By JUDY PUTNAM
Capital News Service
LANSING – Mid-Michigan author Sharon Emery, who enjoyed a successful journalism and public relations career, turns her communications skills inward in a new memoir that probes a universal goal: how to have a good life.
Emery tells her story of dealing with some of life’s toughest assignments in “It’s Hard Being You: A Primer on Being Happy Anyway,” from Mission Point Press.
In Emery’s case, grief threatened to steal joy from her life permanently after the death of a beloved daughter, Jessica, 25, who drowned two decades ago during an outing at the family cottage at Lake Huron. Jessica, the oldest of four children, was a loving daughter who had intellectual disabilities and seizures. Her parents were advocates for including those with disabilities in mainstream life.
Emery also lost her younger sister and brother when they were 46 and 58.
The book title comes from a saying she developed while raising four kids. “It’s hard being you,” she would tell them when they faced difficulty with friends or school.
“I wanted to acknowledge what they were feeling, but also make it clear they would have to endure and go on,” she said.
I’ve known Emery as a friend, editor and colleague since 1989, when we worked together in a newsroom. She’s a good listener who expresses empathy but who also isn’t afraid to tell you to snap out of it. That wisdom comes through clearly in her memoir.
She’s married to longtime Lansing State Journal columnist John Schneider, now retired, and is mother to Ben Schneider, front man for the successful L.A.-based band, Lord Huron. Emery was an editor in the capital bureau of Booth Newspapers, now Mlive, and she had a second career as a vice president at the Lansing communications firm, Truscott Rossman.
Her book, which took three years to write, started out as two essays about grief, one about Jessica and the other Emery’s younger sister, Jan, who died after jumping from a bridge over a deep gorge in New Mexico. Jan’s friends resisted the idea it was suicide, but rather thought she may have been following the ideas of a mystic author who believed he could fly and transform to other settings.
Emery’s brother, who struggled with depression and alcohol abuse, died from cardiovascular and pulmonary disease.
The book’s initial effort was aimed at imparting life lessons to her surviving children so that they, too, could face the inevitable pain that comes from living.
“This is what I’ve done with my grief. I’ve tried to make a road map of sorts for my kids to let them know they can do it, too,” she said.
A book editor who read the essays urged her to also look at her personal challenge of dealing with a significant stutter.
Despite many attempts at therapy, Emery never achieved a fluent speaking style. She now calls her stutter her accent and flips the script of those who avoid speaking with her – or who try to finish her sentences for her. She calls those folks “disabled listeners.”
Emery said she resisted the topic at first, viewing her stutter as just something she had to deal with and “not worth talking about.” She discovered she was wrong.
“It’s more valuable than I thought,” she said. “It’s been a great process. It’s been grueling but, in the end, I think I came out with a much more insightful book than I would have if I hadn’t dug deep down.”
Isolating during the pandemic helped push the project along.
“It got me thinking about life and death and mortality and survival and, plus, I was stuck inside, so yeah, I think it worked out,” she said.
While her losses and limits were defined by a speech issue and the loss of a child, we all face obstacles and hard times in life.
“It’s not easy, but you can be happy despite living through some very unhappy times,” she said.
And the big lesson, Emery writes in “It’s Hard Being You,” is that loving someone is worth the risk of grief.
“There’s simply no getting around the fact that we pay dearly for our deepest joy, intimacy with others. When someone you’ve risked loving dies, a part of you dies with them. That’s the bargain you strike why you boldly choose to love.”
Emery will sign books from 1-3 p.m. April 3 at Michigan State University’s Community Music School, 4930 Hagadorn Road, East Lansing, with part of the proceeds going to the Jessica E. Schneider Music Services Therapy Fund.
Another book signing will be held 6-7 p.m. April 19 at Pages Bookshop, 19569 Grand River Avenue, Detroit.
For more information, go to www.sharon-emery.com.