SKANEATELES | On the cover of her book, Marianne Angelillo is shown in a photo. She's writing in a journal while sitting alone in a canoe.
The picture was taken "forever ago" by her husband, Marianne said, while the Angelillo family was at their camp in Marathon.
The lens is zoomed in just enough to see Marianne's face. She's shown intensely focused on her journal. Not on the orange glow of the sun, not the woodlands around her, and not the water, which was calm enough to cast an almost-perfect reflection of her form.
Her focus was on the journal — and on coping with the loss of her 17-year-old son, Matthew.
He was a junior at Skaneateles High School. Matthew was a very active young man, Marianne said, as he played football, lacrosse and golf. He attended the U.S. Air Force Academy for one week in the summer of 2004.
It was June 20 of that year. Matthew was out celebrating his experience in the academy with friends. Marianne said Matthew, under the influence of alcohol, had gotten into a car with a driver who was under the influence of alcohol. The driver ended up totaling his vehicle on Route 20 near Lee-Mulroy Road in Skaneateles.
Matthew died in the accident. The driver went to prison on charges that included vehicular manslaughter, Marianne said.
Matthew's death rippled through the local community like waves in a riverbed, Marianne said. It didn't just affect Matthew's family, which includes Marianne's husband and three remaining children. Friends, classmates and even local businesses all felt his loss.
"We all have our individual presence and we provide a lot of personality to other people. And then, all of the sudden, you're gone," she said. "It's not just your family that misses you."
Writing helped Marianne cope. A closet in her home is lined with journals, photos and other family memories, with most, if not all, sustaining Matthew's presence. These materials were used by Marianne in writing a book about her and her family's struggle with Matthew's death.
The book, "Sharing My Stones," was released this year, a decade after Matthew's death. In addition to writing, Marianne travels about the local area to schools, universities and other organizations to share her story with others.
Marianne sat down with The Citizen to discuss her work and why she decided to write it.
Q. So let's start with the title. What's the meaning behind the phrase "Sharing My Stones"?
A. Sharing my stones is a concept from Hope For Bereaved (a grief counseling group) in Syracuse. When I went for grief counseling, they explained that carrying around your sorrow is like carrying around a bag of stones. If you share those stones with others, your load gets lighter. The concept is about sharing your sorrow with others to lighten the bag of stones.
A lot of my healing after losing my son almost 10 years ago has been sharing with friends, sharing with the public, sharing in newspapers, online and sharing with students and parents through assemblies.
Q. In the book, you often speak of this story by saying "our story."
A. Yes, it is a family journey and this also pertains to the ripple effects on others, including close family and friends. It's our family's journey and everything we felt and how we dealt with grief, how we felt and how we managed to find meaning and purpose in Matt's death.
Q. Why did you decide to write the book?
A. I've always journaled since I was a young girl. I use the written word and express my feelings in a journal to process them. I had journaled my whole life in processing the grief and its effects on my children, Matt's friends, the driver... after a couple years, I decided it was very important and I felt called.
I felt called to write a book of our journey to tell people how extremely complicated and painful and far-reaching this death was to both my family and the community.
It became such a critical learning experience for other people by sharing it, so I started to bring his story and videos and photos to high schools. My main message: When you drink, you don't think. Everything you've learned becomes null and void when you're under the influence.
It's also a message of hope for other bereaved people who go through a tragedy and their life has been turned upside-down in one day.
Q. How long did it take for you to start writing the book?
A. I always thought after the first year the way to get to students is by sharing a story. I knew eventually it would be awesome to have a book, but it was very difficult to do and very painful. Every time I would journal and share it with somebody, I would get all of these different pieces and experiences from others.
Within five years, I had the material for a book. But it took me another five years to have the strength and the courage to write it.
How helpful were your journals for you in writing the book?
A. You almost don't have the same depth of pain to recreate those emotions, so those journal entries were helpful to recreate the depth of pain. I'll just say I'm glad I did it and I'm glad it's over. It was hard. It was hard to do.
Q. Getting feedback from others in similar situations, what's that been like for you?
A. It's been reassuring that I've done the right thing. It makes it feel like I had a purpose. It feels like I'm giving back because so many people helped me through it and now I'm able to give back to other people. I also think that they're passing the book along and hopefully this is going to be like seeds that spread to encourage other people.
You never know who you're going to help, but if I hear back from one student at an assembly, then I know that I've reached at least one and it was worth it.
Q. Do you foresee any future works?
A. Maybe. I'm still journaling, let's put it that way.
The whole process of writing a book has been interesting to say the least. It's not very easy; it's challenging. It takes a lot of courage to be public about your private life.
If you don't share the difficulty of it or what you've been through, then you're taking away a great opportunity for others to learn from what happened to you without it happening to them.