Patricia “Patty” Barkman sat at her dining room table one Friday in October, looking out a bay window at Taunton Lake. Within view was her back yard ending at a dock where lawn chairs faced the water, but what she saw were scenes from years past as she remembered her late husband Leon Barkman, or “Lieber” — for whom her new book Lieber is named and dedicated.
She released Lieber as an eBook through Amazon.com on September 22, on the one year anniversary of his death following a brief illness with pneumonia. His death was just 83 “dark days,” she said, before the 12/14 shootings in Newtown. A hard copy will be available soon through Amazon.
A book signing and meet-the-author event with Ms Barkman is planned at C.H. Booth Library, 25 Main Street in Newtown, on Tuesday, December 3. The program will run from 6:30 to 8 pm. Copies of the book will be available at the book signing.
In Lieber’s forward, Ms Barkman writes: “Hold gently these memories of mine that I’ve given you here …” She then describes the book’s narration: “Some parts are serious, some humorous, some naughty, some dreamy. Some run with high energy, like [the young man who called her Granny Pat] before he was one of the Sandy Hook victims. Some move slowly, like my old Lieber. And when you’ve gathered all these pieces, let them link together in the safety of your heart.”
Her life stories and memories, written throughout the year after her husband’s death, are not chronological, of which readers are forewarned in the forward. She also encourages readers to start at the very beginning. “It is so important in this book.”
Her book served, in part, to help her through the loss and pain of her husband’s death, and 12/14. She referred to one of the victims, mentioned by alias only, as a child who called her Granny Pat.
Of that young boy, she wrote, “I’ve kept before me the picture of that love who was taken in the Sandy Hook shooting, this child who called me Granny Pat. The photo was taken when he was late in his fifth year, nestled in my lap as I am perched on a flat rock beside the stream that meanders through my yard. His image is there each time I write. It helps me accept his tragic death and remember his sweetness.”
Printed on a flyer announcing the eBook is the message, “As Newtown seeks to heal itself so, too, does the author. Lieber is her gift to all those who suffer loss, as well as a poignant expression of hope and spirit.” All proceeds from book sales, $9.22 online, will go to the Newtown Caregiver Cause that she has established “as a tribute to those who have given selflessly to help others.”
In Lieber’s pages she chronicles her life, marriage, love and pain, hiking and traveling adventures, loss, laughter, and healing. Although she had plenty of memories to fill her book, a title was elusive. It was a friend who suggested what became the book’s title.
“We were all standing around making dinner,” and her friend Jesse Goode had said, “I think it should be called Lieber.” Ms Barkman snapped her fingers. “It was one of those times when you say, ‘Oh, of course.’” Lieber, one of her names for Leon, is German for love.
In the chapter “Who Was Leon” she writes, “As one can never put enough words on paper to describe Leon, but the word Lieber describes him best — for he was love.
“Lieber was Lieber.”
Thinking back to a camping and hiking trip off the coast of Maine in August of 2012, she recalled a fellow explorer, an eight-year old boy named Cameron, who found her in a secluded spot painting a watercolor. He liked her painting, she said, and he had envisioned living there in the woods.
In Lieber, she writes, “He asks, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if you owned this space?’ For an eight-year-old who has difficulty reading (as I learn later), writing a book must mean painting pictures. He looks at some of my watercolors done on previous days that week and says, ‘These are summer paintings. You could write the book this winter, and it would be ready for people next summer.’”
“I’ll work on that,” she had said, “I promise.
Remembering that exchange with Cameron, she said, “He exacted a promise from me.” She smiled at the memory. Years ago she had considered writing down her thoughts about herself and Leon, “people from two different countries,” but her earlier attempts had not been successful. Leon was born and raised in Port Jervis, N.Y., and Ms Barkman is from Canada. Leon Barkman was a parasitologist, or a biologist who studies fish parasites. Ms Barkman has lived in Newtown since 1968.
In Lieber, she writes, “It was for Cameron at that moment that I first conceived the idea of a book, but then it was Leon’s death that made me begin writing it and the death of the children and teachers that made me want further therapy in writing — allowing myself company, someone to talk to now that Leon is gone.
“When Leon died,” she said, “people wanted to know more, they wanted to know the details. They just kept coming over and asking questions.” She was glad for the company. Years ago a friend had recommended that she write down some of her adventures, and a narrative has been in her head for a long time, she said.
In the months following her husband’s death, and then 12/14, Ms Barkman wrote it all down with a book in mind.
“At first, I didn’t have confidence,” she said. But 2012 “was so horrible.”
Watching the autumn scene over Taunton Lake, she said, “I couldn’t dwell on the horror of it, so I used the funny parts of our lives to act as relief.” Those funny parts included what she calls the “horse story,” which is interwoven throughout the book.
She also wrote about the “hardest part”: Leon’s last days in the hospital. “You go over it and over it so many times that you’re numb.”
After 12/14, she had learned from grief counselors: “Don’t try to ease the pain, go through it as hard as you can, because if you don’t, it will be waiting for you.” After a silent moment, she said, “So, I delved in.”
She said, “No use wallowing. Might as well get busy and create.” Aside from writing, she said, “It’s been a painting year too.”
Finding quiet time to write, she said, “The memories are there. Writing took me along different avenues.”
Different chapters or “units of narration,” include “My Babyhood And Childhood,” “Horse Story, Episode I,” “Why in 1967 We Became A Pair,” “Last Summer,” “Sandy Hook,” and others.
“I usually wrote in bed,” she said. “I would think and relax.” Asking for feedback from friends throughout her writing, she said, “I really respected their opinions, and they taught me.”
She “started with Leon,” and their pasts, she said
“Hiking, that was really what we started doing when we first got together.” She recalls hiking through Ibiza, an island in the Mediterranean Sea in 1965.
She said that Leon had been “roaming” at that time in his life. He had a first wife who was killed in a car accident. After that he had “started roaming. But since I was the one he was roaming with, that was OK.” Thumbing through old photos of herself with her husbad, she said, “This year has given me insight into how hard it is to lose a spouse.”
Then 12/14 happened.
Considering those two experiences of loss, she said, “I truly recommend writing to sort things out and get through grief.” She is “in a different place now.” The “heavy heart has been replaced with a lightness.”
“Grief did it,” she said. “You have to go up if you are down low enough.” She would bring herself up as she wrote, she said.
She also described moments where despite “clear, rational thinking — you know he is not returning — but there is this magic.” She has kept her late husband’s clothes.
Writing brought her back and forth in time.
“You miss the fun parts,” she said. But at the end of his life, “It was hard for him.” Although she misses her Lieber, Ms Barkman said, “Do I want him back as the tortured person at the end? No.” She misses the essence of him, she said, and the fun.
“He had that levity and quite often, life needs that levity,” she said.
Ms Barkman hopes that readers gain some happiness from reading her book.
“You know when you have touched someone in a meaningful way it brings meaning to your life,” she said.
Ms Barkman has published a story that reaches back to 1965 when she and Leon met. She writes of their love, loss, grief, and joy.
As the writing process helped her feel “more connected” to herself, she said, “You spend your whole life saying, ‘Will the real Pat Barkman please stand up?’ and by the completion of the book, she has.” She was nervous to say too much in her pages, but judges good writing on its honesty, she said.
Insights On Death
Her writing reveals some of her insight on death. When recalling a friend’s suicide Ms Barkman chose to reflect on the person’s happier moments.
“I turned to happier times then as I do here in this book. Some uplifting spirit woven into the fabric of grieving demands we do that as part of the pattern.”
“The pattern of ups and downs, that thread of who we are dictates which way we will go and I guess I am optimistic that if you have a down time you will weave back up and the fabric of life continues; if you keep plummeting down depression will take you.”
In another portion of Lieber, she wrote, “The tremendous absorption of psychic energy, which the dead and the dying take with them, leaves their loved ones experiencing a void, a vacuum, a black hole that has such heavy gravity that no light is emitted unless we are careful. When we walk near the valley of death with such pain and exhaustion, such sorrow and loss, and in such shock, we don’t know what to do. It is a time when we are down. Despair takes over our thoughts.”
“I realize that death is just plain weird,” she writes. “Leon was alive one day, and the next he wasn’t.”