the reporting pieces and realized how widespread mental health failures are, how many families were falling through the cracks like ours did, that I felt like there might be a wider audience. I think the most common refrain I hear from readers is, "This explains so much."
What was the most difficult scene to write?
Definitely my having to recount telling [my daughter] Sophie about her dad's death—the day is never far from my memory, or the trauma of seeing the little 9-year-old girl have to be told she'll never see her father again. I actually wrote that story over the course of a day—writing, lying on the floor, sobbing. And I ripped it up. I remember thinking, "I am not going to put that in the book. It's too personal, too raw."
But in some ways, that moment was the defining moment for us: Are we going to choose to live, are we going to go forward as united, strong women or are we going to sink into the shame and the humiliation of someone's death?
Putting that chapter in the book was a defining point for us, saying, I'm not going to continue with the shame of mental illness. I'm going to be bold about this. I'm sure it will forever in my lifetime be the hardest thing I ever write.
An underlying theme of the book is strong, resilient independent female characters. Did you consider it a feminist book?
I was the person who pulled our family back up. I didn't rely on some Prince Charming—as some critics have said—to help me. I was very clear that I wanted to recover from the financial setback and the physical setback and the emotional setback on my own. And I wanted to be an example for my daughter, that we actually complicate our lives by relying on other people because we are strong enough to do it ourselves. I absolutely think it's a feminist book.
You write about music's emotional effects. Was it difficult to work in radio?
I think music is the most underrated and most powerful healing mechanism there is. When I came back to work, [folk rocker] Marc Cohn came in, and he had just recovered from being shot. He sang this song about coming back from almost dying, and it was so resonant to me that I was sobbing while I was doing the interview.
If you could equate the book to any song, what would it be?
"Forever Young." David had an enormously long life ahead of him if he could have worked through his mental illness. He was still handsome, he still had all his hair, he still was considered a ladies' man in some ways because he was so gorgeous. I think about how many lives are lost because of this illness, and that they're taken from us way, way, way too young.
SEE IT: Sheila Hamilton speaks at the Wild Women Society at Mountain Park Recreation Center, 2 Mt. Jefferson Terrace, Lake Oswego, on Sunday, Jan. 24. 1 pm. $20. Registration at thewildwomensociety.com.